An Accidental Education (WT) , better late than never…

 

Protecetd through myfreecopyright.com. It goes without saying that copyright remains with me as author.

 

 

Marnie

 

I’m glad, now, the child died. The child Seth and I lost. The child we spent years waiting for.

When I was well enough we tried again, but I couldn’t bear the sadness, month after month, of not catching on. I think Seth blamed himself. I didn’t have the heart to take the blame away from him. I guess I wanted him to hurt as much as I did. He buried his sorrow deep inside in places I couldn’t reach. His shoulders got stooped and bent until it looked for the entire world as though he were folding in on himself. The man I’d wanted since I was twelve years old was crumbling before me and I felt nothing. I walked and talked, of course, but I was near dead inside. My mule-pride got in the way. The more I needed his strong shoulder to lean on, the more I dug my heels in, just pushed him further and further away. Like the one time we danced at the County Fair; same tune, same steps, but one or the other of us always a step behind. Just when it looked like we’d finally come together we’d miss a beat and end up even further apart. 

Maybe he just lost interest, been a long time since I’d seen that look in his eye; the look that kept me humming all day as I went about my work. Maybe he was sick of being knocked back. A man can’t take that forever and, sure enough, when Red came along, all fresh and flirty, Seth opened to her like a flower to the sun.

 

I went to the door for some air; the kitchen was hotter than hell. Sissy was in the top field. I could just make out her small, hunched shape. She looked as lonely and defenceless as when my brother, Albie, brought her to us.

 

When she first arrived it took a while for me to warm to my niece, and her to me, if truth be told. Not because I didn’t love her the moment I set eyes on her, but because I’d lost the way of showing it. At first, I could see Seth hold back too. Maybe he was afraid I’d turn on him for forgetting we should have a child of our own or maybe it was the sharpness of my tongue, honed to perfection since we lost our baby. But even fear of my tongue couldn’t stop him showing what he felt for Sissy – she melted him. It took a while longer for me to realise how much she meant to me.

One time she was helping me bake, but she was that heavy-handed I yelled at her. The next moment she was gone – out of the door, into the yard, and bareback on an unsaddled pony far too big for her. I was beside myself, feared she’d fall off and get hurt. I hollered for Seth. He came running and stood beside me, his arm around my shoulder, watching.

“I’ll be darned!” he said. “What’s gotten into her?”

For the first time in an age I let his arm rest around me.

“Best saddle up and go look for her.” Seth turned towards the barn.

“Hurry,” I answered.

I stood and watched Seth chase her until I couldn’t see them anymore, the promise I’d made to Albie racing through my mind.

“I sure hate asking, Marnie,” he said, “I know how tough things are around here, but I’ll be back soon as I can. Give me a month to get things fixed up and I’ll be back.”

“Don’t worry,” I told him, “no harm will come to that child while she’s with us.”

It tore him apart to have to leave Sissy, he had no choice. Albie’s sweet Beth had died two months earlier. He’d lost his job and life on the farm with us had to be better for the child than living on welfare in the city. He wasn’t even sure how much longer he’d be able to keep a roof over their heads. As we waved him goodbye, none of us thought that it would be the last time we’d see him. He was wiped out by an inter-state artic no more than eighty miles down the highway.

So Sissy became one of our family. Since she came to us, Seth and I’d gotten back a little of what I so nearly threw away. Sissy was the glue that held us together.

Seth and I’d been working so hard for so darn long. And, although it wasn’t exactly the same way between us as it had been before the baby died, I thought – if I did think about it – that we were happy enough. He never did get back to talking like he used to, unless it had to do with crops, or stock, or the tractors…I would have liked to know what was in his heart, but guess I’d lost the right by turning my back on him for so long.  I think I must have been too dog tired to notice the change in him soon after Red arrived.

 Sissy’d just turned fifteen when Red and Cody came. He was a straight up and down guy looking for work for the summer months. Lord, we needed people, but Red turned out to be nigh on useless. I never took to the way she dressed – poured into less cloth than was decent – or the way Sissy mooned after her all calf-eyed

 

It was harvest end and I’d been baking and cooking up a storm for three solid days and all of us were looking forward to the gathering. The heat had broken a little and I knew the evening would be perfect.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I set the angel food cake on the sill to cool. Not that I needed a mirror; I could tell you with my eyes closed exactly what I had on. What I’d had on, more or less, for nigh on the last twenty five years: dungarees: plaid shirt – too hot for cooking in- and a pair of old sneakers. But what fair took my breath away when I looked in the mirror was how my skin had leathered. Deep lines across my brow, more from nose to chin and, when those under the corners of my lips towards my chin deepened, I’d look like a ventriloquist’s doll. And, although my face was hard and angled, the flesh on my jaw was slipping into wattles. Forty-four and I looked twenty years older. I tried to remember how I looked when I first caught Seth’s eye.

Trying to style my hair was like trying to fashion a corn-dolly, but I did the best I could. I even dug out a print dress I recalled Seth had had once liked. Faded now, and worn, but all I had. I looked in the mirror again and thought that if Albie had worn this dress, folk would take him for me. And then Seth called me to say he’d brought the trestle from the barn and where should he stand it.

By the time it was covered with one of my momma’s white cloths, Sissy had beaded glass jars, with candles in them, through the branches of the apple tree. As the evening opened up soft clouds of midges hovered above them, but that didn’t put Seth and Red off. They were sitting at the trestle, under the tree, talking quietly. I don’t know where Sissy and Cody were, probably bedding the horses down for the night or getting gussied up for the party, but I do know that I wasn’t best pleased seeing Red and Seth looking as though they were the only two people in God’s wide world.

I looked beyond them, through the dusk, as headlights turning off the highway onto our track took my eye.

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