Wednesday, July 1, 2015
30 Days of Shorts - Day 1: The Guardians
This morning the sky had darkened even before the sun came up and if it were not for the mantle clock she would never have guessed it was near sunset.
She peered through the rain-spattered glass across the field to the thin streak of gray-blue on the horizon. Was it going to clear? She hoped so.
The pot on the stove boiled over and she rushed to remove it from the heat. All the windows were opened several inches, but the room was still hot from the cooking. She's tried to put them all the way up, but the rain had poured in at an alarming rate and she'd spent an hour cleaning the mess.
The pot had calmed and she returned to stare through the glass. She hated this view. It was as if she stared into a mirror. The flat grassland with its blasted trees stretching to a bleak horizon was a mirror to her soul, her life in grayed shades.
Just beyond the lone pine, she could see the white standing stones, standing like sentinels in the rain, guarding her treasures. The iron fence surrounding the small plot of ground protected it from foragers. No one ever passed those gates but her. Every day she walked to the gates, passed between the guards, and sat on the small bench placed there just for her.
Pilar sighed and pulled the rocker to her and sat down. With a gentle push, she began to rock. She took the basket from the small table beneath the window and pulled her knitting into her lap. Her needles clicked and she stared out into the rain, at the guardians.
She smiled at that. Jacob named them that. He'd hauled the stone from a quarry over a hundred miles away on a borrowed freight wagon. He carved them with the skill he'd honed over two decades. On moonlit nights, when she sat here staring at them, she almost believed that they marched back and forth, before the gate. She's shared that with Jacob one night, in the darkest hours when he'd made her go to bed. He paused before putting out the light and looked at her with fear in his eyes.
"Pilar, they're stone markers. They can't move."
She laughed. "Silly, I know that. It just gives me comfort, Jacob."
Another moment's hesitation and he'd plunged the room into darkness.
Curling against his side, she placed her head on his shoulder. "They protect them, Jacob."
He lay very still. "Get some rest, Pilar.
She's never mentioned it to him again, but he often watched her as she sat before the window rocking, his eyes dark and worried.
The needles clicked and she frowned. She'd dropped four stitches. Tugging gently, she unraveled to where she'd made the error and restarted. A shadow fell across the room, a tiny flicker of fear causing her heart to skip a beat. She looked up.
The sky had darkened and the room with it, but the guardians seemed to glow from within. Jacob was late. She lay the knitting aside and went around the room, lighting the lamps. She closed all except two windows and she placed bars over them so they couldn't be raised any higher.
Returning to her chair, she resumed her knitting, glancing up to stare into the darkness beyond her window. There was no moon tonight. She wished there were neighbors close by so, at the least, there would be lights in other windows to show her that other people were out there, but they were ten miles from the nearest farm.
He had expected her to go with him. That last night, as she'd sat here knitting, he'd told her to go to bed early so she would be rested.
"Pilar, we've got a long drive tomorrow." He leaned over her, frowning and afraid.
Her heart pounded. "I don't want to go, Jacob."
"I can't leave you here, Pilar. I'll be gone for a week."
She kissed his cheek and whispered. "I'll be fine. You go on without me. I can manage and it isn't really that long. I'll ride over to the Wilson's for church on Sunday."
Lightening flicked across the sky and thunder rumbled in its wake. She looked up. It wasn't clearing after all. She stared across the field at the horizon. He'd be back soon.
The world exploded in blazing white light and the blast of thunder rattled every window and dish. She clutched her knitting. Another explosion of light and sound and she threw it into the basket.
It was just such a night at this when her life had become like the blasted view from the window. Her heart pounded and she realized she was panting. Standing and peering out the window, she could see the guardians glowing in the flashes of light, even more brightly than ever. They knew. They knew what night it was. She'd forgotten. They had not.
Pilar felt beads of sweat running down her temples and her hands were clammy. She wiped them on her skirt, clutching the rough cotton and wringing it into ropes. It was so dark out there. The guardians were barely visible, but thankfully, they were still there. Her heart pounded. If something happened to them . . . . She needed to check on them. Her treasures. She really needed to make sure everything was all right. Once she did that everything would be fine.
Rain began to pound on the metal room and Pilar looked up. It never leaked. Jacob had made sure of that. She was dry and safe here. She looked around at the braided rugs, the upholstered chairs and sofa, the warm chintz curtain fluttering at the window. Everything was so clean and pretty. Home. They'd made it home. She never wanted to leave it. When Jacob came back, it would be warm again and his smile would light the darkest corners.
She turned back to stare out at the raging storm. She couldn't see them. Her chest tightened and her heart pounded so hard she thought it might burst from her chest. She placed her hand on her chest to calm it. She had to check on them.
From beneath the sink, she pulled the hurricane lantern and set it on the counter and pulled the matches from the tin nearby. Her hands shook so hard she could hardly get the wick to light but finally, it flared up and she adjusted the flame and lowered the chimney. Usually, the lantern worked fine in a storm but the wind was blowing fiercely now, rattling windows and making the metal roof pop. She took her shawl from the hook and threw it around her shoulders.
For only an instant did she hesitate, pausing to glance out once more. They were dark. The guardians had gone dark. Gasping, Pilar whirled toward the door. After fumbling at the latch with numbed fingers, she finally managed to fling it back. It slammed into the wall, knocking her wedding picture to the floor. She didn't hesitate but stepped onto the rain-soaked porch.
Thunder exploded around her and the world seemed to glow in the blinding light flash that followed. Wind slanted across the porch and snatched at her clothes, dragging her shawl from her shoulders and carrying it away, into the fields. The lantern light flickered and nearly went out, but she shifted her body and blocked the brunt of the wind.
Fear raked at her heart. They were dark. She couldn't see them. Her treasures were unprotected.
With her free hand, Pilar picked up her skirts and stepped into the yard. Hunching her shoulders against the rain that pelted her like stinging nettles, she hurried toward where she knew they should be. Her feet splashed into puddles she could not see, soaking her dress and weighing it down. The light in the lantern flickered and sputtered but held. She raised it higher, but it was as a spark in the dark corridors of a raging hell. The violence of the storm roared around her, deafening and blinding her. Still she stumbled along, leaving the path, crossing the road and stumbling into the grassy field.
The hay was nearly knee high and smelled sweet in the rain, but she didn't stop. She felt the gravel path rather than saw it. Soon, soon she'd reach the gates. Lightening gutted the heavens and she recoiled from the glare. When she could see again, she stopped and looked up.
They stood where Jacob had placed them, on either side of the iron gate. Six feet in height, they towered over her, and the breadth of Jacob's shoulders. She had wanted to name them, but Jacob had forbidden it. She sobbed and stumbled toward them, reaching out with her free hand to touch the nearest.
The cold rough stone scratched at her palm and she closed her eyes. The fear evaporated and a calm settled over her. She was soaked to the skin and the rain still poured in great torrents, but she felt the warmth of the day seep into her bones from the guardian. A small flash of lightening streaked across the sky and the guardians began to glow. She pushed at the gates and the hinges resisted her at first before giving way with a howl of protest.
He'd not mown the grass here in weeks. He hated to come here but for her, he kept is smooth, even tending the flowers she'd planted along the fence. She stumbled along the path until she reached the bench and sat down.
A deep sigh slipped from her and she closed her eyes and raised her face to the heavens. Nowhere on earth would she ever feel so safe, so much at home. She meant it when she told Jacob she couldn't leave.
Through the storm, she heard him and looked up, a smile lighting her face. She stood up. "Jacob!"
He came toward her from the gate. "Why are you here?"
"Oh Jacob, I had to check on them. The guardians, I couldn't see them. I had to make sure everything was all right."
He held out a hand toward her. "Pilar, you have to come with me. You can't stay here."
The smile faded as if washed away by the rain. She stepped back and shook her head. "No. No, Jacob. I won't."
A sadness fell over him like a cloak. She could see it, dark and heavy and tears spilled over his cheeks. "Pilar, it is time to come away. You must. I can't keep doing this."
Her heart cracked and she could feel it as it split in two. Her vision blurred and she sobbed. "NO. Jacob, please. Don't. I can't leave now."
He stepped up to her and she closed her eyes and leaned against the warmth of his body.
She felt the whisper of his breath against her cheek. "Pilar, you must come now. You must. Please."
From the moment she'd met Jacob Edmunds, she'd wanted nothing more than to spend eternity with him. He was all she desired. He had filled her life with unbelievable joy. She never felt safer than in his arms and nothing gladdened her more than his smile.
She sighed and stepped back. "I want to stay here, Jacob. I have to. I can't leave them alone."
The storm came to an abrupt end. The rain stopped and the clouds rolled and thinned. The sky lightened and she saw stars begin to appear.
He gazed at her, his face wreathed in sadness and his eyes dark with grief. "I love you, Pilar. But I cannot."
She smiled. "I love you, too, Jacob."
He turned and she watched him disappear into the darkness as he moved between the guardians.
The sun rose in a brilliant blue sky and white trains of clouds hurried across the heavens. Pilar breathed in the rose-scented air. She smiled down at the smaller white stones before her, one on each side of the path and read the inscriptions.
"Madaline and Matthew Edmunds, born 1875, died 1877. Joy unspeakable. Pilar Edmunds, born 1856 & Jacob Edmunds, born 1855, died 1899."
The guardians glowed in the sunshine.