The Other Side of the Glass

checkersdt

Wesley stared intently down at the checker board, lips pursed in deep thought.  With great deliberation he moved a piece.  He pressed his heavy digit into the worn wood for a long moment, pondering his choice a moment longer before releasing it.  He sat back with a satisfied grunt and steepled his fingers.  Sunlight glinted off the rim of his spectacles, lighting up the dust motes hanging in the air.

The old clapboard farmhouse sat well back from the road, surrounded by fields now tended by their children.  The dry red dirt of their livelihood sifted through the cracks and coated everything, no matter how often they dusted.  With four kids grown and out of the house, the empty rooms were heavy with the silence and the red dust.

A draft stirred the thick dust on the windowsill, lighting sparks into a beam of light.

Wesley frowned across the board.  “What’ye laughin’ at, woman?” he growled.  “Caint fool me with your psychological games, and you ain’t won this one yet.”

The morning sunlight beat through the window, dusty light flashing across the board. Maggie moved the pieces like she had all the time in the world, light and quick and without any uncertainty.  Wesley snorted, but stared for a long moment, trying to see what her end game was.

“Y’don’t need to give me that look, I know when  you’re laughing at me, with or without sayin’ a thing, sugar.”

He took his turn decisively, regretting his move almost immediately.  Maggie looked far too smug.  Wesley flexed his gnarled hands, rough fingertips scraping the stained wood of the kitchen table in a nervous drumbeat.  The sunlight was kind on his arthritic knuckles, soothing deep aches.

An engine rumbled in the distance.  Wesley peered through the dusty kitchen window, even though it faced out back toward the barn and fields.

“Must be Jerry with a couple a dinners for us.”  Hands gripped tightly on to the arms of his chair, Wesley hoisted himself upright with a low groan.  “Gettin’ old, Mags.  Cain’t let Jerry hear me talking like that, though,” he added with a chuckle.  “He’s already gettin’ ideas.”

Wesley pulled his walker closer and switched his grip to its arms.  His slow shuffle had him wheezing heavily at the front door just before the old Chevy made it to the end of the long rutted driveway.

Maggie twitched aside the living room curtains to watch her eldest son step down out of his truck, tipping a cowboy hat onto his head and walking around the back to pull a cooler out.  She smiled warmly at the man he had become, long and lean and weathered from the sun, just like his father.  The sunlight caught in the stained glass decorations in the window, casting beams of blue and green and red across the faded carpeting.

“He grew up good,” Wesley said with a smile.  “He’s a good boy.”

Their son had put the cooler down by his truck and was testing the hinges on the old gate.  it had come loose from the top hinge a while back, and Wesley felt ashamed he hadn’t gotten around to fixing it just yet.  With a glance up at the house, Jerry retrieved a can of WD40, a hammer and a few nails from his toolkit.  In short order the gate was swinging freely.

“He’s a real good boy,” Wesley repeated, voice sad.  He felt every one of his years like a weight around his neck.

He unlocked the door and shuffled slowly to his easy-chair, settling in with a sigh.

Jerry came in, cooler in his arms, and hip-checked the door closed.  “Pops?  It’s me, Jerry,” he called down the dim hallway.  “POPS?”

“I ain’t deaf, boy,” Wesley grumbled.  His son startled at finding him so close, and Wesley exchanged an amused glance with Maggie.

Jerry glanced uncertainly past his father into the living room.  “Don’t normally find you in here lately, Pops.  Amanda made up some extra chili and meatloaf and stuff for you – I’ll go put it in the fridge, eh?”

He disappeared down the hall and Wesley listened as he puttered in the kitchen. “Bin workin’ on your checkers skills, Pop?” Jerry called out.

“Your mother ain’t gonna beat me this time,” Wesley replied, glaring fiercely at his smiling wife.

The fridge door opened and there was some muffled movement and muttering in the kitchen.

Jerry returned to the living room and passed Wesley one of the beers he’d brought out.  He set his hat on the coffee table and sat down, expression serious.

“Pops, you ain’t et…” He paused and cleared his throat.  “You haven’t eaten hardly any of the meals we left you last week.”

Maggie leaned against the back of the recliner, pressing her hands into Wesley’s shoulders.  Wesley smiled gratefully up at her and patted her hand reassuringly.  “Ain’t been much hungry, son.”

“Amanda and I think it’s time, Pops.”  Jerry leaned forward on his elbows, face lined with concern.  “Time for you to come live with us.  Or at least let me hire a home help nurse.”

Wesley’s shoulders sagged briefly.  “Yeah, I recon you’re right.  It’s about time.  That’s why my suitcase is packed.  It’s in the main floor bedroom, mind helpin’ an old man out and takin’ it to the truck?”

Jerry, at a loss for words at his father’s sudden agreeableness, nodded and strode from the room.  He rushed out, suitcase banging down the porch stairs, as though sure his father would change his mind if he didn’t move fast enough.

“He’s a good boy,” Wesley said softly.  “They all are.  I hope one of them moves in here.  It’ll be nice to have some younguns runnin’ around the place again.  I know how much you’ve missed that.”  He patted his wife’s hand again and let out a deep sigh.

Long shadows stretched across the empty yard by the time Jerry left.  Wesley stood and offered his wife his arm, feeling a real bounce in his step for the first time in he didn’t know how long.  “How’s about we go finish that game, sugar?  And after that, maybe I’ll take you dancin’.”

***

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A Light in the Darkness

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-HoodWrite on Edge’s Red Writing Hood prompt this week was a combination of a picture and a song.

Candles and Iowa

Follow the link to see the picture, hear the song, read the submissions, or submit your own.

Having never been to Iowa, the song made me think of the prairies – rolling low hills and vast expanses of emptiness, and farms, of course, because isolated homesteads are the kind with candles flickering in the window, a light you can see for miles.

Feb2011 114

**

She looked in at the flickering candle-light with a kind of longing.

Daddy figured she was probably attracted by the food-smells.  He took to carrying the old shotgun when he went out to the barn in the early morning hours.

Momma stood vigil at the kitchen window, watching her through the chintz curtains.  She had this look in her eye, predatory and ferocious.  Daddy treated Momma like she had to be protected, but I knew better.  Grizzly bears don’t need protecting.

She never came past the fence-line, like she knew she wasn’t welcome.  To me, she seemed worn down by the weight of the world, weary and too-thin.  In a distant way, I knew that a drought-filled dust-bowl summer and an early, bitterly cold winter were to blame.  With her sad golden eyes tugging on my heart-strings, I tied it all back to the things Momma and Daddy talked about late at night, whispered conversations about money, bad crops and our best milker running dry.  Me and Momma had done the canning in half the time this fall – and that wasn’t a good thing.  Times were hard, for us and for her.

An old stew-bone here, a carefully hoarded egg there, I did what I could.  She didn’t exactly fill out, but I could see a new spark in her eye.

Will to live, Daddy called it.

Orneriness, Momma said.  I didn’t tell her that that’s exactly what Daddy said Momma had sometimes.

I just smiled and made sure she got that last biscuit, and a bit of cold stew.  Something to keep the spark alive.

Desperate and starving, men came from the woods when Daddy was two days gone on a trip to town.  We didn’t have much, but it was more than they had.

Momma’s eyes glinted grizzly-bear fierce as she loaded the shotgun, smooth and confident as Anny Oakley.  I hid in the cupboard.  You didn’t back-talk Momma when she had that look in her eye.

She said desperation makes a devil of a foolish man, but her Daddy taught her to shoot.  Men never expect women to put up a fight, and that’s their mistake.

I guess they didn’t expect the wolf, neither.  Between the crack of buckshot and the hair-raising growls and evilly glowing eyes in the darkness, we ran them off.

Daddy came home, wagon rattling with the few things he’d been able to barter for, hopefully enough to get us through the winter.  He was pretty rattled to hear about the incident, snarling about yellow bellied curs, eyes glinting with rage.

I made a nest of blankets for her on the deck, but she wouldn’t stray close.

Daddy said she was a wild animal, and while she liked us, she liked her freedom more.

It was a hungry winter, but she never lost that spark, we made sure of it.  She left with the spring, off over the low hills.

Momma just rolled her eyes when she saw that she took a chicken.

Great Pumpkin!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Tis the season for pumpkin pie.  A coworker of mine usually sells pumpkin pies just before thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving), but this year, there weren’t any pumpkins available yet(yup, he makes them from the scratchiest scratch possible!).  So this year, he sold pumpkin pie today… Awesome!

Tis the season for carving pumpkins.  We’re a bit late on that… it’ll happen tonight.  We were in Sarnia for the weekend, visiting family, so our usual pre-Halloween prep didn’t happen as planned.

Tis the season for stupid rotten kids to smash pumpkins.  Why?!  Why do you do that?  On the plus side, when Gwynn and I stumbled across a smashed pumpkin this morning, I rescued a big chunk of it.  Gwynn LOVES pumpkin.  I bet your dog will too.  He likes it raw, or cooked or in cookies.  He loves pumpkin pie, though that, he only gets rarely, and not much at all.  He likes to lick up the little slivers of skin from someone carving a pumpkin, he likes to eat the lid, he likes to lick the outside of whole pumpkins and stare hopefully at me, as if to say, ‘use your devilish human opposable thumbs to crack this sucker for me!’  So, instead of his usual kong-of-kibble-in-his-krate as I leave for work… He got a chunk of raw pumpkin to gnaw on.  It took him a few minutes of staring in confusion at this mysterious large chunk of orange in his crate before he re-discovered his love of pumpkin, but it happened.

The little pumpkin i carved last year... Gwynn liked it much more after it no longer had a light in it. He got the lid as a treat at the end of the night, and the rest of the pumpkin over the next few days.

Pumpkin is great for dogs – it helps get ‘things’ flowing, if the pipes are clogged… and if the pipes are… too flowy… it helps get it more solid.  Mysterious, but so sayeth the google-device.  It’s chock full of good vitamins, helps improve the plumbing over-all, is high-fibre and low-calorie… and dogs LOVE it.  This year, a suggestion for at least part of your pumpkin before relegating it to the compost-heap – give a bit to your puppy and see how happy he is about it.

A quick recap of our visiting family over the weekend:

Doodle convinced our four-year old niece that she wants to be a minion.  She had her minion doing things for her all evening.  I’m hoping that she’ll pass that desire on to the rest of her kindergarten class, and really freak out the teacher.

Gwynn ran across the farm field to meet the neighbour’s farm-dogs.  I nearly had a heart-attack!  My aunt and uncles’ dogs accept him because he comes with family… the dogs on the other side of the field weren’t too impressed to have a fluffy orange interloper sniffing their derriers.

Our van didn’t start on Saturday morning.  For mysterious reasons.  What this meant, however, was that the pretty-cramped conditions of sharing the middle seat with Gwynn on the way TO Sarnia, was nothing in comparison to the crampedness of Doodle, Peanut, Gwynn and I all crammed into the back seat of a big pickup truck (A much appreciated loaner from my aunt and uncle who have way too many vehicles) on the way back.  Gwynn refused to sit on the massive amount of floor space in front of me, so I had a 50 lb dog on my lap for the entire ride home.  Awesome.