"I'm having some difficulty with this," she looked up as she spoke. He had watched her for minutes now and had already guessed as much. She hadn't fit the image he had formed before coming to this place. She seemed to him, someone who might be more at home in front of a classroom full of small children than one presumed accustomed to where he had actually found her, this cool drizzly morning. She fidgeted as she untied the knot and she cleared her throat dryly. He offered to help her but she pulled away from his reaching hands with sudden fire in her eyes. It was a fleeting look and soon she continued to loosen her chords with her head in that odd bent, almost bowed, almost cowed.
He winced at the feeling when it came. Guilt, maybe something else, but it hurt him silently and it lingered like her fingers on her knots. He wanted to stop her. He wanted to hold her. He laughed an instant at himself. He was here to do this thing and so was she. Why was he pulled off his mark so? He decided it was her hair: soft and golden like his daughter's. No, it must be the scent of her against the smell of dank earth. No, he realized it was the whole of her. Small, quiet, exposed. He let his own thoughts drift along with hers. What had driven her to this condition of such complete disregard for her own safety? He felt he should care and because of this reason and perhaps no other he found that he did. He cared.
"Look", he said, "why don't you go back inside"?
"I can make do". She looked at him and then away but then she turned to him fully and squared her shoulders for a fight. "You're not pushing me off this paycheck, just like that! I've been with worse sorts and I've always earned my keep"! She next, shook a fist in his face as she punctuated her speech." They told me about you! They said you'd try something to set me back before we even began.Well it's not going to work!"
He smiled. Here it was, they were back and speaking to him even through this quiet country woman. He reached slowly to her hair. He stroked it like a rider trying to tame a wild horse. She looked at him with more than anger now. She looked at him with emotions slowly declining toward disgust. She almost snorted as she pulled her hair away from his hand with a toss of her head.
Avery watched the fire burning softly in his hearth from his best comfortable chair and he smiled over the rim of his snifter. Brandy as welcome and easy as the fire warmed him inside. He stretched out his hand in the golden glow of the flame's illumination and he imagined he was stroking her hair once again. His breath caught a moment.
He hadn't really thought about her all day. Well, yes he had; but he hadn't lingered with her in his mind as he was now, as he was so fond of doing. She shone in his memory like that cool November's dawn so many years ago. She had never lost her sass or her sense of herself during their long life together. Even when the boy had died she had only stumbled a step and she had not fallen. He would have died in the fires of a river of whiskey if she hadn't been so damned strong herself. He shook his head now as he remembered her waiting on their comforters at the wake. She worked to make everyone else at ease in spite of their protests that she shouldn't do so. Her brother asked him to make her rest and to stop her work on the memorial of their loss but Avery knew this was how she coped.
"No, she's got to busy herself to stay topside", he had said, or words to that effect. He really couldn't recall with certainty, it had been so long ago.
He looked over at their portrait as he sipped his brandy and he gave her his patented wink. "You're still running things even now I imagine". He smiled at the thought of her tear- assing all over heaven putting halos straight and fluffing clouds like extra pillows she was keeping out just for company. One tear worked over the brim of one eye and he let it slide down his cheek. He wore it with pride.
He tilted the glass and let the last of its contents slide home and then he rose from the lap of that old chair. He had pointed it out a time or two whenever they were in town. He would have bought it too, if it wasn't so damned expensive. She surprised him. She squirreled away money almost a full year to sneak down and buy the thing for him and when he had come home after the weeks work he almost broke right down in front of her and cried. It wasn't the chair he loved. It was her sacrifice to please him, Avery, her husband.
"I aint no damned good, you know that," he'd say to her."
"No, I know you're not," she'd say back with a smile. Only she lied. She thought the world of him. She took money to buy things they needed, things she really could have and should have had. She hid all of it away to buy him that damned beautiful chair so he could rest by the fire and sip a little before bedtime. She kept him up better then anything else on the old homestead. And now he lived alone.
Avery walked stiffly out the front door and onto the porch. The sun was setting and he could see it from his chair, but he could also see it better from the porch. He stood next to the chair he had Larson make for her. It was ash and it was strong even though it was spindly and light as a feather.
He had always teased her about her broken rocking chair. "That aint no damned good", he'd start. "What kind of rocking chair don't squeak when you rock in it"? She would shake a finger at him and tell him that it was a good chair and strong and that it didn't squeak because it was so well made and strong. Avery nodded at the chair and he gave it a little push to set it going.
"Just like you Darling, it's just like you."
© 2003 M.E. Stucky, all rights reserved
appears here by permission