When the howling wind blows the cornstalks sideways and the air fills with the smell of ripe apples, Hazel brings up the conversation again. It’s not because she wants to fight, she doesn’t like conflict, but rather it has more to do with the way the leaves have lost their color and become crispy. It’s about acorns and pumpkins. Scarecrows and golden sunlight. Autumn makes her thoughtful.
“We could at least try it, Clyde. Don’t you trust our connection? I know we’d find each other again. I just know it.”
Turning away from the gaze of Hazel’s round, copper eyes, Clyde watches a flock of geese fly through a patch of fluffy white clouds and feels himself lifting off the ground to join them. He knows she’s never going to give up this notion of moving on, but he’s content where they are. What more could there be to discover? Adjusting his yellow bow tie he gives her his best smile and slips his arm around her corseted waist, pulling her toward him.
“Let’s talk about it later. Right now, let’s dance.”
“No, I don’t want to talk about it later. I want to talk about it now!”
Pushing back a bit too hard, Hazel floats across the field swept up in a swirling mass of orange and yellow leaves. She lets herself drift in circles until the wind deposits her beside the towering ancient oak leaning almost as far left as the slanted old barn. Clyde follows with his hands tucked into the pockets of his fine linen pants while chewing softly on the side of his cheek. He hates when she’s like this.
A pair of yellow-billed magpies hop from their nest as Hazel circles the tree looking for the carved heart of their youth. It’s below a dark, black knot and clear as ever since Clyde carved it deep into the hardwood. Tracing the C and H with her finger she feels tears forming in her eyes, but knows they will never fully form. Ghosts can’t cry.
“I want to carve something. I want to feel something solid in my hands again. I want to make mistakes, to hurt…to cry. I want to be…alive. Or something other than this…”
Clyde’s heard this before and hates how sad it makes Hazel, but he doesn’t want any of those things. To possibly struggle again feels pointless and frankly scary. They are happy living on these lands, watching the seasons pass through, and dancing together. There’s nothing else he wants or desires. He wishes it could be enough for her. He wishes he could be enough for her.
Taking a step closer, he wills the love inside his body to radiate from him. He imagines it as strands of wispy threads weaving between them, gently binding, creating security and loving warmth. If only he could create enough strands to make her stop bringing this up and simply be content in his arms. He starts to speak, low and soft.
“Remember the winter when we found the den of baby foxes. We watched them grow from being unable to lift their heads to frolicking in the fresh powdery snow, chasing and barking at each other. Your golden hair glistened with tiny perfect snowflakes and you looked like an angel…”
Reaching out to touch her, Hazel slaps his hand away. It makes a terribly loud whooshing sound startling several squirrels who run up the tree, flicking their bushy tails while squeaking and barking with frenzied panic. Although animals can’t see them, most can sense them. Hazel frowns.
“Stop it, Clyde. This has nothing to do with not loving our life here together and everything to do with being alive. That very same winter we watched helplessly as a baby deer lost its mother and froze to death. We tried so hard to help, but we couldn’t do a damn thing. We aren’t anything here. We are stuck and we feel nothing. Nothing!”
“That’s not true! We can feel things. We are alive to each other. I can feel you in my arms and kiss you with my lips. Why must you always wish for something more? Our life together is magic. It’s a gift! Why can’t you see that?”
Hazel doesn’t answer, but instead circles up into the sky as high as she can until she reaches the border wall of thick cold air. They are prisoners here in this place, locked within the boundaries of these lands, and although Clyde doesn’t seem to mind, she does. Her heart wants more. Craves more. It has nothing to do with the love between them and everything to do with wanting to know if this is all there is.
Pressing her palms softly against the wall of air Hazel can feel the thrumming heartbeat on the other side. Life lies beyond this and all she has to do is slip through the cracks. The golden light calls to her. It always does. It has to mean something.
Clyde’s beside her now his hands outstretched toward hers. There’s pain behind his blue eyes and she knows he doesn’t understand. They’ve had this fight hundreds, if not thousands, of times. He wants the here and now—the them that is guaranteed. She wants to know what else there is.
“Hazel…let’s go to the shimmering river and dance with the dragonflies. We’ll kick at the water with our toes until the moon comes out to yell at us. Please, Hazel? Come with me.”
He extends his hands again and Hazel can see the desperate love there—a kind of longing she used to crave but now finds suffocating. Her hands ball into fists and her cheeks burn.
“Why can’t you see this isn’t about you? Not everything is about you! I’m tired of you!”
Her voice comes out as an angry slip of misty words, almost a violent hiss. Clyde says nothing but she can see the pain light up as if she’d thrown a match in his face. She watches it twist and burn across his soft features until she can’t take it anymore. Tumbling away from him she curses the autumn. Why must it stir her up so? Why must it come between them like this? Why does the light call to her and not him?
Landing in the overgrown apple orchard, she looks around for Clyde but doesn’t see him. After nearly 100 years together, she understands when the line has been crossed and decides he needs space. Lifting the left side of her long blue skirt, she walks ladylike around the property weaving from one dusty path to the next. Several large crows call to her and she wonders, not for the first time, if perhaps they can see her.
Without intending to, Hazel finds herself at the scarecrow in the center of the farm. It grins at her with jagged metal teeth and large black button eyes. There are lumpy dark brown mushrooms growing in the folds of its neck and a wooden heart with sprockets and gears peeking out from a tattered, plaid wool jacket. She fears this not-real man created by some strange farmer a few years back and stares wide-eyed at its chest, frightened that it will begin ticking at any moment. She decides it’s the right place to sit when you feel bad about hurting the person you love. It’s a place of punishment.
A tiny field mouse inches forward to scrounge through rotting corn cobs for any edible morsels, its wee nose twitching as it keeps an eye out for danger. Such a helpless thing in a big field full of owls, foxes, snakes, hawks, and cats. Any second it could be ousted or eaten and yet it continues to try anyway. It wants to live.
Closing her eyes, Hazel thinks about how much she was like this mouse as a child. Scurrying around trying to hide and survive in a world where big things were always trying to hurt her. It was Clyde who saved her and broke her free. It’s always been, Clyde.
She’d run away from home after receiving yet another “hard lesson” from her father, which in this instance looked like hitting her with a leather belt 15 times across her bare back while her mother watched. It wasn’t really about anything she’d done, because she didn’t break any rules, but rather a way to punish her mother for looking at a man on the road home from church. Hazel’s mother never showed any emotion in her bloodshot pale eyes but it didn’t matter. He hit them both anyway.
Hazel endured it as best she could, gritting her teeth and trying to imagine herself flying away, and as soon as he finished she ran through the forest behind her house to cry alone at the river. Clyde found her. With his bright, curly red hair and intense blue eyes. Hazel thought he was a fairy and blurted it out. He didn’t laugh. Instead, he sat beside her and searched through the rocks until he found a smooth, black stone. He handed it to her and spoke softly while staring at the water.
“Are you okay?”
Others had said those three words to her before; teachers at school, the pastor at church, and kids at the park. It wasn’t the words so much as the way he said them. No pity. No blame. He wanted the truth and she gave it to him. All of it. When she finished he took her hand.
“It’s going to be okay.”
She followed him home, an apothecary shop in the middle of town with towering shelves of multicolored bottles. There were too many smells to distinguish them all, but she found the mix of them pleasant. His dad gave her medicine to calm her, numbed the skin, and patched up her wounds. Clyde held her hand the entire time and insisted she move in with them.
“I’m only 15. There’s no way I can just not go home.”
“Stay and see. Maybe it will be okay.”
It was. Nobody came looking for Hazel. A few years later Clyde proposed and they bought a farm in the middle of the woods—their sanctuary. They danced, had a family, and farmed the land selling pumpkins in the fall, pine wreaths in the winter, and flower bouquets the rest of the year. It was a happy life. A long life. A good life.
Opening her eyes she finds Clyde sitting beside her with his hands folded in his lap. He’s staring at the ground but when he feels her looking at him he turns and gives her a half-smile. She can see the dimpled face of the boy she met beside the river as well as the wrinkled one who died beside her during the big storm. He’s her everything.
They say it at the same time and giggle. Clyde shakes his head and reaches for her hand. She lets him take it.
“I’ve been wrong to keep us here. You are right. There might be more for us beyond this place. I’m scared of losing you, but I do trust our bond. We will find each other again.”
Hope like a thousand breezy days rushes through Hazel. She feels it as tingly pinpricks of light on her skin, as the fluttering of her long hair in the wind, and as beating inside where her heart long ago stopped. Their life together, alive and after, plays before her eyes as they quietly stare at each other for several minutes. When she speaks her voice comes out as a breathy whisper.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
Clyde stands and pulls her into a warm embrace, their bodies fitting perfectly together as they always have. Dipping her low in his arms he kisses her, and when their lips touch it’s as if all the kisses of 100 years together erupt between them. Crows and ravens for miles feel the vibration and rush into the air filling the darkening sky with their triumphant caws.
“One more dance?”
Rising high into the air, Clyde spins her through the cloudy blue sky. The light shines behind both their eyes, memories flashing as colorful as spring flowers, deep as winter’s darkness, hot as summer’s sun, and as brisk as autumn’s breezes. With a final embrace, they interlock their fingers and press together through the wall of air and into the golden light.
Author’s note: Inspired by the season and recent conversations with my teenage daughter, I present this ghost love story about finding peace with moving on. There’s beauty to be found in all stages of life and all seasons. Our family seems to be in a rough patch and writing this story felt slightly cathartic. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below and have a wonderful week.
Short Story Challenge | Week 41
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story where tumultuous soulmates are on opposing sides of a conflict. We had to include the words apothecary, bow tie, ladylike, sprocket, mushroom, scrounge, frenzy, match, oust, and prisoner.
Write With Us
Prompt: A good reason to be scared of the dark
Include: a killer whale, depraved, janitor, bargain, dye, fool, heap, kick, praise, quilt
My 52-Week Challenge Journey
- What is the 52-week challenge?
- Week 1: The Heart and the Stone
- Week 2: The Biggest Little Gift
- Week 3: It Bearly Fits
- Week 4: The Claire in Clarity
- Week 5: The Family Tree
- Week 6: Through the Glass Windshield
- Week 7: The Final Goodbye
- Week 8: Sunset, Sunrise
- Week 9: Returning Home
- Week 10: The Water
- Week 11: Aw, Phooey!
- Week 12: Meeting Time
- Week 13: The Old Man
- Week 14: Dani and the Queen
- Week 15: The Golden Muse
- Week 16: Honeymoon Treasure Hunt
- Week 17: The Red-Haired Beauty
- Week 18: Playing Games
- Week 19: One Thing
- Week 20: The Child
- Week 21: The Carrot
- Week 22: Apple Stars
- Week 23: Something in the Water
- Week 24: Midnight Wedding Vows
- Week 25: Chocolate Kisses
- Week 26: The Island
- Week 27: Take Me By the Hand
- Week 28: When the Snow Falls
- Week 29: Stitches in the Woods
- Week 30: The Peacock Effect
- Week 31: New Experiences
- Week 32: Blood Moon Messenger
- Week 33: The Masterpiece
- Week 34: The Blackberry Quest
- Week 35: The Broken Shell
- Week 36: The Octopus in the Room
- Week 37: With a Touch of the Tapestry
- Week 38: Meet Me at the Elephant Ears
- Week 39: The Wheels on the Bus
- Week 40: Room 313