Short Story: Evergreen

Read Time:6 Minutes

By Liv Ordoñez, Correspondent

Image Credit: Lovethispic for Horizons

The first time someone brought me to that house on Cedar Road, I needed to stare for a moment to really process what I saw. It wasn’t everyday that I saw one, upright house surrounded by the wreckage of its neighborhood. It wasn’t everyday that I saw one, upright house at all, much less one that looked so pristine as things used to be before the world ended. I thought I would never again see grass so green it glittered like emeralds, or windows so clear they sparkled like diamonds, or such a complete throwback to normalcy that was worth everything that used to be valuable before the world ended. But I remember that first time, and all the rest of the wonderful things I didn’t realize I missed, so fondly like nothing had changed.

I remember when I was told that someone actually lived in that house on Cedar Road — some old woman no one knew the name of. I remember thinking it was preposterous that someone could still be living in that house. It was completely unguarded, from the apathy of passing storms that thundered overhead, from the appetite of insatiable fires that burned paths through old communities, from the selfishness of humans turned desperate and the evils of humans turned monsters. No one could be living in that house; that house shouldn’t even be standing! But it was.

She always introduced herself as Abuela. That first time, I asked for her real name — I had a grandmother already — and I remember the way she smiled at me, the same one parents gave to their young children, before moving on like she’d never heard me.

I don’t think a person like me was ever meant to end up at that house on Cedar Road. A lot of people owed me favors; it was how I managed to survive as long as I did. So when my luck finally ran out, I cashed one of them in, which was how I ended up at that house on Cedar Road. But someone like me was never meant to find it; someone like me didn’t deserve to.

I remember feeling unnerved as I rested back to health in that house on Cedar Road. I remember nervously accepting the food that Abuela cooked for me, diligently watching Abuela rewrap my injuries for me, sleeping soundly on the bed Abuela provided for me. But for as much as it did me good, for as much as I missed it, the endless paranoia that consumed me knowing that I owed her a favor in return left me just as sick as I’d arrived.

People like me collected favors with the greed of a stray dog. People like me did everything to avoid owing them.

And yet, when Abuela readily sent me off once I’d recovered with no mention of a favor at all, a guilt that had long been lost to the mercilessness of a collapsed world rekindled stronger than the fires responsible for burning it. When I insisted, as the law of the land that I’d so callously abused demanded back, she gave me that same smile, admitting that the stories of my travels I’d shared mindlessly over my stay were all she desired.

I left that house on Cedar Road feeling the closest thing to human since the day the world ended.

By all means, I should’ve taken the whole thing as a blessing and moved back into the unsympathetic way of life that had allowed me to survive without favors since the beginning. But the cruel remains of a world that now only existed in memory did not have such a thing as blessings. And so that house on Cedar Road, as well as the nameless woman named Abuela who lived in it, made a new home in my thoughts.

It was inevitable that I would return to that house on Cedar Road to pay back the favor I knew I owed. It was easy enough to find a pair of hard-duty gloves in a world where seemingly no softness still lived, though the working lawnmower was much more difficult. Abuela had no reason to expect my return, nor to expect to find me pruning her lawn without so much as a word, yet that same smile still bloomed upon her sight of me, with no ounce of rational surprise.

I considered the favor paid when her grass fluttered evenly as the howl of a coming storm swirled through it.

I intended to leave the lawnmower with her as nothing more than a desire to avoid hauling it back with me, certainly not as a gift of any sorts, knocking on her door only to alert her that it was there. But somehow, I ended up inside that house on Cedar Road instead, with a plate of warm food on my lap and a place to hide away from the storm for the night. I knew there was no reason for me to stay; there was no reason I could not make it somewhere safe, somewhere else, before the storm hit. Yet I did, spending the evening reminiscing on all my tales since the time before.

I left in the morning, after her offer of breakfast, knowing I’d be inevitably returning once again to that house on Cedar Road to pay back my new owed favor.

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