“The ridge or the glade?”
I am eight, and it’s my birthday. I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my mother’s gold Toyota Tercel, holding a cake box in my lap.
She looks at me, stretches a hand out to tweak my nose, and asks, “The ridge or the glade, Betsy-bug?”
I am sixteen, learning to drive myself, on a hot day in the middle of a mountain summer, behind the wheel of my grandfather’s enormous red and white Ford truck. He’s forced me into this, like it’s all a big joke, and as I struggle, sputter, and sit white-knuckled behind the steering wheel, he laughs.
He reaches over and steadies my trembling hand, and asks, “The ridge or the glade?”
I am twenty-two, heading south on I-81 from college for Christmas with the boyfriend I once thought I’d marry. We sing along to whatever plays on the radio, and rest our interlocked hands on the center console of a silver Nissan Altima.
“You have two choices,” I tell him, “once we get close to the house. The ridge or the glade.”
“The what now?”
“Those are the two roads we can take, once we get into town,” I explain. “Would you rather take the ridge or the glade?”
“I literally don’t know what those things are,” he says.
I glance over at my city boy. I can’t help but smirk. He’ll learn soon enough, but for now, I explain again.
“There are two ways we could get to my parents’ house. One takes us through a clearing. Do you get carsick?”
“I don’t think so,” he answers.
“Okay, good to know. The other takes us up over the mountain. Which one do you want to see?”
“The glade, I guess,” he says.
Turns out, he does get carsick. The tight curves, the dips and the little inclines of the glade road are too much for his nervous stomach.
“You could have warned me,” he says, once we’re safely parked in the driveway and unloading bags filled with laundry and textbooks.
“I did,” I say. “We’ll take the ridge next time.”
For the first half of my life, two roads brought me home, one high and one low, both so clear in my memory that I could drive them blindfolded even now.
Tonight, my mother’s voice wakes me.
“The ridge or the glade,” she whispers, close to my ear.
Outside, it snows, and the wind howls, and the dying embers of the wood fire beside my recliner glow bright and alive in the midst of a winter storm that the Weather Channel calls one for the century.
I almost answer her. “The ridge,” I almost say. I’ve always loved the ridge best, and it’s right on the tip of my tongue. But as I come out of sleep, and the drowsy haze lifts from my mind, I stop.
I stop because I am alone in my living room, tucked under a blanket my granddaughter knitted for my seventieth birthday. My mother’s been gone for nearly twelve years, and it’s been almost as long since I’ve seen the ridge or the glade.
I am sixty-one, sitting at a table in a sterile, white and gray office space. A real estate agent, an ancient friend of my long-dead uncle’s, sits beside me. Across from us, an attractive young couple beams and radiates excitement and energy. They’ve told me my mother’s home is their dream home, where they’ll raise their family, where they’ll build their life together. I sign the papers and the home belongs to them.
I am sixty-one and three quarters. I drive through the ridge one last time, intending to say a final goodbye, now that my mother’s affairs are settled. I round the curve and look to my right. My mother’s house, my home, has disappeared. In its place, the beginnings of a new structure rise from the landscape, a beast unlike anything the little valley has seen in all its many eons. I take the glade back out into town, and though I want to, though I want to change everything, I don’t look back.
I rise, pushing myself up against the thick, round arms of my oversized La-Z-Boy. There was a time that I would have been embarrassed to own it, but I practically never leave it these days. The blanket falls to the floor and I don’t pick it up. My back feels stiff and my joints ache. It’s the cold air, I think.
I make my way through the dark, to the kitchen sink where I pour a glass of tap water and drink it down in one gulp. I stand still for a moment and look out the window at the snow falling fierce and heavy in the halo of a bright orange streetlight. I haven’t thought of the roads home in years. I used to dream about them. I’d dream of driving in the dark, of rounding curves too fast or of creeping along beside the meadow flowers and the cow paths. But tonight, now in this moment, I can’t get them out of my mind.
I pour another glass and carry it with me back to the side table by the recliner. I settle in, under the blanket by the fire, and I feel myself again drifting off into sleep. I wonder if I’ll dream.
“The ridge or the glade?”
This time, it’s my voice, my question. My mother sits beside me in my white BMW, and warm sunlight shines in through the windshield. I remember this car. It’s the first one I ever bought for myself.
I look over. My mother is young again, and so am I. Her chestnut hair matches mine, and together we smile the crooked smile that was passed down to us.
“The ridge,” she says. “You like the ridge best.”
“I do,” I answer, “but I know you love the glade.”
“I love them both,” she says. “Mostly for where they take me.”
“Me, too,” I say.
We take the glade home.
Thank you for reading! This is the first of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.
If you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here. 😊
The next story will be posted on Friday, February 26th.