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.