Short Story: Don’t be fooled by beauty

By Odette Dittmer

Short Story: Don’t be fooled by beauty
It was a beautiful day for a hike in the forest – flowers, birds, a waterfall to bathe in – but it ended in tragedy. Was it murder? Suicide? An accident? Nobody really knew what happened and if the victim’s wife knew, she wasn’t telling ...

As I looked out the window I could see for miles and miles in every direction. I felt like I was on top of the world looking down upon the earth. Perhaps that’s what he is doing now, looking down from heaven and smiling. Every gigantic tree I passed on the way up was now a tiny blot on a wilderness canvas that was painted by a beginner, splashing colour here and there and merging the landscape and all its features into one. It was hard to distinguish just where one feature stopped and another started. The hills appeared flat, like they were slowly melting and disappearing, much like the snow outside.

As the sun reflected on the window, I could see my shadow. I stopped and smiled and realised just how lucky I was to be here, in this world. My thoughts then began to drift off and that night suddenly became real again. I could feel my heart racing and I began to get that sinking feeling in my stomach.

It had been two years, to the day even. Surely, I had dealt with it, but clearly not. I closed my eyes and imagined lying on a beautiful beach in Hawaii, soaking up the sun, margarita in hand.

A noise jolted me back to reality. Those cloudy thoughts were back. Suddenly I could smell him and feel his hand on mine. The doctor said that over time the memories will get blurry, they say it’s progress and that one day I will only remember the good parts, not that final moment when he closed his eyes and took his last breath.

I began to tap my foot, a technique I have found that moves me back to the present. Life is short and needs to be lived. It needs to be full of fun and laughter, happiness and success. It shouldn’t be interrupted by death and worry. Worry about when I will die. Will I be alone or have a new love beside me?

As the day passes, clouds float by, little puffs of cotton wool, all joined together creating patterns and shapes that keep kids amused. There was no wind, it was a beautiful still warm day in the snow. It’s funny being in snow when it’s sunny and warm, kind of a cliché of hot and cold, coffee and ice-cream.

I tried to keep my mind on the task. Today was not about me and my grief. It was about my young daughter and what she wanted.

We had driven to the mountains plenty of times, but today was especially special. It was her birthday, six years old, but for me it was two years lonely. She hasn’t asked about him in a while, her young memories fading as she gets older. She knows he’s not here, but she doesn’t know what really happened, only a small snippet of the truth. He’s dead.
I always thought it was better to protect a young vulnerable child. How do you tell anyone the awful truth and hope that they will still love you?

I remember us walking together, holding hands and being happy. That was a sunny day too. Another beautiful day about to be ruined, like so many, but this one was forever. We talked about nothing much, bits and bobs. We’d been on this track before. It was part of a forest, a relatively new track that took you past a spectacular waterfall. A waterfall we bathed in that day.

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this down. There could be serious implications if this gets out. Perhaps this was all a dream and I fabricated this story to protect myself, to protect him. I struggle with what is real at times and this day may have been one of those times. I might never admit the real truth, or I might just continue to hide it and carry on as the suffering widow people know and care about.

Why is it that we all need to know the truth and nothing but the whole truth? Surely some truth can be better than full truth. Would you want to know if someone you loved died a slow painful death, alone, scared and suffering? Or do you want to hear that they died instantly? I believe you need to adjust the truth to your audience. Why cause unnecessary pain to those left behind … unless there is a pleasure in it.

As I gazed again out the window, I was reminded just how beautiful our country really is. Lush green forests, crystal blue lakes and an abundance of fresh air and blue skies. Nature at its best. In the distance a fire was lit, a burn-off, a house, no way to tell from up here. The smoke drifted across the valley then faded out. I was not focused on her like I should be. Again, I thought of myself and how that day changed everything. I needed to snap out of it and concentrate on celebrating her birthday, and perhaps also celebrating our newfound sanctuary. It was time to stop commiserating and move forward with life. The pain needed to be contained in a locked box and hidden in a deep cave, no longer able to hurt anyone or anything.

Many people think we are blessed to have known him. We were, once. When I first meet him 10 years ago, I knew instantly that he was the love of my life. Oh, how time muddies the waters. I don’t regret that day at all, but I do feel things could have been different. Is it right to live a lie, is it right to make the ones you love suffer?

We started out early that day with intentions to walk all the way to the lake. They say it takes about seven hours return. Most people walk to the waterfall and back, four hours and they’re done. I always wanted to see the lake, especially on such a sunny spring day. The trees were flowering, and the birds were chirping. A perfect day. Some could say it was a perfect day to die.

I’ve always believed that you reap what you sow. You give, you get; you take, you suffer. I don’t want you to think I’m the devil, but I do hold a grudge and I will pay you back if you cross me. But you know, I am such a lovely person, you would never think my brain could even consider thinking about such things, let alone actually allowing my body to carry them out.

Here’s a question for you. Have you ever been put in an impossible position whereby it’s you or them? Two years ago I had never thought I would be. And then that day happened, the 21st of September 2017. Why can love turn so quickly to hate and what should we do about it? Tackle it head-on or walk away? I still don’t know which choice I would make if I had this day over again.

I’d gotten up early and packed our bag: water, lunch, warm clothes and a little champagne, along with our standard tramping first aid kit. There was plenty of phone coverage so no need to take our safety beacon. We’d been to the lake last summer, so we had a pretty clear idea of the terrain. In fact, there was a hut about 30 minutes from the lake. We thought about staying over, but decided not to, maybe next time. Getting a daytime babysitter was easier than overnight.

The car was packed by 7am and we drove about 70km to the entrance of the track. Second car in the carpark, there must be company somewhere. By 8am we were on our way, enjoying the crisp morning. You could hear the soft icy snow crunch under our feet. There were no footprints in front, so I guess we were fairly alone on that walk. Where were the others? Maybe they stayed in the hut overnight. Our chatter was light, as we spent more time appreciating the surroundings in our heads.

We really did love each other, but I do think our definition of what love was, was clearly different. Is it right to hit the one you love? Was it right to kill the one you loved? There were always up and downs, but that’s okay because make-up sex always fixed the downs, until next time of course!

I recall briefly waking up in the hospital, I don’t know how long I had been there. I was in pain, more than I have every felt before. I was alone in my room and I was scared. My head hurt and my thoughts were fuzzy. What happened? I guess I drifted off again. Had I been sleeping or was I unconscious? In the weeks that followed, I read all the medical and police reports. I felt that there were gaps, big gaping gaps that no-one asked about. I guess I’m lucky, single and very lucky.

About an hour into our walk we stopped for a break. There was a nice spot on the rocks to sit. We had a flask of coffee and a muffin. Probably not the best walking food, but it was good. As I stood up to leave, he grabbed my hand. I looked at him and smiled, then he motioned his head over to what looked like a comfy spot amongst the trees.

Then things went fuzzy.

I next remember looking up at the clear night sky, so many stars above. It was warm and the moon was full and shining brightly, providing some light amongst the trees. I was alone, lost and scared. There were sounds I could not recognise, animals, people or just the wind playing tricks? I needed to rest, to sleep, to eat. I had spent hours wandering around. I’m unsure exactly how I got there, but I know it was bad. My head hurt and there was blood on my clothes. Am I hurt or did I hurt someone else?

The flashbacks started about two days after I was fully conscious. I was still trying to come to terms with what happened that day. At first, they were little snippets, a face, a movement; then came words and noises. I was scared to be awake; I was scared to close my eyes. The doctors understood and tried to keep me medicated in order to remain calm. Then the memories got longer and at one point I just wished I was dead. I felt it could only be a dream, that it wasn’t real, it was just a movie I had seen.

Attending the funeral was the worst. The police were still working through things and although they appeared sympathetic, they also appeared to be cautious and suspicious of me. Me – innocent, hurt me –
or maybe that’s how I wanted to be seen. I’ve always wondered if there was heaven and hell, and maybe an in-between place for those who haven’t yet earned a place in either. Perhaps those people are reincarnated so that they can decide between good and evil. I think I’m at the in-between place today.

There were several accounts of that day – murder, suicide, an accident. Only I could decide the truth. But do I want to know what really happened? I can accept all three, I believe they are possible. I could have done it; he deserved it.

After our break we headed out again. It was warm and the track was getting rougher as it twisted around the mountain. There were moments in the clear, then thick dense bush. Off to the right was a lookout platform. We decided to stop and take in the view. I’m scared of heights, so I thought I would stay away from the edge. He walked out … then he was gone. I heard a thud.


Author: Odette Dittmer

Odette lives in Taupō and works part-time for a government agency, allowing lots of spare time to enjoy her surroundings, read MiNDFOOD magazine with a wine, and to write. She began writing in high school, mainly poems, then expanded to stories. She has a fertile imagination and most of her stories have a little bit of truth inside. She is in the midst of writing a book that she hopes to get published. This story was written as she sat in a café at Turoa while her daughter, Grace, skied.




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