Autumn had lingered that year. The woods rioted with color, the leaves heavy gold like jewelry dangling on the branches.
“Take the main road,” Henry’s mother had told him as he tied his pack. “It will lead straight on to the train that will get you to New York.”
Her weathered hands rested for an instant on his shoulders.
“Are you sure?” she asked softly
“No,” he said without looking at her. “But then, I have no choice.”
“You have a choice.”
“Not if we’re to survive another year here.”
Her mouth pulled down in a trembling frown, pressing back tears. Henry knew why. So many men and women had left the safety of their farm country to earn money in the city. So few came back. They sent letters detailing life in the slums, work in the factories, missing limbs from machinery, contagion spreading like brush fire. Lives that became centered on drudgery, supported by alcohol.
But, those men and women were the ones whose families never starved.
When his mother spoke again, her voice was hesitant.
“You could,” she said softly, “you could go to your brother.”
“Nathan?” Henry scoffed. “And do what?”
“What you want to do. What you’re meant to do. Write your stories.”
His cheeks burned. “And what will you do, while I’m writing stories?”
“Ohh.” She smiled and squeezed his shoulder. “I could always go to other family. I’m not so hard to live with, am I?”
The two paths stretched before him. The main road, straight ahead. It surged straight and purposeful toward the train station, and from thence, New York. The city. More income. Mother able to keep the farm.
The other path wandered and rambled into the thick underbrush, around a boulder, and into the forest.
He shouldered his pack.