Ashes

 

Anne K. Edwards

 

 

 

Pat watched the sun die. The long shadows that came after filled her with the same strangeness every evening. Like something closing in on me. I feel so shut off from the world. If only Jody would stay home.

But he wouldn’t. Almost every night it was the same thing. He had to go out. When she asked to go with him, he always had some excuse. “You wouldn’t like the people I meet. You’re such a homebody. All we do is sit around and talk shop.” he’d tell her.

When Jody was home, it wasn’t much different. He ignored her to sit staring out the window with a glass of beer in his hand and dream of the day when he’d make the best-seller list. They never talked any more.

He’d insisted on coming to Argose Valley to live near that damned writers’ colony some fool had built. He spent as much time there as he possibly could, rubbing elbows with known writers and seeking their assurances that he would soon be published.

Pat shuddered. The dark was upon her once more. It shut her away from the world just as Jody, her husband, shut himself away from her with his heavy silences when he was home.

She couldn’t call her old friends. They had no telephone. Jody said they didn’t have the money to run a line up the mountain from GG’s store or pay for cell phone service. Besides, they had to save every cent for a computer. Stupid cabin didn’t even have electricity.

Jody didn’t mind how hard his desire to write made her life. At forty, her husband was still the same struggling author he’d been at twenty. But he struggled less now. The black derelict sat on his work table, untouched.

Pat turned from her empty reflection in the blackened window to look at the failing fire when it collapsed into itself. It needed another log and, as usual, Jody had neglected to bring the wood inside. She donned her old gray sweater. The rough-hewn door creaked, loudly resentful of being disturbed at this time of night.

The mountain air was cold, clammy with the touch of the rising mists that would soon enshroud the cabin. She pulled her sweater closer and stumbling along the rocky path, made her way to the woodpile.

Why did Jody have to put the woodpile so far from the cabin? It lay outside the dim square of light that escaped through the open door. She cursed the dead batteries in the flashlight and stepped out into the dark. It always seemed to her as if something lurked near the cabin in the night, waiting.

If Jody had returned for supper like he’d promised, she’d have gotten the new ones from the car. Those weekly drives to Mileview to bother Al Candler, the famous horror writer who had come down from Northport were dumb. As if an important man like him would bother with a failure like Jody.

Pat shrugged in disgust at her husband’s obstinate refusal to accept defeat and get a job. It didn’t have to be a factory job like those he said deadened the soul, just something to bring in a little money. Money was, she reflected, the root of all evil, the source of all their troubles.

On the assumption of success he’d borrowed from everyone he knew or met to support them. Now, those same people refused his calls and hid if they saw him first on his frequent trips back to the Sigleyham where they’d both grown up.

She’d suffered the humiliation of being beggared for so long, her pride was numb, perhaps dead. It was lucky when she didn’t get asked when they’d pay something on their account by GG or his wife. Fifteen years of avoiding creditors and old friends lay strewn behind her--broken promises like broken glass littered her life. God knew how many more years lay ahead. Maybe God had known what he was doing when he’d taken back their only child, Terry. He’d been only two. They couldn’t have afforded him either.

She found the wood pile by nearly falling into it. With a sigh, she picked up the topmost pieces. They were heavy, the bark cut into her hands and wrists. Probably still green. How could they dry properly without sunshine?

The return trip was dangerous, especially where it started up the slope to the cabin. She kept looking over her shoulder as she hurried toward the cabin. She couldn’t see the path because of the wood. A loose stone caught the side of her foot, turning her ankle and nearly making her drop her load.

Her heart was thudding by the time she reached the dim yellow light coming through the opened door.

Inside, she threw a chunk into the fireplace and rubbed her temples. The strain of carrying the wood brought on another headache. And she didn’t have any more aspirin.

Tears of helpless frustration pressed against her eyelids. She refused to yield to their importuning. Soon, the fire began to crackle as thin red tongues of flame licked at the wood.

Picking up Jody’s old green winter jacket from the table, Pat saw the box containing his huge old pistol lying beneath it. With a shiver, she dropped the gun into a cabinet drawer and shoved it shut. Another thing he spent far too much time caring for, oiling and polishing. He was never that tender with her.

Pat held the jacket up for inspection. It was torn, a long gash in the sleeve. She’d sew it tomorrow, or the next day. It was another case of not having the money to purchase a new one or even thread. She knew every seam, every thread of its being. She’d repaired it so often, little of the original fabric remained. Irritably, Pat flung it aside. If he’d listen, just once, they could live like other people.

Live like other people. I thought I gave up all hope of that. Here I am, alone, stuck on this damn mountaintop and he’s gone. As in the case of the telephone, they had no television. The radio station over in Watkins shut down after six o’clock.

Pat paced the floor. The only thing remaining to pass the time was a book and how she despised books. They were the bane of her existence. If Jody hadn’t discovered the printed word and tried to imitate those who produced it, they’d have had a good life.

In the beginning she’d tried to be understanding, encouraging him in his efforts, but gradually her patience ran out. The sight of his disappointed face, day after day made her despair. She’d grown to hate the mailman. He brought those indifferent sounding slips of printed “not right for us”. What they’d spent on postage would have furnished them both with clothing for years.

An owl screeched nearby. She jumped. Her nerves were on edge. She drew her sweater close and dropped into the rocking chair before the fire. Winter would be here soon. Again. The wind rattled the dry leaves on the roof and hurled them earthwards. It was a bad night to be alone. She huddled toward the fire, seeking to draw its warmth into her cold heart. The log popped, the flames wafted up the chimney. A fire was so lovely, so wasteful, so dirty.

That was one more reason for her anger. Jody never repaired anything. The damper was stuck, the pump rusty, the wringer on her fourteen-year-old washer wouldn’t turn. She looked at her red, workstained hands. Another splinter in her thumb. She got up to search for her sewing basket.

Pat bumped Jody’s work table, banging her knee. She stifled the urge to toss the typewriter onto the floor.

It seemed to sit, smug, watching her misery, as if it would turn her into a line of smeary print at the first opportunity. A trail of blue thread led her to the deep drawer in the cabinet, the same one where she’d put the pistol. It lay on top of her workbasket. She grasped the hated thing. It was heavy, glistening.

With a kind of horrid fascination, she stared at it. The chamber was full. Six little pellets of death lay in her hand. She couldn’t put it down. All that power--it could change the world--the world as she knew it. No wonder Jody loved it.

The owl hooted in the old chestnut tree that overhung the cabin. Shortly, Pat heard an answering hoot in the distance. She hadn’t known a pair of them were living so close. A grim smile crossed her face like a marcher on a darkened night road, then vanished. Her only neighbors--a couple of stupid birds.

She looked at the pistol again. Behind her, the fire poured light into the room, dancing flames reflected crazily in the mirror hanging over the table. She raised her eyes from the weapon to the haunted face in the glass, a ghost of old beauty lingering hopefully near the eyes. “Damn him! Damn his lousy typewriter!” she shouted into the shattered quiet. “Damn his lousy soul!” The pent up torrent of rage broke from her heart.

“What a waste. My youth is gone. I’m an ugly old woman. It’s his fault. Jody wasted me.”

She wept.

No one comforted her. No one cared. Her parents were dead. They couldn’t hear her crying.

Worst of all, Jody didn’t care. He was out chasing his rainbow. He’d never reach it, but he wouldn’t give up the chase. He preferred its elusive hope to her own captured soul. He’d caught her and put her in a cage where she’d grown old, alone.

“Look at that mess in the mirror. Look at what remains of a young, bright-eyed kid who eloped with a dreamy eyed--what?" He wasn’t dreamy eyed now. His brown eyes were blank when they looked at her, empty when he listened to her voice.

The world closed in on her. She stared at the flames’ reflection. There was someone else in the mirror. A girl with long brown hair and a merry smile. Pressure built in Pat’s throat. She hadn’t seen that girl for fifteen years.

Tears streaked the lines under her eyes. The bun she wore gave her a dowdy, severe look. She’d not had a tube of lipstick for six months. Again, that awful, fateful phrase tortured her--No money. Without it, she couldn’t leave. She would if she could, but she couldn’t. He’d made sure she’d be right where he left her when he got back from Mileview. Right here in this cramped, drafty cabin with his pistol and his typewriter and his jacket.

The world belonged to him. She had nothing. Not-a-thing. Not even a past, much less a future. Pat began to laugh.

It was funny. She saw the joke now. Jody owned the cabin, the gun, the typewriter, and her. All. He’d known that all along. That was why she had nothing now, not even the right to complain.

She could play jokes too. Maybe she could make him laugh. He hadn’t laughed for years. She cocked the hammer, aimed at the smug machine that dared her with its complacency. The quiet was rent with the blast. Her arm went numb from the pistol’s kick.

The bullet smashed into the tender guts of her little nemisis. It seemed to stare at her in disbelief with Jody’s eyes for one terrible moment. She fired again and again. Then it died. It lost its smug soul. It couldn’t be fixed. No money. She laughed uncontrollably. Would Jody see the joke?

Her storm of laughter brought her gray-streaked, brown hair tumbling down around her face. Over the body of the little machine Pat looked back into the mirror. The young girl was there. She’d come back! Did she come for her or Jody?

A frown crossed Pat’s face. If Jody found the young girl, he’d own her too. She’d be his young girl. Pat shook her hed determinedly. That couldn’t be allowed. He couldn’t own the girl. She belonged to her--Pat Maxwell.

The wind rattled the branches under the eaves. The owl’s wings swished away. Behind her, the fire began to settle on the hearth once more. It needed another log. But she didn’t have time to get more wood. She had to free the girl in the mirror.

The report that followed, resounded dully over the mountainside until it came, barely audible, to an old blue sedan that labored up the steep, rutted dirt road.

 

 

 


Author Bio

Anne K. Edwards lives in southern Pennsylvania on a small farm where her sporadic efforts at writing finally turned into an occupation. She has two books published and short stories on the internet. Her hobbies include shoveling out horse stalls and catering to cats which leaves less time and energy for writing than she'd wish, but she loves the animals.

 

 


 

 

"Ashes" Copyright © 2002 Anne K. Edwards. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.

 

This page last updated 10-25-02.

border by
ann-s-thesia