The Honey Hour
The light has shifted past the honey hour to that place where the sun burns white, casting hard shadows from a sky gone gray. Only the grasses still hold gold.
Dark is not long away. The trees have already started their march to the solid wall they’ll form around the house. A wall that feels safe, or threatening, depending on how Norma feels as she looks out. For only in this moment can her tell what’s roiled inside. Peering out, watching the light shift, even leaning into it. As the gold fades from the tall grass, and the sky drops from purple to ink. As the sharp shadows fill in, enclose her like a blanket or coffin.
That’s what she wants to know. . .which is it. She’s stuck, ambushed, in the grip of some creature, otherwise.
And each night she lingers, looks beyond the road for the beam of headlights. Ralph rarely comes home before dark. He leaves her each morning here alone, this house he brought her to. They’ll farm, he’d said. So far from my family, she’d said. And they didn’t farm. Then mama died and papa died, and that animal of grief took refuge in her heart next to the memories of missing them when she could still touch their hands, comb her mother’s hair, bring her pa his coffee after supper. When she could still visit and cook them a meal, give relief to their aging bodies.
She stretches her neck toward the last of the light in the sky. The trees have closed in solid now. Sitting, she knows tonight it will be a blanket of comfort she feels. That when Ralph gets home, she’ll greet him at the door.
Hours pass. She sits by the window. The open book in her lap at the same page for the last twenty minutes. The glow from the lamp beside the big easy chair the only light now. He’s never been this late before. In this moment she wants something to happen. The phone to ring. Something bright to pierce the black night. The blanket of comfort has shrugged from her shoulders. She won’t let that chill of grief and cut of loneliness happen. Not tonight. She’ll be ready when he gets back.
Lights flash on the wall. The sound of the truck on the gravel drive, then the motor dies. His footsteps. The one two stomp he always does when he reaches the door, just before he opens it. She tracks it like an animal on predation. When the door closes, she’s there.
“How was your day?” she says, taking his coat. Cigarette smoke. She smells it.
“How was yours?” he says, and kisses her cheek.
She doesn’t ask where he’s been. He doesn’t ask about dinner. “Let’s talk,” he says.
They sit in the bay of the windows where she watches night fall each day. The bay he’d built for her despite the cost because she said it reminded her of home. She waits as he settles. Taking off his shoes, he slides his slippers out from under the chair, puts them on.
“We’re leaving,” he says.
She feels something break from her chest. Like a cluster of birds suddenly in flight.
“They’re closing the plant. Said I have a job in Cleveland if I want it.”
The birds flap about her head. Their wings batter her face, her cheeks, her eyes. Their feathers cover her nose.
“Farm didn’t ever work. It’s a good offer. I know you love this house,” he says. “I’m sorry to take you from it, but this is good.”
This house. This prison she’s missed her parents in. Where she lost three babies. Where at the end of each day the trees close ranks into a wall that surrounds her. Leave it? When, oh when.
The birds take off, and it seems for the first time in fifteen years she takes a deep breath. Like clear cool water down to her belly, she feels herself breathe.
“Seems right, Ralph,” she says.
Heloise Jones lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico (USA). Her publications include: "The Writer's Block Myth," a guide for the writing life; a contributing essay in "What I Wish for You" by Patti Digh; a Pushcart Prize nominated poem in The Wayfarer (Homebound Pub.), and Blood on His Hands, an excerpt from her novel "Flight." She's a 2012 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize finalist and a 2014 Ruminate Magazine poetry prize semi-finalist. Her book for writers has appeared on 400+ media sites across the United States, including ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX. As a writing consultant, she loves working with writers so they tell their stories and feel empowered. She also blogs regularly. www.HeloiseJones.com
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