Welcome back, dear reader! If you’ve been following along with my weekly prompts, then you know that this here is my own response to last week’s installment in this “Writing for Practice” series. Enjoy—and keep on writing.
Prompt #3: Describe a significant place, allowing the details to reveal why the place matters. Describe it from a tree or rooftop or from a hawk’s point of view. Describe it from the height of a dog or a turtle.
The plastic-wrapped bouquets rustle each time a car goes by on the winding state road, and while the traffic usually slows here, it is not to take in the somber sight of the handmade wooden cross in front of the massive red oak tree, half-hidden by the cellophane cones of wilting daisies, roses, and carnations. The corner is sharp here—almost ninety degrees—and most drivers are keeping their eyes on the road ahead.
A lone male cardinal alights high in the bare branches of the oak, its head tilting quizzically to the left and right, surveying the area below. Perhaps drawn by the bright (though fading fast) colors of the flowers, it drops to a lower perch. A car approaches the corner, its tires shuddering and splashing over the frost heaves and potholes virtually covering the surface of the winter-beleaguered road. The cardinal is unperturbed by the disturbance, even as the car slows and pulls onto the soft shoulder just in front of the makeshift memorial; the driver cuts the engine and opens the door. Fluffing up its bright plumage, the cardinal settles down further onto the branch, and watches.
A young woman gets out of the driver seat and slowly walks in front of the car, over to the pile of flowers, the cross, and the oak tree—which, from its lower position in the tree, the cardinal can now see the huge, rending gash in the bark, on the side of the tree facing the road. The bare wood has discolored to a rusty red hue; covered in sap, it looks like the tree is bleeding. The woman takes this in as she approaches, her steps slowing to a stop. In her hands is a photograph, encased in a plastic bag. She wedges it in between the two pieces of wood that form the cross, and steps back, knocking a withered red dahlia from its precarious position at the top of the flower bouquet pyramid.
The cardinal drops from the tree, heedless of the proximity of the woman, and grasps the stem of the flower in its talons. Before taking off, it turns and regards the woman with its bright, inquisitive eyes. She draws in her breath sharply, and the unshed tears that had been perilously close to spilling over onto her cheeks did so as she looked down at the bright red bird.
After another moment, the cardinal flew off into the woods. The woman watched it until its bright plumage disappeared in the gloom of the trees, and after another minute, she brushed away her tears absentmindedly. “Thank you,” she whispered, and got back into her car, a tiny smile playing at the corners of her mouth.