Day One Hundred Twenty One
It was still dark out, with the barest beginning of a sunrise on the horizon. I got dressed and went to the barn to check on Flecha. She seemed to be waiting for me, and I checked her hoof and applied a poultice. I thought she was doing a little better, but didn’t dare get my hopes up. After I doctored her hoof, I made sure she and the donkey had enough hay, then went to check on the chickens. Charles didn’t have many layers, but I fed them all and got three eggs for my trouble.
I was feeling pretty good about being productive again. There are few things worse than feeling useless. With the sun starting to come up, and the lake shimmering like a new gold coin, it looked like it would be a perfect day. A wonderful day to be alive.
I was coming up the path to the house, humming an old song that Auntie used to sing, when I found Charles. We stopped on the path and looked at each other in surprise. “What are you doing out here so early?” he asked.
“I’m always up early, except for yesterday. I fed your donkey and chickens, and I got us some eggs.” The expression on his face made me pause. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Were you going to let the hens keep these? I should’ve asked.”
“No, I’ve got just the right number of chickens. I don’t know what I’d do with more. It’s just. . . Well, come on. Let’s have breakfast and talk.”
He wouldn’t let me cook or make the coffee. When we sat down to eat, he gave me a stern look. “I don’t want you feeling like you have to do anything around here, other than look after your horse.”
“But I want to help.”
He shifted in his chair and rubbed his forehead, as if I was giving him a headache. “Look, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a woman around here. I’m not used to having anyone to help with things. I’m set in my ways, and it is my house, you know.”
“And I’m not used to having nothing to do. I’ve always worked. Come on. You don’t like cooking, cleaning and pulling weeds that much, do you?”
“Well, not really. What kind of work do you like?”
“What have you got?”
We talked it over and agreed that I could tag along on some of his chores and see how he did things. So after we cleaned the breakfast dishes, we went out to the garden, where we startled a visitor.
“I should’ve brought my bow and arrow,” I said. “We could’ve had rabbit stew for supper.”
We worked in the garden all morning, planting seeds, picking early vegetables and weeding the rows. It felt good to get my hands dirty, and there were some vegetables that were unknown to me, so I got Charles to explain about them.
“You think they have different types of vegetables in Kentucky?” I asked.
“Probably not. But if you were to go to Wisconsin or Canada, they would.”
“Well, I sure don’t want to go all the way up there,” I said. “It was hard enough just to get this far.”
When we were finished in the garden, I went to check on Flecha. I washed her foot in cool water, then went into the house for lunch. Charles was quiet as we ate, but I thought I caught him giving me funny looks a few times. He let me help him clean up afterwards, then went into the woods to check his traps.
Soon after he had gone, Rachel came over, bringing ice. I didn't dare ask how much it had cost. While we cooled Flecha’s foot, Rachel and I sat in open door of the barn and I asked her where she lived and how many animals she cared for.
“It’s not a very big community,” she said. “But I’m kept pretty busy at certain times of the year. There’s a village just up the road. If Flecha is doing better in a few days, you should ask Charles to take you. There’s a festival coming up, and you might enjoy it.”
I hadn’t been to a festival in a long time, so I was curious. “But I wouldn’t want to put Charles out,” I said. “He’s already done enough for me.”
“I don’t think you’d be putting him out to ask him to take you to the festival,” she said, with that same mysterious smile as the day before. “I’ll mention it to him, if you’re too shy.”
“Don’t be silly. If Flecha is better and I want to go, I’m not afraid to say something.”
When we had finished Flecha’s ice treatment, Rachel went to check on another client and I was left without any obvious chores. So I decided to go down to the lake, telling myself I would look for edible plants and herbs, even though that was a lie—I don't know the types of plants that live by the water.
To my surprise, there was a wooden platform at the end of the trail. And bobbing in the water, tethered to the platform by a rope, was a small boat. I sat down at the end of the platform, dangling my feet over the edge, watching the fish play in the water, and the occasional bird soar overhead.
It was a peaceful, mesmerizing way to spend the afternoon, and I could’ve easily lost all track of time. But after a bit, there was a step on the platform behind me and I turned around. Charles was looking at me with that same expression I had seen at lunch. It was a kind look, but sad, too. It was puzzling, and made me want to be extra nice to him. “I think I’ve discovered what vacations used to be like,” I said. “It’s fun sitting here doing nothing.”
“I told you to relax and enjoy yourself.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do this for very long. I’d get bored. But I do love looking at the water.”
“You like lakes?”
“Lakes, rivers, any kind of water. We never had enough back home, so it always seems like magic to me.”
“Would you like to take the boat out? I was thinking of catching a fish for dinner.”
I looked at the narrow boat, then glanced skeptically across what seemed to me an endless expanse of water. “Is it safe?”
“It is if you do as I say, and don’t make any sudden moves that might tip us over.”
What fun! We took the boat, which Charles called a canoe, out onto the water.
I got a little nervous as we moved away from land. It was easy to lean too far and feel the boat start to tip, so I learned quickly to keep my weight balanced toward the center. We paddled toward the middle of the lake, with Charles doing most of the work, since I couldn’t get my paddle to do much more than slide across the surface. Finally we stopped and let the boat drift. We baited some fishing lines and cast them into the water, waiting to see what we would get.
Our patience was rewarded with a couple of trout and a perch. I was elated. I had never caught fish from a boat before. In my excitement, I turned to speak to Charles, and set the boat to bobbing wildly. He grabbed my shoulder to steady me, and there was something warm and electric in his touch. I met his eyes in confusion, and he turned away, but not before I could see that same sadness in his face.
“I think I’m okay now,” I said.
He dropped his hand and pretended to do something with the tackle box. Then he picked up a paddle and turned the boat toward shore.
We tied up at his wooden platform, which he called a “dock.” His hand felt strong and reassuring when he reached down to help me up. But he seemed uncomfortable in my presence, and when I thanked him for the boat ride, he just nodded and said he had best get started cleaning the fish for supper, because it would be dark soon. I wanted to help, but he shook his head. “Isn’t it time to put another poultice on your horse’s hoof?”
I hadn’t realized he was paying attention to my schedule. But he was right, so I went to see Flecha. And when I returned to the house, supper was ready. We ate in strained silence at first, but I guess the wine loosened his tongue because after awhile, Charles said, “You really enjoyed being out on the water today, didn’t you?”
“I told you I’m from the desert. I love water.”
He sighed and toyed with his wine glass. “My wife was fond of the water,” he finally said. “And horses, too. Like you, she wouldn’t be still and let a person take care of her. Always had a project, always doing something.”
This was the first time he had metioned a wife. I wondered what had happened to her, but was afraid to ask. “Staying busy is good," I said. "Who would want to live with a lazy person?”
He gave a cynical little laugh. “Who, indeed?” He stood up and began clearing the dishes. He refused my help in such strong terms that I took my wine glass into the living room in bewilderment, wondering if I had offended him. Then I went into my bedroom, got one of my blankets that needed mending, and took it back to the other room and sat down.
Charles came in while I was working, picked up a book and settled into a chair in the corner. He read aloud for what seemed a long time—dull stuff about some men who spent all their time arguing about shadows on cave walls. I couldn’t imagine why anyone had written such a conversation down, let alone why someone would’ve used valuable ink and paper to print it in a book. But it seemed to hold some meaning to Charles, and after he finished, he set the book aside and drank the last of his wine. “You’ve been working hard at that,” he said, looking at my blanket.
“I’m almost done. Sewing isn’t my best skill, so I have to go slow. It’s important to do it right the first time, because I don’t enjoy it enough to want to do it again.”
He stood up and came to examine my work. “You’re doing a good job.”
“Like I said, I don’t want to have to do it again.”
“You’re a funny girl.” Before I realized what he was doing, he cupped my cheek in his hand. But then he let me go as suddenly as if I had burned him. He took a step back and looked away. “Good night.”
I watched him go, feeling very confused. I sat for a moment, not sure what to do. So I drank the rest of my wine, stuck the needle in the blanket to finish later, and got my diary. I thought if I wrote down everything that had happened, it would make some sense, but reading back over it, I’m not so sure. Perhaps things will be more clear in the morning. I’m starting to find that it does little good to wonder too much about people. If you hang around someone long enough, they’ll eventually reveal their secrets, so there’s no point wasting energy in speculation.
◄ Previous Entry
Next Entry ►