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That Woman


Courtney Kelly

Farm life is hard on a lady without a husband, I can tell you; I am that woman. Mother died years ago, and Father was never quite right after that. He lay in bed all day; he can't face the morning any more.

I had to set to work on the farm by myself, being that my only sister had married. I would have turned Cole away if I had known her husband would die not a year later - even if it were raining.

Cole was a nice enough fellow, just a slow thinker. He was handy though. He fixed the roof, and built himself a nice room in the hayloft of the barn. We got along, Cole and I. We knew our place in life.

After Marie's husband passed away, she began a teaching course in town and it was the one good thing she had decided to do with herself. I say that he passed away as though it was a calm death, but I must say that it was far from it. Drowning in his own pond, I couldn't believe the stupidity. I could believe that he was more than half into the bottle when he stumbled in though. Poor Marie, if only I hadn't of let her go through with that awful wedding.

I told her to watch her husband. I had told her a lot of things that she didn't understand. Or, at least, didn't want to understand. The child would always remain just that: a child. Father said to hush up, that she would learn the ropes in her own time.

I remember being in the background, mostly, when we were young together. I wasn't singled out for anything, good or bad; I was just there. I suppose I never tried to be the center of attention much anyway. Marie enjoyed being in the limelight much more than I. Many a dance I served the punch and watched her twirl among her prospects, oblivious to them but acknowledging their presence just the same. A faint smile would never leave her lips. She would bat those eyes of hers, as beautiful as newborn calf's.

But that was the past, and in the now Marie wished to return to the farm to live with Cole and I. Mostly, just with Cole. I smiled at Marie, and told her I would have to think about it. To her this meant Yes, as I have always spoiled her, and she immediately took off for her house to pack. Marie said she should be back by the next day.

Their love had blossomed in front of me. I could stop them as much as I could stop grass from growing, and people from dieing. I knew her attraction came from loneliness - left without a husband, no longer paid mind to at the dances. Father didn't have much to say when I mentioned how they eyed each other; except for that it was 'harmless play'.

They flaunted their adoration even in public. Marie would sit beside him on the way to town - in the front, like she was nothing; like he was something. My pleading for her to sit with me went unheeded. She would glare at my scolding. If I could not have her obedience, at least I could be proud that she was going to be a schoolteacher - but she had quit that course to spend time with him.

I tried to pretend that Cole was still my hire; that he didn't sleep in my house and was still in the barn. I ignored their giggling in the front room as best I could while I would peel potatoes for supper. I smiled wanly when Marie insisted Cole would come to the Town Social in Father's best Sunday Suit. He was testing my limits, that Cole. The old saying about giving them an inch and having them take a mile was being proved to me, day by day.

I would lie in bed at night straining to hear their secret whispers over the once soothing tick and tock of the old Grandfather downstairs. I could no longer remember how that sound had once helped me drift off to sleep each night and wake me at sunrise the next day. I would break out into sweats over the constancy of it, the noise would grow louder and heavier with each tock. By the time it would sound midnight, it was like thunder in my head. I finally just stopped winding it, but they still had the crickets and bullfrogs to shield their sins.

On top of all of this at home, the town had begun to talk. I could hear them whisper as I strolled by on my errand day. I could just feel them staring at our carriage. Father said I just needed a rest, but I knew what the women were saying, 'There goes Marie. She used to be such a sweet child, but from what I hear she's sharing a bed with that farmhand.' Their clucking tongues had me bowing my head in shame. I dare not repeat what the men would chuckle over.

I thought of all these things as I waved goodbye to Marie for the day. I could tell she was in a hurry to get her house packed by the way her carriage tumbled carelessly along the treacherous road. I hid the thought of how wasteful it would be to have her horse throw a shoe by plastering the best smile I could muster across my face.

I was left alone for the day and had nothing to do but chores. I must get the house ready for Marie's return. I couldn't bring myself to ask Cole for help; I just wouldn't be able to handle the stench of him today.

I fed my chickens. I fed my pigs. I milked my cows. I sharpened my knives. We must celebrate, I thought; celebrate Marie's moving home with a nice fresh pig.

I gave in tugging fruitlessly on the rope I had tied to my fattest sow and asked Cole to bring her for me. Once he got her moving, she lazily walked beside him across the grass to the slaughter shed. It smelled of death in that shed. Bloodstains were deeply embedded on the planked flooring. The afternoon light poured through the cracks in the boarded walls, shedding it's gorgeous light on the undeserving of its beauty. How they mocked me: the pig, and the sunlight. They must think that there is nothing else in this world but themselves. The pig will keep on eating, the sun will keep shining and nothing in this world can stop them.

Cole went to take a knife and help me kill the sow. No need, I told him.

"I like to kill my own animals. I feed them, and I decide when they are to feed me." Cole only stared dumbly. He was probably stuck on trying to figure out what the word 'decide' had meant.

The sow laid down amongst the bloodstains of her relatives, the was heat getting to her fat hide. She paid no mind to the sharp knife I held, ignoring my control of life and death. Cole knelt beside the sow and held on to her rope tightly. He rolled the fat pig over, and held her chin back for me. The sweat rolled down my forehead, stinging my eyes.

I stared at the back of Cole's neck. I could almost hear him laughing at me, priding in the fact that he had won against me. Maybe he wasn't so stupid after all, just not wise with words. He kept the pig's throat back even as the minutes passed, patient as ever. The cicada bugs that had take up residence in my maple tree began to whirr. Their low pitch screeching made the sow twitch and tense up under Cole's grip. The noise grew louder and heavier, throbbing erratically in my head as I knelt over for the kill.

I whispered 'thank you' to my sow, and slit the pig's throat. For a second, there was silence. Even the cicada had nothing more to say. It was if time had stopped. Then, with a sudden flash of movement, the sow twisted out of the way as Cole began to fall upon her. Once she had regained her footing, she ran screaming out of the shed and into the midday sun. Cole's head fell to one side and his dull eyes remained still, his expression as calm as it had been a few moments before. I wiped the sweat from my brow with one hand, and placed the knife back into its proper place with the other.

The pig had settled and the cicada held its tongue as I dragged his corpse out of the shed and across the yard. The old storm cellar would do for his grave; I just didn't have the time of day to dig up the garden for his bit of skin. He thumped down the rotten steps, rolling over and over into the dark until he broke through the last worn step at the bottom with a satisfying crack. The high pitch clang told me he had broken a few lamps that I had forgotten down there. I suppose I would have to buy a few more at the Hardware store; a few dollars wasn't anything for a job well done.

I washed my hands at the pump, and sat on the porch for a rest. The quiet was peaceful, softening the day's heat. Even a pleasant breeze had stirred up the courage to drift in the stifling temperatures.

On my way inside to start supper, I wound and set my clock once again. I didn't want to be a late riser for Marie's return. She would learn this time. I would make her understand.

Some people just don't deserve to bask in the sunlight.

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