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?