“Why him?” she asks.
I look up at her brown eyes smirking with curiosity. Behind her, the rolling fields of clovers beckon the same question. Why him? Of all the ones you let get away without a tear, why are you breaking over this one?
“You ask as if it’s an impossibility,” I say calmly, with eyes peering towards the hillside in the east. It looks back at me, and knows my secret. My eyes may hold it together, but my heart pierces me like an arrow.
“Isn’t it?” she replies.
“Love is never an impossibility in the miracle of eternity.”
“Except for the beautiful Miss Melanie,” she winks. “The one whom no man is ever quite good enough for.”
“That’s not true, Ana!” I retort.
“Tell me what’s true, my lady.” She sticks her shovel in the fertile soil where rows of strawberries await summer extraction from their habitat into cobblers, pies, and homemade preserves. I bend down to pick one and inspect its substance with fascination.
“The strawberries are ripening.” Their deep, red color is flawless. I maneuver my hands through the rows of sweet fruits to observe more and feel the waxy texture of the leaves.
“Miss Melanie, you never give any poor lad a chance,” she continues. “You’ve swatted away 7 already this summer and Mr. Logan has already asked for your hand in marriage this spring. Your finger remains ringless, my lady. You can’t keep shooing away every gentleman–”
“They weren’t to my liking.”
“What is your liking?”
I pick a red strawberry from its vine. Its color bleeds brilliantly red, and its form is whole and robust.
“Try it,” I encourage her, as I try one myself. Its sweet flavor invigorates the mouth like the colors of the rainbow invigorate the eyes.
“Is it ready?”
“It’s perfect. I have no doubt.”
Ana takes a bite of the strawberry as I wrap my arms around me to feel the wind hold me in its holy embrace. My hair flutters upward.
“Was it love at first sight? When you met Mr. Hart?” Ana asks me. I’ve never told her the depth of my most intimate feelings. But she knows the pain of my arrow thoroughly.
I place another strawberry in her hand to divert the question. I debate about the two ways my heart could feel right now. I could release every pent-up feeling and let it flow with the wind and rainfall mirroring my own tears or hold it inside and pick up my shovel to dig the next row of fruits. I pick up my shovel. Clouds flow in and out of the skylight.
“Farmer Oak.” I whisper as I observe the perfectly patterned seeds on its ripened, red surface.
“You asked me why him? My answer is… he’s like Farmer Oak.”
“The novelist Thomas Hardy’s epitome of masculinity?” she asks with smiling eyes.
“The epitome,” I reply readily. “He is the epitome of good. Strong. Chivalrous. Hard-working, and doesn’t ask for anything, so you want to give him everything. His heart reels you in from the first minute you glimpse him. He’s someone you want to have around on a rainy day,” I confess, “when there’s nothing but candlelight to brighten the room.”
I lift my head to smell the scent of incoming rain. My eyes scan the sky growing dark with greyish tones. Lightning strikes through the clouds like golden fishing lines.
Then, my mind takes me back to a vision of him like it was yesterday…
I see it play out again…
“Sorry to startle you, ma’am.” A man in a wide-brimmed hat, on horseback, strides up to the riverbank. He hops down from his horse and quiets the mare with a gentle touch. He looks over at me. “My name is Tanner,” he introduces, as the noonday sun attracts sweat upon his skin. “Tanner Hart.” I peer up from the rock, nestled by the river reading my book, and find his hand extended to mine. I stand up gently.
“I’m Melanie,” I say.
“Very nice to meet you, Miss Melanie,” he says with kind eyes. “I live up the road, here, by the stables. If you need anything, you let me know.”
I nod my head with cordiality. “Thank you,” I smile softly.
“You have a good day, ma’am.” He dips his hat, hops back on the mare, and scoots away down the hollows of the forest. A waft of wind trails in the exit as I watch the four-legged horse speed regally.
I drop my book involuntarily. My knees bend, dressed in a blue dress, to pick it up.
Why is my heart beating? Will I see him again? Stop, Melanie. I barely know anything about him. Just a moment of coincidence. A moment of intrigue. It will pass. Or so I thought.
It didn’t pass. But he did. Again and again, everywhere I was, until his presence was a normal part of my everyday routine. It stuck in me, deep down, like a needle tying up a lacerated appendage.
“Miss Melanie! Are you there?”
I snap out of the vision.
“Sorry… I got sidetracked for a moment.”
Ana bends down in front of me and investigates my forehead.
“Have you got the fever, my lady?”
A physical infirmity, no. A heart condition, yes. I give in with a simple reply, “I’m okay.” Meanwhile, my insides are still recovering from the laceration of love’s affliction. An affliction I’ve come to yearn for more and more.
A whip of wind slices into my hair full throttle. I like the way it feels when its strands stroke my face and lift away into the air where tears evaporate without being noticed.
“Tanner is away now.” I stand. “There’s much to take care of. I must be getting back to the stables–”
“They can find someone else to take care of it, miss. Don’t overextend yourself.”
What if I want to overextend myself? What if I want to induce my own pain in order to feel him everywhere? See him everywhere? Then he wouldn’t be gone. I’d still have his apparition.
“The harvesters will be here by morning. I’ll see you at dinner okay?” I assure her.
“Don’t do this to yourself, my lady! You know you can’t resurrect the dead!”
Maybe I want to. Maybe I need to invoke his spirit that remains to remain in every spot of my existence.
“I’m going to tend to the horses.” I wipe my face.
“I can’t clean you up this time, my lady! If you go into that stable and fall apart again like a dandelion, I can’t put you back together again!” She squeezes my hand and looks into my eyes with hers of concern.
“And I don’t need you to, Ana,” I say calmly.
“It’s time to move on, my lady. You can have any husband of your choosing, don’t you see?”
Lightning strikes with the roaring sky, invoking its presence.
“I need him, Ana…” I let go of her hands.
“He’s married, Melanie,” she tells me with eyes of sympathetic angst.
Tears gush down my face. I look away and run for the stables.
Ⓒ Natalie Edwards 2022