© Nancy-Lou Patterson
Behind the cottage, on a flat, grassy space, we found a clothesline, a picnic table, some garbage cans, and a recycling box. A swing set had been put up a little beyond these things. Still farther back, where the trees began, a small path opened up like a green yawn.
Both Martin and Joshua ducked into it, and so did I. We went uphill at an ever steeper angle, crouching under the branches. The slanted hillside carried its trees the way a porcupine carries its coat of prickles. Old leaves, brown and tan, lay in thick blankets around the roots the trees had spread out across the rising surface of the ground. Light came through the branches above us, and ferns and other leafy things grew up through the fallen leaves wherever we put our feet, so that we walked on a carpet of green lace.
At last, as we came close to the base of the hill, we found boulders that had fallen from above, tumbled every which way, like a broken wall. We had to climb over these, breaking Mama’s rule without thinking about it, just to get to the face of the rock.
I felt a fierce urge to press myself against the long grey wall of the cliff, but before I did that, I looked upward. There, not as far above as I had expected, I could see the thick, long shelf of harder stone on top. It leaned out over the jumbled stack of softer layers, and stared down at me, as out of reach as parents annoyed at being wakened in the night.
I leaned forward, pressing my cheek against the chilly rock, stretching my arms and flattening the palms of my hands on the rough surface. I smelled it, the oldest and coldest of sea smells, the smell of stone cellars, of unheated churches, and gravestones, and wells.
My brothers climbed up beside me, and pressed themselves to the cliff the way I did, giggling and out of breath.
“We made it!” Joshua announced.
“Made it!” Martin echoed, and he began to flap his hands like a bird about to fly.
I lowered my arms and gripped the creviced stone with my fingers, leaning back as far as I dared. I heard the boys jumping from boulders into soft leaves, but I stayed where I was, trying to memorize the layers of rock that lay one above the other like piles of encyclopedias too big to read.
“Biz!” one of them called out. His voice broke my concentration, and I had to hop backward, bruising my knees on the stone as I slipped down into the drift of dead leaves.
Their voices came from the north.
I called out, “Wait, I’m coming,” and followed their trail, where they’d broken their way past low branches.
They stood grinning, pointing toward the cliff.
“A cave!” they yelled.
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