The desire to breathe was strong, but the instinct to survive was stronger. Floodwaters rushed all around him, distorting his sense of direction. He was unaware of how long he had been under, but the yearning for air was agonizing. The water was crushing, the pressure reaching his aching lungs. Panic clouded his mind. His body rolled and contorted beneath the powerful waves, his limbs flailing about uncontrollably. He tried to swim, but the force of the current made that impossible. He only ended up falling deeper and deeper into the dark abyss.
Resisting the urge to gasp for air was becoming futile. His mind knew he couldn’t, but his body insisted. His mind knew that if he breathed in, he would drown; his body knew if he didn’t, he would suffocate and die.
Don’t breathe in. Don’t breathe in.
His mind grew weary, and he could no longer fight his body. Water filled his lungs. The pain it caused was worse than being unable to breathe. It was unbearable. He wished for his suffering to end, no matter what that meant. Just when he thought he could tolerate it no longer, he saw a bright light appear below him—or above him. It pierced through the inky blackness of the water, nearly blinding him before it faded and was replaced by the veil that finally descended over him.
* * *
In the midst of Spring, the dogwood tree was in full bloom. Beneath the clear, Carolina blue sky, the cluster of white flowers appeared like a cloud that had drifted down to Earth. A gentle breeze blew in the warm afternoon air. It billowed around the girl’s pale pink dress and tickled the emerald green grass that was the same color as her eyes. The grass was beaten down in a winding trail through the open field that she had followed day after day. No matter the weather or her state of health, she had followed the same path to this same tree every Sunday for nearly three years.
That’s how long it had been since she lost Colin. She and Colin had planted the tree together when they were just seven years old. They had grown up around it and the pond they had placed it near. They had been together for as long as she could remember. Then one day, during their first year of college, he had gone to the coast to help with relief during a hurricane. He told her he would meet her here, by the dogwood tree, on Sunday, but he never came back.
She sat beneath the dogwood now with an open book on her lap. Waiting. Waiting for Colin. That’s what she did here. Wait. Wait for someone who she still hoped would return. She
felt like a fool at times, but then her parents did always call her a starry-eyed romantic.
Glancing up from her book, she took a moment to watch as the frogs at the pond played leapfrog across the lily pads. When the sun hit the water just right, it was a dark, sparkling blue, standing out in stark contrast to the green of the field surrounding it. The pond and the tree were the only things in view from here to the mountains on the horizon. The soft chirps of birds and the whoosh of the breeze broke through the silence of the serene landscape. At least, it would have been serene. The place had lost its peacefulness to her long ago. Now it was but a reminder. A reminder of everything she had lost—the love of her life and the future they had planned together.
Her hour was up. She dog-eared the page she was on, closed her book, and stood to her feet. Taking the same beaten trail, she returned home. Approaching the house, she could hear her mother yelling. She stood just outside the screen door with her back to the wall so she could listen.
“This is not healthy, Hank! I’m worried about Corabelle!”
Corabelle. God, she hated that name.
“She lost the love of her life, Mel.” Her father’s calming voice reached her ears just as easily as her mother’s. “Cut her some slack.”
“You know the only reason she goes to that stupid tree every Sunday is because she thinks Colin is still alive! It’s been almost three years. She has to know by now he’s not coming back!”
Corabelle could feel the tears flowing down her cheeks before she even knew she was crying. She could hear her father’s heavy footsteps move across the linoleum floor of the kitchen and envisioned him embracing her mother.
“What would you do if I had left and hadn’t come back from that storm, Mel?”
There was a silence that seemed to stretch across the whole farm. Corabelle stood outside, holding her breath. She heard her mother sigh.
“I would wait for you every day for the rest of my life.”
* * *
The tattoo on his wrist was the only clue to his forgotten past. He sat at the dining table, staring at it—the single dogwood flower, identifiable by the indentions in each petal. He couldn’t remember anything since before the storm, since before he was pulled from the raging water. He had come to accept this over the years, but every now and then, he’d get lost in the possible meaning of the tattoo. Glancing up at the clock on the wall, he quickly took one last bite of toast and left the apartment before he made himself late for work.
The small grocery store was just a couple of blocks away, so it was easy to bike to. He clocked in with a minute to spare. The Saturday morning shift started out like any other. About halfway through, it wasn’t so ordinary anymore.
He looked up at the older gentleman whose groceries he was ringing up. “I’m sorry?”
“Little Colin!” The man’s wrinkled face lit up with recognition. “You used to play on the Edmonds Farm with their daughter Corabelle.”
“I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong person.” He pointed to the nametag on his vest that read John.
“Are you sure?” The man’s face screwed up in confusion as he studied the younger fellow. “I worked out there when you were just kids. The Edmonds Farm? Just outside of Blowing Rock? Corabelle Edmonds?”
John shook his head. None of it sounded familiar. Why should he believe any of it was true?
“Ah well.” The man shrugged. “I suppose I’m going senile in my old age. I apologize.”
“It was an honest mistake.” John waved his hand dismissively as he took the gentleman’s money and handed him his receipt. “Have a nice day.”
He worked for about half an hour longer, and then he just couldn’t get his mind to focus. He wondered if he had done the right thing by not telling the man it was entirely possible he was this Colin guy. It was just easier that way instead of telling everyone he had no memory of his life before. Still, questions haunted him. Who had the old man been? Had he ever seen him before? Was his real name Colin? Had he ever known a girl named Corabelle? He knew there was only one way to get the answers to any of these questions, and he wasn’t going to get them here.
After telling his boss he wasn’t feeling well, he left work early and headed home. There was little hesitation as he immediately started packing a bag. Just as he zipped up his duffel, he heard the door to the apartment open and then close. Walking out into the hall, he met his roommate, Nathan. He was only a year older than John and was the oldest brother of the family who had rescued him from the storm.
“Going somewhere?” Nathan motioned to the bag in John’s hand.
“Blowing Rock. There might be answers there.”
Nathan slowly nodded his head as he considered it. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his keys and tossed them to John. “Take my car.”
“You sure, Nate?”
“Of course. Just remember. If you find out you have a brother, he’s not as cool as me.”
He gave Nathan a hug and assured him he would let him know what he found. A few minutes later, he was on the road. Anxiety joined him on his trip as he became completely terrified at the prospect of discovering who he truly was. He decided that no matter what his name was, who he was wouldn’t change.
Rolling into Blowing Rock well past dark, he pulled into the first hotel he could find. The farm would have to wait until morning. And when morning came, so did doubt and hesitation. He laid in bed, wondering. What if he didn’t like what he found? What if he found nothing and left with only disappointment? And, yet, he knew that if he didn’t go, he would always wonder.
Forcing himself out of bed, he checked out of the hotel and headed to the Edmonds Farm, parking the car at an empty church lot about half a mile down the road. He couldn’t stand the idea of being turned away without answers, so he was determined to see the place for himself first. Even if that meant jumping the fence and roaming around the open fields alone.
And that’s exactly what he did.
The house was in the distance. It had a fresh coat of white paint, a tin roof, and blue shutters. It wasn’t familiar. Behind the house were rows and rows of plowed fields. None of it sparked any memories. Not even the Blue Ridge Mountains visible on the horizon could tell him anything of his past.
Despite the fact he was getting nowhere, he stayed, roaming around the fields of some of the greenest grass he had ever seen in his life. Well, the bit of it he could recall. Maybe he had seen this same grass before, but if he had, he had lost any hope of remembering it by now. Just when he was ready to turn around, give up, and go home, he noticed how the grass was beaten down in front of him. Following the trail with his gaze, his eyes landed on something that made his jaw fall slack and the hair on the back of his neck stand.
It was the dogwood tree. The dogwood tree. It had to be.
Taking the trail, he approached the lone tree, staring up at the white flowers that were made brighter by the clear blue sky behind them. A splash caught his attention, and he turned to see the pond a few yards away. He watched as a turtle poked its head above the water between the lily pads. A breeze blew in, shaking the limbs of the tree. A single, white flower floated down and landed on his shoulder. Picking it up, he held it in his hand, comparing it to the tattoo on his wrist. It was a perfect match.
He spun around, and there she was. Corabelle. He knew it was her, although he couldn’t explain how he knew. Her green eyes shone brightly as her golden-brown hair whipped around her face in the breeze. Her beauty was breathtaking. If he had known her before, how could he not remember her? He watched as her eyes grew wider by the second, the rosy color of her cheeks fading as she paled. The book in her hand slipped from her fingers and fell to the ground.
“I’m so sorry!” he started, raising his hands as he took a step back. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I was just here because…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “You know what, it’s a long story. I’ll just go.”
The fact that the girl had called him Colin had barely registered, having assumed at first she had mistaken him for someone else. Avoiding her gaze, he slipped past her. A few yards away, he stopped.
A mirage appeared before him, purely an illusion that rippled beneath the glaring sun overhead—or maybe it was a distorted memory. A young girl, around ten, ran through the grass that came up nearly to the waist of her yellow sundress. Her honey-colored hair flew behind her like a trail, her cheeks rosy, and her laughter like the sound of a bell. Behind her, a boy chased after, his dark hair and baby blue eyes more than familiar. The kids ran around the pond as the frogs leapt across the lily pads. They ran away from him, past the dogwood tree, and across the Edmonds Farm. The dogwood tree. The Edmonds Farm. Corabelle.
The apparition disappeared.
He turned around. She was facing him already, a single tear cascading down her soft cheek. He marched back to her. Standing in front of her now, he gently and cautiously reached down for her hand hanging by her side. All the while, she stared up into his face. Raising her hand, he placed his wrist next to hers. The tattoo of the dogwood flower on her wrist was identical to his.
“I mean Cora.” As he looked back up into her eyes, he remembered her. “You never liked the name Corabelle.”
“I do now.” She was smiling as glistening, pearly tears continued to fall down her face. “Say it again.”
As the sound of her name passed his lips, no other name mattered. As he gazed into her eyes of emerald green, he could remember every other moment he had done the same. As he placed a hand on her delicate cheek, it was as if he had never forgotten. And by the dogwood tree, they kissed.
About the Author:
Chelsea Thornton is a neurodivergent writer, but she prefers MS warrior. She is also a BA student in English Literature and a serious coffeeholic. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Maudlin House, Dream Journal, and Emerge Literary Journal. You can find her on Twitter @chelseactually.