Stopping by Woods

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Our short story of the week is a story about growing up by Sarah Barr.

Sarah Barr was born in London, studied English at London University and social sciences at Southampton University, and now lives in Dorset where she writes poetry and fiction, teaches writing and mentors writers. She has worked as a counsellor and as an Open University tutor of social sciences and creative writing.

Her short stories have been published in anthologies, including in The Cinnamon Review of Short Fiction (2018), The Momaya Press Short Story Review (2015) and Wooing Mr Wickham (Honno Modern Fiction), and in magazines including Woman’s Weekly and The Lady. Her poetry pamphlet January was published in 2020.

Stopping by Woods charts a woman’s memories of a childhood friendship.

Enjoy!

The woods are lovely in this pink winter light, the setting sun glinting off snow and the bare branches like a Japanese painting. I needed to come back, to remember, to feel the ground beneath my feet.

I padded downstairs, heard cooking sounds, clicked the door behind me, pushed open the garden gate and now I’m in my wilderness. It’s just as it ever was: strange and healing.

I’m running, slipping past the trees, catching their smooth and knobbled bark with my hands, scuffing the fallen leaves, crisp with frost, jumping over branches which look like discarded limbs. I remember smelling moss and bluebells in spring, bracken in summer and mould and fungus in autumn.

Too much safety is oppressive. I could never bear being cooped up with Mum and Dad in our perfect home. I started by escaping into the woods where I could breathe, then, later, to the other side of the world.

Mum pleaded with me, her precious only child. ‘Promise me you won’t go into those woods. It’s dangerous, Helen. You don’t know who you’ll meet.’

There is a way that curves and divides but which, if you know it, leads to the centre, to the fallen oak tree. ‘Not when it’s dark. Not on my own,’ I lied.

‘They say someone fell in the bog, and sank without trace.’

‘I’ll be careful,’ I said.

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