As soon as we left the driveway and turned left, in the opposite direction from which I came that first day, there was nothing but open fields some of them covered in wild flowers and dotted with magnolia trees.
“One of your ancestors must’ve loved magnolia trees. They seem to be in abundance around here.” He almost ran off the road and I sat up straight looking back at the road behind us to see what had caused him to swerve so violently.
“There was someone once.” He stared straight ahead and I looked back at the baby to make sure she hadn’t been disturbed. She was too busy playing with her toes.
I soon got lost in the passing scenery and the feel of my hand in his once he reached for it. It felt like we were driving for hours when he pulled down a dirt track and slowed to a crawl.
There was a burnt out shell of an old abandoned home up ahead and as I watched, a bird flew over, crying out loud.
I felt a chill run down my spine as my eyes focused on the remains of the small house and a feeling like smoke filling my lungs gripped me.
“Breathe!” I looked into his eyes as the world came back into focus.
“What… what happened?” He’d stopped the Rover and was turned towards me his hands rubbing mine soothingly.
The baby had started wailing in the background and that bird, a raven, was now perched on one of the only standing posts of the home, staring at us.
“You were having a panic attack.” I squinted at him like he was speaking a foreign language. I’ve never had one of those before. No, that’s not quite true. I had one after the accident but…
“Oh, sorry, let me get her.” I started to climb out but he stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll get her.” He climbed out and went around to lift the baby out before helping me down.
“What is this place?” I looked around, ignoring the bird that seemed to be listening to us. As soon as my feet touched the ground I’d felt it. That feeling like I’d been here before.
I wanted to ask him. To share some of the craziness that had been going on inside my head. But how do you start that conversation?
I hadn’t been able to talk to my mom and best friend about it, furthermore someone I barely knew. He’d probably think I was nuts.
“I used to spend a lot of time here. This was the home of my family’s caretaker and his family. It’s been that way since the first McCormick settled here.”
There was a wistfulness in his voice, a sadness almost. He pulled me in until my head rested on his shoulder and the bird started up its cry again before flying off.
The place had a feel of both restfulness and angst about it. Almost as if something was festering beneath the surface. And yet I felt serene as we stood there taking it in.
I followed along as he walked towards the ruins and around it. There were more wild flowers and another magnolia tree, both seemingly untouched by time.
He walked to the tree, my hand still held in his. There were some markings carved into the trunk, a bit faded with time. But it was still easy to make out a heart with initials carved in the center.
I squinted to see and could barely make out the C above and the N below. In that moment I didn’t make any connection between the two of us, but something about the markings made me feel…something.
I stared at it for a long time as my mind went back to the earlier vision of the kiss beneath the magnolia tree. Again tears filled my eyes and a feeling of such deep melancholy assailed me I almost stumbled.
He dropped my hand and put his arm around me pulling me in even closer. “Why does it feel so sad here?” I whispered the words as if afraid to disturb the quiet.
Once again he didn’t answer with words, but the kiss he placed on my temple was just as comforting.
We walked around some more and that feeling soon lifted the deeper we went into the surrounding field. I could tell that this was once a happy place, the feeling still lingered.
“We should head back. I think she needs a change.”
“Forgive me, I didn’t even think to pack any nappies for her. And you’ve been carrying her all morning…”
I reached for the baby but he took my hand instead. “It’s your day off, I can carry her.”
“It doesn’t matter that it’s my day off. Pass the baby, baby hog.”
He gave me a startled look before breaking into laughter and passing the drooling baby over. It’s true it was my day off. But I’d discussed staying here unless I needed to run into town for something when I went for the interview.