We’re so pleased to introduce “Trespassing” by Emily Wortman-Wunder as our latest New Voices story. In this piece a family moves to a suburb and buys a home with a creek in the backyard. The kids are more interested in video games and playing indoors than exploring the water, but Julia, the mother, is drawn to the creek. She finds herself more and more curious about her little backyard stream: where the water leads, and where it might take her if she follows it.
“The creek is pretty and small, a rush of tea-colored water narrow enough to leap across. It slaps and sorts a long series of black-coated stones, and where the water slows there is mud. The banks are crumbly and full of silt, with weeds and shrubby things.”
by Emily Wortman-Wunder
The smell of the creek catches her as she goes into the house with the crinkly bags from Target. What is that? Julia pauses, lifting her nose into the gathering dusk. Water. Damp and algae and mud, even here in the cold heart of November. She strings the bags onto one hand to better crane her neck and smell, but then the dog rushes out, sniffing her feet and wiggling happily, and her son comes to the door worried about his spelling bee homework, and she is hungry, and her daughter hangs out the window and says, “I’m hunnnnngry,” and she hurries inside.
Just before bed she opens the front door and leans her head out. She can hear the creek sussing along at the bottom of the yard, but she can’t smell it anymore. The suburban street is quiet and it’s cold like a wall. She goes inside.
“What was it?” asks Jeff when she gets to bed. He has a pile of papers to grade stacked on the bedspread and he doesn’t look up.
“Mental vapors,” she says. “How’s the class doing?”
“Terrible,” he says with a grimace. “I’m beginning to think they would do better if I just left them alone.” He goes into a theory of teaching which says that students learn more with minimal teacher time—“it’s just a little self-serving but you can see the temptation to believe”— and Julia nods, chuckling appropriately, but her mind is lingering with the creek in its dark wet bed.
The next time she sees the creek is the next morning, driving the kids to chess practice listening to an argument between them about whether it is or isn’t fair that Spongebob Monopoly is for ages 9 and up. Her gaze lingers on it, as though it has told her a secret.
That afternoon when she picks up the kids, she takes them to the park on the far side of the creek. She pushes them on the swing (“Underduck!” screams her daughter happily. “Again!”), spots them on the climbing ropes and the slide, and tosses a tennis ball back and forth with her son, her ear tips burning with cold. He lobs it seriously, concentrating on his mechanics. He also critiques hers: “No, Mom, you raise your arm like this,” he says sternly, “You make an L. Keep your elbow up.”
She returns the favor of his seriousness and makes a real effort, but her mind keeps drifting toward the water. As soon as she can, she suggests playing in the creek.
It’s why they bought this house, after all: she thought they could better bear the affluent sameness of the suburbs if they had a creek at their back. Yet they’ve hardly done more than glance at it. She’d had fantasies of Will spending his days there, a kind of Tom Sawyer of the Denver suburbs, but the neighborhood kids avoid the water, and he takes his cue from them.
To read the rest of “Trespassing” click here.