Laurel Lee

A work in progress

 

Emily Lewis’ van bumped and bounded jarringly along the rough dirt road as its tortured suspension made rather distressing noises. Prompting Emily to turn the volume up on the radio and sing along all the louder, as she navigated the eerie woods of the perpetually misty Burnham valley.

Bound for her new home and her brand new life as well, on the banks of the Little Deer River. Driving as carefully as she could to avoid the endless potholes and ruts, but somehow managing to hit each and every last one.

The multitude of boxes packed tightly into the back of the vehicle represented the entirety of Emily’s worldly possessions. Everything she cared to salvage from her old life in the city, from the world she was leaving behind. With as much emotional baggage as she was still willing to carry from the train wreck of her breakup with Isabella, stowed safely and securely away in her heart. Hopefully to someday finally be forgotten and at long last laid to rest.

Between rain corrugation and potholes the last leg of the journey was a bone rattler, without doubt. But by no means intolerable and certainly not rough enough to dampen Emily’s spirits.

For at the end of this road lay new hope and a fresh beginning. The chance to start all over again. Far from the turmoil and clamour of the metropolis at last, just as she had always dreamed.

Emily sought to reassure herself as she bounced around in the driver’s seat. Attempting with rapidly diminishing success to gloss over the shortcomings of her new environment. Determined as she was not to have her fantasies spoiled by troublesome realities.

No matter how much denial and self-deception was required, Emily was determined to make this work.

“I’ll get used to it in time….” Emily cheerfully declared, though the words came out jolted and jarred.

“….no problem….”

“The road’s just a little rough, that’s all….” She further blatantly lied.

“….it’s fine….”

“Really….”

And as the van struck a particularly deep rut in the road it jarringly bucked and violently lurched. And Emily bumped her head hard on the roof prompting her to reassess her expectations. Not to mention the potential for cranial trauma if she continued to sugar coat her experiences. Her faithful old van complaining with a frightening grinding and groaning. But nonetheless acquiescing to Emily’s fervent prayers to hold itself together.

“Okay….” She conceded at last.

“….so, maybe I could look into getting the road graded and dressed….”

“….maybe Liliana could help me organize something.”

“Maybe Lilliana…?”

Emily had followed the highway out of the city as far as the Markham road exit. And then by way of Coleraine on to the small town of Burnham. She had stopped for a late lunch and to pick up a few supplies at the pleasant little town. And to briefly check in with Liliana, who to her disappointment wasn’t around. Before finally continuing along Markham Road to the Little Deer River turnoff and home.

Burnham was a pretty little town. Nestled in a region of coniferous foothills which stretched away to the nearby mountains. It was neat and well cared for and had a unique kind of feel. Like it was well loved in a very particular kind of way. Almost cherished, like some kind of living heirloom.

And Burnham was possessed of a singularly eerie atmosphere. A certain sanctity, or perhaps even separateness from the rest of the world. In fact the entire Burnham valley felt as though it were in some sense adjacent to rather than entirely within reality.

Emily speculated that the queer impression was probably generated by the dense, boulder strewn pine forest which enclosed the town on all sides. Its haunting presence absolute and unbroken save for the passage of the Little Deer River. Gaily babbling its serpentine course through the northern part of the hamlet.

Perhaps some might find the dense forests a little spooky or oppressive, but to Emily’s mind the impression was one of comfort. As though nature had embraced the Burnham valley with a particularly fond affection. Mother Nature cuddling the place close to her breast to keep it safe and sound in her care.

Insurmountable transportation problems had preserved Burnham’s ancient eerie pines from deforestation. And even though the entire region had been mercilessly logged, Burnham had miraculously remained untouched. And this sense of preservation and separateness seemed to transfer itself even onto the very character of the town’s inhabitants.

The people of Burnham were remarkably warm and welcoming, surprisingly open minded and accepting for country people. Their warm geniality contrasted wonderfully, against the uniquely creepy feel of place. Providing a juxtaposition of conflicting impressions which delighted Emily to no end.

Emily had experimented with small town life several times before. But thus far without any significant success. For she was, even by her own estimation at the very least unconventional in many ways. And she could even concede that in some aspects of her character, she could even be a little unyielding. Perhaps even somewhat staunch.

And rural people themselves tended to be rather uncompromising and generally slow to trust newcomers. And always therein lay the problem, for Emily simply did not conform to the social patterns people seemed to expect of her.

Country people generally seemed to find her abrasive or even aloof at first blush. She was of course no such thing, she simply had her own way of doing things. And refused resolutely to conform simply for the sake of conformity.

And Emily’s unconventional dress sense also seemed to put people on the back foot. For fashion was to Emily no less a valid form of personal artistic expression than any other. And she delighted in juxtaposing the conservative and antique with the modern and bold all in the same outfit.

But her ensembles seemed to confuse people and challenge their expectations. Especially combined with her taste in hairstyles, which might best be described as rather alternative and possibly even a little severe.

But whatever the case. Who she was should be good enough without having to phony up a fake but publicly palatable persona. And on this principle Emily Lewis was entirely inflexible. And folk on the whole tend not to care for such singular individuality.

But Burnham had been different. Everyone Emily met had welcomed her warmly and helped her feel at ease from the moment she first arrived in spite of her outward appearance. Which after loading the van, combating city traffic and making the four hour journey out to Burnham, was currently somewhat dishevelled as well as challenging.

Indeed, it would appear that for as odd as she may be, Emily Lewis was good enough for Burnham people just as she was. And this was just as well, because Emily Lewis was determined to build a new life and put down roots. And she intended to do it here, amongst the haunting pine forest of Burnham Valley.

Emily’s career as an artist perpetually dragged her back to the city in spite of her best efforts to escape the turmoil of city life. But things had been working out remarkably well lately. Her pieces were selling exceptionally well and fetching the kind of prices she was still coming to grips with.

The long hard years of striving to build her profile and reputation were finally starting to yield success. Hopefully she could escape the city for good this time and live the idyllic rural life she had craved for so long.

Garnering the attention and respect her work demanded had been a slow process. But at last there was a steady and consistent demand for her pieces. Finally her work was being taken seriously. Just as she was finally being taken seriously as a significant creative entity.

Emily had grown accustomed to the struggle and uncertainty familiar to the emerging artist. And truth be told she had never imagined that she would ever see this level of popularity. Of course success had always been Emily’s ultimate goal, but she had never projected too far into how that future might look.

She had plans of course, but Emily was very much a person in the here and now. Her mind focussed on the intellectual fluidity necessary for creative expression, but with both boots planted firmly on the ground nonetheless.

She had fuelled her creativity, with faith and courage. And had always trusted that the future would unfold on cue. And it appeared that her faith was finally being validated and her dreams at last coming true.

Of course good representation had helped immensely. And the agony of a broken heart had done wonders for her career in the last year or so.

The pain of separating with Bella had equated to proliferation. And a certain cruel but beguiling beauty and sincerity in her work. A stark integrity of articulation which seemed to capture critical attention. And an almost brutal quality which appeared to hold that attention and inspire enduring fascination.

And as she speculated on the shape of her old life, Emily’s mind carelessly wandered to memories of her tumultuous years with Bella. She felt a sharp stab of distress and the frantic panic of separation anxiety. And tears appeared unbidden in her eyes as Emily wandered a little too far into memories of the past.

It had been a year now since she and Bella had broken up for good. But it still hurt like hell sometimes. It was getting easier lately without doubt, but she still felt the agony of it from time to time.

She and Bella had been together for almost ten years, since they were seventeen. In a lot of ways they had grown up together, found their true selves and made their place in the world side by side. But the problem was they had grown in radically different directions and arrived at separate destinations.

Neither of them were the person they were when they first came together. Back then Emily was vehemently energetic and vigorous. Full to the brim with anger at injustice and determined to point out that injustice as loudly as she could. And through her work incite debate and catalyse action.

But in time her anger had evolved into a more powerful articulacy and she became less Quixotic in her desire to challenge the world. Emily was delighted now to be the rust which erodes the archaic and brutal edifices of societal oppression. Rather than the wrecking ball of change which smashes away the derelict slums of outmoded thought.

And Bella. The once upon a time rave queen had metamorphosed into the quintessential corporate woman. Destined for great things and going straight to the top. All tailored suits and professional ferocity. Consumed by ambition and single minded determination. Embracing the very corporate beast that Emily was striving to see brought down.

Bella and Emily had simply become oil and water. What they wanted from life and where they saw themselves going had driven them in radically different directions. Their paths in life had simply diverged too far for them to walk side by side anymore.

But what stung Emily the most, was that the painful manner of their separation could have been different. They had both become so consumed with their own individual evolution, that they had simply forgotten to keep talking. Although they hadn’t forgotten how to fight.

Neither of them had fallen out of love, the passion was still there. The problem was the people they were in love with no longer existed. The world, with its adventures and opportunities had so fascinated them both. They simply lost sight of each other amongst the bright lights and excitement.

Emily allowed her mind to dwell on the past a little too long and she found herself compelled to pull over to wipe tears from her eyes. Even now she still occasionally grieved for the loss of who she and Bella once were.

“Fuck you Bella…!” Emily slammed her hands against the steering wheel in frustration.

“….I loved you….”

“….”

“….I love you….”

Emily allowed herself to cry for a minute or two before gathering herself together and continuing her journey.

It wasn’t Bella’s fault and it wasn’t her fault either. It just was.

It irritated Emily that it could still hurt her like this but she knew better than to keep the pain suppressed. Bella was gone and that life was over. It was all in the past now.

But for as much as it hurt, Emily’s thoughts were fixed firmly on the future. The possibilities were exciting and this time she wanted to settle down for good. To put down roots and make a new home for herself and begin living her life on her own terms.

 

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