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"The Lost Cabin": First Place, Family Circle Fiction Contest 2012

Miriam swirled french fries through a pool of ketchup while Barbara picked at a wilted salad that was better suited for the jackrabbits outside.

"I wish Dad was here," Miriam mumbled.

"I know you do," Barbara responded. "You'll see him in a few weeks. But you need to understand that we aren't going to be together anymore. And I want you to know that the reason for our divorce has nothing to do with you. You did nothing wrong."

"I know," Miriam scoffed. "I know why you are getting divorced."

Barbara dropped her fork, startled by Miriam's revelation. She had done her best to keep Michael's infidelity a secret. With eyebrows raised she asked, "You do?"

"Yeah. It's all your fault," Miriam said matter-of-factly before loading another fistful of fries into her mouth.

"Why do you think that?" Barbara leaned forward against the table, trying to catch her daughter's eyes, which were only looking at her plate.

"I think you just answered your own question," Miriam replied. "You are so busy playing shrink that you don't take time to play wife or..." Or mother, she implied in her silence.

"I'm sorry you think that," Barbara said.

"See, there you go again," Miriam said, her voice rising. "You stay so calm and cool all the time. It's like you don't even care. Why can't you ever show some emotion like the rest of us?" She was practically screaming by the time she finished. If the other patrons were watching, Barbara was too focused on her daughter to notice.

The only thing Barbara could muster was an "Ohhh." She bit her lip and finished her wine. A second glass, even of this cheap stuff, was tempting, but she knew better than to self-medicate. This getaway was supposed to be a way to connect with her daughter. And perhaps with herself, she started to realize. The only way to achieve either was through a clear mind. Maybe there was truth in Miriam's words. So much of her time was spent analyzing the feelings of others that she pushed aside her own. In an attempt to emotionally detach from her patients, she had detached herself from the rest of the world.

The next morning Barbara woke early, as her body was programmed to do. A couple of deer were nibbling on a bush out back. She brewed a pot of coffee and watched quietly from an oversize armchair, her legs curled beneath her, admiring their graceful movements and muscular bodies. Every maneuver seemed deliberate yet effortless. One looked up and focused its dark eyes on her. She sat motionless, pleading with her own eyes for it to stay. I'm harmless, she tried to say. The deer indulged her for a few more minutes, and in that short span of time, she let herself believe she'd connected with something in this world.

The quiet house gave her time to reflect. With no Internet or television, she had no other choice. The words from last night resurfaced. Michael couldn't escape without blame. If he was unhappy, he should have told her. But maybe he had. A relationship doesn't break instantaneously. It erodes over time, often unnoticed until the foundation is too weak to hold it together. And then there was Miriam. She needed to listen to her daughter as a mother, nothing more. Maybe she had been a little too confident in her abilities, thinking that it couldn't happen to her. Perhaps she should have invested some time worrying about the well-being of her family. Maybe she, too, was flawed.

The cabin was stocked with a few staples, enough for a batch of pancakes. As she made a mental note to drive the ten miles to the general store and pick up bacon, eggs and juice for the remaining days, Miriam silently joined her in the kitchen. Smudges of yesterday's mascara shadowed her eyes. They ate in silence, but at least they were at the same table.

"Is there anything you want to do today?' Barbara finally asked.

"Go home," Miriam muttered.

"I was thinking of a hike," Barbara half suggested, waiting for Miriam to ask to come along. "Why don't you relax with a shower? You can join me when you're ready."

A wrought-iron bench faced the water, its chipped ivory paint revealing a rusty base. Wild grass grew in patches around the legs. Barbara opened the leather book she had brought. She lost herself in her work and didn't hear the soft footsteps as they approached.

"So you're allowed to work but I can't even talk to my friends?" Her daughter's tone sounded more lonely than bitter.