Creating a short story #10 – The last!

“How can you do that?”
“I have to see her. She’ll find me, and I can tell her. I can promise her again. I can explain about you and Saul. Maybe she be won’t be happy, like we were, but then she’ll understand and won’t mind waiting until it’s my time.”
Mary nodded and leaned back in the chair. “Yes, when it’s your time.”
***
Matthew stood on the shore of Lake Promise with the toes of his boots submerged in the lapping water. He’d only been standing there a minute, waiting for the surface to still. The afternoon sun cast long shadows over the water toward the east. The glare of the shimmering sunset made it a little hard to see if he faced Saul’s boat, so he turned his back to it. His gaze went deliberately downward to where he found his own face staring back. He knew her reflection would appear once he was calm, so he had disturbed the water as little as possible and stood unmoving.
Matthew was also listening. The rustling of Saul’s long strides through the browning grass was getting quieter now on the way to the cabin. He had told him that he and Mary had had a fight, that she was meddling in his personal business, and he wanted to come here to think. Saul was instantly worried Mary would go to town again, maybe never come back. Matthew knew he would worry. Matthew expected him to try to console her. Matthew knew Saul would be gone long enough for Sarah to find her way to him again. By the time Saul learned there had been no argument, before he could even run back, this would all be done.
He was right. Sarah’s image floated upward toward him, as if she were walking on the bottom of the lake and might emerge as a swimmer might do, walking knee deep in the waves toward the shore. For a second he wished she would. Just as quickly he knew she’d stop. When she did, her face smiled as wide as ever and she reached her hand toward him.
The whisper rose urgent from the water, “Come to me, now.”
Matthew smiled back at her and took a deep breath.
All at once he let himself plunge into the lake, instantly submerging, and pushed himself away from the shore. With his eyes closed he again heard her whispery giggle from under the water.
Then she grasped his hand and pulled him deeper. He could feel the pressure of the water build in his ears and rush past his whiskers, through his hair, pulling at his clothes as they went deeper.
When he stopped moving he opened his eyes and saw Sarah floating in front of him, the rippling waves illuminating her with a green-blue light. She smiled at him again and moved closer, wrapping her arms around his waist and pulling him close. This time he didn’t wait to kiss her. This time her lips were cold but welcoming, wet, but there. He pressed his entire being into that kiss. He kissed her with the passion he’d reserved for her since that rainy spring day and prepared to exhale.
He watched the bubbles rise as they escaped his mouth, slowly at first and small. Then he relaxed and the bubbles enlarged, rapidly tickling the tiny hairs of his face as they went by. Sarah’s watery whisper giggled at him again.
“I’ve waited so long, Matthew. Now nothing can separate us.”
He wanted to reply. He wondered how to do it as she did, to whisper with her mind straight into his. The lake water pressed its way into his mouth and down into his body. The cold felt no different than winter air chilling his lungs, but the silt felt gritty and a putrid fish smell filled his body instead. He let it fill him up. He smiled at Sarah again. He felt her cold hand hold the side of his face as she stared into his eyes.
His vision was fading, darkening. Sarah’s image was still close and he forced himself to keep seeing her. He felt his body begin to sink and he let his eyelids droop shut.
Matthew expected to find himself in a meadow, near the cherry tree or somewhere else on the farm. He expected Sarah to hold his hand and walk with him in the afternoon sun. He waited for her light to tell him where she was.
Instead he waited in the darkness.
Something was hurting him. Something was hitting his chest. Again and again it pounded at him. Why didn’t it stop? What was it? In his mind he called out for Sarah, but couldn’t hear her whisper anymore.
Finally he opened his eyes. Nothing made sense. He saw an odd purple sky. He saw someone hovering above him, glowing. He sensed another someone nearby. He began to cough the muddy lake water back out, sputtering and gasping like a fish. As his vision cleared he found a face ringed by blond hair, glowing in what was left of the afternoon sun.
“Oh, thank God!” Saul exclaimed. “Matthew! Matthew! Can you hear me? Look at me!”
Matthew couldn’t help but look. He stared at Saul for a few seconds and then began to look around. He was lying on his back on the lake shore. Mary was kneeling next to him, tears streaming down her cheeks that smiled the biggest smile he’d ever seen on her.
He coughed again, expelling more water and taking in enough air to clear his vision completely. Sitting up, Matthew began to complain, “What… cough, cough… what did you do? Cough… cough, cough. Why’d you do that?”
“What? Save your life?” Saul questioned.
“She was there, she was with me! I was keeping my promise!” Matthew suffered a new bout of coughing and shoved at Saul, willing him to disappear.
“What are you talking about? Sarah?” Saul began to understand, but looked to Mary for help. She looked back at him with apologetic eyes, a look she had never given him before. “Mary? Does he mean Sarah? What’s going on?”
“Yes, Saul, he’s talking about her.” Mary glanced at Matthew again, who had returned to lying on the ground. One of his arms seemed to rest loosely over his eyes. She let him stay that way. “He’s been seeing her. So have I, ever since I came here. Remember that day I came here and fished with you?”
“Yes, what does that have to do with Sarah?”
“When I went in your house to get a drink, I found the photo album. I found their wedding photo. That’s when I knew who she was.”
“Wait, you are saying she was here? She did what, visited you?” Saul had been sitting on the ground when Matthew began to revive, but now he sat forward on his knees, pressing the palms of his hands onto the tops of his thighs.
“Yes, Saul. At first I thought she was real, only catching glimpses of her out the window. That day your dog arrived she was there on the other side of the barn. That changed the day we were fishing. I saw her in the lake, Saul. She spoke to me, told me that this was her place. That’s why I left so quickly. She meant to scare me. I worried she might try to hurt me if I didn’t go.”
“Sarah would never hurt anyone! She wouldn’t!” The tone of his voice rose in pitch, getting defensive. Mary put her hands together in front of her chest, the same way she would during prayer. She began speaking with the same gentleness she had used with Matthew when he needed to hear her words.
“You’re right. He wouldn’t have loved her so much otherwise. His connection to her might have faded. What matters is that it didn’t. Their love kept her here. When I told Matthew what had been happening he wasn’t surprised. I didn’t know how often he’d seen her or for how long, but it was clear he hadn’t let go after all this time.”
“That’s why he went into the lake? He really wanted…?” Saul couldn’t finish his thought aloud. He sat back on his feet and slumped his shoulders. He looked at Matthew lying next to him, the brother he had saved, and both worry and relief swirled around in his chest. “What now?”
Mary looked over at Matthew as well, noticing his breathing had returned to normal. He may have been pretending to be elsewhere, but he was listening.
“I asked Matthew to decide what to tell her, to give her peace,” Mary continued, facing directly toward Matthew even though she spoke to Saul. “He said he’d try to talk to her. His actions today probably would have worked, and we would never have seen either one of them again. But this wasn’t the way; he needs to do something else.”
Matthew lifted his arm away from his face and turned to find Mary’s concern instead of anger or disappointment on her face.
“I can’t let her go,” he whispered once he covered his eyes again. “I can’t forget. I didn’t want to wait anymore.”“Matthew,” Mary began. “Matthew, I know about loss. I can see you never want to forget her. You don’t have to. You just need to decide how to remember her.”
“Remember,” he said quietly. “Remember is all I do.”
“But she needs to know that, Matthew. She needs proof.”
Saul had remained quiet the last few minutes, also remembering his sister. He interrupted, “I still never named that dog. It’s a boy, but I can still call it Sarah. I think if I use her name for something she loved it might help.”
Matthew sat up and looked at Saul squarely in the eyes. He recognized some of Sarah’s features there, and her kindness, and realized Saul was right.
“That’s perfect, Saul, for you. That won’t be enough for me, though. But you’re right about using her name. There’s nothing here or on the farm that carries her name. It needs to be something permanent, everlasting, like our love.” He sat quietly for another minute, the two of them letting him get his thoughts back in order.
“I know what she’s missing. It’s the only thing I avoided after she was gone because it really meant the end. I know now life’s different, and painful, but not over.”
“Yes,” Saul replied, “yes, that’s what she needs.”
“Matthew, what?” Mary asked, not sure what both men seemed to understand so easily.
“She needs a gravestone,” Matthew told her. “She needs that recognition that she was here, that I still love her and the whole world will know it.”
Mary smiled at him, pleased that he found a way to remember and a way to live with the memory of Sarah.

Creating a short story #9

Mary had been back for three days. Matthew let her stay away for a week. It was a rough week to be away from the peace of the farm. Every day had been sunny and just warm enough to work outside without getting exhausted. In town, families headed to the mercantile to stock up on winter supplies like flour or tools. It made the street dusty and noisy, and Mary had longed to walk in the fields and sit at the lake away from the busyness. Heaven knows what Matthew ate in that time, or what trouble he found, but Mary had put her foot down and wasn’t going to feel sorry just because he’s so stubborn. She was glad to be back, though. Besides needing to can the carrots and green beans, she worried about him. When he came to see her at the boarding house it was obvious he made an effort to put her at ease. He had shaved, knocked the mud off his boots, and wore a shirt she’d recently ironed. As ever, he barely explained himself, only saying he was ready to have her come back because he knew what he had to do.

But nothing had seemed to change. Matthew still stayed out all day. He would say hello each morning, or maybe add a small request. The cows were fed and the wood got stacked while she went about her tasks.

Today, though, was bound to be different. It had dawned cloudy, as other days, but rapidly worsened with whipping winds and driving rain halfway through the morning. It was the first time Matthew had been in the house, with her, for any stretch of time since she’d known him.

He sat in the chair next to the fire, watching the flames consume the logs. He hadn’t spoken a word since he came in. Finally, both needing a break and sensing Matthew’s tense mood, Mary sat in the chair opposite him. She knew it must have been Sarah’s, that sitting there would cause him to react in some way. She also knew she had left it up to Matthew to decide what to do about his wife, but since his plan would invariably have consequences for her, she needed to find out what that was.

He didn’t immediately look at her. Only when Mary began to settle into staring at the fire as well did he turn his head and look at her arm resting in her lap.

“Death is a part of farming. Livestock dies. Crops die. Dogs die. Even family. I’ve lost people before, when I was young. All of my grandparents over the years. My older sister of influenza. But she shouldn’t have.” Matthew paused to slow his breathing which had quickened when he spoke of her. “That day was a lot like today. The biggest difference was that it started out sunny. It was springtime. It was springtime just last year. I had calves to worry about, to find them where their mothers dropped them out in a field and see that they survived birthing. Sarah had been cooped up over the winter and was ready to spend time outside. She said she wanted to go see the cherry tree’s blossoms and feel the sun on her face.”

He paused again, remembering. His lips pressed together and out a bit, wrinkling his chin with the effort.   

“The storm came up suddenly. I hadn’t noticed the clouds until there was no light left. The winds pushed me around as I led the newest calf from the field into the barn. It wasn’t until after the rain began pounding on the roof that I remembered Sarah had taken her horse to the tree. I hoped she would have been back already, so I checked the cabin first. When she wasn’t inside I hoped maybe she went to see Saul. I saddled up and rode out to see him. He only said he saw her ride out in the morning, but he didn’t see her come back. He thought she might have taken the back trail to come see me or the long way around before heading home. Both of us knew at the same time that she was still out there. He grabbed his jacket and rode with me back to the barn for another horse. I headed toward the tree and he headed to the back trail.”

Mary was glad to have her handkerchief in her pocket. She took it out and pressed it to her nose. She wasn’t going to be as successful in holding back the tears as Matthew was right now.

“I had the hardest time getting out there. All the trails turned straight to mud. Some low spots flooded and I had to go slowly around them, looking for solid footing, hoping all the while I’d see her doing the same on her way back. I did see her. I almost didn’t. She shouldn’t have been there. It was her dress, really, that I saw. The skirt of it, flapping around in the wind. It was so odd. I’d never seen the ground move like that and I had to stare at it a long time before I realized it wasn’t the ground or the mud at all. I heard her horse whinny nearby. When I saw him, he was covered in mud up to his chest. He stood a few paces away from the trail, letting the rain rinse him off and waiting for his rider. He didn’t know where she was. He just knew he was alone.

“I jumped down and ran over to her skirt, reached down and felt her legs. They weren’t moving on their own, but as I squeezed I could feel the bones slide past each other and Sarah groaned something terrible. I found her head, covered in mud and tried to lift it. She only groaned.

“’Sarah!’ I yelled. Her eyes were closed. I wanted her to talk to me. ‘Sarah, can you talk? Can you hear me?’ I was so happy when her eyes fluttered open and looked up at me. I thought she fell the wrong way, that I could carry her home and help her heal. Then she said, ‘Matthew, he didn’t know. He didn’t know where I was. It wasn’t his fault. He got stuck in the mud. I got off to pull him out. He struggled so much. When he broke free I couldn’t get out of the way. He didn’t know…’”

Mary gasped aloud. “Oh, Matthew…” was all she could manage.

Matthew continued, “She only screamed when I tried to move her, so I stopped trying. I just told her it was alright, that everything would be alright, that I’d take her home and we’d be together. She only said one thing after that, over and over, ‘Promise you won’t leave, promise we’ll be together. Promise me…’ I just laid her head in my lap. I held her hand and just sat with her there in the rain. I couldn’t even pick her up and hug her until she was already gone, couldn’t even give her a goodbye kiss.”

“That’s why she stayed.”

“I promised her. I meant it. When Saul found us, it was too late for him to help. He sat there with me for I don’t know how long, holding her other hand. Sometime or other one of us got up, I don’t know who was first, but I got her horse and Saul held him while I lifted her over the saddle. We all walked back together.”

“It was a good promise, Matthew. You said the right thing.” Mary began to reach out to him, to rest her hand on his in comfort, to let him know it was good that he finally told the story.

He pulled his hand back and looked angrily at her.  After a few seconds he relaxed. “I’m sorry for that… I can keep my promise, though not how I thought. I thought I’d die myself, work myself to death or get sick. Then I could lie next to her. But that hasn’t happened. Sarah’s waiting. I have to let her know I haven’t forgotten.”

Creating a short story #8

I hope everyone can join Matthew on this ride… 

Matthew, returning to his pacing, considered the news Mary shared. He knew he’d seen Sarah in the puddle that day. It wasn’t the heat or his mind playing tricks on him. He knew Sarah wanted him to be with her, wherever she was. It was troublesome that Sarah involved Mary. This was a private matter, between the two of them. He was the one who held her as she died. He promised they’d be together again one day.Pacing was getting him nowhere. Matthew decided to walk to the north pasture to check on the cows, that maybe a walk with some purpose would help him decide what to do. His own horse, forgotten by his owner but not forgetting his training, followed the pensive man.The cows dotted the north pasture and its gentle slope, all standing up and grazing as usual. Matthew considered their postures. None looked like they had lain down all day. He turned his face to the sky. No clouds, hardly a breath of wind. There was no reason to expect rain any time soon, and since they were here so late in the day it was unlikely they would migrate to the stream on the western end of the farm. Matthew headed to the water troughs stationed here for days like this to see how much water they held from the rain a few days ago.From a few feet away he could tell they were not full. He walked right up to the edge of one and peered down in it. His reflection stared back at him, the surface of the water was still and only about a hand’s-breadth from the top. Good. That meant it hadn’t evaporated too much, the cows would have plenty for today, and longer.Matthew continued to stare at his reflection, remembering his last vision of Sarah, and wondered if she would find him here. As if the thought called her, a slight breeze rippled the surface for a few moments, clearing away the dust particles. When it was still again he saw Sarah looking back at him with her beautiful and happy smile.“Sarah! You found me again! ““Yes, my love. I’m here, waiting for you.” The whisper of her voice seemed to float around his ears, disconnected from the image but drawing him toward it. “I can’t wait to be with you again. Won’t you come to me?”“How, Sarah? Where are you?”“I’m here. Just come closer. Climb in and you’ll be able to reach me.”Matthew leaned over and rested his hands on the worn edge of the trough. He reached a hand down into the water but felt nothing. Sarah’s face did not disappear, but her eyes looked playfully at him and encouraged him to continue. He did as she beckoned, raising one leg at a time and stepping in. He stood for a moment, unsure how this was helping. He looked toward Sarah’s image once again, which began laughing. The sound swirled around him, traveling out from the water and then encircling him.“The whole way, my love. You must come to me…”Matthew cautiously lowered himself into the cool water, eventually lying down as he would in one of those fancy copper bathtubs the hotel in town uses. He let the water cover his face, closing his eyes and holding his breath as he went under. He heard Sarah laugh at him again, undiluted by the water swimming in his ears. “It’s alright to open your eyes.” When he did, he found himself standing near the edge of the wood, just a few feet from where Sarah sat on the grass.“There! I knew you could do it! I’m so sorry you could only find me here. I can’t seem to be anywhere else. Oh, Matthew, I’ve been so lonely! Won’t you come to me, put your arms around me?”

Without hesitation Matthew moved toward her, moving more quickly than he thought possible. He took her up in his arms, those arms which had been empty too long. He pulled her close and nestled his nose in her hair, in her neck, on her shoulder, anywhere he could reach. His hands squeezed her sides and then slid up and down, remembering her shape and reveling in the ability to touch her again.“I never wanted to be away from you, Sarah. You can’t imagine how hard it’s been.”Embracing him with as much strength and fervor, Sarah again whispered, “You can stay now, stay here with me. Will you?”“I’ll never leave. I’ll never let go.” They relaxed the embrace just enough so their faces could meet. They kissed as if it was the first time, gentle, learning the shapes of each other’s lips, the flavor of each other’s skin.Suddenly, Matthew felt the need to stop and breathe. But, the kiss… this kiss never needed to end.Matthew felt something nudge his shoulder, but he ignored it. He felt the something move him to the side an inch or two, forcing him to stop kissing Sarah and loosen his hands to regain his balance.Sarah began to whimper, to whine, “NO! Don’t go! I need you to stay…”But it was to late. The horse had pushed Matthew into the edge of the trough, causing the instinctual reaction for Matthew to throw his arms to his sides and sit up. He began to sputter through the water as he released the air screaming for escape. He found himself taking deep breaths while his horse nudged its nose against his cheek.Matthew swatted the animal away, cursing him. The spell was broken. Matthew looked at the water’s surface again, hoping to see Sarah still there. Nothing. He stood and thrashed his hands angrily around the bottom of the trough, trying to feel her there. Nothing. At once angry and despairing, he reclined in the trough again, again with the sensation he was in a bathtub, and he began to wish he had one in the cabin.Climbing out, Matthew peered into the other two troughs. Nothing. Nothing he could do now but wait for her again.

 

Creating a short story #7

Back in the cabin, Mary was pacing the floor, crossing from the doorway over to the bedrooms and back again. Sometimes she sat at the table and began to shell peas all over again. Sometimes she would find herself staring out the window toward the lake. It just cannot be. It is. Sarah has not left. Why does she visit me? I never even met her. These and innumerable other questions ran through her head. She had left the boat and Saul rocking slightly in the water with her quick dash back to the cabin. She had simply said, “I need to tend the fire in the oven before the coals cool too much…” without waiting for a response. Surely, Saul could forgive her. She hoped she had put the book back in the cabinet where she found it, was confident she did, reasoning that Saul would have chased after her to understand why the pictures might have upset her.

     “This is enough worry,” she stated out loud. “I need to talk to him. He has to know what has happened.” With that she wrapped her shawl around her shoulders and headed to the barn. Once Duke was saddled she paused just before mounting the horse, not sure where to go to find Mr. Miller.

“What do you think, old boy? Where do you think he’s working?” As a response, Duke shook his mane and turned to the right, toward the lower field and cow pasture. “Good. We’ll go that way.” With a quick double-clicking of her tongue and two heels gently tapping his sides, they headed off.

***

     Matthew tried very hard to avoid the fence line all summer. He had repaired what he could on the planter. He had walked through the corn field looking for worms in the ears. He had chased cows out of the woods and away from coyotes. He argued with himself each time that he had always done these things. A farm is in constant need of supervision. One lazy day could result in the loss of his crop or danger for the animals. Every day, he needed to be busy.

It was time to go back, however, and make sure the fence posts were holding themselves upright. He arrived in late afternoon, as the cherry tree’s shadow reached over and darkened the grass and posts he needed to inspect. After a few minutes of pushing and pulling each one with all the energy he could muster, satisfied they were sturdy, he sat at the base of the tree, careful not to lean against it. When he was almost breathing normally again he heard the familiar trot of an approaching horse and stood to get a look at who was coming.

     “Mary? Is something wrong?” Since she had only gone out to find him that once, when he saw…, and left him to his business after that.

     “Yes, Mr. Miller, something is wrong.” She spoke with an irritation he had never heard from her while still seated in the saddle. “I need to tell you something very important and I need you to listen. Could you do that for me?”

“Yes, Mary. Please get down and I promise to listen.” She dismounted quickly, sending her skirts twirling about her ankles and landing with both feet. Duke stood still as she started to walk away, lowering his head to nibble on the grass at the edge of the trail.

     Planting her feet and looking Matthew squarely in the eye she started, “I know I’m a stranger here, new to the town and new to you. I haven’t tried to pry into your past and stir up painful memories. I know it’s not my place. I wish I could have kept out of it, but I cannot be silent any more.”    

     “Silent about what? Mary, what are you talking about?” he questioned, his confusion causing him to break his promise already.

     “Please, Mr. Miller, listen. I need to tell you what happened today. Then I can tell you about the other incidents. Please, let me get it all out before you say anything else.” He nodded, removed his hat as he walked toward the shade and indicated to Mary to join him. They both sat facing Duke, watching him shake his skin to disturb the flies that landed there. “Today I decided to take a loaf of bread to Saul. I had never visited the lake and I wanted to see what it was like on such a beautiful day. We fished for a little while and talked about the dog. Saul went to wake him up so I could see him. While he was gone my line tangled in the weeds. When I looked into the water I saw something there besides plants or fish. I saw a person. I saw a woman, with blond hair. She whispered to me that this is her place. I felt I needed to reach into the water and I felt her grab my hand. Ever since then I have felt my skin crawl and my heart beating too quickly. I was going to get a cup to have some water in Saul’s boat, but I found a picture album. It has your wedding picture in it. The woman’s face in the water was Sarah.” Mary stopped talking then, needing to catch her breath. Matthew stood up quickly and moved straight ahead a few steps. He turned just as suddenly and looked down at her, mouth open for a second before shutting it again. He turned back toward Duke and walked away again.

     “How…?” was all he could manage.

    “I know this is hard to hear. It is hard to say. But, there is more to it. Please, I need you to come back. Won’t you sit down?” Mary’s eyes pleaded with him, following him as he moved in all directions to avoid looking at her. “Matthew,” she said, trying his first name, “please, come and sit again.” Her voice returned to the gentle and familiar tone she usually spoke with, reassuring and calming him. Slowly he returned to his former seat next to her.

     “The first time I saw her was one of the first days I was here. I saw a woman’s face in the kitchen window. I thought someone was outside looking in, someone you knew who had come to call, but as soon as I moved closer it disappeared. It was nearly dark, so I thought I’d scared her off. Another time was near the barn when the dog arrived, but she looked different then and I thought she might have owned the dog. She stood just behind the barn and then stepped out toward the house like she was scared. She seemed to stare at me and the cabin. Before I could tell Saul she was gone again, and again I thought one of us scared her. This time, today, it all made sense. I know I don’t know what happened or why, but I do know she hasn’t left. She needs something, Matthew, and I’m afraid if she doesn’t get it she’s going to get angry with me.”

    “No, no you don’t know anything. Sarah is gone. She died and she left me. That’s what happened.” He stood again and glared down at her, pinching his eyebrows together, clenching his teeth tighter with every word. “You don’t know anything and you don’t need to!”

    Mary stood up, returning the steely glare. “That’s right! I don’t need to know. But you do. Do you understand? You need to find out why. I don’t care how, but you have to do it soon. Something about my being here has stirred up her spirit. Either I have to leave or she’ll make me. Do you hear me? I am staying in town until I hear from you again.”

     She continued to look at him for a few moments longer, but relaxed her features while she searched his face for understanding. Matthew’s face relaxed then, too, and he nodded slowly.

“Alright. You know where to find me. Please tell Saul in the morning, and he is also welcome for a visit.”  She whistled to Duke who came right to her. Matthew watched her remount, straighten her wraps, and ride away.

 – I feel like this one is rushed, lots to do today, and am not entirely happy with it. How could it be better?

Creating a short story #6

Feeling the tall grasses pulling at her skirts, Mary holds out her hand palm downward to skim over the tops of the blades, high now and up to her waist. They are more smooth than rough, her hand gliding easily as she walks, but the edges of each has tiny hooks or hairs that catch ever so slightly. She walks slowly to let the fabric of her dress make as little contact with the grasses as possible and turns her face toward the pier. Saul is comfortably sitting there, pants rolled up to just under his knees, dangling his bare feet over the edge. He’s too far away to hear her approaching just yet, so Mary observes the gentle rippling surface of the water. She sees a few ducks land, go tail up to eat smaller fish and bugs, and then flap their wings and take off again only to set down in another section and repeat the maneuver. Some insect, a grasshopper maybe, makes a creaking kind of buzz which causes its neighbors to echo it. Soon, the whole field is filled with the low buzz and they begin jumping from one blade to another.

Saul turns, almost unconsciously, to investigate what’s disturbing the insects to see Mary heading toward the pier, carrying a small basket covered with a dish cloth.

“Hey, there!” he calls. “What brings you out to the lake?”

“Today was bread-baking day. I have ten new loaves and one with extra butter just for you. It was such a pretty day I decided to take a walk and drop this off,” she said, handing him the basket. “We can have our visit here and then I’d like to explore the shore a bit. I’ve been here more than three months already and realized I’ve only ever looked at the lake through the window. It’s time for me to learn a bit more about where I live.”

Saul gingerly lifted the corner of the cloth and inched his nose closer to the fresh loaf. With a deep breath he involuntarily closed his eyes to take in the scent. “Ohhh, that’s good! Thank you very kindly.” He set the basket down behind himself and returned to his fishing rod. “Why don’t you join me while I fish? I have another rod you could use.”

“That sounds nice. I haven’t gone fishing since I was a girl. My sister and I used to wade in the stream and catch minnows for bait, then head to my uncle’s pond for some bass. What do you use for bait?”

“Well, if my bread gets stale I might use that, but since you’ve been baking I eat it all before I have any to use. I have a special net to catch some of the grasshoppers you just scared, too. I know a shady place that draws in the earthworms so I dig up a bunch when the ground is soft, like it was yesterday, so today I have worms.”

“Perfect. I think earthworms lure in the biggest fish.” He quickly ran for the rod hanging on the side of the enclosure on the boat and handed it to Mary. She dug into the tin pail for a few seconds and came up with a wriggling and thick worm. With two fingers pinching it, she slid the hook first through its wide pink segment and then again about an inch from the other end. Then she removed her shoes and stockings and draped her lower legs over the edge to match Saul’s position. They both cast out together, careful not to cross lines, and sat quietly while the sun shone on their bared faces.

After some time with no bites, Mary laid down the rod and turned to look at the boat.

“How’s your roommate?”

“Roommate?” he asked, looking at her strangely.

She looked him straight in the eye. “Yes, the hairy one with four legs.”  

He laughed out loud and said, “What a way you have with words! Why didn’t you just say ‘the dog’? I guess he’s alright. Quiet fella, doesn’t whine at me or beg for attention. Only barks at the fish if he’s sitting with me when I catch one. Real polite about it, though. If he wants to eat one, he’ll sit next to it while it flops about and then look at me, waiting for my go-ahead. He only snatches it up when I say he can. Too bad for whoever lost him, but I’m sure pleased with him.”

“Did you name him yet?”

“No, can’t seem to think of anything that fits. Sarah was always …” He paused and looked at her, catching the surprised expression on Mary’s face. Before she could think what to say next he continued, “Sarah was better with animals. I know Matthew never talks about her so I haven’t either, especially when he could feel the hurt all over again if I mentioned her around him.”

Unable to help herself, Mary blurted, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know…”

“How would you? No, don’t worry about it.” He stopped for a few seconds, seemingly catching his breath and gathering his courage. “Sarah was my little sister. That’s how they met. She was visiting me and I took her into town to show her around. She rarely left the homestead, busy raising the horses and tending whatever other animals were running around. Our parents have a farm about ten miles to the north, along the river that feeds Lake Promise. I came out here after a fight with Pa, and she was kind of a communicator between Ma and me. Anyway, she loved animals and couldn’t help admiring this horse hitched up outside the mercantile. I recognized it as Matthew’s, and told her I’d introduce her to the owner. They were nearly inseparable after that.”

“It must be painful for you…” Mary couldn’t get herself to ask the question, but continued, “to talk about her. It seems you were close.”

“It’s nice to talk about her. She was one of the best people I’ve ever known.” He stopped again, getting up, “but you were asking about the dog. I bet he’d like to say hello and thank you for taking care of him.” Saul headed down the pier and stepped onto his boat, disappearing from view. Mary turned back to her rod and cast out again, but a breeze picked up just as the line was about to hit the water and pushed it into the reeds growing near the shore.  

Reaching the mass of plants, Mary began to untangle the line. Noticing some movement off to her right, she turned and looked toward the pale thing in the water. With a gasp, Mary recognized the pretty young face and blond hair, the same as the person she saw behind the barn. This can’t be real she thought, wondering who it was and why she was in the lake. Looking more closely, the image wasn’t under the water, it wasn’t a body. It was a reflection. “You’re not here, I would have seen you walking toward me.”

This place is mine

The whispering voice floated next to Mary’s ear as the reflection’s mouth moved on the water’s surface. Curious and drawn to the image, Mary reached down toward the speaker, her fingers reaching toward the woman’s shoulder and down into the water. Something grabbed onto her hand, enclosed it, and Mary felt as if she couldn’t move a muscle in protest. The voice whispered more loudly This place is mine!

Footsteps hit the wood of the pier, heavy from the man and light from the dog, moving away from the boat house and toward the end of it. “Mary!” Saul called, “quit fussing with your line if it’s caught, I’ll string it over again. Come on back. Someone wants to meet you.”

The reflection glanced away from Mary and toward the boat. Its expression changed from the intense insistence of a moment ago and saddened, releasing its grip on Mary. She stood quickly, suddenly relieved to be able to move away from the shore. The image rippled and faded in a second.

“R – right, um, be right there.” Drying her hand on her sleeve, she also rubbed away the goose flesh that she hadn’t realized had popped up. Walking over to the pier got her blood moving again and she began taking deep breaths.

“You upset about the line?” Saul asked as she reached him, “because it doesn’t matter. I have plenty to fix it.”

“No, it’s not that. I, uh, well, I think when the wind picked up I caught a small chill.” She bent down to pet the pair of fluffy ears. “He looks much better now that he’s clean.” Timid, and still shaken, she asked, “Do you mind if I sit inside the boat with him and warm up, out of the breeze?”

“That’s alright, as long as you don’t mind the cramped quarters. Or my mess,” he said with a smile, trying to lighten her mood, disappointed he was unsuccessful. He took her by the elbow and guided her through the doorway. “Have a seat where you like. I’ll just fix up the rod.” As soon as he turned away Mary collapsed onto the bench that ran the length of the small table near the back of the boat. The dog sat down by her feet and rested his head on her lap. Closing her eyes and stroking the soft fur, Mary’s thoughts returned to the woman’s face. She doesn’t want me here. Who is she? Will Saul think I’m crazy if I ask?

After taking a few minutes to steady her breathing Mary got up and began to walk around the space. Looking for a cup to fill with water, she opened one of the cupboards. Rather than typical kitchen utensils or pots, Mary found an old photo album. Not expecting much but Saul’s former life inside, she began to flip through its pages. A few were of a wooden farm house with the family, which included several generations, lined up on the porch. Another was of two children, a boy and a girl, obviously Saul and Sarah when they were small. A few flips later revealed a wedding photo. The groom was Matthew, clean shaven and in a dark jacket next to his bride. She was beautiful, young, and blond. That smiling face was much happier than the one she had just seen floating in the lake, but it was unmistakably the same person.

My question here – should she make a hasty escape, an excuse to Saul and leave? Can I leave this hanging before the next part?

Creating a short story #5

Matthew sits by the fire Mary had built when the afternoon had begun to see a sprinkle from the clouds which were now storming, meaning this chair is just about the only place he could be right now. He had thought about waiting out the storm for a while in the barn, so he set about tending the horses and the mule just as the rain let loose from the sky. As he was about to bury the pitch fork in the pile of hay used for bedding he stopped in mid-swing, seeing the strange dog stand up on the top of the mound at his movement. Instead, Matthew put the pitch fork away against the wall, muttered a “hmph” at it and left the barn by the sliding door. He stomped through the quickly-forming mud, up the stairs, onto the porch, and straight into the cabin without even shutting the door.

“What is that animal doing in the barn?” He nearly spat the question at Mary, her back turned to the door as she placed fresh logs in the fireplace.

“I know this is your house, but you may want to keep it dry in here and shut the door.” Grudgingly, he did as she requested, but didn’t move in the room any further and stood glaring at her once the rain no longer found its way inside. Mary stared back. “Well, you have several animals in the barn, since that’s where they tend to stay to get out of the weather. Which do you mean?”

“I mean the only animal that is not mine – I mean the strange dog.”  His temper had flared up at her flippant response, showing itself in his clenched teeth and a stiff arm now pointing in the direction of the building in question.

“Oh, right. You don’t mind the poor guy staying there, do you? He came up to the door earlier in the afternoon, while Saul was here on his regular visit, and scratched at it. I thought that meant he was friendly and used to people, so I offered him a place in the barn for a while.”

“I don’t like it. Get him out of here.” Matthew muttered this as he started to move across the room to the table.

“Please, if you don’t mind, would you remove your boots before you get any more mud on the floor?”

“I don’t mind at all,” he said as he stomped the last few paces to the table, shedding most of the wet mud in wide splashes on the planks. He sat heavily in the nearest chair and pushed each boot off with the toes of the opposite foot, letting them bounce and land as they chose, and then stood again to glare at her.

“I don’t care how much you dislike dogs. I’m not going to turn the animal away when it’s obviously hungry and needs a place to stay warm and dry. Besides, Saul already told me you wouldn’t want anything to do with it. He plans to take it in himself, said he needs some company on his boat.” She turned from him again and adjusted the logs on the fire as if they might roll away without her constant supervision.

Matthew relaxed at that news. He knew Saul was a good man, never caused anyone any trouble, and he couldn’t really tell him what to do with his own home or what he let inside it. Silently, he moved to the rocking chair near the hearth where he often sat to dry his damp socks or warm up, as he realized he needed to do right now. He sat down with a sigh, rested his head on the high back and closed his eyes.

“Alright, then. One night.”

Mary looked over to say thank you, but seeing his whole body flopped in the chair, weary and suppressing his irritation, she decided to keep her thoughts to herself. After a few minutes of listening to the drumming of the rain on the roof she noticed it had gotten quieter, but some soft snoring filled her ears instead. He never stirred as the door shut behind her when Mary left for the day.

When Matthew woke the logs had burned to coals, but they still threw up some flames amid the mass of glowing red coals. He pulled three more from the store next to the hearth when he realized he was alone and piled them on, carefully, and began to think about the dog and the last time one had lived on his farm.

It was the first day he brought Sarah to see the cabin once he’d finished building it. He had planned to bring her from the far side of the lake so the barn was visible for most of the ride toward it. That way he could position her behind the barn and then surprise her with it by having her take a few eyes-tight-shut steps to the side before he’d say she could look.

She’d dressed so pretty that day, like she knew it was an important day. She wore her favorite yellow dress with tiny pink roses and fine lace around its collar and cuffs. She’d told him it made her feel like every day could be like spring, with new possibilities and discoveries to make. It was a good choice – this trip meant something new was coming. He’d led her to believe the cabin wouldn’t be livable for the next two months, though he suspected he wasn’t that good at keeping it secret. She had chattered during the whole wagon ride around the lake, talking about the birds flying above and the dragonflies that buzzed by her ears. He loved the way she giggled when one seemed to tickle her ear, exposed to their assault because her hair was pulled up in a tidy bun. Involuntarily, he smiled at the memory of the sound.

Her giggling continued as he gave her cryptic directions about closing her eyes once they reached the barn and the wagon stopped.

“How am I supposed to get down with my eyes closed?”

“I’ll guide you. Reach for my hands,” he had said, lifting them up so she could find them, with plenty of giddy excitement himself.

He positioned her nearly at the corner of the barn so that once he was on the porch he could tell her to take a few steps to the right. Once she promised not to move until he said, he almost raced to the porch. He looked through the window to ensure everything inside was as he’d left it before turning back to call to her. She followed the sound of his voice very well, stepping cautiously out from behind the barn until she was clear of it. Her eyes opened before he could ask for that from her, too, and she stopped walking. Sarah had no expression on her face at first. She looked carefully toward the structure, taking in the ground between them before examining the porch and then settling her gaze on Matthew.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, his smile fading, worried it disappointed her in some way.

“No, not at all… it’s just… I think…”

“What? Don’t you like it?”

She smiled a quick smile for him then, helping him to relax. “Yes! Yes, I do like it. I just think it needs one more thing.”

“Well, why don’t I show you one more part of the surprise. Then you can make up your mind.” Matthew moved to the front door and opened it slowly, peeking his head inside. He said a few quiet words and then opened the door wider. Out walked, or rather, half stumbled, a little rusty colored ball of fur. It looked up at Matthew for a second and kept on going until it reached the end of the porch, and not sure what to do next, it looked down at the ground and whined.

“A puppy!” Sarah giggled more loudly now, which quickly broke out into a laugh. “Yes, that’s what was missing! I couldn’t want anything more.” It was now her turn to race across the yard and away from the barn. She first went to the puppy and rubbed behind both its ears, bringing her nose down to meet it. She picked it up and then stepped up to the porch, wrapping a free arm around Matthew’s waist.

“It’s perfect,” she had said.

That was the best day they’d ever shared.

Only two short weeks later, that same puppy followed too closely underfoot. He never knew he should watch out for the horses. Poor thing never saw it coming. Sarah had cried for days, staying away from the barn with less and less believable excuses. Eventually, he had convinced her the horses had no idea the pup was there, it was just an accident and there was no reason to think the horses were dangerous.

If only he could go back to that perfect day once more, to see her looking at the house again, at him again, as if the possibilities were just waiting to be discovered.

—Not sure about the wording in this last paragraph, about the possibilities. Now that I’ve dropped a few more clues, I’d appreciate some predictions about what might happen next!  All comments so far bring out your ideas and perceptions, and are very useful! Keep reading!

Creating a short story #4

Part Four:

Mary keeps Duke at a walk on her way to the cabin, noticing the gray cloud cover and keeping an eye on how the wind blows. It’s still mostly calm, barely blowing the strands of her horse’s mane from their resting place on the long bay neck. It’s too soon to tell if the clouds will let loose their moisture before or after noon. At least the ride from town is dry she thinks, and I remembered my slicker for later. Mary glances down at the ruts in the road, looking for low spots where water will collect and turn to mud, memorizing distinctive plants or other trail indicators to look for on the way back. She begins wondering about Mr. Miller’s odd behavior at the puddle, now nearly a week past, leaning over it like he was. Was he looking for something, like tadpoles or other wriggling creatures, within it? Matthew didn’t seem like the curious type. In all the days from then until now Mary had never seen him pause so much as a minute at anything else, seemingly always in motion while he went about the farm’s business.

Hours later, Mary notices the chill in the cabin since the wind has picked up. Small cracks, few in as they are, between the logs have started to whistle with the increased force. The sound echoes quietly around the large room, seeming to bounce off the stones of the fireplace and increase their annoyance at having to slow down. A fire would rid the room of the chill. Then, if Mr. Miller comes in from the rain he’ll have somewhere to warm up and dry off. Gathering and rearranging the kindling into a small tower in the hearth, then striking the match, Mary smiles that the beginnings of a fire already throw off a little heat. The familiar rap at the window frame interrupts her chore for just a minute. She turns to see Saul’s approving smile through the glass as she stands and crosses the room.

“Feeling a chill?” Saul asks, once the window is open.

“Just a bit. I’m hoping to keep from getting colder once the rain starts. Have any idea how long?”

“We should have some time, the trees haven’t started to sway yet, but clouds like this tend to tease the land with a sprinkle and don’t really give it a good drink until nightfall.”

“I see you do have more clothes to wear.” Mary nodded toward his torso, observing a gray flannel left unbuttoned, draping over his broad shoulders. “Are you worried about a sprinkle?”

“Never can be too careful,” he said with a sheepish half smile. “Besides, I like the way it smells after it gets a little freshness in the fibers. I can hang it up inside the boat and keep the smell with me. It breaks up the fish smell that normally keeps me company.”

Another sound broke in to the conversation. It seemed the whistling was grating on the wood, but not exactly. Both Mary and Saul heard it at the same time and stood listening.

“Do you hear that? What is it?” Mary turned an ear back toward the inside of the cabin, unsure of the source of the sound.

“I don’t know what it could be. Let me look around a bit.” Saul began to walk around the outside, heading toward the front porch. Mary takes the same path and hears a more distinct scratching at irregular intervals. Scrtich, scratch-scratch. Now she could tell it was coming from the other side of the front door. Upon opening it, Mary discovered a scraggly, dirty, scrawny dog on the porch. Its brown clear eyes look up at her, seeming to ask if it could come in.

“Not looking like that, you aren’t,” Mary told it, “I can’t promise anything more than a bit of food.” Kneeling to get a good look at it, she examined the tangled mass of straw-colored fur for any cuts or injuries. “You seem alright, just bedraggled. Came here to get in out of the weather, did you? How’s a nap in the barn sound?”

A low laugh rumbled toward her from the edge of the porch where Saul had propped himself up with one hand on the outer wall.

“You’re not afraid of that stray dog one bit!” The surprise and amusement in his voice and on his face was clear. “I can walk him over to the barn if you like while you get him something to eat, like you promised.”

“Yes, Saul, I’d truly appreciate that.” Saul let out a quick whistle and Mary stood watching the newcomer turn and trot toward him. Just then a sprinkle of rain started tapping on the metal roof and hit the man and dog as well, causing Saul to shrug his shoulders a bit and turn up his collar, picking up his pace as he headed to the barn. Mary noticed what appeared to be a young woman, almost hiding on the other side of the barn and peeking toward the dog and then beyond it to her on the porch. The two women look at each other for a few moments. This stranger wears a cotton dress much like her own with a full skirt and long sleeves. It seems the dress should be yellow with small pink flowers, but it has faded from age and repeated washings. There is a small ring of lace around the collar which frames the young face well, all the more visible and attractive with her blond hair pulled up into a bun. When Saul slid the door into place after welcoming his new friend the woman took a few small steps toward the cabin.

“May I help you?” Mary called out, hoping this woman owned the dog, the two of them travelling and begging together. Maybe she wanted to see if these people were friendly before approaching herself. Instead of speaking, the stranger stopped walking and studied Mary for what seemed like a very long time. “You don’t need to worry. If that’s your dog you can stay with him. I’ll help clean him up, even bring you some warm water if you like,” she tried. This got no response. The stranger now appeared to have frozen as she was a few minutes before, neither shifting her weight, or shivering from the cool rain. In fact, she didn’t look like she was even getting wet.

The barn door scraped open again, releasing Saul out into the weather. Mary turned her view to him and called out, “Saul, will you…” and began to point in the direction of the woman. Saul turned as she indicated, and Mary couldn’t finish her sentence. There was no longer anyone to point at.

“What are you saying?” He hurried up to the shelter of the porch roof before Mary could think of an explanation.

“Didn’t you see anyone?”

“Just you. Standing here. I thought you went in to get that dog some food.”

“No. I saw someone behind the barn, thought she was with the dog or owned it, maybe.”

“Saw someone?”

“Right.”

“Where?” he asked, turning back the way he had come.

“Nowhere, now. Must have scared her off.”

“Most likely. Might have felt safer out of sight. Maybe went through the other door into the barn, if the dog is hers. Maybe wanted to see it went to a good home.”

“Probably.” Something about that explanation didn’t seem right. Something told her she was wrong about the woman, that she’d seen her before. That she had nothing to do with the dog after all.

“Anyways, if she ran off and the dog needs more attention tomorrow, and a few fish, I’ll come take him off your hands. Ol’ Matt always said he’d take care of all the livestock the farm could raise but never a dog. Seems a shame to let him run wild when I have a perfectly good boat needing a watchdog.”
Mary smiled at this, since Saul had nothing of value and never ventured out of walking distance to the lake.“Until tomorrow, then,” she said, looking out from under the porch to the last remnants of the sprinkle dripping off its edge. With a wave he was off.

Creating a short story part 3

Matthew found the morning bright, with only a few wisps of clouds left from yesterday’s cranky storms. The cow-trodden pathways through the pasture still held water in intermittent puddles, all of which Matthew was careful to steer Buck around. Solid grassy tufts were easier on tired hooves, anyway, or would keep them from getting sore and making extra work at the end of the day. He had wrapped three biscuits in his handkerchief, expecting them to last the whole ride but discovered them finished before he was halfway out, which meant he would either have to scrounge for berries or head back home near midday for another meal. Nothing bothered him as much as needing to return to the cabin early, so he decided that he would disregard his stomach as long as possible.

He dismounted when he reached the downed portion of the fence. Three left for today. The soaked ground made it easier to dig the post holes, but it was still too soft to hold them firmly upright. He’d have to prop them up with whatever stones he could dig up from repositioning the holes and come back yet again to check their stability, probably more than a few times. Silently he picked up his shovel from under the lone nearby (what kind? Cherry = romance, maple = balance/promise, birch = new beginnings) tree where he’d left it to keep it out of the rain if more should come. He reached out and touched the trunk to steady himself as he bent down, but when he stood straight again he realized what he was touching and snatched his hand back as if he thought the tree might bite him, suddenly aware of the contact, and rubbed the sensation away on the leg of his pants. Brushing off the feeling, he marched over to the fence line while pulling on his gloves and began digging as furiously as he dared. The work managed to quiet his mind as only a constructive task could do. The effort of using his muscles drew all the energy away from his brain, relieving it to think of the process and nothing more. By the time the sun seemed to hover above him, suspended, casting a dark and tiny shadow near his toes, he leaned on the shovel’s long handle to survey the newly restored boundary. Chest heaving from the hours of exertion, Matthew began to feel calm while he paid attention to the simple act of breathing.

Resigning to the fact that he should sit under some shade, he moved to the tree’s cover and found the least moist spot he could to lie down. Involuntarily, his eyes stared up through the branches and the softly rustling leaves. The blood returned to his brain and sparked a memory of a day not too far in the past.

He had brought Sarah here for a picnic, just a few months after the wedding. The cabin had just been completed and it was time to celebrate with some time just for the two of them.

“This is the perfect spot for a picnic,” Sarah had said when they arrived, “because we have the shade of this beautiful tree and a view of these beautiful fields of wildflowers. I think we should make a habit of coming out here, how about once every week?”

“Every week?!” Matthew shouted, more surprised by the frequency than any opposition to the idea. “I don’t know if we can manage that. A farm takes nearly constant attention, as you’ll soon get used to, and I don’t see how I can take that much time off.”

“What about on Sundays? It is a day of rest, you know, and you’ll wear yourself out if you don’t stop occasionally.” She smiled at him, the smile she always used when she knew she’d said something he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, argue against. The memory of that smile froze in his mind just then, along with the way her hair picked up slightly in the breeze at the same time, making her face the sweetest thing he’d ever seen on earth.

Sitting up, he wrapped his arms around his knees and looked back at the fence to force away the image and the tears he could feel pushing out from the corners of his eyes. He cast his glance around a bit, searching for something else to take its place, and found his own reflection in one of the larger puddles in the path. He stood then, and moved a bit closer to its edge so he could see his face look straight down into it. He noticed the stubble on his chin and cheeks had filled in more than he thought, and his curly hair had lengthened to cover his ears almost completely. He removed his hat to run his fingers through his bangs, trying to uncover the forehead underneath, and discovered the dirt still there from yesterday had found some wrinkles he never knew existed. With a heavy sigh, he wondered if it was worth finding the scissors and soap to do something about this unknown person staring back at him.

Not totally lost in this gaze, Matthew noticed some movement on the water’s surface next to him. Sarah’s face rose to rest next to his reflection, as if she had just stepped up next to him to see what he found so interesting in the puddle. It was the same face he had remembered minutes ago, lying under the tree. She smiled another smile this time. The corners of her mouth wrinkled with what seemed a happy expression, but her eyes held a soft sadness that dampened it. He stared for several seconds, not willing to look away or speak, hoping to hold on to that image as long as possible. The look in her eye changed to expectant, like she was waiting for him to say something – it had been so long since they had spoken.

“Sarah…” was all he could accomplish in a whisper so faint that the breeze blew it away as soon as he uttered it. He was unsure he had said anything at all, and began to fear this was a trick his mind was playing on him.

“I’m here, Matthew,” the image said in an equally quiet whisper. He let out a quick gasp and began to smile. He refused to let any part of his body move, even to turn sideways to see if she really was standing next to him, just in case any movement would disturb the surface of the puddle.

“I miss you, so much. Where are you?” he finally spoke to the water.

“Right here, sweetie, right here. I’m with you, always, just like I promised.” Sarah’s face grew calmer then, the smile replaced by a worried look. “But, we could be closer, if you’d like.”

“How? Just tell me, I’ll do anything…” he breathed out quickly, desperately, and louder now that she hadn’t disappeared.

“There is a way, if you trust me. Do you trust me? Do you want to be together?”

“More than anything!”

“Alright. Come closer and I’ll tell you.” Matthew carefully bent at the knees and waist, finally resting his palms near the edge of the puddle, inching closer to its surface and the slowly returning smile on Sarah’s face.

Suddenly, the puddle began to ripple and her image became blurred. Matthew opened his mouth to speak again and he furrowed his brows in confusion. Just as quickly, however, the surface stilled and two images appeared in the water. This time Matthew looked for his wife’s blond hair and beckoning expression only to find Mary’s dark hair and placid face. He stood and whirled around to face her, screaming, “What do you want?”

“Oh, I – I didn’t mean to startle you…” Mary stammered, shocked at how quickly his mood seemed to change from curiosity to fury. “I just thought you’d be done with the fence and need something to eat. I was only going to bring you this butter bread and an apple and leave again. Don’t let me disturb you.” She held out a small basket which held the uninvited nourishment.

“You’ve already done that.” He mumbled gruffly. Mary, seeing he made no move to take the basket, set it down at the edge of the path.

“Well, I’m leaving. You can get back to whatever you were doing.” With that, she walked back over to where her own horse had begun to munch on the tall grass. Matthew watched her climb up and use her heels to urge the animal into a canter. He abruptly felt weak and disappointed, allowing himself to sink to his knees before burying his face in his hands and sitting on his heels. Unable to resist the fire building behind his eyelids any longer, his shoulders began to shake with sobs as the tears flowed out onto his rough cheeks.

Creating a short story #2

Part Two:

Booted feet stomped impatiently on the porch, letting the caked and dried mud scatter in generous footprint-shaped piles. Matthew found himself one of the rocking chairs and began to unlace the boots, removing each with a weary grunt, leaving them next to his seat for the next day. He opened the door with a raw and sore hand, despite wearing his work gloves, from reseating old fenceposts bordering the south pasture. “Damn cows,” he mumbled as he entered the door, “why they scratch on those posts instead of a tree is beyond me…” The smell of baked chicken and potatoes stopped his commentary and he quickened his step toward the sink, recognizing his hunger at last, then grabbed the pump handle to raise and lower it a few times until the water clumsily sputtered from the spout, clearing away a day’s worth of caked dirt and sweat from his hands and forearms. Matthew dried his hands on a towel, pausing just a second to touch his finger to the embroidered lily he’d first admired a few short years ago. He squeezed his eyes shut for a second, willing himself to remember where he was instead of with her. Another sigh escaped from between his stubble as he sat at the table, gently raising the dark curls on his forehead just long enough for Mary to see more sweat and dirt smudged there.

“Hard day?” she asked.

“Mm-hmm.” Matt cut off a thigh and leg from the chicken and began to eat before it had a chance to land on his plate.

“How many fence posts do you have left?” Mary inquired without lifting her fork, slightly amazed that he left the other foods alone.

“Three.”

“Oh, that’s good. I figured you’d need to spend two full days on those after you told me about the damage those cows did. This way you can get to them after breakfast and finish up by lunch time.”

“Sure,” he replied, but thought, “I would have finished today if the ground weren’t so muddy.”

“The sunset shone pink on the easterly clouds today as they moved off, so we should have a dry night and pleasant weather tomorrow. I know the rain today must have slowed things some.” Mary began to cut her green beans in to bite-sized pieces for something else to do, feeling strained to get anything more than one word out of him.

“I’ll head out before you get here tomorrow morning. Leave the biscuits on the table so I can take them with me.” With that, he rose from the table and headed to his room, leaving Mary to eat her meal without him. Stopping at the doorway to his bedroom, he turned his head over his shoulder and said, “Look, you don’t have to wait for me to have supper. The agreement is for you to keep house and cook. I don’t need the company.” Without waiting for a response, he moved on and shut the bedroom door behind him. Mary let out a sigh and, resigning, finished eating. He was right about waiting for him, she knew. Now she’d have to ride the four miles to the boarding house in town in the dark. Fortunately, Duke, her horse, had learned the way in the last month and could carry her there blindfolded. Tonight would be fine since the rain had stopped, but she knew that future rainy nights might mean trouble. She resolved to let him have his supper in peace.

As she returned to the sink with the dirty dishes she again glanced at her reflection in the window, trying to stare out into the darkness. She wouldn’t be able to get answers from Matthew about the blond woman. Saul had never mentioned any other living soul, besides any of the three of them, not even the late wife. Matthew had only ever said, “Sarah would…” or “Sarah used to…” and trail off, as if the memory of her was so painful it prevented the use of words to remind him she was gone. Mary couldn’t help but feel Matthew needed the company anyway. Still, his grief needed time before… before what? Before he would be conversational? Before he would be civil? Whatever the answer, Mary would do her job and establish a routine. Besides, the morning might dawn with fresh possibilities.

Creating a Short Story Part 1.5

Based on former comments, here’s a revision to part one:

Somewhere in the western regions of North America, there lies a small cabin of four small rooms, surrounded by grassy fields more the color of toasted bread than green. Two bedrooms face the west and adjoin the largest center room, which leads further to a store room on the northern side for keeping everything from canned goods to extra linens. The biggest window, situated on the eastern wall in what can barely be called a kitchen, faces Lake Promise about 200 yards away. The early settlers in the region named it, thinking that this place must be what was promised by all the tales of the wide west just waiting for people to start a new life. The view includes a pier that seems to run alongside the lake shore. The one and only neighbor lives on his boat at the end of that pier, which bobs gently with the calm waves, quietly begging for fresh paint, while he often sits on the end of the pier and fishes. Mary, the first housekeeper for Mr. Miller, the man who owns this cabin, sees the neighbor every day while he fishes, seemingly immobile as she washes the dishes. She notices the man puttering around on his boat other times, but not really working, and he doesn’t seem to own a shirt.

Her first day there he came up to the kitchen window late in the afternoon to introduce himself. Mary had seen him approaching the house, expecting him to come to the door. When she heard tapping on the glass, she jumped. He slid up the sash from the outside and poked his head in a bit. “Sorry, hand’t meant to startle you, ma’am… I’m Saul. Lived on yonder boat a few years, since ‘afore Matthew built this cabin. Mighty glad to have a neighbor, I was.”

“Oh, no problem. I’m just used to visitors knocking on the door. I’m Mary. Nice to meet you.” She cautiously approached the open window, holding out her hand to show she welcomed him. He took it up quickly and shook her entire arm, his smile widening. Mary couldn’t help but smile back. “Nice to meet you,” she repeated, not sure what to do next. “Would, would you like to come in?”

“No, thank you, ma’am. I just wanted to say hello. It’s good Matthew has a helper. He won’t ask me, but you sure can.”

“Well, thank you very much. But, I can manage a house quite well on my own. I helped my older sister when her children were small. They got big enough to not need Aunt Mary any more. When I saw Mr. Miller’s advertisement I could move on without their feeling obliged or worried for me. I’ll be here every day to do the same kind of work, and again, it was nice to meet you.”

“Ma’am,” he said, nodding his head in farewell and returned to the pier. Ever since then he added a talk with her to his habits. He raps on the window frame politely whether Mary is standing there or not, respectful of the boundary around another man’s house. He’s always friendly, sometimes offering a portion of his catch, but always in exchange for knowledge of what she did with her day. He is not unpleasant to look at, with wavy golden hair and muddy colored eyes in a face darkened and aged as much as hers, and invariably shirtless. He’s not trying to be enticing (which is the effect on Mary anyway), but rather hasn’t found a good enough reason to get fully dressed on a daily basis. These visits give the two a way to remember what it’s like to speak and be heard in this tiny part of the world.

After one of these regular conversations one evening, Mary returns to her chores and cooking dinner until an aching back and sore feet inform her she needs a break. She looks out the big window at how the light disappears on the fields, now very late for a spring twilight, the dimness slowly moving closer to the house. The farmer, Matt, usually returns about now before it is too dark to see well. Wondering why he’s still out is useless. He keeps his own clock. Mary’s worked on farms before, which all have their own general rhythms that follow the larger swings of the seasons rather than any dictate by ticking hands. However, she knows how to be alone and waits patiently. Mary glances at the table to make sure she didn’t forget anything. Satisfied that the meal is there – roasted chicken and potatoes and buttered beans with biscuits – she turns back to the window to find another face next to her own reflection. Mary has long, dark and wiry curly hair and looks every minute of her thirty-odd years. The other face, also of a woman, has wavy straw-colored hair and appears to be much younger, only in her twenties. Quickly, Mary whirls around to look for the stranger behind her. Finding no other person, she turns again to the reflection. This other is still looking at Mary, who walks toward the window to see if the lady is outside. Maybe she’s lost? Or Saul has a new friend? Before taking two steps, the woman seems to smile. This stops Mary’s motion. The woman’s smile grows colder, into a kind of smirk, as if not happy but unsurprised to find someone at the house, and then whole image fades away into the gloom.

Mary moves the rest of the way to the window, sure someone must be outside, but it’s too dark now to see for sure. She rubs her eyes and says to the empty room, “I must be too tired,” as if that excuses and wipes away the experience. Still, she knows what she saw. Turning once more to the room, she grabs the box of matchsticks from the mantel and lights the lamps there as well as the two on the table. The familiar glow helps return her breath to its normal shallow calmness. She sits at the table and begins to fill her plate, sure Matt will walk through the door any minute now and she can forget all about it.