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!