Wayward Conception
by Mary J. Daley
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Stacy forgot about the baby, concentrating solely on the sunlight that
reflected off the stainless steel pot between her feet. The contrast of its
shine against the dull and worn porch steps had lulled her into a void,
where her baby, so new and minuscule within her, slipped from her
thoughts entirely and blissfully.

A plastic bag of green beans almost a quarter full sat beside her cup of milky
tea. The beginning of a burn crept across her bare shoulders as she took
her time, cutting delicately, pressing green skin between thumb and knife
blade. She found this unhurried quiet elegant and she willed herself to
stretch it out, to forget the stuffy heat of the house, the needs of the
children and for one blessed moment the coming baby.

The rattling motor of Tommy’s black Ford broke apart her short-lived escape
and she raised her head, shielding her eyes from the onslaught of sunshine
as he pulled into the gravel driveway. As he slid his big frame from the cab,
she lowered her sight to his work boots. They came towards her crunching
loudly on the small white rocks.

“You’re home early?” she asked, squinting her green eyes, trying to avoid
the sun’s spillage around him.

“I have a job at the church and I need my safety harness.”

He jogged up the steps two at a time, disappearing into the porch just to
reappear a minute later with the harness in his huge hands. He smelled of
paint and turpentine.

“Does it pay?” she asked.

He nodded, pausing beside her for a second to consider what else he might
require. She waited, looking at his hands that held the belt, his short nails,
the yellow stains of nicotine between index and middle finger, the ample
blue veins running beneath the skin.

“Did you finish up at Emily’s?”

“Almost. She's not happy with the color in the dining room, but she’s willing
to live with it for a few days to see if it grows on her.” He gingerly stepped
over the teacup, not looking at his wife.

“God Tommy, I need to get groceries. She didn’t pay you, did she?” Stacy
sighed knowing full well Emily wouldn’t part with a dime until she was
completely and whole-heartedly satisfied with the job.

“I’ll have it finished by Monday.”

“What are you doing at the church?”

He stopped at the truck, one hand reaching for the handle. She could see
the self-importance subtly emerge. After seven years of marriage she knew
the signs: shoulders pulled back ever so slightly, the first traces of red along
the indentations of his neck, the minute lowering of voice as he answered.
“The lights in the cross need to be replaced but Joe hurt his back. I said I
would do it. Shouldn’t be too long.”  

She gaped at him, wide eyed, mouth opened as he climbed back up into the
truck. Raising her voice over the sound of the ignition trying to turn over,
she called. “Tommy, you’re not telling me you’re going to climb to the very
top of that steeple?”

“What? Are you saying I can’t?” He leaned slightly out the side window
while he gave the truck a chance to rest before turning the ignition over
again.

She shook her head and said, “No, just that it’s dangerous! Isn’t?”

“Should be easy to figure it all out once I’m up there.” He flashed a smile
when the motor started. Tommy had a prominent chin and tiny eyes and as
the years went by it was only his confident smile that kept him from crossing
the line into unappealing.  He turned his head to check for non-existent
traffic, backed the truck from the yard and was gone.

Fool, she thought as she tossed a bean into the pot.  Just like Tommy and
his constant display of bravado to take that job, leaving Emily to mull over
her walls and her to worry about what to do for meals. God she hoped he
fell.

“Mom,” her oldest said cautiously. He was standing in the porch door behind
her, blanket pressure pink etched in the side of his cheek, his dark hair
tousled, looking so much like Tommy it was easy to find fault in him.

“Can we get up now? Did we sleep enough?”

“Yes,” she answered turning to study the rigid stance of her seven year
old.  No, is what she wanted to tell the boy. She would be more than
pleased if he and his brothers would just go on sleeping until they were
grown up and a day from gone. “You and Matt go outside and play but shut
the front door quietly when you leave. I don’t want you waking the baby.”

“Can we make some toast?” he asked.

“No, just do as I told you. Go now,” she said rubbing the back of her hand
across her hot forehead, the small knife still cupped in her palm. The
beginning of a headache flitted behind her eyelids like a trapped butterfly.

“Can we knock on Carl’s door?” he asked.

“I don’t care, Frankie. God, just go,” she said roughly. He disappeared into
the porch and she bit down on her bottom lip. It wasn’t fair that she felt this
way about him. And for all her good intent and reasoning, he was getting
far too old for her to be forcing afternoon naps on him. Today wasn’t the
first time she noticed the dark blush across his fair cheeks when she called
him and his brother up from the field to go into the house and lie down. The
other children in their company didn’t chant it today but she had heard their
verse on other occasions as they followed her boys to the house:

“Frankie and Matt need to take a nap,
if they don’t they might get a slap.”

And although the blush and the chant haunted her some, she didn’t feel
ready to take his nap away. Not yet anyway. God, their father had filled
their heads with so much of his heroics that they were hell bent on killing
themselves to be like him. If they weren’t falling from trees or barn lofts or
coming up from the river, which they had no business being near, soaked to
the bone, it was the neighbors calling the house to tell her that her boys
broke something, hit someone, set some bush on fire. It took most of her
reserve not to scream into the receiver during these moments that they
weren’t her boys, they were Tommy’s.  Lord knows she looked but she
couldn’t find a trace of her in any of them.  Tommy was the one to claim
these tiny gifts of men completely and utterly from day one and she was
more or less just the discounted vessel they came in.

She stood, vertigo breaking at her temples and then receding. The morning
wash was spread out all down the line, languid and linear. The poles
stopped at a small gathering of chokecherry bush, beyond was the field. A
wide and open field so thick with wild beach pea it was hard to walk
through without getting a foot tangled in it.

The boys slammed the front door on their way out, waking the baby. She
grimaced. His sudden cry, however muffled, slid through the open slat of an
upstairs window. Her brief respite was over and she reached out timidly and
touched the closest towel to check for dryness before retreating inside. The
house was dark compared to the brightness of the steps and smelled of
tobacco smoke and rising dough. The walls bled heat, filling the room with a
damp adhesiveness that was difficult to move through. The baby continued
to cry as she placed the pot in the sink and ran cold water over the strings
of green. She didn’t know how long she stood there but by the time she
reached the baby, he was red faced with snot spread from cheekbone to
ear and was hitching with every third intake of breath.

“Stop that,” she whispered as she picked him up and held his damp body
next to her own.  He shuddered once and put his thumb in his mouth as she
carried him down stairs.

When his needs were met, she returned to her seat on the porch step and
bounced him lightly on her knees while he chewed away on the soft
rawhide of Frankie’s baseball glove. A jet soared over the back field on its
way to Gagetown or America, silencing the crickets, leaving a contrail that
ripped the blue sky once again from navel to sternum.

The baby paused in his chewing and looked up to the skies.

“Plane,” she answered.  

She touched her belly and remembered.  It was with a sudden qualm that
she remembered. The thought of it made her flare and she cursed Tommy
for the thousandth time that week. She would not tell him. She’ll not open
her mouth. In due time he would notice.  He would only see it as another
excellent example of his vitality anyway and she wasn’t planning on handing
him that anytime soon, on his already heaping plate.

Peter gurgled and raised his head to search for another malleable spot on
the glove before biting down again. Clear drool ran in one lengthy string
from his peach colored lips, over his doughy dimpled hands and onto the
glove. The warmth from his small body was building up moisture, sticking
her skirt to her thighs. She stopped bouncing. He cried.

It wasn’t his crying so much as it was the time of day, which seeped away
the last of her resolve. It always hit her just as mid afternoon became late
afternoon, when shadows took on a deeper hue, giving leaves and
branches and long strands of grass stark likeness across asphalt and fence.
It was all she could do not to set Peter down on the gravel, amidst the
sharp black shadows of sunflowers, and walk away. She’d walk straight to
Bill’s Diner and purchase a bus ticket home. This feeling came much too
often and though it worked hard at becoming an impulse, it never quite did.
And although it would fade away in the busy routine of the evening, it
always left a bit of residue on her that she carried with her into sleep.

If only she could go home. She believed forgiveness was there for her if she
knew how to ask for it. Perhaps now things would be fine. Maybe she could
simply re-enter their lives, walk in through the front door, kneel by the
couch, put her head on her mother’s lap and apologize for getting pregnant
at seventeen and marrying a boy she knew so little of. Maybe she could
explain to them exactly what happened that night so that they could see
just how young and naïve she had been. How Tommy took her gently by the
hand and led her down the rusted iron steps of the town’s only wharf and
into his grandfather’s aging boat. How they passed a pint of Canadian rye
back and forth until evening slipped away, until all she could make out was
Tommy’s outline in the dark. His head of soft curls like a tiny sea of waves,
the stars winking off and on above them and the hollow sound of black
water slapping wood. How the idea of love came so strong at that moment
that the thought of stopping him never lighted. How she giggled as he
helped her off with her tights and how little she felt any of it except for the
cold bottom of the boat pressed against her spine. Maybe if she explained
things right she would be forgiven and she could finally walk away from
here, give Tommy his boys and try on her life again. Maybe.

“SHHHH, that’s enough of that crying, Peter.” Agitation slipped between the
words as she stood up hastily and placed him on her hip. He was heavy and
squirming but she did her best to ignore him and began removing the wash
from the line with her free hand, dropping clothes pins and sheets together
into the basket.

                                                     ***

The air was at least ten degrees cooler around the black iron cross. A
breeze, neither gentle nor harsh, pushed at Tommy as he reached across
one rusting arm, stretching his own extended one to its limit to unscrew the
round darkened bulb from its metal socket. And although his safety harness
was secure and his other hand had made a tight clasp around the middle
rung of the tiny ladder, he was terrified. Wave after wave of uncertainty
seized him and he couldn’t shake the sensation that any second this ten-
foot cross would snap from the steeple’s sharp point, clean and sweet and
fall forward with him stretched across it like Jesus, secured only by his paint
splattered safety belt. He envisioned it clearly- the spiraling downward until
the top of the cross hit the cement steps hard enough to bounce the huge
cross over the railing and cartwheel it down Church Street, all the way to
the river’s edge, with him still fastened to it.  

By the time he had the new lights in place and had climbed down behind the
steeple’s ladder he chuckled softly at this foolish image he had conquered.
However, when looking up briefly, catching sight of the black iron embedded
in the blue, he started to shake. His hands cramped and he gripped the
rung as tight as possible for fear of not holding it tight enough.  He climbed
down a few more rungs to where the steeple widened and leaned his back
against its green copper.

The sensation of falling passed as he waited for the cramps in his hands to
subside. It was only then that he was able to steal his first true look
downward and was pleasantly astonished over how beautiful his hometown
looked from this vantage point. The river meandered eastward, growing
wider and wider with every mile, white fishing boats moving in and out of
the bay. Most of the houses were partly hidden beneath the round soft tops
of elm and maple trees. The storefronts on Main Street were a mixture of
brown slate stone and white siding with cars lining both sides of the narrow
street. He located Keith Street on the other side of town and could even
glimpse a part of the yellow of his house between the two giant lindens in
the front yard. The field and river behind the house were both soft and
storybook like.

When his body once again cooperated, he reached deep into the breast
pocket of his overalls and retrieved his cigarettes, pulling one from the pack
with his dry lips. The lighter had a few false starts in the wind but he was
finally able to bring a flame to his tobacco, dragging until his chest rose. He
never knew much of fear just like he never knew much regret, so he would
try hard to put this incident behind him. Never mention to anyone how it
had gripped him for a while. Instead, leaning against the steeple, work
boots planted on a rung, his tools and the old bulbs hanging like dead
geese from his belt, he decided to turn it into another proverbial notch in his
belt, another brag for his pocket, and he smiled wide at the notion of re-
telling this adventure. He would tell everyone what a piece of cake job Joe
had lucked himself into as the church’s caretaker, that they had given Joe
too much credit in the past for traversing the steeple to slap paint on the
cross or to change the bulbs because there was nothing to it. Tommy lived
to feel big.

He flicked the butt off into the watery blue sky, a cinnamon ember dying
inward and began to climb down.

The sound of a plane’s engine came up behind him. With every rung he
descended it grew louder until it all but roared as it passed directly below
him, giving his heart such a start he almost lost his footing. The plane
passed so close it shook the steeple, rattling Tommy’s teeth and smashing
one of the old light bulbs against the iron ladder.

“Shit,” he whispered, clenching every muscle as the choking engine punched
out, popping his hearing from him and he leaned hard into the ladder. The
plane soared away, silently over the town now and he watched mesmerized
as it dropped lower and lower, gliding straight towards his street, towards
his house, probably to the very spot where he last saw his wife sitting in
her melancholy. It looked like it might have brushed the top of the lindens
as it passed over the house. He lost sight of it briefly but then heard the
muffled sound of something hitting ground. He watched as it immediately
came into view again in a half bounce, sliding sideways across the field,
sending one wing ahead of itself, up and out and into the river. Then
everything was still and his hearing popped back and things sounded
almost normal once more.

The town didn’t react. It was still quiet. A few shop owners came out of their
stores and looked up and down the street but then went back inside. Terror
seized him. His mind raced with visions of the boys playing in the field.
Quickly he began to climb down the remaining rungs, sending small shards
of broken bulb before him. His legs turned to rubber but he ignored them as
he descended.  He tried to will the worst case scenario from his mind by
concentrating only on the final short distance to the belfry.

                                                     ***

Stacy screamed as the black underbelly of the plane soared over her. It
wasn’t five feet from the roof and its passing sent loose shingles and small
branches raining down. Her maternal instinct had instantly closed a hand
over Peter’s ear and pressed his other against her bosom to cushion the
tremendous noise of the crash that followed. She closed her eyes and
turned her back and waited with her heart hammering until things grew
quiet again.  Peter began to scream in earnest and she tried to sooth him
as she gathered her nerves to turn and face the field. The plane was a
small smoking hill. Christ, this was unbelievable.  In a near panic, she ran up
the driveway to the road and shouted, “A plane crashed! Someone come
quick!”  She didn’t know how loud she was yelling for her voice sounded like
it was being shuttled down a narrow tube, which was surrounded by the
humming of bees. No one answered her, the only other two houses on the
small street sat quiet in the late afternoon sun, their driveways empty. She
stood for a moment dragging a hand through her hair until Frankie, Matt
and Carol came running from the next street over, their black Converses
slapping hard at the hot cement. The buzzing finally left her and reason
returned.

“MOM!” Frankie yelled. “I thought it hit our house.”

“Frankie take the baby,” she said breathlessly, handing him the screaming
Peter. “Matt run up the street to Joe’s house and get him to call the police
right away. If he ain’t home run over to Mrs. Blanc’s. Someone else must
have seen it come down besides us but tell Joe or Mrs. Blanc to call the
police.”

“But Mom, I want to go see it,” Matt started.

“Do as I tell you!” she screamed and gave him a shove. “Go now!”


She started towards the plane, pausing only long enough to grab two
towels, one blue and one yellow, from the basket on the back porch, pulling
the basket over, spilling the rest of the clean clothes over worn board. As
she ran past the bushes into the long grass she hoped to find him either
okay or dead—since she couldn’t count on her first and only year of nursing
studies to save him because she was preoccupied more with her pregnancy
than her studies.
Don’t move him in case of spinal cord injury, apply pressure
to bleeding areas.
She forgot what to do in case of punctured lung. Leave it
alone—don’t cover it? Cover it?

She smelled metal and clean earth where the plane had tilled as it slid. The
plane was a dead dragon laying there, its nose buried deep, its remaining
wing jutting upward, sun skipping like a stone over it.

“Are you okay?” she called out as she ran around to the front, trying to peer
into the cockpit, which looked eerily small and empty and crushed in on one
side. The pilot had already climbed out and stood a short distance from the
plane, looking a little unsteady on his feet. Blood was running in little rivets
down over his ears.

Feeling a little foolish holding two towels, she approached him. He turned
away from her and started walking through the grass towards the river. A
small contingent of white moths flew up out of the grass in front of him. She
paused for a second, heart pounding and then ran up beside him to ask,
“Are you hurt?” even though she could see that he was.

He looked down at her as he continued to walk. His neck looked out of sync
with his shoulders. His dark hair was matted and wet looking. His hands
hung down at his sides. He was tall and slim and when he looked at her, his
youth startled her.

“Aimee?” The young man said in a low voice.

Stacy frowned and looked back at the plane, wondering if there had been
someone else with the young man. “I came to help,” she said with caution.

He laughed, short and abrupt and dropped to his knees so suddenly she
almost stepped into him. She caught the scream that almost tore loose by
raising both towels to her mouth. The top of his head was open—part of it
pushed inward and part of it torn away and hanging by a small chunk of
flesh.

“OH My Dear God.” Stacy declared as she bunched up the yellow towel and
placed it over the area, but she couldn’t apply pressure for fear she would
push broken bone into his brain. Instead she just watched horrified as the
towel quickly turned a dark tea color. Her hands and arms were shaking
now and she felt an over whelming desire to vomit, but she held onto the
feeling, willing it not to materialize. Kneeling down beside him, she
whispered, “Maybe you should lie down, don’t you think, while we wait for
help?”  

He studied her face as if in recognition, although she knew she had never
met this man. His blue eyes took in her hair, her forehead, searched her
eyes, looked down at her mouth, her chin and then he smiled. Not a teeth
producing smile but one that brought a dimple to his clean-shaven cheek as
he said, “Aimee.”

Stacy didn’t say anything but tried to hold the towel in place, which she felt
ridiculous doing because it was probably causing more harm than good. The
neurosurgeon would most likely curse her later while he picked yellow
thread out of the man’s head.

The pilot continued to stare at her. His pupils didn’t match, one small and
one big, and she knew even with her limited nursing skills that that wasn’t
good. Stacy felt utterly helpless and wanted desperately to take her hand
away. Her arm was growing tired. Except for the occasional groan from the
plane, quiet sprung up from everywhere, layering itself around them,
trapping them together.  It made her breathing tight and she was forced to
look in his eyes again and she believed what she saw in them was love.

“Do you want to lay down?” she offered. “I can help you lay down.”

“I miss you,” he mumbled.

“You don’t know me,” she replied.

He tried to shake his head but it almost toppled him. He closed his eyes and
caught himself from falling by leaning against Stacy for a second.  She held
him up although his weight was solid.

When he reopened his eyes he whispered, his voice slow and determined,
“Stay with me.”

“I will.”

But he continued, “Forgive me and I’ll make it up to you. I promise.” His
words were slurred, his voice so low, Stacy could hardly hear them but she
sensed a desperation that was painful to listen to.

“I’m not Aimee,” she said, responding to his plea. “But I’ll stay. Don’t worry.”

He smiled, this time showing straight white teeth. He reached for Stacy’s
hand that was holding the towel. She pulled away, leaving the saturated
towel where it sat, wiping the stickiness from her fingers by running them
through the grass.

“Someone will be coming any moment for you. To help you.” Her words were
getting snagged in her throat. Tears were starting to gather in the corner of
her eyes. Her throat felt raw and tight.

“Promise me you won’t leave me.”

“Sir, I’m not going anywhere.”

He frowned and tried to reach for something in front of him but only
grabbed air. He whispered, “Stop calling me sir. It’s confusing me.”

“Sorry,” she said, gently reaching over, pressing down on the towel again
and shooing away two green bottle head flies that were trying to land on it.

He looked at her, his smile slowly dying. His fingers again reached for her
wrist, this time she let them linger, then let them grip her lightly.

“Maybe you should lie down?”

“We should be married. Marry me, Aimee.”

They were kneeling in the green grass facing each other; his plane was still
making occasional dying noises in back of them. Something dripped, a
continuous pinging sound like rain on tin, and metal was trying to settle
itself. He was looking at her intently; his eyes were piercing and would have
swept her away in any other circumstance. She wondered if she really did
look like his Aimee or was he just seeing what he wanted to see. It was
crazy really, this handsome dying pilot down on his knees proposing to her.  
She had never received a proposal before.

Tommy had never given her one. Had not knelt like this before her and took
her hand. Nor had he ever in their marriage looked at her as this young man
was doing now. No, Tommy had simply driven her home after she
announced to him she was pregnant. During the whole drive he didn’t utter
a single word, leaving her to stare out the truck’s window at a blur of ditch.
It was only when they stopped, when she was climbing out of the truck with
her back to him that he finally said, “Of course I’ll marry you. It’s my kid.”
Matter of fact like, and then drove off leaving her standing at the front
entrance of the nurses’ dormitory, feeling at the time, thankful.

The young man closed his eyes and fell onto one shoulder before rolling
over onto his back, making a flatten patch, slim shoots of green surrounding
him. She tried to hold him as he fell to make the transition a little less rough
but he hit with a jolt anyway. She had let go of the towel again but it was
now well stuck to his wound. He was agitated and tried to sit up, tried to
rise on one elbow. “Answer me,” he pleaded.

“God sir, don’t move around so much. Help is coming.” She turned back
towards her house, noticing a pair of her husband’s work pants still hanging
from the line.  Frankie was in the field, holding Peter and standing not far
from her, which gave her a bit of a shock. She should have told him to stay
in the yard. Both boys were as quiet as apparitions and were wide eyed as
they stared at the pilot in the grass.

The first sound of sirens could be heard a ways off and she breathed in a
sigh of relief and prayed they would come quickly. The young pilot tried once
again to raise himself up into a sitting position, grabbing her around her
wrist and pulling at her. She gasped and looked into his face.

“Marry me.” He said it with such torment and need that Stacy forgot herself
entirely for a moment. She simply let go and became his notion.

“Yes,” she whispered.

He was crying now, silently, and trying to focus on her. “You’re all that I
think about, every single day. I’ll do absolutely everything in my power to
make you happy. You will never regret anything. I promise.”

He reached out and ran a long palm across her cheek and the gentleness of
his touch had her wishing she were Aimee. That she knew this young man
intimately. That they came from some beautiful place and that he would be
fine. Her parents would love this man. A pilot. They would never have
disowned her for bringing home a pilot. This is the kind of love she should
have had. Someone who would always include her, remember small things
about her, notice when she cut her hair or bought a new shade of lipstick.
She could love a man like this. Would have had his sons and called them
hers.

“Say something.” His eyes closed for a moment and then reopened slowly.

“I can hear the sirens. They’ll be here any minute,” she answered.

“No, something about us,” he insisted.

“Us?” She tried to think of something.

“Yes, us. I want to hear about us.” His words were full of loss. She stared at
his cheekbones, not wanting to look into his eyes again. Silence started
another layer and she wanted nothing more than to remove the
tremendous loss he was feeling and to which she knew she would forever
be attached. She wanted in that moment nothing more than to be his love,
sound like her, look like her—she wanted to be this dying man’s wish.

“Please.”

She touched her lower belly and finally let the tears come in earnest. “I’m
pregnant. I’m going to have a baby. Your baby,
our baby. And I love you, will
always love you.”

“Mom!” Frankie said and she turned to him, but recognition did not dawn for
her immediately. Complete puzzlement showed on his young face. Peter
was squirming, chubby arms outstretched towards her.  She turned back to
the man and stroked his cheek, took his huge hand in her smaller one and
squeezed it. He squeezed back. He didn’t respond to her news, but closed
his eyes and did not reopen them. The blood soaked towel looked oddly out
of place on his head. His youth looked oddly out of place in death. She
slowly removed her hand from his and stood up. Once again vertigo raced
through her and she placed a protective hand on her abdomen.

There were vehicles in the field now, parallel marks showed in the grass
where their tires pressed. Red flashing orbs shouted from vivid white roofs.
And Tommy, still wearing his safety harness, was coming at a run across the
field toward her, Matt at his heels.

“Everyone, okay?” he was breathless and red faced as he came to a stop in
front of his boys and immediately took Peter from Frankie.

“Mom tried to help him.” Frankie’s voice was cautious. “Dad?”

“I was up on the church’s cross, changing the lights,” panted Tommy. “He
passed underneath me so close I thought he was aiming to take me with
him.”

Stacy slowly stepped around her family and began walking towards the
yard. She picked up the unused blue towel and began to fold it as she
walked. Matt ran up beside her and tried to slide his hand into one of hers.
Instinctively she began to pull her hand away but stopped herself. Looking
down at her six-year-old son, a little boy she barely knew with his soft
brown hair and small brown eyes, she smiled and took his small palm in
hers.

“Is he going to be okay?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No.”

They walked on in silence for a few more steps.

“But, I’m thinking that maybe after supper tonight we could all walk to the
Big Spot and get ourselves an ice cream cone. Get away from the house for
a while.”

Matt smiled and let go of her hand so he could run back to tell Frankie. She
continued on to the house, walking slowly through the grass thinking about
the coming baby,
her baby. Tommy didn’t necessarily have the right to claim
this one. This one would be a pilot like his dad.
Mary J. Daley was
born and raised in
New Brunswick,
Canada. She now lives
in Toronto with her
husband and two
daughters. Her stories
have appeared in
Allegory, The Harrow
and Gryphonwood.