When she was a kid and they got to ditch church on a bright Sunday morning to take a drive, the excitement started in the kitchen as she and Mom started packing the picnic lunch that was always more food than the four of them could eat. Dad and Graham would be checking over the aging Buick, making sure all was in order. Graham felt important with the pressure gauge in hand, checking the worn tires.
Usually they’d drive west, toward the coast, toward the beach and surf. But sometimes, especially if a storm was blowing in off the Pacific, they’d head inland to meander the two lane roads that kicked up dust in farm land. The bread basket of the state, if so much smaller than the wheat fields of the vast Midwest.
There were silos and barns in rusty red, and meadows with sheep or cows just staring and chewing their cud. And the sudden turns that brought them to a bridge spanning creek, river or ravine, a treat when it was wooden planks as a relief from concrete.
And one place they went past slowly, car tires tiptoing on gravel. A lonely cottage just inside a stand of trees, shutters fallen like broken teeth, attic roof dropped in from time and weather.
It was a romantic spot to her young eyes, what with trees both evergreen and deciduous (though she hadn’t learned that word yet), and flowers blowing wild in spring, and apples burdening branches in fall.
But whoever had lived there, they were long gone. And the twined initials (surrounded by a heart) carved into the lightning-charred oak by the road clearly told a sad truth: love is not enough. The ivy and rot and rust, the prying fingers of roots and rats…even abandonment itself was like a character in the story, but the lovers who used to live there weren’t even ghosts any more.