Chapter 6: Take It
As the morning sun pushed its way through the window, Pearl stretched her arms over her head and smiled wistfully. She couldn’t wait to get dressed and head down to Landon’s cabin to see if he was perhaps hanging around watching for her. Pearl was still not interested in showering in the public stalls; nonetheless, she did not want Landon to see her all scuzzy either. Her vanity trumped her fear, and Pearl decided she would take a quick shower.
She took a small bag and filled it with soap, shampoo, deodorant, a brush, and a fresh change of clothes. Pearl brushed through her messy hair and placed her pink Texas Rangers ball cap on. As she was sliding on her navy flip-flops, Grandma asked, “Why are you so eager to get started this morning?”
“It is just so nice here. I would like to take a shower and go for a little walk before it gets too hot. You don’t mind, do you?” Pearl was ready to leave and did not want to stick around for small talk with Grandma.
“No, I don’t mind. Grab some breakfast before you go. I’ll just read a book and listen to the birds go about their morning. Have fun,” Grandma said as she slowly put on her pea green and black polka dot slippers. Pearl couldn’t believe she had brought those ugly things with her: they were like a bad dream that kept coming back to haunt her.
“Thanks!” Pearl said as she grabbed a granola bar and headed out the cabin door. The showers were almost as awful as the toilets. At least she found one stall with a lock that still worked. She quickly turned the water on and even jumped in before it was as warm as she would have liked. She kept the stream of water at a minimum, so she could hear if someone came in, only turning up the pressure when she was washing the soap from her hair. Pearl managed to get squeaky clean in less than five minutes. This was, indeed, a record for Pearl, whose normal morning shower routine was no less than twenty minutes. Dressed in khaki shorts, a pink tank top, and hair falling wet on her shoulders, Pearl threw her belongings into her bag and headed towards Landon’s cabin.
“He did say cabin 5-B,” Pearl thought to herself as she looked around the campsite. No one was there, just a trashcan full of paper plates with bits of scrambled eggs stuck to them. No car, no ice chest, nothing. Then Pearl noticed a note tacked to the front door of the cabin. Pearl, walking slowly towards the door, hoped the note was for her but feared it was not.
“Pearl – Left this morning to go back to
Mansfield. Nice to meet you yesterday.
Take that walk I mentioned if you can.
It is really awesome.” – Landon
Pearl held the note in her hand. She was deeply disappointed that Landon had left but also delighted that he predicted she would come looking for him. That meant he was thinking of her too. She was equally elated to learn that Landon lived in the same city she did. She wondered why they had never met. Maybe he was new to the area or lived on the opposite side of town. No matter, Pearl was captivated by him.
Pearl decided to take the walk Landon recommended. She dropped her bag off at her cabin and headed off down the trail to where he told her the cutout path would be. She found the cutout, and slowly made her way onto the narrow path surrounded by thick patches of trees and brush. The only sound was the wind tickling the leaves. Encompassed by quietness, Pearl’s happiness gradually turned into sadness. Her thoughts fooled her into believing she was not worthy of feeling so happy. Pearl noticed a large rock just off the path, where she rested to regain her composure.
“I am such a fool,” Pearl thought to herself. “Who am I kidding? A guy like Landon wouldn’t give me the time of day if he knew I was going blind. I am damaged goods, and no amount of makeup or good grades can fix that. I am such a loser.” Pearl watched as her tears turned the light sandy path near her feet into tiny dark circles. As she cried, Pearl heard a child laughing. Someone was on the path and coming her way.
Pearl ducked further into the thicket in an effort not to be seen. A family of three made their way on the path past her. Hiding deep in the green leaves, she listened to the family’s laughter until it was no longer audible. Thoughts of the future shaped themselves like a story in Pearl’s head. Her future desires of going to college, becoming an artist, a wife, and a mother…all these pages of expected reality she had kept safe in her childhood dreams. All these pages seemed to have been ripped away by the incurable hands of RP. Frustration welled up in Pearl like a shaken soda can, and she ran as fast as she could from the laughter, from the known path, from her reality.
By the time Pearl stumbled upon a clearing, she had scratches up and down her arms and legs from the branches and thorn bushes she had brushed up against. Pearl was out of breath, exhausted, and her skin itched and burned. Rubbing the sweat and tears from her eyes, Pearl slowly absorbed her surroundings.
She was standing within an opening roughly the size of her bedroom. The sides were adorned with foliage as if the leaves themselves were wallpaper. The ground, filled with large exposed roots, looked like ladies’ legs poking out through the ground in a feminine pose. When Pearl looked up, she almost fell to her knees. Before her was the largest tree she had ever seen. The trunk itself dwarfed Pearl. She sat down to rest upon it as if it were a strong shoulder. Too tired to think, she simply wanted to restore her energy and relax for a few moments. High above Pearl, the branches spread like butterfly wings, providing a beautiful filter for the sunlight. Pearl’s hands felt the roots on either side of her - they were strong, old, and wise. She was amazed at how these “legs” were responsible for anchoring the entire tree. The power they must possess, the persistent depth they must explore, and the nourishment they must allow - everything about them inspired Pearl.
One root seemed particularly different to Pearl, and it caught her attention as the sun’s slant changed slightly through the tree’s openings. This exposed root was shorter than the rest. Whereas most of the roots had the texture of old skin, this one was much younger in appearance. The smoothness was apparent even before Pearl got up and touched it. As her fingers caressed the root, Pearl felt an engraving. The light was not strong enough to illuminate the writing in its entirety; however, she did manage to read one word: “Take.”
Pearl could not imagine who would have taken the time to write on a root, or who would have happened upon this extraordinary spot in the first place. Pearl did not even remember how she came to this tree, much less how to get back to cabin 2-B from here. Pearl tugged on the root to move it more within the boundaries of the light. She was eager to see what the remainder of the engraving said. No sooner did she tug than the entire root came free from the ground. The break was so even that Pearl questioned if it belonged to the tree at all. Curious, Pearl stood perfectly in the light so she could finish the reading: “Take it. It now belongs to you.” Pearl read it again, but this time aloud: “Take it. It now belongs to you.” Immediately after Pearl read these seven words aloud, they sank and were engulfed by the root. As quickly as they disappeared, a new word appeared: “Pearl.”
In shock, with her voice shaking, Pearl read her name aloud: “Pearl.” Unlike the other words, the letters of her name did not fade into the belly of the root. Her name remained steadfastly entrenched within this mysterious wood. As she touched one of the ends to the ground, the sound of leaves being pushed aside burst forth. Pearl turned quickly in time to see hundreds of roots rise and prepare a path for Pearl to follow. As the brush cleared, the roots laid themselves down like a sidewalk for Pearl to travel upon. Soon, Pearl found herself back to the rock she was resting upon earlier that morning. When she touched the familiar rock, the sidewalk of roots slivered underground and the brush clapped together as if attached to a hinged door. The opening was no longer visible, and the opportunity to go back was futile.
Before Pearl could comprehend what had happened, she heard varying voices calling out her name, “Pearl! Pearl! Can you hear me?” Some of the shouts were near, and Pearl responded, “Yes! I am here! Over here!”
“I found her!” a man yelled. His exclamation was echoed throughout the path until several strangers were looking at Pearl with grateful eyes. “Thank God you’re alright,” an older lady blurted. “Your grandmother has been worried to death! Come this way; let’s get you to her immediately.”
Pearl was led down the path with watchful stares as if she were an animal that might escape from its captors. As she stepped onto the main trail, Grandma ran up and hugged Pearl with such speed that they both almost toppled over. “Thank you. Oh, thank you. I was terribly worried about you, Pearl. Lord, I don’t know what I would have done if…well, I just don’t know what I would have done.”
Grandma faced the small crowd and said, “Thank you all. Thank you for searching for my granddaughter. You have no idea how grateful I am.” Grandma had tears streaming down her face. She hugged Pearl again, this time getting Pearl’s cheek wet. Grandma whispered in Pearl’s ear, “We have been searching for you for almost four hours. Where in the heavens have you been?”
“Four hours?” Pearl managed to say. “I have only been gone a few minutes, maybe thirty at the most.”
“I think you have gotten too much sun, Pearl. You have been gone since this morning. It is now almost 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. Your ‘little walk’ was entirely misjudged, young lady. You better come clean as what you have been doing. Did someone bother you? Why are you carrying that ugly stick?”
“No, no one bothered me, Grandma.” Pearl looked down at her arms and legs - the scratches and cuts were gone. Pearl thought she must have been dreaming about what had happened; however, she held the root in her hand as confirmation that her experience was real. Pearl looked around carefully as the crowd slowly dissipated. “I just went for a walk, that’s all. I must have lost track of time. I am sorry I worried you, Grandma. I am fine. I promise.” Pearl could not imagine where the hours had gone. She truly felt like only a fraction of time had been spent, definitely not hours upon hours. Had she fallen asleep? Could the enormous tree be surrounded by some sort of magical aura that disguises time?
Grandma looked Pearl over from head to foot. Her eyes locked on Pearl’s stick, and she noticed her granddaughter’s name etched in the wood. Grandma became enraged. “I get it. While I am worrying myself and kingdom come trying to find you, you have been off in the woods whittling your name on some dumb stick! Heck, Pearl. I had so many thoughts running through my mind. I thought maybe because of your eyes you got lost, fell into a hole, or worse. You have to be more careful! I can’t have you pulling stunts like this when I am homeschooling you next year! You’re going to have to be more responsible!” Grandma shouted before she realized what she had said.
“Homeschooling me?” Pearl gasped.