The Fork in the Road
The final bend on the last road would take them to Beaumont. Father wanted to go straight but there was a fork in the road, so he stopped their old truck, packed full of their belongings, and got out to stare down each darkened, narrow lane. Maybe they were lost and they’d have to turn around and go home to Michigan.
Evie hoped they were lost.
She rolled down the window despite the cold. “Let’s go back,” she called, but as she said it Father took several steps forward and disappeared into the thick fog. Evie waited, and when he didn’t answer she sat up straight in the front seat, her heart pounding in her chest. She pushed at the door, but just as it opened Father reappeared piece by piece, his solid figure emerging from the deep gray.
“Can’t tell which way to go,” he said, coming back to the truck and leaning on the edge of her open window. He was wearing his padded gardening jacket and thick leather gloves, but his cheeks were red and the skin around his beard was windburned already. Cold filled the truck. “Fog’s too thick, and I sure don’t remember there being a fork in the road.”
He scratched his chin and took the crumpled directions from his jacket pocket. He’d gotten them months ago, before he’d visited the property, scribbling them onto the back of a grocery list because it had been nearest to the telephone. Milk, eggs, peanut butter, whole wheat bread, take Route 71 east until you reach exit 7, then go 70 miles on Route 77. . . .
Evie brought her knees up to her chest and shivered in the late October air. Her pant legs rode up her ankles, letting the cold sting her bare skin. The pants were too short, but they were the last ones her mom would ever buy her—the last of her pretty clothes with no grass stains on the knees from rolling down hills or holes in the sides from catching on thorns. She wouldn’t get rid of them no matter how small they got. She’d tried to stop growing instead, but it hadn’t worked. Her legs were long and gangly, like a boy’s.
Evie pulled her socks up as high as they would go and tugged at her winter coat to bring it lower. She peered down each road, only they both looked the same. Nothing but trees on every side, stretching as far as the eye could see—a thick forest between two great mountain ridges. The day was bleak, and the trees stood like sentries standing guard.
The truck door opened and Evie’s father slid back into the driver’s seat.
“I wrote down ‘straight,’” he said, pointing toward the crumpled paper. “I’m certain it was straight until town. It’s the strangest thing.”
Evie twisted her hair into a curl, but it fell flat again as soon as she let go. Mom’s had never done that. She sighed, and a flock of crows lifted up at once, as if released by her breath. They spiraled into the fog and their calls filled the air like a thunderous warning.
“We should go home,” she said again. “We must have made a wrong turn.”
She thought over the drive from Michigan to New York, and each turn seemed like a wrong turn. How could they move so far from Mom?
Everyone thought Father was making a mistake. Everyone. She’d heard them whispering, and no one had come to help them pack or see them off because Father wouldn’t let them. Not even his own mother had been allowed over.
“I don’t intend to take help from the same people who are talking behind my back,” he’d told her, but it had felt awful to leave with only the neighbor next door waving from his front window. After that there’d been highway after highway and an overnight stay in a hotel that didn’t have a TV and smelled like stale crackers.
Father had tried to say it was an adventure they were on, which wasn’t like him at all, but Evie only scowled and stared out the window, occasionally kicking the dashboard. Adventures were things that Mom went on, not Father, and they didn’t begin at five thirty in the morning with a stalled truck that took half an hour to start and empty roads going nowhere.
“This is all wrong,” Evie muttered, but Father shook his head.
“Nah,” he said, “this is it.”
His dark eyes flashed the way they did when there was trouble to be figured out. They’d flashed that way the day he’d told her about buying the land. Only seven months after Mom died, he’d come to dinner all excited about a phone call from an old man.
“Fifty acres, Evie, and he’s practically giving them away because the orchard hasn’t been producing fruit. People around there think it’s a curse, but they’re just superstitious, that’s all.” Father had paced around the kitchen, waving his arms as he spoke.
“They talk themselves into believing in curses and bad luck, but that’s just foolishness. It was disease that made those trees sick and it’s hard work that will make them better.”
Evie didn’t care whether the stupid trees got better. Why should trees get better when people didn’t? Even the old man had died not long after that phone call. She’d crossed her fingers and toes that the deal would fall through, but it hadn’t. The old man’s sister had sold them the property instead, just as her brother had wished, and now three months later they were on their way.
Evie frowned and stared out the window.
“I hope we never get there,” she mumbled, but Father just glanced across the front seat of the truck and sighed. He reached over and smoothed the hair from Evie’s forehead. Her bangs hung in her eyes because Father never got around to cutting them—not even when Evie asked him to. “Tomorrow,” he always said. “I’ve got a sick tree that needs attention, but I promise to do it tomorrow.”
Except tomorrow never came and now the scissors were packed along with everything else. Evie pulled away and Father put his hand back on the steering wheel.
“We’re almost there,” he said, real soft. “I’d guess another five miles will get us to Beaumont, provided we pick the right road.” He paused, then looked over, catching Evie’s eye.
“You pick, Evie.”