I can still see her standing there, waiting for me.
March 31, 2014
A VG Serial: Hills of Eden
I wanted to know about her.
“Have you been married to Pat very long?”
“A year. We been married a year now. Almost. Are you married?”
“Not anymore.” I didn’t want to tell her about it, but she leaned forward, her legs drawn up in a bipod, her arms folded across her knees. “Divorced.” I didn’t tell her that my wife had broken me in half, that she had brought another man into our home when I was on tour with an exhibition of my paintings. I couldn’t tell her that I had lain broken and fallow for a year until I had left Colorado and come to the Ozarks just to try and find myself again. I had not been painting very much, but I was healing.
I didn’t know much about Pat MacGuire. He had been neighborly. For six months, I’d been hacking out a place to live, on ten acres I’d bought from an estate. My house was small, comfortable.
“Mr. MacGuire took me to his home—after my folks— died,” she said, in answer to my question about the taciturn man who had plowed my garden. “He thought he ought to have married me, so he did. He—he’s nice to me.”
“What happened to your folks?”
Hollie looked down at her feet. She wore sneakers that were worn at the toes. No socks.
“They were killed. Mr. MacGuire’s son did it. He’s in prison now. His name was Wilbur. He robbed them and killed them with a gun ‘bout five years ago. They used to own the store up on the highway. They didn’t have much money, but Willie thought they did. He got a .22 pistol and shot them to death one night. Mr. MacGuire, he took me in, and then when I got grown, he thought we maybe better get married. Wasn’t his fault his son was bad. He took some of the blame, I guess.”
The lump in my throat wouldn’t go away. I had heard the story, of course. It had been so distant from me then, but now I would remember it every time I went by that little store up the road.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“It’s all right. It happened some time ago.”
I started tearing off blades of grass to put in the plastic sack where I would put the fish she would take home. I’d fill the sack with creek water to keep them fresh.
I wanted to ask her more about Pat MacGuire, but I didn’t trust myself.
“How come you moved out here?” she asked me as I was taking the fish off the string.
“There was gallery over by Eureka Springs that showed my paintings. They told me about the country here. I just wanted a place that was quiet, secluded. So I could paint.”
“Mr. MacGuire said you was a painter. What do you paint?”
“I’d like to see them sometime.”
“Okay.” I wanted her to see them right away. I wanted to sit her down in the room I was making into a studio and start sketching her face, searching for that elusive core beneath the surface that would reveal her inner life. I wanted to just look at her and listen to her talk. In her speech I heard music, rippling guitars, dulcimers, keening rivers and the wind whicking over stones and whispering through hay fields, rustling in graceful stands of corn.
“I have to get back now,” she said, getting up. “Mr. MacGuire will want his supper. I’ll cook the fish and make berry muffins. I’d ask you over, but it’s not my place to offer.”
“I understand,” I said. I didn’t want her to go. For a moment she stood there and I thought it would be easy to just kiss her. I handed her the sack of fish, pulled the knapsack over my shoulder.
We said goodbye on the road.
She waved again when she turned up the lane to her place. She held up the plastic sack of fish for me to see. Impulsively, I blew her a kiss. It seemed to me that she stiffened for a moment, but I could be wrong. It might have been a trick of the light, although I had trained myself to notice such things. I was a fair painter.
I went back through the Griffin field many times after that. I never saw Hollie picking berries again. I saw only crows, blackbirds, jays. A rabbit or two. Once, a covey of quail burst from the berry thicket and the silence afterwards reminded me of her somehow.
One evening, I strolled over to see Pat MacGuire. Hollie was standing on the porch, looking down the lane. I watched her for a long time as I unlatched the gate and walked up to the house. Before I got there, however, she went inside. Pat came out and talked to me. He was polite, gruff. His pipe tobacco smelled stale. He never invited me in. He thanked me for the fish I had given Hollie some three months before. He said he’d like to go fishing with me sometime.
“This is from my garden, Pat.” I handed him a sack of zucchini, bell peppers and tomatoes grown from ground he had plowed. He took the sack and thanked me. Debt paid.
When I got to the gate, I looked back. The porch was deserted.
I never saw Hollie again. But I always think of her as standing on that porch, waiting for me. Maybe I’m reading it all wrong, but that’s what I think. I have already painted her standing on that porch, just before dusk settles on the land. I stare at the painting and wonder if it will come alive. I stare at the images there and see Hollie, standing there, waiting for me.
She is all alone in the portrait. Just waiting.
Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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