Alison couldn’t remember how she ended up in the forest, only that she was there and it was chilly. A hazy rain was falling, and she had to squint her eyes to see. She was not at home anymore.
She walked. It was the only thing she could do, walk and shout, “Hello?” The trees didn’t answer. No one called back. No matter how far she walked, how loudly she shouted, and how many times she thought she was getting somewhere, the only response that ever came was the rustling of the leaves.
She had been walking for ten minutes – or was it an hour, or a day, or a week, without sunrise or sunset or nightfall? – when she reached a staircase. It was the most natural thing in the world, a wooden staircase built into the dirt, winding up into the forest and off the path she’d been walking, path of dirt and grass and leaves and fallen branches, all slick and wet from hazy rain.
“What do I have to lose?” she asked herself, and placed an unsteady foot on the first step. Alison immediately felt better with her current predicament. She placed a hand on the damp wood of the railing and took another step. And another. A fourth. In the middle of the trees, the rain couldn’t get into her eyes. She walked a bit faster, a bit happier, and she remembered.
It was a peculiar feeling, remembering. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was remembering until the mental image formed in her head.
Ten steps up, she was at her sixth birthday party. Mary from around the corner stole her new Barbie toy, so Alison cried until she got it back.
Fourteen steps up, her mother was feeding her a yogurt. She was barely a year old, and she was loving it. Except for the high chair. How she hated being in that high chair, when she could crawl about the floor as easily as anything. Eventually she was let down, and she laughed as she rummaged about on the kitchen tiles, and pulled open drawers. But she didn’t touch anything. She knew she wasn’t allowed. Alison just looked, laughed, and closed the drawer. She looked to her mother for approval, and saw that she was crying, but smiling. Alison didn’t know why.
Sixty eight steps up, not that Alison was counting, she was going to school for the first time. Her mother was crying again, and Alison didn’t know why. She laughed as she ran into the classroom and found a girl with pink ribbons in her hair. Alison showed off her new schoolbag, and the girl did the same. They decided then and there that they were best friends.
Three hundred and thirty five steps up, Alison was kissing a boy for the first time. They were playing spin the bottle. She was seventeen, and felt extremely conscious about her decision to go to a party like this. She only had one drink, because she was afraid she might be taken advantage of.
Eight hundred and ninety nine steps up, Alison walked in on her parents. They were not having sex. He was hitting her in the face. Alison called out for him, in the memory and in the forest, “Daddy?” Her mother hit him in the head with a lamp, scooped Alison up, and ran out of the house with her. She was ten, but she was slight.
Four thousand, two hundred and twelve steps up, Alison had sex for the first time. She was nineteen, and she was proud of herself for holding out so long. She had known Jimmy for seven years, and she was also his first. She did not feel self-conscious. He did not know what he was doing. Neither of them felt badly afterwards, even though it hurt a little. She kissed him, and when he worried that maybe he’d put the condom on wrong, she told him, “Then we’ll be the best parents in the world.”
Twenty five thousand and three steps up, Alison had a miscarriage. She and Jimmy had been trying for four years.
One hundred thousand, six hundred and eleven steps up, Alison was putting on her wedding dress. She was twenty eight. She still had pregnancy weight, but she knew she would. She looked at herself in the mirror, and she knew she was beautiful. It was the first time she had thought that about herself since she’d given birth to their son. He was with Jimmy today.
Six million, seven hundred and twenty three steps up, she was in labour. Her stomach was huge. Her whole body ached, drugs be damned. Jimmy was crying, and she didn’t know if it was because he was happy or if she was crushing his hand. Alison knew not to underestimate the strength of a woman in labour.
Nineteen million steps even, Alison sat beside Jimmy. They were just watching the television, and it was nice. She was sixty three, he was sixty four. Their eldest son was a doctor, their twin daughters were planning their double-wedding. One of them was pregnant. They were doing everything late, but they were doing it perfectly. Alison was happy, and she cried. She never really knew why.
Five million and three steps later, Alison was saying goodbye to Jimmy. Her children and her grandchildren were outside the room in the hospital. She had had a fall. Everyone was crying, except for her and Jimmy. He was being strong for her. They knew she wasn’t going to make it. The doctors said she had internal injuries that were too extensive. She was okay with that.
Alison continued climbing the steps, even when the memories stopped coming. She didn’t feel tired. She didn’t feel old. She didn’t feel weak or sore or sad.
She was nearing the top of the stairs. She could see where the steps disappeared, and she waited. Eventually, she heard Jimmy calling her name. She cried.
Photo prompt for this story from: http://writingpromptphotos.tumblr.com/post/73554806017/wooden-staircase-in-taize-france-photo