Home Arts & Lit The Colour of Oak (James Turner)

The Colour of Oak (James Turner)

James Turner shares a short story about grief and the supernatural in our new creative writing segment.

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The way that the sun rises up over the hills surrounding the lake really is quite beautiful. Red streaks of light explode into the clouds and a thin layer of mist forms just above the water. On windy days, you can watch the reeds rustling close to the pier where they push the boats out and in the furthest corner of the lake you can sit beneath the overhanging trees as they swing their branches and shake their leaves. The water by the shore runs deepest there.

That was where I sat, watching the sunrise. I thought about my father, lying in his hospital bed. He was missing out on quite a view. When the diagnosis came through he was inconsolable. Hysterical. I never quite understood why he was so scared, but sitting by the lake that morning I realised that it was because he didn’t have a choice. That was what he was most afraid of. I still had a choice, and I chose the furthest corner of the lake, where the overhanging trees swing their branches and shake their leaves and the water by the shore runs deepest.

Before anything else could happen, I saw the mist above the lake begin to slowly rise, pluming up here and there until a thick wall began to stretch to the sky, higher and higher, spreading out further and further until eventually the entire lake was enshrouded. I could no longer see the sun, but it stained a sickly yellow pallor into the haze. The birdsong stopped. Now the gentle lapping of the water against the bank was all that remained.

“Strange weather we’re having today, aren’t we?”

I turned around, surprised, to see a woman staring back at me, her mouth curled in an expectant smile. She looked familiar, almost.

“Yeah, we are,” I replied. “It’s a bit unexpected.”

“I know, and it came in so suddenly as well. Do you mind if I sit down?” I shifted along the bench and she sat down next to me. She had dark brown hair, the colour of oak. We sat awhile in silence.

“I’ve seen many people sitting here before and every single one of them has had the same thought travel across their mind,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The water looks enticing, doesn’t it?” she said, gesturing towards the lake. The water rippled as leaves dropped from the overhanging trees. “They say the lake runs deepest here, although you couldn’t tell by looking.”

“I’ve heard that as well,” I replied.

“Do you believe it?”

“I don’t know, I guess so.”

“Have you ever felt the bed with your feet?” She looked at me, waiting for a response I never gave. “It’s cold in there. I think the cold would be the worst thing about it.” Suddenly, she got up, leaving me to sit alone on the bench. She continued down the footpath and disappeared into the fog. The weather cleared up again by midday.

I decided to see my father that afternoon. He was no longer afraid to die. He told me that my mother had appeared before him many times since my last visit and she had said that they would be reunited soon. This was the first time he had ever willingly mentioned my mother. She died in childbirth and afterwards he had erased all evidence of her being from our house. I don’t know if it was the illness itself or maybe even the drugs that they gave him that had made him start to hallucinate her appearance, but it certainly made things a lot easier to bear, knowing that he was content and no longer suffering. He passed away that night.

It was left to me to sort through his belongings. He didn’t have much, but among his meagre possessions was a small shoebox, and upon opening it I found inside a picture of my father, sitting with a woman. They were both smiling and he had his arms around her. I thought it was a picture of my mother. Perhaps the only photograph of her that he had ever kept. Her hair was the colour of oak.

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