Friday, August 13, 2010

A Short Story

Writing is a personal journey. It has to be. You do it alone. Inside your head is the whole story just waiting for you to free it. And no one can do that for you.

When a writer puts down “a man walked down the street,” they see a lot more in that sentence. They know what the street looks like, what time of day it is, what the temperature is as he walks, what is on the street, what he’s passing as that sentence is read. He or she knows what the man is wearing, what color his eyes are, and how he got that scar on his chin when a swing clocked him at the age of six.

Most of the time as a writer I have a story inside me that I need to tell. Maybe it’s just a good story, or maybe there’s something I need to say. I always am writing for myself, but sometimes the story is specifically because I need it.

Such is the case with this short story here. We all need to believe in something that is bigger than ourselves. Maybe it’s our children. It could be the special love we share with someone else. Or, as in my case, I believe in God. He is the one I turn to when feeling overwhelmed by things. It was on one of those occasions I wrote this story....when I needed to remember that I am not alone.

by Maureen Mullis

The storm blew in unexpectedly. After months of drought the hard rain hit the too dry earth and kicked up dust that the wind took off with. Soon it was hard to see much of anything. When the lightening and thunder cracked in the skies above Abby knew it was time to get back to the house. There’d be no more work today.

Using her switch she urged the cows to get back up the hill from the watering hole they shared with the neighboring farms. It was best to make sure the herd was on higher ground. After so much time with no rain it could easily flood and that would be the final blow to their farm and their family.

Mother had died the previous fall leaving Abby and her two teenaged brothers and her eight and six year old sisters to pick up the pieces. Her father had been useless since his wife’s death. Unable to communicate with his children he threw himself into his work until the drought forced him to take a job in town at the train station. This left Abby, as the oldest at 19, to run the farm with her brother’s help while tending to the house and the children.

It seemed to her that her life was one long day of hard work after another with no one to support or comfort her. As discouraging as it was, she did find solace in remembering her mother’s faith.

“There’s more to life than what we see here on this earth,” she often told her. “Faith will get you through anything if you let it. Remember that we are not alone.”

But with her mother dead and her father’s absence Abby couldn’t help but feel alone. Completely and totally alone. With the rain coming down in torrents she made her way back to the house and couldn’t remember feeling more isolated.

By the time Abby returned home her brothers and sisters were already there. Thomas had lit a fire and they were dry and warm as they watched their drenched sister run in from the fields.

“This is it, Abby! This is what we’ve all been prayin’ for!” sixteen-year-old Joseph exclaimed. “Just look at it come down!”

At fourteen Thomas was a little less enthusiastic, but Abby could see that his eyes held a glimmer of hope.

“Will Papa come home soon?” six-year-old Samantha asked.

Toweling dry her hair Abby stopped and looked at the four of them. She felt the heaviness of their dependency on her and hoped to reassure them.

“No,” she shook her head. “Papa will stay in town. Especially in this storm. But don’t you worry, we’ll be just fine. I got some bacon and some vegetables and I’ll make us a nice supper. We can eat and listen to the rain on the roof and work on our samplers.”

“Will you tell us a story while we work?” eight-year-old Jane asked. “Like Mama used to?”

Abby felt her heart squeeze and managed a smile. “Of course. It’ll be fun.”

When supper was over the darkened skies outside continued their onslaught while Thomas and Joseph lit the lanterns and the girls retrieved Abby’s sewing basket with their work in it. Samantha and Jane knelt in the pool of light by Abby’s rocking chair and carefully threaded their needles before picking up their samplers and beginning their needlework.

Abby sat down in her chair and asked them to pass her the sewing she’d been doing the night before along with her needle and thimble.

It was the thimble her mother had given her for her twelfth birthday, and Abby had never had anything so lovely. It was silver and engraved with flowers around the base. Her mother showed her how to care for it so it would last her the rest of her life, she’d said. And Abby was going to make sure that it did. When she married and had her own home, a home she would make curtains for, shirts for her husband and dresses for her daughters, she would use this thimble and remember her mother. Perhaps one day she would pass it on to one of her daughters and it would become a family legacy. It pleased her to think about that and those thoughts carried her through on the dark days following her mother’s death and her father’s distance.

“Where’s your thimble Abby?” Jane broke into her thoughts.

“In the basket,” Abby told her, “with my sewing.”

“It’s not,” Samantha said searching through the cloth. “It’s not here.”

Abby sat up and reached for the basket. “It must be,” she said, but after thoroughly rummaging through the basket she could see for herself that the thimble was not there.

Feeling panicky and anxious she began a hunt for her precious thimble. Enlisting the aid of her brothers and sisters the five of them searched the main room without success. The boys even climbed into the loft and looked, but Abby knew it couldn’t be there.

Having no luck Abby sank into the rocking chair and closed her eyes.

“Why don’t you check Mama’s chest?”

“It wouldn’t be there,” she answered.

“What?” Thomas asked.

Abby opened her eyes. “Didn’t you suggest I look in Mama’s chest?”

“You’re the only one who said anything,” Jane said.

Tired and dismayed, Abby stood up feeling irritated with her siblings.

“Fine,” she snapped and retreated to the corner where they kept their mother’s chest. No one had been in it since their mother’s death. It was filled with her most precious things, including a shawl of her grandmothers and the veil she’d worn on her wedding day.

Abby knelt down beside it and lifted the lid. On top was a bundle wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string. Abby’s name was printed on it in her mother’s handwriting. Lifting it out, she quickly untied the knot and opened it.

It was her mother’s needlework. Along the top was Abby’s name and birth date and underneath was a scripture her mother had embroidered. One Abby had forgotten in the months since her mother’s death.

“Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Joshua 1:9

Resting in the paper underneath was the thimble.

Clasping the thimble tight in her fist Abby embraced her mother’s embroidery to her breast.

And for the first time in many long months she offered up a prayer of thanks.

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