The wind was blowing fast, it felt like nothing could stop its rush. The ragged wooden carriage slowly ground to a stop, it’s metal wheels grinding their axles, and the tall black horse’s breath was whisked away as it gruffly exhaled, worn from its final day of pulling. The husband looked down at his sextant and grinned, glancing upwards to thank the stars for safe guidance. Their longitude and latitude coordinates had been moving slowly closer to the coordinates written in the grant for the better part of two months now, and they finally matched perfectly. He opened the curtain that shielded the main cabin of the carriage, and whispered the news to his sleeping wife. She opened one eye, pointing it at him, and gave him a wry grin. It hadn’t been such a bad journey after all.
The husband stepped down from the driving seat and walked around the carriage. He reached for his wife’s hand as she picked up the hem of her skirt and stepped towards the open back. She suddenly jumped off the trunk bed, inflating the skirt around her, and he caught her, moving her back against the woodwork, hugging her firmly with his head nestled in her neck. She felt as if the embrace would last forever.
The husband returned to planning the house late the next morning. The night had been long. He smoothed out on the ground the blueprint he had been working on in the halts between the days of driving, flattening out the in-turned edges with his palms. He had estimated sixty trees timbered, thirty days till erection. It was May, he had time before winter.
The man walked around from noon till dusk, scouting for the best spot for the foundation. The land granter who he had signed the papers with told him to look for a place in the sun, with easy drainage for the rain.
The wife asked her husband if he had found a suitable setting upon his return to the campsite, as she dealt him a piping hot meal with some of their last potatoes and a beet. He told her there looked to be a suitable location about a thousand feet up a nearby hill. Forty feet to a spring, with a virgin view of the forested valley north of their campsite.
As the husband was about finishing thatching the shingles to their new home, he saw his wife running up to him, getting pushed back down the mountain by the wind. She scrambled from a stump up onto the roof. He could faintly hear her heart flittering like a hummingbird as she whispered into his ear that she had been feeling kicks on the inside of her previously tiny midsection for the past week. When she told him she was sure, he almost fell off the roof.
From the top of the hill, the smoke coming out of the house could be seen rising up slowly into the gray sky. Light could barely be seen leaking through the house’s tiny windows, covered in hide as they were. Snow thinly covered the ground, little flecks of dirt still shown through where the husband had forayed to cut more firewood. The wife held her newborn son in her arms, soaking up the warmth from the hearth. Her husband pulled on his pipe and read aloud from his tattered copy of Robinson Crusoe, the one book that had made the trip from the coast. His father had given it to him as a parting gift the last time they had seen eachother before moving out west, in his childhood home in Annapolis. The man’s wife knew the story word by word, but she loved hearing the husband’s voice as he read, and smiled when he told her how Crusoe was saved from a life alone on the cold, scary island.
The clouds were carried across the azure sky in a blur, changing in front of the child’s eyes. He was walking back towards the house after a day foraging for food and playing in the woods. He saw his younger brother running down the path from his home. The brother jeeringly yelled to him to hurry, his parents were already at the table, waiting until he arrived to eat lunch. The child was famished. He started jogging until the house came into view, and ducked inside to eat. Today though, his mother suggested that they eat food outside, on a bench her child had just finished building the past week. The bench was a big deal, as it was the child’s first major contribution to the house. They all brought their dishes out to the log, and ate the good food in near silence. The trees rustled and a thrush called out in the distance.
One night, the mother was startled awake by a scream. She bolted upright to see a porcupine dashing out the door, followed closely by her eldest son, beet red in the face and with several quills embedded into his behind.
She was crying of laughter as he shamefully told her and his father that he had been woken up to the creature nestled in the bed with him, nibbling at his ear. Bedding with porcupines is not the best idea, she told him.
Before the weather got too cold, the younger son had suggested they go for a picnic by a nearby lake, a five mile hike north. The father was adamant that he had too much grain to harvest, before it would spoil with the first frost, but a gleam in his son’s eyes convinced him otherwise. They packed wild damson pies, roast duck with potatoes, and their second to last bottle of mint wine they had traded for during the summer past. They had chosen a flat spot on top of a sloped meadow leading down to the rocky shore of the wild blue lake. There were tiny cirrus clouds in the sky, and the sun was warm. The younger son had decided that it was, in fact, still warm enough to go for a swim and rushed to the lake after finishing his lunch, but on his way there had tripped and tumbled down the green hill towards the lake. The husband had thrown his head back in laughter and rolled on after to join him, followed closely by his wife and other son. The walk back was cold, but they didn’t mind much.
The pale moon shone unhindered by the shadow of the earth over the house. It was late spring and the younger child was lying in the dirt without his jacket, thinking hard, staring up at the milky way. He was working up the courage to steal his parents’ old horse to go see a girl. The past Sunday had been Easter, and he had seen her from across the single room school house in the town, which had been turned into a church for the occasion. He had convinced her to ditch service, and they talked about how much they hated the frontier life, and how envious they were of the city boy who had come in with the traveling preacher, and how annoying their parents were. He told her he would visit her that night, his urges towards her were unlike anything he had ever felt. He hitched up his parent’s horse and shakily climbed on, and rode off into the night.
The wife hadn’t stopped crying in a week now. She had found her son’s body the night after he had disappeared with the horse. A fox had eaten into his arm and she had seen a bug crawling along the surface of his eye. The husband was shocked that God had done this to them. What had he done to deserve a dead son, and what human deserved only fifteen years of life? It felt like no time at all.
The house no longer radiated a happy feeling. The father kept his head down while working in the fields now, concentrating on the till. The house had a leaky shingle where the last winter’s ice had crept into the house, and a bucket had been put on the floor to catch the water as it fell. The summer felt long, and sweltering, and the remaining son studied his schoolwork hard.
From the room that the son had added onto the house the previous fall, the sounds of a piece of slate being written on and erased were clearly heard. The son had to make a choice. Should he carry on the farm, staying with his mother and father, or leave, walking into the city to seek his fortune? The house hadn’t really been the same for the past five years, but his parents were starting to shoot smiles at each other again when the other entered the room. He knew he could always come back, and his parents would accept him back into their home.
The mother greeted the courier with a beaming smile, a letter had come from her child. She rushed out into the fields to read the letter with her husband. He had written the following:
Dear beloved mother and father,
I hope this letter reaches you well. I have leased an apartment in Chicago, and am gainfully employed as a clerk. If you would ever like to visit, I can easily fit both of you in the new brick house I have just signed a lease on. I am to marry a woman who I am sure you would both take to warmly, and I would love if you two would come up for the wedding. It is scheduled for later this fall.
It was a clear day, and the husband asked his wife if she desired to go to his son. She replied, they should go in the fall, before it gets cold.
One stormy night, right before the fall began, an autumn storm ravaged the valley. Their house groaned and creaked, and the wife shakily asked the husband, “Is there anything that can shield us from the lightning?” He calmly explained to her how the lightning should not worry them as they were, but she still clung to him tightly. They both jumped at the sound of a great crash, and the storm suddenly got much louder. They looked to where their son’s room had stood, and could see a giant oak tree in it’s place. The husband buried his head in his hands and might have let out a scream, but for the fact that he needed to maintain confidence for his wife.
The mother thought about writing to her son, but the courier had stopped coming around as often, as they hadn’t had mail in almost six months. She didn’t have much to write about, she just wanted to hear how his life was proceeding. The past years had passed quickly, the snow melting, trees blossoming and dying, and before she knew it snow was on the ground again. She thought about the days in the sun with her husband and the children, the picnic they had taken out to the lake where they had rolled down the hill, and the porcupine incident.
The husband hugged his wife as they huddled under every blanket they had. This was the worst winter he could remember and they were cold, very cold. They talked of small things, what they would plant the next spring and if they would try to set out traps to get some fresh meat the next day. The wife sighed, and said that she was tired. The husband kissed his wife on the head as she nestled into the familiar crook of his warm neck.
The widower sank into his chair, the chair he always sat in, and stirred the pot over the hearth with a long iron spoon. All was quiet as he thought about times past. His breath grew ragged and he took a final puff on his old, gnawed pipe. A small plume of smoke came out of his mouth and diffused back into the air, the fire that gave it form holding no power any longer.
The vine that had been growing over the back-side of the house had crept into the living room. It worked around the base of the old rocking chair and over the hearth. Grass was growing on the path to the overgrown fields, but the house watched over all of this diligently.
As the sun was setting over the back of the mountain, the last standing wall of the house slowly sagged over and fell into the wet ground below it. The trees sang mightily with the sound of the wind and the rain pattered onto the leaves.