when the dinner bell rings, you come home.
ma’s only rule for moving back. it’s simple; it’s a rule you’ve followed since you learned to tie your shoes. albeit more annoying to you now, since it was a rare occasion if you ate with anyone else in chicago. now you’ll be eating with ma every day, which is fine, it is her house & all. but you moved out here to get away from everyone. well, except her, you guess.
you walk out the door & head straight to your truest love. the forest, or well, specifically the bonners ferry forests, were your first enamoration. you could never say your first love was “the forest”, or all forests, because you have not known them all. but you know this one. you wrote love letters to its moss, skipped through every trail puddle you could find. found yourself walking to the kootenai river & back almost every day back then. you’d pick ma a bouquet & bring it home. very red riding hood of you. you are surprised she let you run so loose back then. bonners ferry is a sleepy town, though. & you always make it home when the bell rings.
today you are taking the same path with one minor alteration. you will be taking a left at the pacific yew, rather than the usual right. she’s in flower this time of year, & you love to admire her beautiful red fruit bells. it may be your favorite part of the walk. other than the flowers. on a good day you’ll bring ma home a bouquet of buttercups, trilliums, hyacinth, maybe even a wild shooting star. she loves those, the vibrant fuchsia & dandelion yellow, the way they droop even though they’re supposed to be “shooting”.
today the grass is more damp than usual. you’re glad you got these fancy waterproof hiking boots. they were so cheap in chicago, probably because you have to drive an hour or two to really hike anywhere.
you pass the baby douglas firs. you wish them well growing.
you hear a twig crunch behind you & grab your pepper spray. you turn & see a pair of woodland caribou. they walk right past you, oddly close, so you’re on your guard. they have beautiful antlers. it’s funny, the creepy huntsman themed bars seem to always have moose or deer antlers, but you think they ought to have caribou antlers. much more interesting, & they look as though they could hold up a bus. though you hate the idea of anyone hunting them, especially as they walk up so close– you assume they must know you’re chums.
they’re headed for the pacific yew tree you’re headed for, it looks like. you share space from a bit of a distance, of course.
you brought your binoculars. there was a tweet a few months ago about a mountain bluebird & it made you so nostalgic. you told your friends that was why you were moving, for the mountain bluebirds. they laughed, but you weren’t really kidding. chicago got old.
you hear chirping & look up into the trees. binoculars in themselves are an art. people who are good at them amaze you, because you’re subpar at best. but you try. a patch of chimney swifts are off a bit to the north. you admire them.
you reach the pacific yew. her red flower fruits are so nice. you never pick them because you want them to stay on the tree as long as possible. though you don’t like taurus szn for other reasons,
you like that the northern idaho woods are in some kind of bloom. & you like to wear your yellow hiking coat.
you regret dramatically throwing your phone into lake michigan just for a moment. you’d take a picture of these red fruits. then it occurs to you– you can just buy a film camera & be the true artsy bitch you are. in the woods of north idaho with only a film camera. #midlifecrisis much? ah, well.
you take the left after admiring your tree.
you named him yusuf when you were little, & when ma asked if you had a boyfriend you would say yusuf. you think about how yusuf is the only man you’ll ever love.
this is your first time hiking since you got home. this morning, on your way out the door, ma smiles with a dash of nostalgia. you think it probably reminded her of tiny you doing the same thing.
on your path you make sure to step carefully. you notice the ground on this side is very dry over here. you walk for a moment & see a slithering. at the end of the snake’s tail there is no rattle, & you notice the long vertical stripes. this is a garter, completely harmless. you pick them up. they are very friendly. you’ve always thought garters are a good omen. you name them allister. you think this snake is very mystical.
“a garter, again. they’ve been everywhere this spring.”
you hear from behind you. you jump, scaring allister a little bit. you turn around.
the person behind the voice is tall, wearing a green flannel, & probably the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen. you are a bit speechless.
“i’m pascale.” they say & reach out to shake your hand.
in order to shake their hand you must let allister go. you do. you note the peculiar little strip on his nose. you decided allister’s pronouns are he/they, you know it in your gut.
you shake pascale’s hand. a firm lesbian grip. gives it away almost more than the flannel.
“stillwater.” you say.
“stillwater.” they repeat back to you.
“she/they” you say. “you?”
“they/them.” they say.
“cool. nice to meet you.” you say.
“you like snakes?” they ask.
“the garter kind. that’s where i draw the line.”
they laugh. oh no they have an excellent laugh.
“i like all kinds from afar. & afar as hell away from my cabin.” they say.
“is your cabin around here?” you ask.
they point to a cabin about a half mile north of where you are now. very close to the river. what a spot.
“how long have you lived here?” you ask. what a silly question. they will think you are smooth-brained if you can’t muster up some real conversation. you have a hard time thinking while you look at them.
“built that about six months ago. i grew up in post falls but i like it up here better. by the river.”
“you built that?” they are definitely a lesbian. you didn’t think there were any other gays in northern idaho. not that you believe in straight people, but you didn’t think anyone knew they were gay in northern idaho but you. you definitely did not think there were futch forest lesbians that built their own cabins.
“yes. it was something i said i would do for myself for my saturn return.”
“i’m in my saturn return too.” you say.
you have a lot in common.
“you from here? i’m assuming so since you knew that was a garter.” they ask
“from here, briefly lived in chicago, then moved back… yesterday.”
“yesterday? wow. welcome home!” they say.
you feel the urge to tell them why you moved.
“well, i better get back to my yard work. nice to meet you, stillwater.”
“this is my daily hike so, i’m sure i’ll see you.” you say.
“i’d like that.” & with that, they’re gone.
your walk home is blurry. you don’t pick a single flower.
your watch says it’s four p.m., & you know ma will ring the bell within the hour. tiny you figured out the bell can be heard if you’re anywhere within a mile. so you find a good log within a mile & lay back on it to watch the wind jostle the forest’s canopy.
you hear the bell. you head home.
ma puts mashed potatoes, salad, & steaks on the table. this is your favorite meal.
“thank you ma.” you say. you dig in.
ma prays before she eats her food. when you were tiny you prayed with her sometimes, but you told her you didn’t believe like that, & she never pushed you. she is an incredible person in so many ways. you wonder why it feels like there are eternal bricks laid between you, & why the bricklayer swore your heart to secrecy. maybe this will all change soon, you think.
“how long do you think you’re staying, christie?” she asks.
that’s the other thing. no one has called you christie or christina in a decade but ma. this is weird but also comforting.
“for the rest of my life.” you say with conviction.
she laughs. “just like that?” she asks.
“just like that.” you reply.
she digs in, too.
“won’t you get lonely?” she looks concerned, fragile.
“I have you.” you think also of the futch lesbian who built their cabinet. you hate that your head goes there, you try to stop it, but it does, it goes & it goes again.
before bed it goes there again.
& when you wake up it goes there again.
when you walk to yusuf today you don’t even pretend to have any desire to take the old right. you will be taking a left, a left so good & fast.
the red fruit bells will be there for the next month-ish. you trace them with sweaty fingertips. you have been nervous since you got to yusuf, because you know the cabin is near.
you take your brave left.
you walk straight up to that cabin & you knock on the door.
pascale answers the door.
you stare at each other for as long as you can bear before you are at their mouth & you are inside & on top of them & you are in their bed.
the next couple of months you are grateful ma expects you to be gone all day. you come home for dinner, & sometimes you leave again in the night to go to pascale’s cabin.
you don’t mind being inseparable with them. most of the time they join in on your hikes. they know the forest almost as well as you do.
“I spent every night as I built the cabin in a tent camping out here.” they said when you asked how they seemed to know every blade of grass like you do.
they keep a stack of sketches by their bed, & most of them are of the forest. several of yusuf, as well, which made you swoon even more.
they ask about ma sometimes. why you haven’t told her you’re queer or non-binary or that you’re seeing them. they understand when you explain the distance between you two. they never push, though you get the sense they want to be involved in your family one day. & you want that too. you just don’t know if you could ever tell ma about this side of you. you’ve kept it away for so long, it feels like those two worlds could not fuse. like shore & sea; touching– but separate entities, each serving their own purpose.
you hear the bell. pascale kisses you & leaves you in the usual spot, a little under a mile from ma’s place. near two giant fir trees & the stump of a spruce.
ma takes the bouquet you made her & puts it in the vase. you found several shooting stars today. she smiles.
you love her silent approval of your flower arrangements. you know they make her whole day, but because you feel it, not because she says so. ma is a very intuitive person. she feels her way through everything & speaks only when called to. you think this is because she’s a cancer sun, pisces moon, cancer rising. you feel her ripples of approval & her genuine joy. she is happy at her core, always has been. she thrives in simplicity; her garden, her meals, keeping her cabin clean, & doing her morning yoga. you admire her. you always have.
as ma pushes you the bowl of green leaf lettuce, she looks up with something on her face you can’t name.
“i know men are terrible.” she says
“uh-huh.” you say, laughing.
“but i’d hate to think of you being lonely. sometimes a partnership can be a beautiful thing.” she says. & she goes back to eating, like she didn’t just split the ground under your feet. for the first time, you want to tell her.
you had three girlfriends in chicago which you never told her about. once she asked if you were seeing someone, & you said yes. she referred to them as “him” until you broke up with them. you let it happen.
you do think a partnership can be a beautiful thing. you’ve spent every day lately holding pascale’s hand. hiking, swimming in the river, drawing, talking, reading, everything. you’ve had the thought that this could be it for you.
when you & ma finish eating you go to bed. you lay looking at the glow stars you put on your childhood ceiling.
morning sun swims into your room upstream. you stretch before breakfast. you read a poem. you take your time before today’s hike to pascale’s.
yusuf lost his red fruit bells months ago, but you admire his leaves all the same. this tree has known you longer than anyone. you sit at the trunk before you take your left. you take some good deep breaths. you admire his roots.
pascale notices immediately something is off. lesbians have that sixth sense about them. especially non-binary lesbians, they just know what’s going on. for a moment you realize they are like ma in that way, quietly knowing. pascale’s chart is mostly fire, but in many ways they operate from their pisces venus. your dreamy dreamboat, you’ve taken to calling them.
you pass a tree that must have collapsed last night. it has been dead for a minute. it was bound to happen soon. you think it would make the perfect image for the tarot card “the tower.”
“i want to sketch that.” pascale says. “i’ve been thinking about making a tarot deck with my forest sketches.”
“no fucking way, i was just thinking it would make the perfect tower card.”
“totally.” they say.
you are so in sync with them.
“will you come with me to dinner today?” you ask. finally.
“to meet your mom?” they ask.
“yes.” you say.
they seem to be caught off guard.
“yes.” they say, unwavering.
they sketch the tree. you watch.
out here it feels like you & time move at the same speed. in the city it felt like you were a cat & time was the toy you chased. sometimes it was the other way around. you didn’t like it either way.
you start your hike back with pascale without a word. they’re used to bringing you back around dinner time.
you walk to the tree stump & they sit on the stump. you sit in their lap.
for a while you just sit like this. they run their hands through your hair, picking up on how nervous you are.
the dinner bell rings.
you take them home.
Sofia Fey is a Lesbian and Non-Binary writer living in LA. Currently, they are the founder of the Luminaries Poetry workshop, poetry editor at Hooligan Magazine, and a reader for Stone of Madness Press and Kissing Dynamite. Their poems have appeared in CP Quarterly, indigo literary, Rejection Letters, and others. They tweet @sofiafeycreates.