Hole in the Hedge Grove

The day was gray. The kind of day where it rains all the way through. Subtle rain, so subtle you’d forget it was even there, if not for the occasional reminding rain drops atop the head or on the shoulder. Water just sort of accumulates over everything, as if the clouds got lazy and decided to just sit down.

Jennifer sat in the leather seat of her shiny new black Mercedes Benz. A car she hated, because of how ridiculous she felt anytime she drove it anywhere other than her office, where she promptly parked it in a line next to a shiny rainbow of different colored, practically identical, shiny Benz’s. She hated seeing that line of sparkling cars, because it stood as a reminder that this was it– the pinnacle- the climatic thing she had been working towards since she left her old home town. Seeing those cars always made her feel cheated somehow, because she never felt anything at all- definitely not what she thought she was meant to feel.

When she was young all she had was a bike with noisy gears. She still biked to work every day, except for when it was so cold her hands would turn blue and freeze to the handles, and sometimes she’d bike then too. She still had that bike, the bike she got in High school when she was sixteen, and she wished she was riding it now, listening to the out of beat rhythm of its clanging gears.

She let up her fifth cigarette. She hadn’t moved or spoken or done anything besides smoke and gaze at some ethereal thing a thousand miles away for the past thirty minutes. Her breathing consisted of drawn out exasperated sighs, in-between puffs on one of the cigarettes she kept perpetually burning in her left hand.

    “Should we go?” her boyfriend, Bill, asked with an awkwardness he failed to conceal.

    “Yeah”, Jennifer replied without taking her eyes off whatever lay far on the horizon beyond the church, but still somehow continuing to look at nothing. Without another word she popped the door open and nonchalantly started walking down the sidewalk. Bill quickly followed and caught up to her, and wrapped her arm around his own. Together they walked along the mossy wet stone wall that wrapped around the graveyard.

    She looked back at her fancy car. She looked at the storm clouds reflecting in its dark metal, darker and more treacherous seeming than in reality. She saw the street, the houses, the gardens, and the rusted bike against the wall across the street reflecting in its windows. She was amazed by how dark and mysterious her home town looked in the reflection of the dark glass. Although to be fair, after having been away for ten years, she barely recognized anything around her.

    She needed to use her cars fancy new GPS navigation system just to find her way to this old church. A church she’s been to a hundred times, on a road she used to walk down every day. She was amazed by her lack of memory of this place, a place that at one time was the only place she knew. She supposed that in the pursuit of getting out, she ran from her own memories too.

Bill watched Jennifer as she looked around her old home town. A lack of recongintion and confusion thrown accros her face.

“How you doing?” he asked.

She did not answer, but instead looked down at the same sidewalk she neurotically dodged cracks on thirty years ago, not wanting to break her mother’s back. Without noticing she skipped over them today too.

Jennifer thought that perhaps Bill was trying to sympathize with feelings she didn’t actually feel. In some ways, he might have actually felt worse than herself, as he tried to share in hurt feelings that couldn’t have been shared, because they never existed in the first place. Strangely, Jennifer took note, she didn’t feel all that bad. Certainly not as bad as she should.

Last week, her twin brother, Isaac, was hit by a car while riding his bike. Jennifer’s feelings were more confusing than upsetting. She had literally known Isaac her entire life- even before she knew her own mother. Yet, she had also not seen, or even heard, from him in years. Nothing more than a yearly Christmas card.

In truth, Jennifer thought that the saddest part about Isaac’s death was the fact that it happened where it did. Just two miles away. In this town. The same town where they were born. Now, this is the same town he’d died. Jennifer shivered, the thought of dying here too overwhelming to think about.

Jennifer and Isaac used to be inseparable, except for the one thing that finally separated them years ago. She had to escape this town, and he had to, for some absurd reason Jennifer could never grasp, stay in it. In her attempt to rid herself of this place, she distanced herself from everything- even Isaac. Now, she shuddered to think, the only thing that could ever have hoped to drag her back here was gone. The last string, already stretched just to the point of snapping, was cut.

Isaac never seemed to want to leave. He always seemed perfectly content staying in this town forever. He never even bothered getting his drivers license, he could get anywhere he needed to go by bike, or if it was too far for that, he could take the number 26 bus out of town, but that was rare as he hardly ever left town.

Jennifer decided, she would go to this funeral, and then she would get in her Shiny car, and leave and never come back to, or even think of this place ever again.

    They walked together along the moss covered stone wall that encircled the church yard until an ivy tangled rusted iron gate formed a gap in the stone, through which on the top of a small hill in the graveyard stood a cluster of bodies in black suits and dresses. Their umbrellas, like black bat wings, already opened in preparation for a rain that hadn’t really come, but was somehow already here.

Jennifer stood with her hand on the gates bars about to enter the graveyard, hesitant for a reason she couldn’t explain. Her attention was captured by the sound of a dog barking far in the distance, barely audible, carried through the town by some distant breeze.

    Jennifer suddenly turned to Bill, “I’ve always loved that sound”, she said taking her hand off the gate, and turning absent mindedly into the breeze carrying the distant barking.

    “What sound?” Bill asked with confusion.

    “That dog,” she replied. “Can’t you hear it?”

    Bill listened and concentrated. He could indeed hear it, but it was nothing but a whisper, and he was amazed Jennifer had even noticed it at all.

    Jennifer had already started walking across the street in its direction, and he to jog to catch up to her.

    “Where are you going?” he inquired nervously as he came alongside her.

    “Where are we going?” she corrected. “You know what I’ve always loved about that sound?” She asked him.

    “The dog?”

    “It’s always connected me with something else. Something distant. It always made me a part of something so far away that I shouldn’t have ever been a part of. Kinda like I was witnessing a part of another story-

    “Another story?” he asked.

    “Yeah… I guess… Like a part of something else, something outside myself. Something I never would have even noticed. Like something from another life.”

“Another story?” he asked.

    “Yeah… I guess… Like a part of something else, something outside myself. Something I never would have even noticed. Like something from another life.”

    They walked down the street, and Bill followed with concern plastered across his face. He had no way of knowing where she was going, or what she was thinking, or what she was planning. Jennifer wasn’t quite sure either, she just knew she wanted to go, somewhere, anywhere, anywhere other than where she was.

    “I want to walk”, she told Bill, and he could tell by her tone that she obviously didn’t care whether he followed or not.

“That’s understandable, whatever you need.” he continued following, if for no other reason besides not knowing what else to do. They walked on, it seemed towards nowhere in particular.

“I went to school here”, she casually mentioned with a small nod as they walked besides an old brick building, covered with Ivy, across a small chalk covered courtyard. Bill had never seen a school so small, and didn’t know schools this small even still existed. Jennifer kept walking, and Bill followed her.

    She remembered the schools courtyard, but couldn’t recognize it. She remembered the black top being hugely vast. Almost so far across that the hedge grove around its edges looked like distant green mountains. But seeing it now, it looked impossibly small.

    “There used to be a playground here”, she mentioned as she threw her thumb out towards a small parking lot. The lot, on a rainy rainless day like today, was all but empty except a child’s bike leaning against a broken lamp post. Bill noticed a mangled pink umbrella leaning against its rear tire, and he wondered if some kid tried, in vain, to ride with it in the wind. The thought almost made him smile broadly, but he quickly fixed his face for Jennifer’s sake- whom he assumed must be horribly sad. He felt the need, for some reason, to feel whatever everyone around him felt.

She continued walking on, and Bill continued wondering where she was going.

    They walked on until they came to the side of a main road, four lanes across, which ran outside of the small town. A road her boyfriend Bill actually drove down on his way to work. Amazingly, Bill past the large metal exit sign to Jennifer’s old home town every morning, but never knew it was where she grew up until today. She never mentioned it, and he never asked.

    The wind blew stronger, and looking up at the sky Bill noted that rain was moving in quickly. The wind blew again, and with it Bill could barely make out the whispering bark of some dog from some distant unseen place.

    “We should be getting back. Looks like rain.” Bill said to Jennifer, but Jennifer’s ears were too busy listening to the distant dogs howling to notice him.

She was looking out into the wind, feeling it blowing coolly over her, when she noticed a tiny hole in the hedge across the street.

“I know this place.” She said to Bill with surprise. “This road wasn’t here, but I know I’ve seen that hedge before.” She could barely remember it, but she felt this unmistakable nostalgia.

Before Bill could answer Jennifer strutted out into the middle of the street without checking for traffic. She then dove head first into the tiny hole in the hedge grove.

    “Where are you going!?” Bill yelled while running across the street and peering into the hole. He could barely make her out amongst the leaves and thorns.

    “I think this must have been a lot easier to squeeze through!” she yelled with excitement back through the grove. “Hurry up” she shouted through the hedge to Bill, and then disappeared into the greenness beyond.

    Bill looked up and down the road, and feeling rather silly and somewhat embarrassed, eventually dove into the hedge after her. It was a tiny hole but just barely big enough to accommodate his slightly above average size. It was scratchy and forced his body into an awkward and uncomfortable position, and getting through was like holding an advanced yoga pose.

    When he finally made it through, he stood up and found himself in a tiny wood lot. “So are you finally going to tell me what’s happening here?” he asked through gasps of haggard breaths as he brushed leafs and dirt off of his now dirty and wet black suit.

    Jennifer was standing next to a large tree, her black dress torn near the knee. She turned towards Bill and held out a dogwood flower she had picked off the tree.

    “What are we doing here?” he sighs while taking the dogwood flower from her. “Maybe we should go back? Your family is probably worried sick” he asks with apprehension.

    “Have you been here before?” She asks him with a chuckle.

    “Of course not!” he says with an awkward laugh, “why would I have?”

    “I mean, this road on your commute, you’ve been down the road many times”, she says with a shrug, “Surely you’ve seen it before.”

    Bill looked around with confusion. “I’ve never seen it though”, he says after a moment.

    “You never noticed it” she corrects him.

    “It’s a hedge grove like any other… There must be millions just like it.”

    “There’s only one” she corrects him with a wide smile. “There’s millions of dogwoods too”, she said while turning her back to him and picking another dogwood flower from the tree and observing it in her hand. “But then there’s this dogwood”, she said while handing him the second flower.

    “You know dogwoods don’t have flowers like these?” she asked him absent mindedly while cradling another in her hand and observing it with curiosity.

    “They’re actually just special colored leaves”, she continues, “It’s a ruse, a trick, a leaf pretending to be a flower. Some leaves are just colored slightly differently to appear as flowers.” She reaches up and plucks something tiny and virtually invisible from the tree from the center of a dogwood flower. “This is what a dogwood flower actually looks like”, she says while handing the tiny bud to Bill, who takes it from her with confusion. Bill looked down into his palm, and noticed the tiny flower bud, less than a quarter the size of a dime. It lacked color and flash, but was undoubtedly a tiny flower.

    “It’s an easy thing to miss when you don’t know it’s there”, she told Bill with a small smile as he looked at the tiny undistinguished flower. “It’s easy to forget too, because it’s not the most beautiful thing.”

    “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention”, Bill said to her with a shrug.

    “Kind of like this place,” she said spreading her arms wide like she was presenting the grand finale of a magic show, “But you’ve never even noticed it despite all the times you’ve seen it out the corner of your eye.”

    Bill looked around the woodlot again and did for a moment take in its beauty. It was full of moss covered rocks and dense with bushes and old trees all of which were connected by clusters of vines. It was so dense you could barely see ten feet ahead or up. It had a certain kind of beauty, but it was in no way special. Nothing but a blob of green caught in your periphery as you drove by. Obscured by its normalcy.

    Bill looks at Jennifer and lets out a long sigh. “Why are we here Jennifer?” He asked with unconcealed exasperation. “Maybe we should”-

    -“Have you ever seen General Sherman?” She suddenly asks.

    “What?”

    “It’s the name of the biggest tree in the whole world,” she answers. “I saw it once on a family road trip out west. It’s a massive two-hundred and seventy-five foot American redwood. It was in Sequoia National Park.”

    “No, I’ve never seen it, but honestly Jennifer I’m a little worried”-

    -“It was a beautiful tree,” Jennifer interrupts absent mindedly while staring off at the trees.

    Bill lets out another sigh. He knows she must be stressed after losing her brother, but he thinks all this is becoming a little too neurotic. He takes Jennifer in an embrace, and pulling back with his hands on each shoulder he looks her in the eyes.

“Will you please tell me what this is all about?” He desperately asks her.

    Jennifer, staring off at nothing, lets out a quick uncontrollable chuckle. Coming back to reality she looks Bill in the eyes, “You know…” She says while wandering over and sitting down on a moss covered rock beside the small dogwood, and she looks up at the leaves and she notices storm clouds gathering overhead.

“After seeing General Sherman, my father stopped looking at trees. It was as if they became so meaningless.” Jennifer tells, it would seem, no one in particular, as if she were speaking to the Dogwood itself, “It was like he saw every tree out the corner of his eye, and never noticed any of them at all”

    “I would point out a pretty tree,” she continued, “And he would say all matter of factly, ‘well it ain’t no General Sherman.’” The shook her head and smiled. “But you know, when the beauty of the world is determined by the beauty of what you think is the most beautiful, the world becomes ugly. But when the beauty of the world is determined by the beauty of the things themselves, the world becomes vast. Everything becomes beautiful.”

    Bill noticed her hand gently caressing the bark of the tree. He notices writing carved into the bark. It read “Captain Barry”.

    Jennifer started crying as rain drops started falling. It took Bill a second to notice that although she was crying she was also laughing.

    She stood up and looked around the small woodlot in wonder. Bill looked around too, and slowly he started to notice the carvings. Every tree had one. Corporal Teddy, Major Francis, Sergeant Humpty, Lieutenant Jennifer. The names went on, and every tree had one, they stood there like army men standing at attention in disconnected rows and columns.

    After a few minutes of standing there in the rain, Jennifer turned to Bill and finally said, “This place is special…”

Taking in one last look she turned around, “Alright, let’s go,” she said with a great exhale, and then she dove back into the tiny hole in the hedge grove.

    Bill stood for a moment or two longer before finally turning to dive back into the messy, uncomfortable, thorny gateway.

    In the breeze he could hear the whispering of a distant dog barking.

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