Two Pieces (Treasure Buried Deep & A Slight Delay) – Abigail Miles
Treasure Buried Deep
The trees of the forest behind our house smelled like black hickory smoke on the day my father took a length of rope and strung himself from the tallest oak in our yard. I observed, unseen, from the bay window in our kitchen as he dragged our old rusted ladder across the yard, a look of determination strewn over his face. He propped the ladder up right next to the oak and began to climb, with all the precision of a sherpa ascending his own personal Everest. Where he had gotten the rope I have never known, but it looked frayed and worn enough that I imagine if he had actually gone through with it, the rope may have snapped before his neck was given the chance.
He didn’t jump. I watched with small eyes and didn’t understand anything except the desperation I saw written beneath my father’s determination, though that word wouldn’t come to me until much later. No, he tied the knot and wrapped it around himself like a scarf to block the wind. Then he had stood on a branch that, looking back, should never have been able to support him, but it seems my father was not destined to perish that day because the branch held him, and he leaned forward with a single arm wrapped around the trunk of the oak, like a captain at his ship’s helm.
That was the image that stuck with me years later: my father as a sea captain, atop his static, oaken vessel, gazing out across the sea of possibilities. I like to think that’s what he was doing-searching for a possibility, for another option, and I suppose he found it, for ten minutes after he strung himself up my father let himself back down. He descended the ladder and dragged it back toward our garage with the same diligence with which he had set it up in the first place, then came inside to make me breakfast.
I’ve always wondered if that was the only time my father climbed up in that tree, or if it was the only time that I was there to bear witness to. I wondered how often he found himself lost in a storm of uncertainty and defeat, and how often he decided to climb that tree in search of something more attuned to purpose.
If my father was a pirate, captaining an oaken vessel amidst a sea of leaves and air, then I imagine he must have found the treasure he was hunting somewhere among the branches and limbs, for he came down from the tree, and time passed, but then slowly the look in his eyes began to shift into something less like surrender, and more like acceptance. Like he had become more content with the life he had to live, and this contentment carried on with more or less consistency until his end, which wasn’t at the rough hands of a fraying rope, but in the grasp of a deep, endless sleep that came upon him one night, whisking him off into a sea made of something else entirely, something beyond any of our comprehension.
In the days following my father’s departure from this earth, I spent more time than I cared to admit wondering after the treasure he must have managed to locate for himself while standing up there in that tree, and then I wondered at the feasibility of finding it for myself. The older I became-the further I grew from that small child crouched hidden beneath the curve of our kitchen window-the more I thought I could understand my father’s desperate search, his need for a speck of gold amidst the darkness. His treasure was found in a sea of wind and leaves-I opted for a more traditional path.
From the first real adult paycheck I received, and for years afterward, I set aside all the pennies and dimes I could in the hopes of being able to secure a vessel of my own one day. And, three years after my father passed, this step in my elusive treasure hunt was secured.
She was called The Destiny Rising, in the hope that perhaps mine would, and she was just about the most pitiable looking boat I thought would be capable of staying afloat, but she had a cabin below deck and could be manned by a single person, so in many ways she was perfect.
The sea, I found, was lonely, except for the waves that would always whisper to me, and the wind that remained a constant melodic voice above my head. And the creak of the boat as it rocked in the angry waters late at night, and the sound of the drips that would continue to fall long after all the rain had come and gone.
Sometimes I would find myself looking out into the water, across the vast, endless sea, and I would see some of my father in myself. I would stand at the edge of my boat, daring my feet to take the plunge, to let go, and I recognized this as part of the game. Part of the treasure hunt that had cast me out to sea in the first place.
And one time I did jump. It was only about ten feet into the water from the edge of The Destiny, and the day was bright, calm-the waves peaceful. The icy shock of the water that vibrated through me when I broke the surface was still enough to jar the innermost corners of my soul, shaking them enough that by the time I had caught my breath I wasn’t sure if the pieces of myself were all in the correct order anymore. I was even less sure if it would be a good thing or not if they had been rearranged inside me.
My body, after floating in the gentle waves of the Pacific for a few minutes, adjusted enough for me to begin to appreciate the feat I had carried out. I was there, one with the ocean, with the rest of the world, with nothing between me and the expanse of eternity that the sea right then seemed to encompass. I let my arms hang out around me and laid there in the water on my back with my eyes closed, letting the sun and the salt and the sand absorb into me, through me, washing away the parts of my father in me that had driven him up the oak, that had driven me here, to the sea. I knew that I had found it-that chest of gold, but in the form of all that which surrounded me in that moment. And I felt real for the first time in as far back as I could remember.
The day after I rested with the water and realized what it could feel like to live, I redirected The Destiny and headed back toward land. Once I reached the shore and docked The Destiny, dragging my legs up on the dock and shaking away the lingering rise and fall of the sea that continued to permeate through my limbs, I decided that the waves had done all they could for me, and I never returned.
Out there, I had found a piece of what it was that I had thought I had been searching for-not all of it, I knew, but a hint of what it was about my father that I had never been able to fully grasp. And I had jumped, and I had endured. I knew that this hunt for treasure buried far deep within myself and scattered out there in the world around me wasn’t something I could continue to look back to my father for, and maybe it wasn’t something that I would ever find.
Or maybe I had the purpose of the search wrong, all along, and I just hadn’t been searching after the treasure the right way. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a pirate, seeking endlessly across the great expanse of sea. Maybe instead I was meant to be a dragon, and maybe one day still I would cast my wings and soar.
A Slight Delay
“Good afternoon folks. We seem to be experiencing a slight delay as a result of a small issue with the engine. Just hang tight, and we’ll be off in no time.”
The pilot’s voice issuing through the plane’s speaker filtered slowly into Beverly’s ears, and even more slowly up to her brain. A slight delay, he said, and she mulled over what that could mean.
Was there something wrong with their plane? Should she be worried? How long was this going to take? And if they did manage to take off soon, would the plane be okay to fly? The pilot had said something about a problem with the engine, and that did not sound comforting to Beverly, who couldn’t even imagine what that might mean.
Leaning back in her uncomfortable, barely-padded airplane seat as far as she could while remaining in an upright position, Beverly closed her eyes and tried to quiet her thoughts. Instead of calming down, however, Beverly became attuned to a low buzzing that she thought she could feel coming from below her seat-vibrating up through the floor of the plane beneath her feet, up from the very heart of the vessel she rested in. The buzzing felt discordant, unsettling, and the more Beverly concentrated on the feel of it reaching her through the plastic and metal and whatever else it was that separated her from that disabled engine, the more convinced she became that there was something not quite right about its sound. It wasn’t the steady, reliable thrum that she would expect of an engine responsible for catering the metallic bird across the thousands of miles it was destined to traverse.
Uneasily, with the uneven pulsing of the plane’s engine still resounding in her head, Beverly opened her eyes again, looking around at her fellow passengers to see if any of them had the same foreboding of dread as her-the same sense that being on that plane could bring nothing good. From her position next to one of the plane’s small, ovular windows, Beverly only had a good vantage of four or five of the other passengers, but none of them displayed any outward signs of the panic that was slowly beginning to course more and more through her, and she wondered what was wrong with all of them, how they could all remain so calm and unconcerned when their very lives could be at stake.
If the plane even took off at all. Beverly glanced down at her watch and saw that five minutes had passed since the pilot had made his announcement. They had already been behind schedule when they had finished boarding-one of the passengers had almost missed the last call, it seemed, and they had needed to wait up for her to get through security. That meant that, at that very moment, they were nearly fifteen minutes late, and the way things were going Beverly wouldn’t have been surprised if that fifteen turned into fifty, or more, and then where would she be? Stranded in a city that wasn’t her destination, left behind when the connecting flight she was supposed to catch left without her.
She would have to get a hotel in the city. Wait it out for the night. Find some way to get a new flight out first thing the next morning. Did she have enough in her bank account for all of that? Beverly tried to rack her brain for whether or not airlines would reimburse you if you missed a connecting flight.
Beverly spotted a harried looking flight attendant coming down the aisle, and she sat up straighter in her seat, waving the woman over.
“Excuse me,” Beverly said to the flight attendant, who peered down at her with a smile that told Beverly she wanted to be anywhere but there. “Do you know how much longer the delay will be? I have a connecting flight to make after this, and I really can’t miss it.”
“I’m sure we’ll be off in no time,” the flight attendant said, thinning out her smile and narrowing her eyes at Beverly. “The pilot will announce when we’re good to go.”
“Yes, but how long?” Beverly asked, leaning toward the flight attendant slightly.
“I’m sorry but I really can’t say. Shouldn’t be long.” And then, before Beverly could get in another word, the flight attendant walked off down the aisle, stopping a few seats back from Beverly to talk to a woman who held a bundled up infant in her arms.
Beverly could feel a cold sweat beginning to break out all over her skin, and she reached up to turn on the fan above her head, hoping the airflow might help clear her mind somewhat. She sucked in the stale airplane air conditioning and tried to tell herself that it was probably going to be fine, that things like this happened all of the time, but then she happened to glance out of that thickly-paned window to her right and saw a swarm of men dressed in neon oranges and yellows gathering beneath the belly of her plane. What were they doing? Beverly wondered, and she sat up again, staring more intently out of the window. They looked like they were yelling to each other about something. About the engine? Were they yelling because they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it? Or, worse, because they knew what was wrong, but couldn’t fix it?
Uneven breaths were rasping in and out of Beverly’s throat as she continued to watch the brightly dressed men who were running around outside her plane like chickens with their heads cut off. This did not look good. And in that moment, Beverly knew with a certainty she couldn’t explain that the plane was never going to take off. Or, if it did, it would not be for many hours.
There was something horribly wrong with the vessel, and she was going to be strapped down in that uncomfortable plastic chair that was biting into the bones of her back in a way that she was certain was giving her scoliosis for the foreseeable future. There was no way she’d be making that second flight-that was for sure. Maybe it’d even be too late to find a decent hotel by the time she got to the city. She would have to sleep in one of those horrific airport chairs overnight. Would anything in the airport be open at that hour? What would she be able to eat? Did they even let people do that anymore-spend the night in the airport? Or was that just something out of the movies? What if she-
“Sorry again for the delay, folks. It looks like everything is in order now, and we will be taking off shortly. The flight from here should be swift, smooth sailing. Stay in your seats with your seat belts on, and we’ll be off in just a minute. Thank you again for choosing to fly with us today.”
Abigail Miles is a creative writing student at Appalachian State University. She aspires to make the world a little more interesting and a little more bizarre through her stories, and to share with readers the dreams that both haunt and inspire her. Her work has appeared in Bending Genres Journal, Atlantis Magazine, and Cold Mountain Review.