Wild Ice

By: Rachelle Vaughn

“Why a hawk?” she’d asked. “Why not a hummingbird or a marsh wren?”

“Because,” Aunt Cora replied, standing back to admire her handiwork. “Hawks are majestic and the kings of the sky.”

Lauren smiled at the memory and turned into the driveway.

Cora’s great-grandfather had built the cottage decades ago. It was originally a cabin for the groundskeeper at the refuge, but eventually the land was parceled off by the county and sold for funds. The cottage was then purchased by the Colwater family and passed down through the generations.

Where the mansion stood out and boldly announced its presence, the cottage was nestled quietly in the trees. It was so hidden by its surrounding that if it weren’t for the mailbox, someone might not even know the cottage was there. Lauren knew it would be there, though, warm and welcoming like a hug from a long lost relative.

There were only two houses on the street and Lauren’s only neighbor was the mansion next door. The refuge office was a mile down the road, but besides that, she and Marsh were completely alone in this little corner of the world. The idea of so much privacy appealed to her, especially after the public humiliation she’d suffered as a result of her ex.

No looking back, she reminded herself and continued down the driveway.

From the looks of the driveway, the property hadn’t been tended to in quite some time. The bushes and trees were so overgrown that they nearly scraped the sides of her car as she drove. Once again, Lauren ignored the incessant pangs of guilt. The place just needed some TLC and a bit of elbow grease to return it to its former glory.

When Lauren opened the door of her faithful Geo Metro and stepped out of the car, the lively sounds of birds greeted her. She closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath of fresh air. Emotions from the past few months overwhelmed her senses. This was exactly what she’d been missing. Did she really think she could live without birds in her life? The calming sounds of the mourning dove, the noisy vocalizations of the white-breasted nuthatch, the lively sound of the bushtit? No, not a chance. Being here felt right. It felt welcoming. It felt like home.

Lauren jingled the keys in her hand. Wow, Aunt Cora’s cottage was really hers. It was hard to believe. In all the years of visiting Aunt Cora, Lauren had never given any thought to what would happen to the little house when Cora died. I mean, who sat around thinking about what would happen to people’s stuff once they were gone?

Despite the early hour, the sun was already blisteringly hot and Lauren squinted at the little cottage. The shutters were painted green to blend in with the cottage’s surroundings and the sun glared off of the plate glass windows.

Lauren had so many good memories of this place. Once again, she was reminded that Aunt Cora wouldn’t be inside to greet her with an enthusiastic hug or a bowl of her famous blackberry cobbler. She wouldn’t be there to point out bird species—even though Lauren already knew them all—and she wouldn’t be there to tell Lauren and her brother bedtime stories as they drifted off to sleep in front of the fireplace.

“You can be anything you want to be, Lauren.” Aunt Cora’s voice echoed through the savannah sparrow’s song and bounced off the sycamore trees.

Lauren swiped at the tears that threatened to fall. “Thank you, Aunt Cora,” she whispered. “I love you a world-full.”

I love you a world-full. It was what Aunt Cora always said and how she signed every birthday and Christmas card.

Lauren swallowed down the lump in her throat and hauled the pet carrier to the door. Marsh growled at the movement and his weight shifted the carrier off balance. She set the carrier down on the front porch so she could unlock the door. After pushing the key into the lock, she had to jiggle the key until it finally turned in the lock.

Inside, the cottage smelled slightly musty from months of sitting empty while the estate paperwork was processed and assets divided among what little family Cora had. An afternoon with the windows open would have it smelling as fresh as the wildflowers growing outside.

The one room cottage hadn’t changed a bit. The furniture was arranged the exact same way as Lauren remembered. The floral loveseat was still pushed up against the window so Marsh could sit and look out at the birds. Two worn end tables painted with the leftover green paint from the shutters sat on either side of the loveseat. In the dining area, there were mismatched chairs pushed under a small, sturdy oak dining table. In the corner was a wrought-iron bed covered with a faded calico quilt. The bookshelf by the bed was crammed with field guides and art books. Around the corner, a small bathroom had a pedestal sink and claw foot tub. In the sunny kitchen, floral curtains framed the window. An ancient stove and refrigerator were flanked by a small square of a countertop. The cupboards were filled with mismatched china, cups and saucers. Even though everything was mismatched, it all fit together to make the cottage cute and homey.

Aunt Cora had been a conservationist who was intent on saving the wetlands, as well as an amateur photographer and a talented artist. Her photographs and sketches hung in mismatched frames all over the cottage. The mismatched frames only added to the quaintness and charm of the room. Unfortunately, Lauren hadn’t inherited her aunt’s artistic genes. She couldn’t sketch a bird any better than she could snap a photo of one without it turning out blurry and off-center. As much as Lauren wanted to capture them in photographs through the lens of a camera, nothing beat seeing birds with her own eyes. They always moved too quickly for her to get them on film and her photos didn’t do justice to their beauty. Whatever her calling in life might be, it wasn’t a photographer—that much was for sure.