Wellspring: A Series of Short Stories About Appalachian Women | The Daily Yonder

2022-05-14 09:49:15 By : Ms. Joyce Chen

Get the latest stories from the Yonder directly in your email inbox.

Daily Yonder readers may be familiar with contributor Kathleen M. Jacobs, who’s written commentaries on a variety of topics for us, including hygge, the trails of West Virginia, and “The Andy Griffith” show. Beyond the pages of our publication, she is an author of books for young readers. For our latest collaboration with Jacobs, we are premiering a new piece of that creative work, a collection of six short stories that speak to the lived experiences of Appalachian women. It’s a subject that comfortably overlaps with the cultural mission and coverage focus of the Daily Yonder.

You’ll find the second trio of stories below, and can read the first installment here.

My mother was unloading the dishwasher when the blindingly-polished coat of a copper-colored mare galloped past the ground-to-rooftop windows of our glass-backed rear patio.  Its coat was as shiny as newly-minted pennies and reflected the bright afternoon sun, glistening like liquid metal.  Its brushed mane seemed to wave hello and good-bye in rapid succession. 

Knives and forks and spoons clinked and clanked across the travertine-tiled floor, making a cacophony of sounds not unlike those made by a toddler playing with drumsticks, as the cutlery basket dropped from my mother’s hand.  The utensils scattered from one end of the kitchen to the other, finding refuge underneath cabinets and getting stuck in air vents, one fork’s tines looking askew, trying to determine whether it was safer above or below what was happening a few feet away.  As the mare continued to gallop from one end of our house to the other, my mother stood frozen in place, the cutlery basket on its side at her feet.  And then two words broke my reverie:  “Holy shit!”  That’s what she said.  I swear.  And if hearing her say it once wasn’t shocking enough, she said it again.  “Holy shit!”  It was the first time a horse had ever been spotted in the back yard of our house in this unincorporated, rural town that we had recently moved to from Chicago, and it was the first time that I had ever heard my mother cuss.  I couldn’t decide which incident was more incredible.  I was still too stunned by each, my pencil having been dropped on top of my notebook without my knowing it, the galloping mare interrupting the conjugation of French verbs.  I remember thinking that I should thank that handsome equine if I made her acquaintance.

It was the first time a horse had ever been spotted in the back yard of our house in this unincorporated, rural town that we had recently moved to from Chicago, and it was the first time that I had ever heard my mother cuss. 

My mother and I watched in stunned silence, our mouths agape at the wonder that strode by, until she stopped, turned, and stared with equal incredulity at first me, then my mother, and finally back at me again, until she sauntered off through the trees, stopping briefly to trample through my mother’s vegetable garden, crushing her tomatoes and cucumbers before stopping to take a nibble of leaf lettuce.  And that’s when my mother said it again, “Holy shit!”  And my forehead made a loud thud as it met my partially-conjugated list of French verbs.  I was surprised at the reckless abandon with which those two contrasting words seemed to put me in an unfamiliar but very comfortable trance.  I didn’t bother, nor did I care, for an explanation.

Before my father came home from work, my mother said that she would wait to tell him about the horse visit until after he had consumed a couple gin and tonics, had his dinner, and retreated to his drop-front desk to pay the bills.  It was not uncommon for my mother to follow this evening routine.  Until my father enjoyed his after-work libations and had eaten his fill of my mother’s mustard-rubbed pork tenderloin, sweet white shoepeg corn, and home-made barbecue baked beans topped with juicy strips of bacon and finely-chopped onions, he would merely be an ornament at our kitchen table.  He and my mother shared pleasantries with one another, I think merely for my sake, but I knew that things were strained between them.  I just didn’t know what to do about it, and I assumed that responsibility without much thought, believing without reserve that I alone knew the answers.  I fantasized about wrapping each of these answers up in pretty paper tied with pretty ribbon and setting them on top of the breakfast plates, like treasured lagniappes. 

My father never asked me about my day at school or if I had made any friends since moving here (which I hadn’t) or even noticed that my mother had recently cut my bangs too short or that I had had my ears pierced and was wearing my mother’s pearl studs that she had worn on their wedding day.  He simply sat at the table, drinking his gin and tonics and staring out the window, the fingers of his left hand tap, tap, tapping on top of the walnut table.  We had just read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” in English class, and suddenly I became acutely aware of the tapping of his fingers which seemed to grow louder and louder, and my mother’s immobilized focus on my father, her eyes seeming to bore straight through his body.  I shivered, even through the heavy blanket of Appalachian heat and humidity that we wore like a second skin this time of year. 

After I went to bed that evening, I heard the rise of my parents’ voices which wasn’t unusual, either, just unwelcome.  It, too, was routine.  Come to think of it, most of what we did every day was as routine as the daily recitation of French verb tenses.  And just as routine was my natural tendency to rise as if in a trance, slide quietly across the polished oak floors that wore my cotton ankle socks like a glove, until I reached the living room and came to an abrupt halt at the high pile of the grass green carpet that my mother forbade anyone to walk upon with shoes that had been worn outside.

I mounted the top of the back of the raspberry-colored velvet Milo Baughman-style sofa and grabbed hold of the soffit’s edge whose overhead exposed beams gave me a front-row seat of sorts to everything unfolding in the family room between my mother and my father.  And something was always unfolding between them.  The stage set was not elaborate, but extraordinarily ordinary, as if from a carefully choreographed Broadway performance and as certain as my own daily routine.

“I’m telling you, Stephen, just as I was about to put the cutlery in the drawer a horse ran back and forth across our patio from one end to the other, then proceeded to trample the garden and feast on my leaf lettuce.  Thank God he didn’t attack the rose bushes.  I know it sounds crazy, but it happened.  Ask Liv, if you don’t believe me, which you never do.  She’ll tell you.  A horse.  I swear to God.  A full-grown horse.  It could have been a triple crown winner at the Belmont.  It was that beautiful.  The shiniest coat I have ever seen.  Liv said that it reminded her of newly-minted, copper pennies.  And such an air of confidence about it, too.  Like it wasn’t afraid of anything.  Real strength and physical presence.  All it needed was a garland of deep red roses encircling its muscular neck and a confident, straight-backed jockey holding its reins in majestic and proud splendor.  Certain, not ambiguous.  It was, quite simply, the most arrestingly beautiful animal — thing — I have ever seen.   Stunning, in a way that no jewel could compare, not even a perfect canary diamond which, by the way, you keep conveniently forgetting I want.”     

“First of all, Lois, it’s Olivia, not Liv.  You know how I hate it when you call her Liv.  She, Olivia, would agree with you if you said there were monkeys hanging from the dogwood trees in our back yard.  And second, nobody in this town owns a horse.  We don’t live out in the country, for Christ’s sake.”

“No,” my mother interjected with a fierceness to her voice that frightened me just a bit, “we don’t.  Instead, we live out in the middle of nowhere.  I would have much preferred the country to these rural hinterlands you brought us to.  Oh my, how you made us believe that we were moving to nirvana when you brought us to this God-forsaken place, with very little to do but look out the window every day, until it is nearly driving me nuts.  Liv, too.”

“Before you so rudely interrupted me, Lois, I was going to make my final point that if I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times, that perfect canary diamond that you bug me for over and over is about as likely to surface on your finger as . . . well as likely to happen as your seeing a horse gallop through your vegetable garden.  Why in the world you want a canary diamond is beyond me.  Oh, wait, I forgot, your father gave one to you on your 16th birthday, and you lost it in the Atlantic Ocean.  Right.  And one more thing, Oliva is perfectly fine.” And my father snorted out his nose, a droplet just resting at its tip, until he wiped it away with his shirtsleeve. 

“If my father was still alive, you wouldn’t . . .”

“I am not your father, Lois,” my father bellowed.

“No, you’re not,”  I mouthed on the heels of his emphatic declaration, balling up my right hand and tapping with ferocity the wooden ledge.

“You are finally right about something! You will never be the man my father was—never.  And make no mistake about it, Liv is not perfectly fine.  Just saying the words doesn’t make them true.”

My mother then lowered her head, removed her eyeglasses, and rubbed at the bridge of her nose.  All I wished was that she wouldn’t cry.  Seeing my mother cry, which she did with unnerving frequency always, always made me sad to the point where I retreated to my bedroom, closed the door, and played Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” over and over and over again until I felt better.  And suddenly, it was getting harder and harder to hold on to the narrow wooden ledge that overlooked parents who had reached their saturation points which was all too familiar to them and to me, sitting in a family room that was anything but.

When I returned to my room, I wondered if I was fine or not, but before I could answer that question, I had drifted off to sleep to the hushed sounds of a house that seemed vacant.

Every day I come home from school, I rush into the house and ask my mother, “Did it come back?  Did you see it?” 

I should have taken a picture of that horse, because a week after watching him gallop past our window, he hasn’t reappeared.  I just didn’t think.  I mean it’s not every day that a full-grown mare prances past your very eyes.  At least not here, not in this town.  Every day I come home from school, I rush into the house and ask my mother, “Did it come back?  Did you see it?”  And every day, she says, “Nope.  Hasn’t come back.  But it will.  I know it will.  Don’t you think so, Liv?”

I didn’t answer that question.  I want it to come back so that my mother will not think that she saw something that wasn’t there.  But, here’s what I said instead, “Why don’t we ask around town and see if anyone has seen it or if anyone around here owns a horse.”  I have asked this question before, and the answer is always the same, and it is just a little bit unsettling.

“Liv, we have discussed the reason why we can’t do that many times.  If there is no horse in town and we start asking people if there is a horse in town, they will think that we are crazy, seeing a horse galloping through our back yard.  Maybe we just thought we saw a handsome mare stride past our window and trample my garden.”

“But Mom, I saw it, too.  It was there in broad daylight.  It was not a figment of our imaginations.  It simply wasn’t.”

“Sweet Liv.  Sweet, sweet Liv.  Why don’t you take your snack and go to your room and listen to your music?  Was school okay today?  Did you do well on your what was it, your French test?  It was today, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, Mom,” I said with a flatness to my voice that brought sadness for reasons with which I was all too familiar.  I picked up the plate of my mother’s crusty, thinly-sliced cranberry, walnut pumpernickel batard and cubes of Longhorn cheddar cheese with one hand and an opened, ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola with the other, stopping briefly to first look at my mother whose smile was a bit uncertain, as she curled the ends of her blond tresses around her finger, staring out the window, looking for something that would never again appear.  As I walked down the hallway to my room, I heard the faint whimper of my mother’s cry as she began her routine to welcome home my father.

We loved her in ways we shouldn’t have; and she knew it, which made her love us in ways she shouldn’t have, which caused all the problems — problems that none of us could have anticipated and yet each of us, in our hearts, knew possible.  It was very much like the gathering of a storm.  But we were drawn to her and she was drawn to us like ants to sugar, and even if either of us had chosen to put blinders on like horses at a race track, the pull was stronger than either of us could resist.  But like she always said, “Erase the word should from your vocabulary and see what happens.”  And like the dutiful and vulnerable students we were—students who vied for her every attention—we obeyed, like a fresh litter of gentle but very hungry puppies.

            We each knew — everyone, in fact, knew — that this mutual attraction would lead to nothing redeeming — would, instead, lead to an eventual devastation that would leave us all in shards, as cutting as fine crystals of glass.  And while it might have very well begun innocently enough, as time went on and we became nervously aware of its potential danger, we kept on doing it, as if we had suddenly turned into well-oiled automatons.  We took turns adding to it a smidgen here and there, like a shopping list for the delectable fare to be offered at a dinner party.  And once it picked up momentum, we couldn’t stop it.  It took on an intoxicating life of its own.  And we really didn’t want to stop it.  But in our subconscious, we knew that we should stop it.  She knew it, too.  And in looking back, there was no effort made to stop it.  And there it was again, that same word that kept resurfacing, that kept getting tossed to the side, as if a mere crumb from a crusty piece of French bread.  There was no eliminating it; it kept reappearing, like a fine coating of coal dust after an overloaded coal truck passed by the line-up of houses in this stagnant Appalachian town. 

She didn’t think the word should should have ever been invented in the first place.  She often quoted a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in trying to explain to us why the word was pointless:  “If you want to use the word, all you will end up doing is ‘beat[ing] on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’”  She detested the past, unless of course it pertained to American literary classics.  And she was right about Fitzgerald’s reference, as it applied to the mutual, growing attraction of each of us to the other.  But then she was right about everything, until the day she was wrong; and so were we.  It was a day that arrived that awakened in each of us the awareness as to just how wrong we had all been from the very beginning.  But until that moment was birthed, we had the time of our lives.

She didn’t think the word should should have ever been invented in the first place. 

Every student entering the junior class of thirty students that year at our small, private school noticed her the day she walked into the building for the first time as our new English teacher.  Up to that point, none of us — and I mean not a single one of us — had ever liked our English teacher.  Unyielding, structured, and as dry as toast were just a few of the chosen monikers we hung around their necks like wilted daisy chains. 

We had all attended Cliff Top Montessori and St. Joseph’s Elementary School.  We had been together since the first grade, and we may as well have been living together in one big farm house on the outside of town, surrounded by acre after acre of lush woodlands, our parents practically living together in near-Bohemian style as it was, making sure that we received the best education their respective parents’ money could buy, which they convinced themselves they had accomplished, bringing to each of us opportunities and experiences that we never, in our innocent youths, dreamed possible.  And yet, the common thread that bound us one to the other was the single wall in each of our bedrooms that truly belonged to us to create song lyrics and Jackson Pollock-like art and poetry and stories.  And now, many years later, as we have all moved to the far corners of the world, that is the one gift that we chose to pass on to our own progeny. 

We seldom reconnect, afraid that if reunited, we could somehow bring her back, but separately we’re safe, grown smart enough to stay clear of her intoxicating presence.  And in retrospect, completely disengaging from one another was probably the best thing that could have happened to any of us, including her.  She was that influential in our lives, and also in the end, that destructive.  Even our parents, in their deepest, darkest, most private moments had to admit that it all went wrong.  And it would be something that would remain with us forever, both a curse and a blessing; a curse that hadn’t yet and probably never would be lifted, maybe even one we didn’t want lifted, like living with it was both a cloak and a dagger, all at the same time — something that we wanted to let loose, but something that we kept holding on to tighter every time we felt our hold relax.

Why we loved her without reserve was a mystery.  A mystery then and still a mystery over twenty years later, after having graduated college, married (and divorced), with high school-aged broods of our own.

Emily and I noticed it at the same time:  that slender, pale pink gingham flat bow that she wore in her hair, parted slightly off center on the left side, a few wisps of straight-cut bangs lightly touching the tops of her eyebrows, her honey-colored bob emitting what seemed like rays of light, nearly blinding.  The childlike bangs were cut as precise as an edge of notebook paper.

Why we loved her without reserve was a mystery.  A mystery then and still a mystery over twenty years later, after having graduated college, married (and divorced), with high school-aged broods of our own.  Our small Catholic high school was the only one in this rural area of Appalachia.  We flew on the wings of our coal baron grandparents, who scooped up their own offspring to navigate their own paths.  We drove BMWs and Hummers, and we came out miraculously unscathed by the crashes that came in waves from drunken stupors.  The girls carried Louis Vuitton monogram canvas Speedy 35 satchels; and all of us wore nothing but Ralph Lauren, when we escaped from the confines of our nondescript school uniform of navy cords, navy cotton skirts, and white Oxford cloth, buttoned-down collared shirts.  Denied anything that would identify us individually from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. five days a week left us to make life-long friends with Clairee Belcher from Steel Magnolias, her words ricocheting off the concrete walls of our school’s hallways and classrooms:  “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.”  But she — our new, enigmatic English teacher — shared none of our materialistic commonalities, which simply added to her mysterious, intoxicating, inexplicable pull.

She wore Birkenstocks, with a pair of ankle socks, every day.  The socks were never the same, and not a single one of us owned a pair of ankle socks.  The thought never occurred to us to even consider ankle socks.  Hers had everything stitched on them from baby chicks to paintbrushes, peace symbols and evergreen trees to mushrooms. 

“How in the hell can we be so enamored of ankle socks?” Anna exclaimed one day at lunch.

“Ya got me,” we chimed in unison.

“She’s both sophisticated and yet very much childlike,” Chris observed, as he tossed a handful of peanut M&Ms into his open mouth, which is what he ate every single day for lunch.

Much to our approval, she never wore what we called “teacher jumpers.”  Instead, her wardrobe was entirely from a line called Blue Fish.  She added to her line-up every summer from a shop in Soho and one in Charleston, South Carolina.  The fact that she spent summers in New York City (where every single one of us wanted to land) and the winter breaks in South Carolina simply added to the allure of these free-flowing, tunic-style dresses made from organic cotton and linen, hand-painted with daises, insects, and yes, fish of every kind.  Each piece touched just the tip of her ankle socks, and she wore them with such confidence that we secretly wanted to sneak into her closet and play dress-up, knowing perfectly well that we could never pull it off.

The fact that she spent summers in New York City (where every single one of us wanted to land) and the winter breaks in South Carolina simply added to the allure.

She lived two blocks from the school, and as we sat at our desks every morning (although she often let Liam sit on the floor, because he wanted to and allowed Jessie to perch on the back of his desk again because he wanted to) before class started we watched her round the corner with a hurried step because she was always late, abhorring mornings as much as we did, her damp tresses catching the early-morning breeze, her brown leather crossbody swinging to the sounds of the church bells.  She was Audrey Hepburn running through the streets of Rome in Roman Holiday.

The summer before our senior year, a few of us traveled with her to New York City, where she had chosen to wake early one morning and quietly steal away from our rooms at The Plaza to John Barrett’s Salon in Bergdorf-Goodman across the street.  She left a note for us to order breakfast.  When she returned, her bob had been dyed a color very close to orange sherbet.  We bellowed with approval.  She simply shrugged her shoulders, opened wide her arms, and gathered us in like too many inflatable parrots won at a game along the state fair midway.  And even though we were more than a bit surprised that she didn’t discuss this decision with us beforehand — for while she talked about sentence structure and the components of a well-written essay and her undying love for the classics, she talked with us most assuredly about life — we were instantly struck dumb by her unilateral decision.  Instead of voicing our disapproval, we accepted her embrace by enveloping her too into a gentle, but firm grasp and taking turns planting long-awaited kisses on her fair cheeks.  And in looking back, perhaps that was the denouement that changed the course of so very much.  That and a flat, cotton, pink gingham bow that invited more than any of us could have ever imagined.  It was both magical and threatening.

After the start of the new school year, we drove by her apartment one evening to pick her up for dinner and a movie—something that happened with greater frequency than it should have happened.  As she descended the stairs from the front entrance of her building, Erica said, “If she wasn’t so damn cute, I’d have to hate her.  But look at her, she’s just fucking cute!”  And we all agreed.

After the start of the new school year, we drove by her apartment one evening to pick her up for dinner and a movie—something that happened with greater frequency than it should have happened.

By spring, she had grown quite ill.  One early morning, after announcements, her students were gathered in the library, as she announced that she would be resigning, as a hush and a stillness drew everyone to a quiet center that was unwelcome, unfamiliar, and unsettling.  And while our little community mourned her departure, upon reflection many years later, it was her style to leave with quiet exactitude and dignity.  Anything else would have disappointed us.  And while she wanted to stay and stay forever, she couldn’t.  She would never jeopardize her students’ acquisition of knowledge or bear their witness as she fell into an eventual decline in body and in spirit, fearful of taking them along for the ride.  But perhaps the single most important reason for her withdrawal was her determination to avoid the early theft of childlike innocence that was still very much a part of each one of her students and a part of herself.  After all, she had instilled in them a beauty that while assured to fade over time just might linger, just might prevail—a complete belief that anything is possible.  For in the end, what became undeniable to everyone was that she too loved us in ways she shouldn’t have. 

It was rumored (again, never confirmed) that she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown — too many losses in too short a time.  Her recent engagement to our theology teacher, Miss Brown, had been broken, her parents had been killed in a skiing accident, and her only sibling had committed suicide, leaving a note for her that she read and set fire to on the rooftop garden terrace of her apartment building, where the building super escorted her, until the fire had been extinguished, knowing that it was the one thing he could do to offer her some measure of peace.  It was rumored too that he had been in love with her and that she knew it, but could not reciprocate his affections.  We knew we shouldn’t have yearned to know the contents of that letter, but ashamedly we did. 

And as I remember her steadfast resolve and her resilience and her insistence on the truth, the sign-song melody of the birds in the trees above makes me giggle like a child, recalling the day we helped her sneak into her no-pets allowed studio apartment three arrestingly-beautiful finches.  The apartment was so sparsely furnished that we wondered if she was planning to move, but we said nothing.  We were just happy to be there.

There was a single bed dressed in the most luxurious of white, Egyptian cotton sheeting, with a few standard-sized pillows and a European-sized pillow and a single boudoir pillow, each covered with the same Egyptian cotton fabric, her initials in a deep salmon thread in the center.  At the foot of the bed sat a simple, four-legged, flat top writing desk with a simple, slender, brass-like lamp topped with an eggshell-colored, linen shade.  There was an easel that held each month’s calendar, with the month etched in gold-tone lettering.  Writing implements of every kind were housed inside a floral, decoupaged vessel, and a stack of leather bound, Smythson journals placed with intention in the center.  The table was painted the color of bright green Easter basket straw grass.  At the base of the journals were the texts we used for our creative writing class:  Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  The Shaker-styled, straight-backed, birch wood desk chair looked rigid, uncomfortable, and yet perhaps so very necessary to penning journal entries that gifted clarity, but not until the harsh realities of life’s difficult adventures were revealed first.

Two flamingo pink, leather, nail-head trimmed chairs sat at the far end of the room, a luxurious Stark floral carpet anchoring it all.  It was both fairy-like and devoid of anything that would identify its inhabitant.  And suddenly, we realized we didn’t really know her at all; only what she chose to show and tell, like a game learned in nursery school.

After we set up the elaborate, Victorian-styled bird cage and lifted the front latch and released each finch into its newest confines, pressing inward on the what looked like exact replicas of paper takeout containers from a Chinese restaurant, we added a few bird toys for their amusement and left, without a word.            

She had named the finches after the characters in her favorite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird:  Atticus, Boo, and Scout, and we coveted each one of those, too.  And what remained in the end was the challenge to each of us to live life. To simply, and with fevered abandon, live life.

Abby woke up on Monday morning; it could very well have been any other morning of the week, for one mirrored the others.  She couldn’t recall when one differed from the others.   She was certain that they had each been different, but she simply couldn’t recall the last time she recognized the differences.  But this morning, she reached for her iPhone to set the alarm for 11:32 p.m.  She had been planning this moment since she read a news article that alerted her again, over her iPhone, that the first pink supermoon of the year would be visible “at around 11:32 p.m.”  After over a year of suffering the ravages of Covid-19, her spirits were lifted at this refreshing news.  She looked in her iPhone’s reverse camera lens and wondered if the deep purple bruise on her left cheek had lessened to a shade of pink that it usually wore as it healed.  She wondered how close to the supermoon’s shade it would match.  And catching her completely unaware, she saw a glimmer of a grin appear in the lens.

The pink supermoon would be larger than a full moon, and Abby yearned for the day to pass quickly, knowing that it wouldn’t, because they never did.  She parted her black and white patterned café curtains at her bedroom window, revealing a morning much too bright for her irritated eyes and a headache that was intense to an indescribable degree.  And yet, she was energized, knowing that what she had planned, imagined, for so long, would happen on a day that months ago she didn’t even know existed. 

The pink supermoon would be larger than a full moon, and Abby yearned for the day to pass quickly, knowing that it wouldn’t, because they never did.

Abby opened the door to her bedroom, knowing, like a teenager slipping out at night to meet her boyfriend, exactly how far to open the door before the hinge would squeak.  She would peek around the frame to the front hall table to make certain that neither his keys nor his wallet were set inside the hunter green, caviar leathered tray.  If they were still there, she would close the door and tiptoe back to her bed.  If they were gone, she knew he was gone, too.  She surprised herself every time at the immense exhale that was released.

She spent the mornings making certain that she had vacuumed the carpet in the direction he insisted, dusted the tops of tables and chair legs, unloaded the dishwasher, and cleaned the bathroom until every surface gleamed bright.  She made certain too that every towel — bath, hand, or kitchen — on every bar was centered, with ends even, one to the other.  Abby was grateful that the apartment was small, with only two bedrooms, a living space, a shoe-boxed kitchen, and an equally-small bathroom.  A few years ago, Abby had forgotten to line up bottles of water on the countertop beside the refrigerator, but she didn’t make that mistake again.  Like all of them, it had been a costly one.

Blane’s space was spartan:  a gray, leather sofa, two emerald green leather chairs, two black-coated, metal floor lamps, a television set on top of a liquor cabinet, and a black vinyl-topped card table with two black metal folding chairs, where he sat for hours every evening putting jigsaw puzzles together while watching predictable action movies.  Abby retreated to her bedroom every evening, just as she heard his door key inserted in the lock.  She played a game with herself that she could reach her room before he even saw her.  Most nights she succeeded.

Once there, she settled herself—most times—into a worn, but comfortable chair that was upholstered in a bold and colorful print of every imaginable shade of green.  Flower stems and scattered leaves and budded tree branches intertwined among ornate, blue, Chinese vases.  The nailhead trim glistened from the flicker of a candle’s flame that Abby lit every night, the scent of grapefruit wafting into every crevice of the room.  Abby looked at the carpeted floor often and snickered at its haphazard lines from intentional vacuuming. 

On the walls were original paintings that had belonged to her mother.  They brought both comfort and distress for what she had once had but lost and what she would never have.  And yet, she coveted them in a near-hedonistic way.  An over-sized oil painting of the Low Country in vibrant hues found only in a fresh box of Crayola Crayons was perched on the back top of her tiger’s eye maple mule chest.  A coastal scene with a line-up of sailboats ready to set sail was on the wall to the left of the upholstered chair.  And placed next to the left side of her window—across from her bed—was a nude portrait of an expectant mother, lounging on an olive-green chaise, her pajama-clad toddler making every attempt to climb what to him was a growing mound that seemed insurmountable.

A small, grass green painted, simple writing table sat at the foot of the bed, without a chair.  Abby never used it except to admire its polished top and her collection of seashells gathered from times that, over the years, had faded in her memory.  As she looked to each one, she liked that she could recall each one’s different origins:  triton and murex, cowrie, tulip and star, natica and tun.  Scallops and small conchs though were her favorite.

Abby jumped when her iPhone’s alarm sounded.  What had she done all day?  She remembered falling asleep in her chair in her room just after a lunch of left-over spaghetti and a piece of sea-salted, dark chocolate.  She remembered drifting off again and waking to the sound of Blane’s key in the lock, and deciding to wrap her aubergine, cashmere throw closer to her, but when had the sun disappeared?  She quickly silenced her iPhone, even though she knew that Blane would be in a deep sleep by now.  But she didn’t want to take any chances.  Her worn, brown leather, Longchamp weekender was packed with the barest of essentials, nothing extra.  She unzipped the weekender to check again that the three small jewelry boxes were secure on the top of her carefully-folded belongings.  One container held her wedding rings, the other a three-inch high bisque cupid with an arrow sitting on a heart-shaped cushion that adorned her wedding cake.  The last box housed a bright yellow, glass, chick figurine no bigger than a thumbprint that her mother carried in a little purse to church with her every Sunday when she was a little girl.

Abby planned to drive Midland Trail along Route 60, windows down in her new Chevy Spark, listening to the waters of the New and Gauley Rivers, as the moon’s light skipped over its reflection.  She had traveled that road countless times.  She wouldn’t stop until she reached Hawks Nest Park Overlook, where she would walk the trail, remove her wedding rings from the box and toss them, one by one, over the cliff’s edge, to the ravine below.  She would return to her car and head the direction the winds pulled.

Abby planned to drive Midland Trail along Route 60, windows down in her new Chevy Spark, listening to the waters of the New and Gauley Rivers, as the moon’s light skipped over its reflection.

As she looked to the pink supermoon, hoping to not be disappointed, she blinked several times.  It wasn’t pink at all, not even a hint of pink.  And it wasn’t even golden in color, as the news reported.  As the tears descended, Abby brought the curtain panels together, and the sounds from a rusted door hinge were faint, but deafening.  Before turning away from the window, Abby glanced one last time to the night sky.  As she squinted into the fullest moon that she’d ever seen, she saw, for the briefest of moments, a tinge of pink, even though she knew very well that, scientifically, the color pink did not exist.

“Don’t worry,” the voice whispered, “the second one is coming next month, same day,” and the door’s latch clicked closed.

Kathleen M. Jacobs, an author of books for young readers, was recently named ‘Runner-up Best Author of  West Virginia’ for 2021 by WV Living Magazine. Jacobs lives in Charleston, West Virginia.

Get the latest stories from the Yonder directly in your email inbox.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

by Caroline Carlson, The Daily Yonder April 15, 2022

This <a target="_blank" href="https://dailyyonder.com/wellspring-a-series-of-short-stories-about-appalachian-women/2022/04/15/">article</a> first appeared on <a target="_blank" href="https://dailyyonder.com">The Daily Yonder</a> and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.<img src="https://i0.wp.com/dailyyonder.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/cropped-dy-wordmark-favicon.png?fit=150%2C150&amp;ssl=1" style="width:1em;height:1em;margin-left:10px;"><img id="republication-tracker-tool-source" src="https://dailyyonder.com/?republication-pixel=true&post=92296&ga=UA-6858528-1" style="width:1px;height:1px;">