Gathering Mushrooms

by Julie Ahern

The forecast said a blizzard was coming, the storm of the century, so he knew today would be his last chance.

The alarm was set for 3:00, but he really didn’t need it; years of working in construction, getting up to be on site before sun-up had him trained. He slid out of bed, dressed quietly in the bathroom, and left his wife and youngest three snug asleep as he had for two and a half decades. The ritual he intended went back further than that, back to his childhood, back to a time when his father’s rough hands and rosy cheeks were warning signs to look sharp.

He smelled the snow coming under the crisp cold of autumn, under the rot of fallen leaves. “Damn,” he whispered the silent prayer that came every year, “Just one more find.”

He drove in the dark until it softened to twilight, then took the off ramp down a road well-traveled. That road lead to another, to another, to a railroad crossing. Furtively he looked down the tracks. As a boy, using his tip-toes to drive his snoring father home, it wasn’t as predictable. Now they were supposed to keep to the schedule, but you never knew. He rolled onto the tracks to the left and drove slow, window open, the cold turning his ear red and numb, listening. A while later, there was a sandy ease right before a trestle and he moved the car off the tracks and down the slope. The engine pinged and sighed to a final stop, as he stepped out, heavy boots and wool sweater keeping most of the chill off while he rubbed his left ear, and slipped into the forest.

The first spot, a fir tree that toppled ages ago, was bare. He had hoped it had one more year of nutrients left, but nothing was rooted in the soil. The second place was submerged in a bog… the irony of being too wet. White flakes started to fall as he headed to the last spot, the trunk of a tree that had sprouted the best mushrooms he had ever seen, year after year. But even under the branches, the snow built quickly and he realized he wouldn’t be able to get to the tree stump and back before his car got stuck.

“Shit! Shit! Dammit!” The silent woods dampened his cursing and made it small, less potent. It angered him even more. He stomped and yelled at the silence all the way back to the car. His knuckles white and mood dark, he made the trip home.

His wife could tell by the way he parked the car he hadn’t found any. She didn’t understand why he bothered anymore- you could get them in the store, and wild mushrooms could be poisonous. It had to do with family and his father… and maybe getting away from the noise of the house.

He walked in and she smiled, “Congratulations Papa, Diane had a little girl… surprised both her and Dennis, not the boy they were expecting at all! You’re a grandfather now.”

He let go of that darkness his father had given him. Let go of the violence, and decided to honor the future instead. “Really? So Brian won’t work, huh? Guess I’ll call her my mushroom.”

Painting created by Rob Hogan, Copyright 2017. You can view more of his work here.

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