Oh, the sky was clear, with a brisk wind from the north, white billowing clouds perched and passing overhead. Her three girls danced on porch planks, hopping from one to another, laughing and shrieking. Even the baby, Irma, crawled giggling across side to side, followed by Minerva, or else.
She watched Lewis carefully on those days. Watched for heaviness in his step. Watched for his eyes to wander up over the tree lines, out through the woods.
Watched for dark clouds sneak in to hang over Marie's house, creep in to grab her precious man.
Dark clouds came and went throughout the years since the Great War, when Lewis had slugged through blood streaked mud in the trenches, climbing over bloated bodies. Unrecognizable but they once were someone's son, waving from a train at mothers gathered en mass. Come home. Be sure to write! Take care...be careful.
Lewis wandered through and over trenches, passed by tilted white crosses. Names of friends were painted on those mud splattered crosses, but their faces were a blur in his mind.
How could slaughter suddenly end? How could guns grow quiet, cannons be silenced, hissing gas grenades abruptly stop? How could his hands, calloused and burned, put aside his rifle? No more killing--taking aim and killing a stranger. Will his mother ever know?
Walk, he kept walking. Then on a ship to England. Then home. Blessed home.
Lewis returned to broad flat fields of his home. Wheat waved at him, green fat grains soon to be combined and harvested. Where scents of cow dung and tractor oil threaded and blended together. No smell like this anywhere...
No dark clouds yet. They hung away, tiptoeing in when a twinge of memory popped up, triggered by sounds, smells.
In mid-darkness, Marie awoke with Lewis rolling to his edge of the bed and sitting up.
He stared out the window into a starless sky, his back ramrod straight and muscles bunched tight. Ready. He was ready.
Kneeling up, Marie wrapped her arms around him, hugging him to her breasts. Shhhh now, let me help you, comfort you. Lewis leaned his head back onto her arm, sobbing softly.
"So many...I killed so many..."
Marie rocked him in her arms until Lewis relaxed and lay down to a restless sleep. Marie curled up to his side as his arm moved to cushion her hair. When Lewis breathed evenly, Marie allowed her tears to course down her cheeks, soaking feather pillows.
Daylight slowly beamed beneath kitchen door, kitchen windows, and onto a smooth clean table.
In a black iron skillet bubbled sausage gravy, dotted with black pepper on thick milk gravy, ready to pour over fresh buttermilk biscuits. Black coffee steamed from her blue speckled coffee pot, filling rooms with its call to get up.
Breakfast ready, Marie stirred the hot iron skillet and watched Lewis at his chores. Every other day in the world Lewis moved with a rhythm, conserving energy for harder work later.
But today, Lewis ripped and ran while milking cows, filling troughs with hay, all part of his day. He moved in jerks, fast then slow, always looking to the trees and woods.
Lewis had eaten earlier, when dusk fled, turning air to a fuzzy gray. His bowl, ladled full with gravy and biscuits, emptied with noisy spoonfuls, was then filled again. Black coffee filled a chipped cup, disappeared, once then twice
His rifle leaned against the tool shed. Scarred and scraped, all his rifles were kept oiled and cleaned. Damn those English. M..17 Enfield...best I ever shot...Be ready, you bastards. Those huns are just over the next ridge...words of long dead Captain Ransom rang in Lewis' head every day. Especially on dark cloud days.
Three girls raced giggling to food awaiting them in bright sunny kitchen. "I was first...No, you weren't...I get to sit here...Nooo, I get to sit in Bobby's place!..."
"You girls settle down now. You gotta do some 'f Daddy's work. He's gonna hunt today..." Marie's voice drifted off as she looked at the empty chair, named "Bobby's chair".
|Marie holding baby Minerva, Lewis holding Bobby|
Death stole my baby 'way. Oh God, why'd you do that? Why'd you take 'im from me?
He kissed them all and walked away, rifle in hand. Colored leaves swallowed him up. Even his shadow was eaten by ancient trees.
After her three girls ran off, pushing and shoving in their rubber boots, Marie dropped onto Bobby's chair, holding Grammy Sarah's diary.
Lewis' ma had written in this battered note book every day and then had given it to Marie when Lewis brought his bride home to meet Sarah Cardiff.
"You gotta be one strong woman to marry my boy. He has to have someone like you..." then Sarah Ann Cardiff handed Marie this diary, written through to the final page. "This 'uns about those years. And I got some other diaries you'll read 'nother time..."
Sarah hugged Marie, whispering in her ear, "Be patient with him. Love him, and he'll always come home to you."
Opening stained pages, thumbed over and over, Marie read memorized pages.
...wild boy...always ran, didn't walk nowhere...climbed that maple tree at the church, broke 'is leg....Elish took Sam--took him out with his Springfield..damn rifle...now, why'd he call 'im Sam, don't know..., out hunting...fourteen now...he's run off again!! Where now?...joined the army up in...
Marie paused, sipped now cold coffee. Sarah Cardiff had told her this story, and Marie felt the anger,tears, and fear in her voice. "That boy! Damn him! I scraped up as much money as I had, hidden all 'round my house. Kept it all hidden from 'Lish. He'd drink it up...."
Sarah Cardiff had taken the train out to distant training grounds and gave the enlistment officer a scorching he'd not soon forget. "My boy is only fourteen! Fourteen, you hear me...and he is coming home with me and..."
I plopped down money, signed a discharge notice, and dragged Lewis out of training grounds where air smoked black. All that rifle practice noise and burnt black powder! He wuz too big to give 'im a whoopin', but boy oh boy, I ground away 'is get up and go!"
Marie knew what Sarah would say next.
Sam shoots and hits, like he wuz part of a gun. Shoot buds off trees, shoot knotholes in a barn, through eyes of a squirrel...God help us. If war comes, he'll be one of the first to sign up...they'll take him. By heaven, war will take 'im 'way from me..., they'll take 'im, turn 'im into a dead cold killer."
Sarah had sobbed into her apron. "He was only twenty, my Lewis was just a boy..."
Marie placed Sarah's battered diary down, went to feed the chickens, collect warm freshly laid eggs. She paused to gaze out into the woods, knowing where he'd go and what he'd do.
Silence from now empty kitchen and scents from rich earth under trees, where generations of colored leaves fell to sink, wrapped around Marie.
Marie clucked her tongue and scattered ground corn, "Here...here...Betty! Gertie!...Time to gather your eggs..."