These are the things Ida knows:
The way the shadows gather at her window, soft-edged as smoke, rain on glass and misty yellow light, the sway of treetops slanting across the walls of an apartment without a garden and the yearning sigh of a place that belongs half to dreams.
(Like you, sings the ease with which she follows it. You belong here too. You have always belonged here. Come home.)
Sunlight glancing off a puddle, shivering silver-gold over the surface of a lake far from here.
The way that water can sound like the wind in tall trees, when she visits the coast with her mother and in the rush of waves along the shore hears only the slow rocking of the forest, sighing-soft, calling her name.
The feeling of being more, of a universe contained in a thought and the maddening press of innumerable living things against the inside of her head, an old and wild sense-memory that to think of feels like brushing an exposed wire with her fingertips.
These are the things Ida sees, when she lies in her bed far from Silverhöjd and lets her mind’s thread unspool from her hands:
Eva, who moves through the world as if sleepwalking, tired eyes and tired hands and a hollow space inside her like the cavernous honeycomb below the forest that slowly, year by year, closes over, fibrous with a hard-won healing. There was a time when you could look at her and still see its ragged edges, the girl-shaped wound that never mended, but the years have made her like the things that move on the edge of where the light can touch, and you must turn your head and half-close your eyes to see where her heart has pulled itself together and made itself crudely whole again.
(Ida knows how to do it, how to see without looking and find the secret things that fall between the cracks of people. It was Silverhöjd that taught her how—or perhaps she always could, and never knew it until she came to this place where more things move through the peripheries of the world than the red-grey places at its living, noisy heart.)
A young woman, gold and all silver in the moonlight, reaches out with darting dragonfly hands for something always beyond her grasp. She sees things, too, Ida knows, though she closes her eyes and crams her fingers in her ears and sings until her voice withers in her throat because one person is not made to see and feel so much and it can be like dying, like madness, to have all that in your head—
(Ida is in Silverhöjd one spring and Esmeralda is laughing in the shade of a spreading tree. She is older, and her voice is loud and strong and her eyes are wide to the world, bright with joy. Ida sees, then, that the forest keeps one eye on the past as it does the present, and a thousand eyes on those it loves.)
And in the quiet, while night gathers and all around are sleeping, there is the thing that whispers to her where the waking world falls away, that croons her name in a thousand voices. It calls because it misses her: because she belonged to it, once, and though she was let free she was never quite let go. The seasons have turned and turned again and Ida is grown and still she has no voice for the things she has seen, the things that call out to her in the moments between waking and dreaming, that took root in the darkness of her years ago and never left.
(Hearts are dark, and she pictures her own like a gnarled thing in her chest. She pictures a thicket, close and shadowed growth inside a pale driftwood ribcage, loam-veins and branch-limbs and hands that still clench out of unconscious habit for the grip of another.)
It got hold of you, once, recalls Eva, a weight in her eyes as she gazes out over the darkening forest. The two of them are out on the lawn behind the house, blankets about their shoulders to fend off the evening air and a flask passed between them. Summer is ending, and the slow blue twilights of this time of year have begun to speak of winter drawing in, but Eva says she heard the forest whisper of it weeks ago.
I don’t think it ever truly let you go. I don’t think it ever will. This is how it loves you, in its way; in dreams, or things like them, in movements just beyond the edge of sight. A long time ago Eva had been afraid of it, but now her heart lies somewhere under the dark earth beneath the trees and some days when she looks out of the window she half-imagines she can see her, Josefine, playing in the grass between the house and the woods. There is silver in the hair above her ears now, new lines in the corner of her eyes (she still looks younger than Tom, whose hair started thinning years ago and never stopped) but as time starts to call in its debts there is something of comfort to be found in the forest, which only ever changes from one season to another, only ever dies for a little while. In its way, it gave Josefine something of eternity when it took her, and Eva can love it for that. This is only how it loves her in return.
Still, she smiles, leans across to nudge Ida’s shoulder with her own. Perhaps it’s only the fading light, or the rare warmth in her features, but for a moment she seems decades younger—as though no time had passed since Ida was a girl and felt far too small for all the things she was becoming. You’re still you. You were not taken so far that you couldn’t come back to us.
Ida thinks of the whispers, and how much harder it is to sleep on the nights that they are silent, and wonders.
These are the things Ida sees when she closes her eyes—Eva, walking alone under the trees at dusk, trailing her hand over a soft bloom of lichen, singing softly to the listening air.
Esme, no longer so young or afraid, loose-limbed and content on a bed of moss and earth, unclouded eyes wide open to the sun.
And, on the edge of the meadow, where the light blurs blue like smoke and the wind moves like a breath, a fair-haired child wrapped in a green-stained blanket. She reaches out and her hands are familiar as Ida's own, white skin and bluish veins and the rime of dirt beneath her nails as though she had exhumed herself out of the earth, and when she looks up, all the wide forest is in her eyes.
(This is how you are loved, here in the in-between places where nothing dies, where it is only ever summer. This is where you belong. This is where you have always belonged.)
Ida takes the hand that is offered to her. Presses her palm to the near tree, feels its stirring heart against her skin.
(...this is how you will never be alone.)
The forest welcomes her home.