Monday Storytime. Chapter 12 & 13 today with your morning coffee. Have a great week!
Links to previous chapters and the amazon link to purchase the novel follow the excerpt.
Leigh cooked her famous meatloaf with real mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. I picked at it. Leigh chattered on about how much her home based tax business was growing and about the girls’ gymnastic competitions. I placed praise and encouraging comments exactly where needed. Jeff was quite animated about his recent fishing trip with his brothers. I laughed effectively in all of the correct spaces. After dinner the three girls fled around the house embroiled in dramatic play. The plots seemed quite complicated and constantly changing. I watched Anna’s role playing skill with interest when a particular scene was played out in the family room. Even though she was the youngest, she appeared to be making most of the directing decisions. As the evening waned we all settled in for a movie. Anna promptly fell asleep cuddled between her cousins. I found that I was having trouble keeping my eyes open as well. I hadn’t realized that I had dozed off until I awoke to find Leigh briskly tucking me in on the couch. It was dark. The TV was off. Everyone was elsewhere in the house. I started to speak. Leigh interrupted me.
“Anna is sleeping in the girls’ room. I think you should stay. You are exhausted. Let me make you breakfast in the morning and then you can be on your way. Would you like to sleep in the guest room? I was just going to set you up here because you were already asleep.”
I considered protesting, but I abandoned the idea. Anna was asleep and for all intensive purposes, I was too.
“Thank you, Leigh. You are the best sister.”
Leigh abruptly stopped bustling. Surprise washed over her features and then was replaced by a shy, pleased expression. I guess maybe I wasn’t frequent with compliments such as that.
“Good night, Leigh.”
“Good night, Wendy.” She started to leave, but then opted to give me a quick squeeze. I patted her arm in return. She straightened and walked out of the room. Her head reappeared in the doorway. “Pancakes or omelets?” she asked brightly.
“Anna loves your pancakes, especially when you put chocolate chips in them,” I answered as I adjusted the pillow and blanket.
“Chocolate chip pancakes it is, then. Goodnight.” She disappeared down the hall.
I lay on Leigh’s rust colored couch feeling Alice’s presence hovering in the outskirts of my consciousness. On the drive over to Leigh’s house I had asked Anna what she meant about the baby. She had changed the subject and listed all of the things that she wanted to do when we got to Leigh’s house. When I asked her again she had looked at me blankly and told me that we didn’t know anyone that had a baby. I turned to face the couch and nestled myself into the fuzzy upholstery. I closed my eyes and I could see Alice waiting. Her expression was etched in sadness and endurance. She waited patiently and silently for my sleep to come.
The stream was so clear and the sunlight would tease and sparkle between the leaves as the breeze blew softly. I closed my eyes to isolate the feel of the spring wind brushing my face and fingering through my hair. The sound of the brook was soothing to me and I would come to sit on the bank whenever I was given the opportunity. It was becoming less often now that I had been given duties to perform. I moved the acorns in my hand absently causing a small clicking sound as they rubbed together. Seeds. Small seeds that grow into something very large and majestic. Our lives are full of such seeds. Planted by chance in places planned and unplanned. Often times they find no way to grow at all. I cupped my palms into the cool, crisp water and let the current tug the acorns from my hands. I watched them bob and swirl until I could not see them anymore. Off on an unknown path. Hopes scattered by chance. Perhaps one would find a new and nurturing environment to grow into a strong and important tree. A tree that might provide shelter or use for someone in a different place than the spot I had plucked it from. Perhaps not. Perhaps a squirrel might extract it from its’ resting place and have it for supper. Then its’ possibilities would be ended.
I felt Grass Blossom’s presence before I saw her. I turned and smiled at the pretty little girl. She was carrying a small bouquet of wild flowers. She presented them to me with subdued cheer. I touched her cheek in thanks. She beckoned me to follow her. I rose and brushed dirt and grass from my linen robe. I was not the best seamstress, but I had made do. I was quite grateful that they allowed me to wear this clothing instead of animal hides. I could not abide wearing the skin of another living thing. They seemed to respect this notion and allowed me this indulgence. I was never able to see how they procured the linens. I assumed that they had trading connections with people of my kind, although I never saw any or was allowed to leave the home area. After six months with these Indian people I had given up hope of returning to my former life. They had shown me great kindness and care but emphatically refused to let me leave. For the first several weeks I was very ill with infection from my wounds. Moon Flower nursed me back to health with surprising skill and determination. I lived with Moon Flower and her daughter Grass Blossom. Moon Flower was an important widow of one of the chief’s family. She also had several grown sons who had families of their own. Our grass house was often filled with the wives and children of her sons. I had developed a relatively good working knowledge of their language, although, of course I could not speak it. I really didn’t want to speak it even if I was able. I had not much to say anymore. At first I was frantic to communicate my desperation to find my son. They insisted that they had no information as he was taken by a different tribe. Apparently the relations between the two tribes were not friendly. I had not been aware that Indians lived in different tribes. I had thought they were all the same. I fell into a sort of dutiful, hopeless existence. How could I leave? Where would I go and how would I get there? I trembled even to entertain the idea of venturing back into the forest with that other tribe about. I was petrified to run into them. I shut part of my mind away and participated in the expected life activities with the least communication possible. I became known as Silent Willow. Alice was someone else. Alice was hidden in the back of my mind with her hopes, her memories and those she loved but could not see or touch.
I did enjoy Grass Blossom’s company. She was a serious, smart little thing. I judged her to be about 8 years old. She indicated to me that we needed to make haste and walked purposefully in the direction of our hut. When we entered our home, I saw that Moon Flower was seated in the center smoking a pipe with Wild Buffalo. Wild Buffalo was the close friend of the chief’s youngest son Straight Arrow. Grass Blossom excused herself and exited. Moon Flower motioned for me to sit with them. Wild Buffalo greeted me politely, but his eyes lingered on me in a way that made me blush. He always made me feel uncomfortable in this way, but was careful to show respect as well. I was soon to find out why. He offered me the pipe, but of course, I refused. I folded my hands in my lap and waited patiently for directions. I was slightly curious. This meeting seemed unusual.
Moon Flower explained to me in a combination of short words and pictures drawn in the dirt that Straight Arrow had chosen me to be his wife, so to speak. I was shocked and was unable to feign otherwise. I protested using emphatic gestures. I could not do such a thing! Wild Buffalo first appeared surprised and then slightly smug, but said nothing. Moon Flower took my hands firmly and held them still. Her eyes demanded my submission. Her mouth was set in a thin determined line. In essence she told me clearly: “You will do this.”
A year ago I would have been stubborn. I would have resisted such a thing that I felt was not right. Today, I did not. I physically slumped and tucked more of Alice into her far corner. What was my alternative? If I refused, would they leave me to wander the forest until those savages found me again? I shuddered involuntarily. I was certain something awful had befallen my child. I couldn’t face the actual certainty of this and I didn’t have the strength to withstand anything else they would do to me.
Moon Flower spoke briefly to Wild Buffalo. He nodded and stood. I looked down and focused on my hands folded in my lap. I tried to feel nothing. I heard Wild Buffalo brush through the doorway. Moon Flower called to her daughter and then grabbed my chin and forced me to look into her deeply burrowing eyes. She said nothing, but said everything in her gaze. When Grass Blossom entered the room Moon Flower gave her some instructions and told her that there were many preparations that needed to be made. Grass Blossom turned on her heel to hurry back outside, but then changed her mind. Noiselessly, she stepped over to me and knelt. She placed one of her petite hands over my heart and the other over her own heart. Her large brown eyes held mine.
I blinked rapidly. It was dark. Where was I? Grass Blossom was here in the dark. I covered her hand with mine and strained to see. I was on the couch. At Leigh’s house. I sat up quickly and awkwardly and realized that I was holding Anna’s hand. She stood before me, her other hand over her own heart.
“Anna?” my voice quavered.
I put my hands on each of her arms and peered into her face.
“He grows to be a trader and becomes quite important with Indian negotiations. He straddles both worlds easily. I search for him when Iam grown. We become friends and he learns of you. …But there wasn’t enough time.” Anna spoke softly and clearly but her face looked vacant in the dimness, void of any expression that I had ever seen cross over it. I realized that my mouth was hanging open.
“Anna!” I hissed. “Wake up!” I shook her urgently. She was scaring me.
“Mama, scoot over. I want to sleep with you.” There she was! My disheveled, sleepy Anna. I held her close and tried to keep from trembling. I knew she was telling me about Alice’s missing baby. The words she had used had no business coming out of the mouth of a four year old child. Was there really any sense to all of this? I was afraid to think about it too closely. Anna pulled out of my embrace and settled herself under the blanket. She plopped her head onto the pillow and looked at me expectantly.
“Come on, Mama.” She yawned. “Look, I left enough room for you. I made myself extra small like this, okay? Lay down, right here.” She patted the couch lightly with one hand and rubbed her eyes with the other. She was already half asleep. I slid in next to her. Her breathing became regular almost immediately. I was sure I would not be able to go back to sleep. I would get up and have a cigarette in a minute. I would just lay down with Anna for a little bit to make sure she was totally asleep before I sneaked out. I did not get that particular cigarette. Instead, I did fall back asleep.