They called it “the back forty.” But really, the Mine Hill Nature Preserve encompassed a lot more than 40 acres of forest. Within a week of his family obtaining their “family dog” (Cain’s father held his perfect family unit in high regard in terms of appearances), Cain’s mother had readily taken to waking early, putting on her new brand new hiking boots and walking with Sassy in the vast expanse of woods that abutted the back yard. In turn, Sassy (Cain hadn’t objected to the renaming of Sasquatch since he didn’t much care about the name, or the dog for that matter, in the first place) would readily accept her putting on his leash and walking beyond the back yard to the tree his mother once called The Weeping Angel. There she would get down on her knees and retie her boots before venturing into the forest. On the first day she did this, Cain and Tanny were playing with Legos on the deck.
“Okay, now you be good while I take Sassy to do her business,” Madeleine had said. “Remember, I’ve got my cell with me, so you call me if you need to come back to the house, okay?’
“Okay. Bye Mom,” Cain said, not looking up the monster truck he was building. In her excitement to get the dog out and walking, Madeline had seemingly forgotten that the family’s cell phones got sporadic reception at best at or near their own house. Cain wasn’t worried anyway. At 8 years old, he had reached a level of maturity beyond his years. He knew if he kept Tanny building the Eiffel Tower set she was working on, he would have no need to contact his mother. Besides, he knew where the first aid kit and the house phone were in the kitchen.
Madeleine went down the dozen or so steps to the back yard. She crossed to her garden at the very edge of the property. Opening the fenced gate, she examined some of the blooming flowers of late summer and checked on the basil and parsley plants, holding her nose above them and inhaling deeply. Satisfied, she walked back out of the fenced area and to the tree she affectionately called (to herself, anyway) The Weeping Angel about 10 yards past the property line of the back yard. She knelt to retie her boots, then wrapped Sassy’s leash around her hand a couple times and set off into the woods. Sassy bounded this way and that until he got to the end of the Flexi leash and proceeded to slam down in his back. Unphazed, he would stand up again, shake off his tumble, and run sideways in the opposite direction until he reached the end of the leash again and repeated his flanking maneuver.
Cain watched as she went. He took a deep breath and felt a tinge of relief. Being beyond his age was good for home security, but Cain had no idea what his mother wanted or needed. He just knew she wasn’t getting it the way things were right now. When Cain’s father was home, the two of them spent many nights sitting and talking in the Great Room. Madeline had been half-heartedly studying for a real estate exam for over a year and she and Colin discussed that and whatever was in the news on TV. That is, when Cain’s father came home at all. Colin often stayed the whole week in a hotel in Manhattan when he didn’t commute to the investment firm he worked for. Those weeks, Madeline took care of the house and the kids by herself, not that that was any different than when Cain’s father did come home. The difference was Colin would occasionally state his final verdict about a remodeling decision or Tanny’s bedtime and Madeline would simply comply. Even when Colin wasn’t there. It was easier that way. His father never offered anything about his life or work outside their house and his mother never asked.
Cain watched as his mother almost jogged to the garden, then the tree, then into the forest. He hoped that whatever she was looking for was in those woods somewhere.
He went back to his Lego set.