Hi folks, I’m a bit behind today, so instead of a new post, here’s a short story I first published back in the last century. I hope you enjoy it.
The wind lashed the rain into a frenzy as the sky darkened. The stooped figure of Mary Cleary struggling up the long hill, bent lower as she leaned into the storm. The wind howled and shrieked through the few abandoned houses that lined the old neglected dirt road. That road was swiftly becoming treacherous for walking as the rain turned it to mud. Pushing hard against the wind and rain the old woman continued to make her way toward the square shadow that meant home and safety.
Finally the barrier of the old house broke the fury of the wind and Mary Cleary stopped to catch her breath before going on. It was nearly dark now, but that did not really matter. She knew every bush and pebble in the lane. The rain had soaked her to the bone and Mary shivered as she resumed her slow march. At last she reached the door and it opened to her familiar touch. The howl of the wind was suddenly muted as she closed that door behind her.
Mary’s flip of the switch was not answered with light. “Wind must have knocked a pole down,” she thought with a grin. With a whispered prayer of thanks for the sheltering walls, Mary shrugged out of her wet coat and boots. She shivered again as she pulled on her slippers and shuffled into the kitchen. Mary’s hand went to the stack of scented candles with familiar ease. A match was struck and an orange flame brought a welcome light to the gathering gloom.
Mary gave another prayer of thanks for the stove and pile of dry wood that graced her homey kitchen. That wood stove was not used much anymore, except on nights like this. Mary opened the stove top and lay in some crumpled paper and kindling.
“A little more now Mary my love,” whispered a soft voice in her mind.
“I know Marv, I know,” she smiled in reply. The sea had taken Marvin Cleary over fifty years past, but Mary still drew comfort from their conversations. Within moments there was a cheery blaze in the stove. Mary closed the stove lid and put the kettle on. It would take a while for the stove to heat enough to boil the water.
Shivering as she went Mary Cleary shuffled down the hall toward the bathroom. “You can’t take a bath Mary,” whispered Marv, “the power is gone and the pump won’t work. There is only enough water for another kettle and a bit of soup.” Nodding her agreement, Mary turned to the stairs instead.
The climb to the bedroom was harder now than it used to be, but up she went. Putting the candle on her bedside table, Mary took out a pair of woolly long johns and wool socks. She towelled herself dry then pulled on the woollies. Her threadbare house coat came next. Within moments, Mary felt warmer. “Like I always say, Marv, there is nothing like sheep’s wool on a night like this.” She heard his soft chuckle of agreement. Mary returned to the kitchen still towelling her hair. The room was starting to warm up now.
Mary fetched the bucket of blueberries she had picked that day, and stored them in the cold pantry. She then pulled her wooden rocker up to the stove. Opening the oven door, Mary put her feet inside to warm while she waited for the kettle to boil. She sat combing the tangles from her hair and listening to the storm outside. Mary smiled again as she recalled how she and Marv used to sit and snuggle under a wool blanket on a night like this. “Nothing like a stormy night, eh Mary my love?” whispered Marv. She smiled and nodded in agreement, lost in the power of the memories.
The singing of the kettle brought her back to the present. Mary pulled her feet from the oven and moved the kettle back a bit on the stove. Within moments she was sipping a large mug of instant chicken soup. “There are a few good things around these days,” she said to Marv who chuckled in agreement. “Aye, that there are, Mary my dear, that there are.” Mary sipped and felt the warm glow through her body. By the time she had finished the mug, Mary was warm both inside and out.
Enjoying the glow of the warmth in her bones, Mary sat listening to the storm and dozing in her chair. Her mind wandered to the day she had met Marv. She had been hanging out the wash and her grandfather had been dozing in the sun by the door. A tall raven-haired lad with a fiddle in his hand came walking up the hill. He winked at Mary and she hid her face in the clothes so he would not see her blush.
“Can ‘e play that, or be it for looks?” asked her grandfather with a toothless grin.
“Play it I can, and I will,” answered the youth, raising the fiddle to his chin. He swept the bow across the strings and a high sweet melody floated through the warm summer air like a butterfly across a field of flowers. Grandfather had begun tapping two sticks together in rhythm and Mary had danced. She danced a light skipping lilt as she continued to hang out the clothes. Oh how that man could play. Mary had danced and danced as he played and he never took his eyes from her skipping form.
Mary returned to herself as a knot exploded in the stove. With a long sigh she listened to the wind and rain for a while. “Ah, those were the days, Marv,” she sighed.
“Play for me, Mary,” sighed Marv, and Mary grinned. Yes, that was just the thing. Marv had taught her to play his fiddle and she still had it. Mary hurried to the living room where she kept the treasured fiddle, the candle flickering and nearly going out in her haste.
A few moments later Mary was back beside the warm stove with Marv’s old fiddle in her hands. Sitting up as straight as a post with her long, damp, silvery hair falling past her shoulders, Mary raises the fiddle to her chin. A few squawks and squeaks later it was in tune. Once again that same sweet melody lightly danced through their old house. Mary played and played until she had to stop.
Lowering the fiddle, Mary laid her hand to her heart. Her breathing was laboured and shallow now. “I can’t hold my arms up like I used to,” she said to Marv. She laid aside the fiddle and listened to the wind again. “Will you take me dancing again tonight Marv?” she asked as she settled back into the rocker. Her hair was dry now.
“I will, Mary my love, soon, I promise,” whispered Marv. Still labouring to breath, Mary lowered her head and drifted off to sleep.
Mary Cleary was still slumped in the rocking chair as the dawn broke clear and sunny. The storm had blown itself out in the night. Marv’s fiddle lay at her feet where she had dropped it. “Mary wake up, it is a beautiful day today,” Marv whispered in her mind. She opened her eyes to the golden stream of sunlight in her kitchen. Mary sighed and sat up stiffly, groping for the glasses that had fallen to her lap.
“You promised to take me dancing,” she grumbled as she stood and stretched in the morning sun.
“I will Mary, I will,” he answered, “but you have to make blueberry duff today, the grandchildren are coming.”
“Blueberry duff it is,” she sighed as she carried the fiddle back to the living room, “but you promised, Marv.”
“Soon Mary,” he whispered, “I promise.”
Copyright © September 1998
For more of Prudence MacLeod’s writing, check out Dark Star here: