When I was young the movie Out of Africa ticked all the boxes for me, and for many of my friends. Of course it boasted Robert Redford who, though miscast, still rivaled the beauty of the African landscape. The costumes made us all want to wear safari hats and kente shawls, certain we’d mirror Meryl Streep if we did so. And then there was the farm house. Oh, that glorious house. I still remember how my heart quickened with desire when I saw that exquisite floral linen on Karen Blixen’s overstuffed sofa and chairs. I toyed with the idea of draping my bed in mosquito netting and purchasing a cuckoo clock for my sitting room, so strong was my desire to duplicate the magic of that house. And my favorite scene in the film, even more so that the swoon-worthy hair wash by the river, was the candlelit dinner party when Finch-Hatton requests “a story”......
Karen: “Whenever I tell a story to my nieces at home, one of them always provides the first sentence.”
Finch-Hatton - “Anything?”
Karen: “Absolutely anything.”
Finch-Hatton: “There was a wandering Chinese named Cheng Huan, living in Limehouse, and a girl named… Shirley…”
Karen: “Whooo …spoke perfect Chinese. Which she learned from her missionary parents…..”
Her voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper as she stares into the candlelight and we are off to the races. I was completely entranced and this has since been my template for the quintessential dinner party ever since. Of course to have this sort of dinner party guests have to be chosen carefully and that’s where I’m lucky. I have a wild bouquet of options when it comes to choosing who might fill the chairs round my table, each one more than capable than the last of regaling the gathering with fascinating tales, rapier wit, and laughter, all vital ingredients for a perfect dinner party. Is there anything better that listening to your guests spin tales over the remnants of a glorious meal while the candles burn down low to paint flickering shadows across captivated faces? Bliss.
Here in the states this week, we are filling grocery carts with sweet potatoes and cinnamon, green beans and pumpkin puree. Flowers are being bought and arranged, pies are baking, bread is rising, all in preparation for the ultimate meal of our calendar year, Thanksgiving. I can think of no better time than now to create my fantasy dinner party guest list and so I thank Marsha for this opportunity to let my imagination run wild, which is precisely what I expect these guests of mine to do, as they are all brilliant, funny and inventive. For fun, I thought I’d request a story from each of them, much like Finch-Hatton requested of Karen, and to complete the fantasy, I’m providing each of them with a first sentence.
“The hands of the clock were frozen at twelve - midnight or noon, Geoffrey did not know - and the room was as cold as a Christmas icicle….”
“The Corgi had been the smallest of the litter, something his brothers and sisters never once let him forget….”
“Jeremy sat up suddenly, stunned and a little embarrassed to find himself surrounded by candy wrappers and confetti, the detritus of an evening he could neither explain nor remember….”
“The rain had begun suddenly, the way spring rains sometimes do, and Marguerite wondered as she sat on the train in her new linen dress what precise character flaw had influenced her decision to travel this far without any assurances that Leonora would even remember her name…”
“It was said that the mountain cave was haunted, a legend for which Freddie publicly expressed disdain…but privately….”
“Lois had never intended to steal another pair of shoes but her guilt was assuaged by the fact that these were on sale...."
“Fiona could only speak Gaelic and now that she was finally standing in the middle of Times Square she realized how ill-advised it had been to come to New York alone…”
After the stories,I’d have Alan Rickman read the poem Ithaka,
No matter the length of my to-do list, and let me assure you it’s a long one this year, I can never ignore the tiny frisson of delight that runs down my spine as the dark window closes on Halloween night, that little shiver that signals the imminent approach of those magical final two months of the year. Even as I’m greeting minuscule ghosts and goblins for trick or treat, my imagination is flooding with the russets and golds of Thanksgiving - the reds and greens of Christmas. I cannot help myself, and have long ago stopped trying. Like dear, happy Fred in Dickens’ Christmas Carol I “…have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Somehow, despite the years that separate me from my childhood, I have managed to retain the magic that was liberally bestowed upon me in those days. And is it just me, or was there even more magic back then? Only this morning I read an article in our local paper encouraging parents to make their “reservations” early in order to ensure their child will be able to visit Santa at the local shopping mall. These reservations cost $10 and it seems the entire process exist chiefly to achieve the all-important photo-op with said child and the red-suited chap. I’ve seen some of these kids lined up awaiting their turn, dressed in stiff red velvet dresses, or tiny black bow ties, being sternly admonished not to fidget and wrinkle their garb, all the while looking as far removed from thrilled as it’s possible to be. So different were my forays into Santa’s kingdom. I wandered those sparkling lanes behind other wide-eyed kids, each one of us dumb-struck in the face of such magic. None of us had the worry of dressing up. Having our pictures taken was the last thing on our minds.
When I was little, the biggest department store in town would light what they called, “The Great Tree” every Thanksgiving night. This signaled the opening of the Christmas season and families would travel into the big city from the suburbs to stand shoulder to shoulder with their neighbors in the middle of the frozen street to listen to local choirs sing carols as a cold November wind whipped round the tall buildings. The climax of the evening would occur when the highest note of Oh, Holy Night was hit and suddenly, that great tree would blaze into sparkling light. Everyone would gasp, awestruck. It was wonderful. That tree is no more, of course. In fact, that store is no more either. These days there’s an anemic-looking, cone-shaped, facsimile that perches atop the midtown mall and it is switched on the week before Thanksgiving to the tune of local rap artists looking for a bit of tour promotion. Not quite the same, I can tell you.
The loss of those beloved traditions are regrettable to be sure; any loss of something wonderful is especially acute this time of year. But here, in my cottage, the holiday season is as it always was. The world with all its strife and ugliness stops flat at my doorstep. Like Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, I appreciate the wonder and goodwill that this time of year possesses; I want to grab it all up by the armloads. And the fabulous thing about being an adult is that I can create the holiday I want. So if you happen by The House of Edward today you’ll find music playing. There are fresh pecans, chocolate and dried fruits stacked up in the corner of the pantry. Knitting needles are flying and there’s a faint scent of cinnamon in the air. Recipes and Christmas cards share desk space with wrapping paper and ribbon. Edward’s afternoon walks are more like runs, as he seems to share my enthusiasm for the cold. The tea kettle’s singing; the fire’s whispering. There’s an almost audible crackle of expectation in the chilly air.
No I can’t help it.
No matter what, I love this time of year.
Thank you all so much for the overwhelming amount of pre-orders for
The Songwriter loves a good old-fashioned Halloween, the sort with werewolves and witches, goblins and ghosts.Each year he creates some sort of frightening tableau beneath the gargantuan magnolia tree that presides over our front garden.We’ve had skeletons.We’ve had wolfmen.We’ve had a monkey fortune teller (don’t ask) that, I discovered only too late, was lavishly costumed in scarves, shawls and jewelry belonging to yours truly.Anything for art.
This Halloween was no exception. A seven foot tall Frankenstein stood on our front porch, back lit with swirling red lights, his menacing stare directed at the line of colorfully glad trick or treaters coming up our drive. There was a grinning jack-o-lantern. A skeleton hanging in a dogwood tree. A large fluttering ghost that rose and fell (courtesy of a cleverly hidden fan) under the magnolia.
In order to spare Edward and Apple the sound of many little knuckles rapping on our door, The Songwriter and I sat our chairs out on the driveway… I in my witch’s hat… to hand out the candy. From this vantage point we could better appreciate the varied costumes, and personalities, of the tiny trick or treaters making their way down the dark and windy street. We greeted Spidermen and soldiers, princesses and pirates. Some children ran up the drive with exuberance, boldly sticking their hands into our candy bowls to pull out as many Kit Kat bars as their five fat fingers could hold. Others, more obviously dubious about this strange and unusual holiday, required a bit of parental coaxing to embark on the journey up our drive.
One tiny cowgirl stole my heart. She stood in the street for a few moments, staring up at our house, and no doubt gathering her courage, before following her friends. I noticed that she never, not for a second, took her eyes off that white ghost that hovered beneath the magnolia. When she finally reached us, she stood in front of the friendly Songwriter and in a small, quiet voice she said… “That’s a real ghost, isn’t it?”.
The Songwriter assured her that, no, it wasn’t real. He kindly went into all the details about how he’d made it… “It’s just an old sheet. Nothing to be scared of.” She rewarded him with a timid smile, took her handful of candy, and ran down the drive to join her friends, leaving me with much to ponder. Over the past week I’ve thought a lot about that brave little girl, with admiration. She truly believed that old sheet fluttering and dancing underneath that dark tree was a ghost. A real one. Yet she walked right up that drive anyway. One foot in front of the other. I was happy The Songwriter told her the truth; that the ghost wasn’t real. How wonderful it would have been if she could have been told that there was nothing in the world to really be afraid of, nothing to worry her, nothing to harm her. Tragically, that is not the case.
The events of last night in Paris are too horrible for a good mind to comprehend. The very idea that such acts could be humanly planned, committed and somehow justified is repellent to any sane person. Yet, they happened. Parisians have been told to stay in their houses today, not to venture out unless they absolutely have to, and this is a wise instruction. It is also, I would imagine, a tempting way to live out the rest of one’s days. Never to go out again. Never again to risk becoming a victim of the worst sort of evil stalking the planet today. Never again to attend a concert or a football game. Never again to purchase a plane ticket.
Evil exists, one cannot deny. Its laughter could be heard on the slave ships and in the frigid barracks of Auschwitz. It freely danced through the genocide in Rwanda and soared through the twin towers in New York City. It was in Paris last night. It has always been with us. There are real ghosts; real things to fear. Yes, I will think about that little girl for a long time now. Her bravery in the face of her fear. One foot in front of the other.
Despite my frequent longings for the Highlands of Scotland, I have to admit that my little cottage under the trees sits squarely in a most conducive location. In about three hours, I can be lost in mountain forests, far away from the hoi polloi of city life with the very real possibility of meeting a black bear on a pine-needled pathway. In about five hours, I can sink my toes in the sands of a windswept beach and stare out at a rolling sea.
Not bad, not bad at all.
When I was small, the only summer holiday we ever considered was that one that brought us to the beach. Many of my parent’s friends, and many of my own still today, headed for the white sands and placid waters of the Gulf of Mexico as soon as school was out. But then, as now, I have always preferred the wider, wilder, less accommodating shores that hem the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The realization that just beyond that razor-sharp grey line of horizon swam the mysterious continent of Africa would cause my imagination to dance. To stand on the Gulf and imagine Texas as the next landmass didn’t have nearly the same effect for me.
Of course, then as now, my Gulf-loving friends frequently gloated over the extraordinary beauty of the sunsets that sink behind their favourite waters night after night. I would naturally counter with the majesty of the glorious sunrises that rise up out of the Atlantic each and every morn. Of course, in truth, I never really saw them.
Those who know me well know never to phone me before ten in the morning. While I may indeed be awake, I am hardly conversant at that hour. I’m an unrepentant night owl and no matter how many times I’ve attempted to morph into the sort of person who pulls up the covers at a “reasonable” hour and bounds out of bed with the birds, when the clock strikes midnight I am nearly always infused with a creative energy that demands not to be ignored. Words fly into my head… stories…phrases…paragraphs. A knitting pattern begs to be deciphered; the characters in the book I’m reading can be heard pleading for me to release them out into the night air.
Just last week, however, I seriously altered my preferred schedule. I was heading to the low country for a writing event and wanted to be on the road early to escape the snare of city traffic. So dawn found me driving down a sparsely populated highway, sipping coffee and listening to the Brandenburg Concerto #3. And that dawn, my friends, was a revelation.
Sunrise, as all you early risers know, happens slowly, like a beautiful idea that is so casually formed at first you aren’t even aware of it, and like most beautiful ideas, it begins with colour and light. I felt privileged to watch it unfold. The autumnal trees lining the road began, bit by tiny bit, to reclaim their scarlets and golds from an ebony sky that only seconds before had rendered them invisible. Ebony became indigo, indigo became grey - then pink, delicate as an eggshell, crept over the horizon before me, a herald of its vibrant cousins soon to follow. Impossible to hold in repose, the sky became a glorious painting of light. I pulled on my sunglasses and grinned, overcome with a temptation to change my character right around. Yes, I thought! I shall become a songbird! No more snowy owl for me.
Later that night, I opened the door to the porch outside my room. Moonlight ran its fingers through the Spanish Moss that hung in the branches of the oak trees; its mysterious silver light fell across my bed, illuminating the books and knitting I’d conveniently brought along. A soft breeze swung through the screened door, carrying with it the scent of the sea.
A children’s book that adults will love, it is designed to be a keepsake - brought out and read each holiday season. Its creation has taken up a good part of my year and I am beyond delighted with the results. Full of full-colour illustrations on glossy paper by Kevin Nichols, an amazing artist who has worked with me on design projects for years. Kevin has managed to capture Edward, Apple, and the wonder of Christmas on every single page.
Edward Speaks at Midnight can be ordered now.
Shipping will start on November 15th.
Please order early, as this is a limited run and I don’t want you to miss out!
On the day before Halloween, Marietta finally drove back into town. She parked her car by the wharf and started up Pleasant Street, poking her head in the tiny grocery store (though she needed nothing, thanks to the kindness of her new neighbours), the library, and the art gallery that sat at the top of the street. The ice cream shop had closed for the winter but a row of cakes in the window of the small cafe caught her eye, and she went in.
It was a charming place, with moss-coloured tablecloths draped over small round tables and a delicious aroma of cinnamon and coffee in the air. A young woman with bright green eyes smiled at her from behind the counter. Marietta said, “I couldn’t resist. Those cakes in the window look wonderful. Can I have a slice of the chocolate one?”
“Sure thing,” the girl said, pulling the tall, glossy cake out from the case. “This is my favorite, too. First cake I learned to bake.”
“Oh, are you the baker? How marvelous. I’ve always wished I had been a better baker. Never seemed to have the knack. My husband wasn’t fond of sweets, so I never felt the need to learn. I do love them, though. Who taught you how?”
“My mom. She was the best baker in town, hands down. Christmases when I was little were unbelievable. The whole house was like a bakery. Chocolate everywhere. Fudge, cakes, pies. It was the best time ever.”
“Does she help you here in the bakery”
The young woman’s face fell a bit, her green eyes bright. “No ma’am. She died a few months back. It’s been pretty hard. She always helped out here in the bakery this time of year. We get busy during the holidays, you know. And she loved it. You passing through town? We don’t get many tourists this time of year. Weather’s a bit iffy. But I think October is one of our prettiest months.
“No, actually, I’ve just recently moved here. And I agree with you, October is a beautiful month here.”
“Really?” The young woman smiled. “Where are you living?”
“The cottage on the hill. On Sea Street.”
There was a clatter as the knife slipped from the girl’s hand and landed on the hard brick floor. “Oh!”, she exclaimed. “Sorry. I just, well, I never thought. I mean, I’ve never actually known anyone who’s lived there.” She bent to pick up the knife, never taking her eyes off Marietta. “What’s it like?”
“It’s…. “. Marietta looked up into the girl’s green eyes, certain she’d seen them before. “Uh, it’s … well, it’s really a lovely place.” There was no mistaking it. These were mirror images of the eyes of Kendra Pierce, the lady who’d brought her the cake on that rainy morning last week.
“My name’s Marietta, by the way. Marietta Cline.”
“I’m Lorelai Pierce. But everybody calls me Lolly.”
That last name was what Marietta was expecting to hear even as she fervently prayed she wouldn’t.Finishing her cake in silence, all the while certain it tasted exactly like the one she’d been given last week, Marietta paid her bill and felt Lolly Pierce’s bright green eyes watching her closely as she left.
She stood on the pavement for a moment aware that she was holding her breath.Then, turning right, Marietta headed straight up Pleasant Street to the James General Store, threw open the wooden door and headed straight into the shadows towards the rear of the shop.A few customers watched her with badly concealed curiosity as she rapped loudly on the door to Corrine James’ office.When the door opened, Marietta found herself face to face with an elderly man in a red flannel shirt. Glancing over his shoulder, she could see a dusty, cluttered office - complete with an antique roll-top desk, threadbare oriental rug and a rather lumpy dog bed on which was now curled a rather lumpy Basset Hound.
“Can I help you?”, said the man.
Her head aswirl in incomprehensible thoughts, Marietta simply said, “No. No, I really don’t believe you can.” She turned slowly and left the store, only half aware of the whispers that followed her in the cedar-scented air.
The weather was changing as Marietta drove into her drive, oyster shells cracking beneath the car wheels.She got out and walked inside, giving no thought to the rain that peppered her shoulders.Throwing her coat on the kitchen table, she went to the desk in the parlor and opened the top drawer.There lay the vivid pink folder.Marietta opened it and began rifling through the papers inside.There was the deed to the cottage.Nothing too unusual there.And … let’s see… yes, here it was.The contract she’d so excitedly signed on that Wednesday after Jasper had died.Goodness, the print was tiny.She couldn’t even read it.Rummaging around in the desk she found an old magnifying glass and held it over the minuscule writing.
The font was strange. It looked almost like hand-writing. Old-world style. Marietta cursed a little as she stared harder. Most sentences were impossible to decipher. She recognized the word, Portal, and then … the words, Consequence.... Tarriance.... Empyrean.... Eternally....
Marietta closed the file and let it slide back into the desk drawer, carefully covering its unnatural pinkness with the sepias of stationery and whites of credit card bills. The words of the phantom Corrine James echoed in her ears. “Remember your dream of living by the sea. You have what you’ve always wanted now. You can be content forever, if you wish to be.’
It was seventy-two years before Lolly Pierce came to visit Marietta Cline. A bright spring morning when the sea was as still and shiny as crystal and the lilacs perfumed the air. Marietta had been watching for Lolly for several weeks, having made it a habit to check the obituary pages occasionally. She’d never been overly wild about surprises. She’d laid the table for three but decided to enjoy her cake out on the porch with Roy. She’d let Kendra and Lolly catch up.
Most people in Hancock soon forgot about Marietta Cline. She had virtually no need to go into town; everything she possibly could have wanted or needed was provided to her by her visitors. A kind and interesting bunch, she looked forward to their every knock on her door. Her days were carefree and full; she spent them comfortably snug in the cottage of her dreams. Most evenings after dinner she’d head out with Roy to wander the seaside hills, both of them lost in the sort of wonder that comes from accepting the impossible.
Marietta Cline was content.
Thanks so much to everyone for reading along. I hope you enjoyed your Halloween!
Marietta went to bed early that night. A strong wind was howling up from the sea, a herald of winter in this, the last week of October. Roy followed her upstairs as though this was something he’d done every night of his life and Marietta found it strangely comforting when he jumped up on the foot of her bed and laid his head across her ankles.
“Don’t get too comfortable”, she warned him. “I have to find your real owner tomorrow.” The two of them fell sound asleep almost immediately while the wind rattled the windowpanes and whistled round the cottage eaves.
But next morning, Marietta woke to a low sky, the color of steel. She could hear the rain pounding the roof above her and one look outside the window told her she’d not be venturing into town today. The fir trees were bending double on the hillside and an angry sea was throwing waves high up on the rocks.
Looking down at the foot of her bed she could see Roy, the big black dog, still sound asleep on his side. He took up half the bed.
The two of them, woman and dog, enjoyed scrambled eggs for breakfast. Marietta smiled down at the dog as he lapped his up from the bowl bearing his name. “Well, I guess you used to live here, didn’t you? That’s the only thing I can figure. Don’t know why I didn’t notice your things in the pantry before you got here, but I must have just missed them.” But even as she said this, Marietta knew the food and the dog bowls had not been there before Roy arrived. She’d chosen not to think too hard about this.
A knock on the back door startled them both. Marietta looked out to see a young woman standing on the porch in the rain. She opened the door.
“Goodness, what a morning!”, the young woman said, laughing. “Don’t suppose you have the kettle on. I could use a cup of tea.”
She was bundled up against the wind in a cape the color of cherries. A hood was pulled up over her head and she peered out at Marietta beneath a cascade of auburn hair. Her eyes were bright green and like Marietta’s previous unexpected visitors, she wore an open and engaging smile. There seemed to be nothing for it but to invite her in.
“Yes, yes, do come in out of the weather”, said Marietta. “We were just finishing breakfast, but you’re more than welcome to join us if you like.”
“ I see Roy’s decided to stay this time, “ said the young woman with a laugh. “It’s been a long time since he’s done that. Usually he doesn’t approve of people in his house. That speaks really well of you.”
“Oh, do you know the dog?”, Marietta asked. “I figured he’d lived here before. He seemed so at home.”
“Well sure, I know him. Everyone one of us knows Roy. He might have even lived here before, I can’t exactly remember. He was before my time, you see. Seems like he’s always been around though, at least to me.”
This seemed as strange an answer as the youngster Robbie’s had been. Marietta decided to ask a few more questions. “I’m Marietta Cline. I don’t think I know you?”
“I’m Kendra Pierce, and no, we wouldn’t have met. I’m fairly new, just a few months now. Still getting used to the place. But I love it, wasn’t what I expected at all. Certainly not what I was led to believe. We’re all tickled you’ve moved in here, by the way. Most people wouldn’t, you know.”
“Why wouldn’t they?” Marietta remembered now how long the cottage had been on the market and felt a odd shiver of apprehension run like a trickle of ice down the back of her neck.
“Well, the house might put some people off. People who like privacy, I suspect. People who don’t like visitors, you know. Seems you do. Robbie said you were really nice.”
“Oh, you know Robbie, do you? Are you two related.”
Kendra Pierce laughed, her green eyes dancing. “Lord no. Robbie’s at least fifty years older than me.” She opened her coat and pulled out a package, neatly wrapped up in parchment paper. “Almost forgot this! I brought you a cake. Thought you seemed the sort of woman who’d appreciate chocolate. And I make the best chocolate cake around, even if I do say so myself.”
Marietta stared. “We must be talking about a different person. The Robbie I’m referring to couldn’t be any more than eight or nine years old. Light hair, a few freckles.”
“Yes, yes, I know him. Really friendly little chap. He showed me around when I first arrived. Knows everybody, does Robbie. Look, I hate to run off, but I’m due over at the Simenson’s later for choir practice. I’ll stop by another day, shall I? Robbie was right. You’re a nice lady. I think you’ll enjoy being here.”
Before Marietta could formulate her next question, and she had quite a few, Kendra Pierce had pulled her crimson cape back round her shoulders, pulled up her hood and left in the blowing rain. Marietta watched her go, taking the same path down to the stormy sea that the youngster Robbie had done.
After Kendra’s visit, the knocks on Marietta’s back door became more and more frequent. A tiny girl, no more than three, brought her a bunch of violets and, when asked where they came from, for violets in October could only be purchased, not picked, the child merely laughed and skipped away. A gentleman in a clerical collar arrived one evening with a stack of Agatha Christie’s in his arms. “You’ll enjoy these on the cold nights.” It wasn’t until after he’d left that Marietta noticed each one was a pristine first edition. There was a plump little elderly woman named Julie who brought her some cashmere knitting wool the color of limes. “You do knit, don’t you? Yes, I thought so.” Her husband, Charles, arrived at the end of the visit, bearing more firewood to replenish the dwindling pile by the door. “Yes’m, it was me that chopped that first lot for you. You’ll be needin’ more this winter. You can count of me. I’ll make sure you’ve got it.”
Looking at the frail old man, Marietta said, “Well, I’m sure you’ll both be needing some as well. Don’t overdo it on my account.”
To her amazement, the old couple fell about laughing. “Ah, Mrs. Cline, we don’t need firewood. What on earth would we do with that?” Clasping hands, they set off down the hill with Marietta staring at them from her front porch in confusion.
It was a week before the first visitor. Marietta discovered Corinne James had certainly been correct when she’d described the house as being more than fully furnished. The tiny cottage was like a fairytale, with everything inside seemingly chosen with care and an artist’s eye. The beds were downy, dressed with lavender-scented linen sheets and topped with stacks of embroidered French quilts. The old leaded glass windows sparkled and shone, each offering views of the blue grey sea. The kitchen was already stocked with everything Marietta could think of needing, including fresh fruit and farm eggs. There was even a stack of seasoned firewood neatly arranged by the backdoor. Marietta meant to phone Corinne to inquire who’d been so generous but, strangely, there wasn’t a phone in the whole of the cottage. Marietta assumed people these days generally relied on their mobile phones, but couldn’t seem to get an adequate signal on hers. She knew it was something she’d have to rectify soon, but the quiet so suited her, she didn’t place it high on her list of priorities.
That morning, the sun woke her. It streamed into her room almost audibly, like some sort of heavenly laughter, flooding every corner with pink and gold and beckoning her to the window. She sat in her chair as she pulled on her slippers, looking out at the early sunlight dancing on the sea and once again, as she’d done often over the past week, she marveled at her good fortune. This place was paradise.
Heading down the stairs to the kitchen, Marietta heard a knock on the back door. She paused. Having had no contact with anyone since she’d arrived, she’d found she liked the solitude and now wasn’t sure if she wanted to have visitors. She peered around the corner to see if she could catch a glimpse of her caller before she chose whether or not to open the door. Finding this impossible, she decided to risk it and answer.
“Just a second”, she called.
“Ok”, came a small voice. A child? Marietta opened the door to see a tow-headed boy of about eight standing on her doorstep, wearing a red sweater and a big grin. He had a wire basket on his arm, full of eggs.
“Some of these here are still warm”, he said proudly. “Thought you’d like ‘em. Figured you was about to run out by now.”
“Oh, did you bring the others? They were so good. I’ve had a couple every morning this week. I had no idea who’d brought them. I’m happy to be able to thank you! Come inside, that’s a stiff wind out there this morning. I’m Marietta, by the way. What’s your name?”
Still grinning, the boy followed her inside, placing the basket of eggs on the pine kitchen table. “My name’s Robbie. But you don’t have to worry ‘bout thankin’ me for them others. These here are the first ones I’ve brought you. But if you like ‘em, I’ll bring you more when you need ‘em. Won’t be no trouble.”
“You’re very kind, Robbie. Thank your Mother for me, too, will you? And do you have any idea who did bring the others. They were here the day I moved in.”
“Well, no ma’am, I don’t know who might’ve brought those. “Spose it was one of us, though.”
“I see”, said Marietta, as one by one she placed the warm eggs into a large bowl. This was confusing, but she didn’t want to hit the boy with too many questions. He was just doing her a kindness, after all. “Where do you live, Robbie? I’d love to come thank your Mother in person.”
“Oh, you can’t do that, Mrs. She ain’t come yet. Might not be a long time now before she does, though. I left pretty early, you see.” His grin was wider than ever even though Marietta was sure the expression she was returning to him was odd and questioning.
“Um, well… can I get you a biscuit, Robbie? Maybe some hot chocolate? It’s had to have been a pretty chilly walk up the hill this morning.”
“Oh, no ma’am. Ain’t got time today. Maybe another mornin’?”
“Certainly, Robbie. Come by anytime.” Marietta couldn’t help but be taken by the little fellow. That grin was infectious. She waved him goodbye, expecting him to head back down the road. Instead, he took the pathway that led down to the sea, his empty egg basket still swinging on his arm.
It was later that afternoon when the dog showed up. Marietta had spent the day on the fat floral sofa writing letters, attempting to explain her choice to move away to several friends to whom she knew she owed some sort of clarification. She’d also written Macon, anticipating his irritation at her seemingly rash decision as well as his resentment at being handed the duty of selling her house. It was in the middle of this letter that she decided not to get a phone line put in.
She'd put the last stamp on the last letter and was considering getting up to put the kettle on when she heard a snuffling sound coming from the front porch. Leaning out over the back of the sofa she craned her neck to see out and spied a large black dog sitting in front of the door. He had a white star on his furry chest and a plumed tail that was wagging as if he was home. And sure enough, when she opened the door, the big dog ran in, jumping and leaping as though she were his long lost love.
“Whoa there, boy”, she said as she danced out from the circle of his exuberance. “We don’t know each other that well.”
But the dog didn’t seem to agree with her. He romped from room to room, with Marietta chasing after him, before finally racing up the stairs to the tiny back bedroom under the eaves. There he stopped in front of the closet door, turned to Marietta and barked, loudly.
“For pity’s sake! You don’t live here, you know.” Marietta paused, winded, at the door to the room. “This has been fun, but you have got to get on home now, boy.” But, continuing to bark, the dog had now started pawing at the closet door, turning occasionally to look Marietta square in the eyes.
“Oh Lord, ok then. I’ll show you there’s nothing in there for you.”
Crossing the room, she grabbed hold of the old brass doorknob and pulled. With a crack the door swung open, revealing a large padded dog bed covered in red and black tartan squeezed inside on the floor. Marietta stared. She slowly turned to look at the dog. He was now sitting calmly on the floor behind her, and she could swear he was smiling. She pulled the bed out of the closet and headed back downstairs with it bumping along behind her. When she dropped it by the front door, the big dog sat for a moment, then got up, placed a corner of the bed in his mouth and pulled it resolutely to a spot just to the right of the fireplace. He then climbed inside, circled a couple of times, and lay down with a sigh.
“Well, I’ve always liked dogs”, she said out loud. “But you have to belong to somebody. You’re too pretty not to. You can stay here tonight, but I’ll have to get out tomorrow and find out who your owners are. Till then, you’re probably hungry. I’ll see what I can find you. “ Marietta went into the kitchen to get something for the big dog to eat, but when she opened the pantry door she felt her knees go a bit weak. She felt around behind her for a kitchen chair and sat down with a plop.
There on the pantry floor sat a large bag of dog food and a bowl. The name Roy was painted on the side in gold letters. After a moment or two, Marietta called out in a weak and watery voice, “Roy?”
The big dog bounded into the room and gave her his paw.
Writer, Interior Designer, Baker, Knitter, Gardener, devoted to Beauty.. on the journey through life along with her big white furry wonderful dog... living in the American South and dreaming of the Scottish Highlands