Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Time-consuming (02/24/11)
TITLE: On the Far Side of Finished
By Ann Grover
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Time, I say to my sweetheart, give me a little time.
I give you forever, she says and kisses me again, sweetly and sadly.
I’ll build you a mansion, I promise, touching her face, caressing, memorizing.
Nay, a cottage, she says, clasping my hand in hers, our fingers twining, lingering. Just a warm hearth where I can rock our babies. A modest blush pinks her cheeks.
I board the ship, ready to race across the ocean, to a land where it’s said the forests tickle the belly of heaven and the prairie stretches to the horizon.
My love. She disappears as the shore becomes a misty smudge and is swallowed by the sea.
The grandness of the new land impassions, exhilarates me. I’m amazed at my strength as I wield the axe or blade or plough. I hew down trees and haul them to the knoll I’ve claimed for our home, our castle in the wilderness.
I long for you, she writes. Please, let’s not wait longer. A tent will do. I want you.
I am adamant, though, for it is not only the house, but the land must be ploughed, the grain planted, a barn built, countless more trees felled.
Won’t this time apart temper our love, strengthening us for future trials? Build our faith and love even I as build our home? I fear my sweet girl does not understand how long it takes to dig a well or turn sod.
The walls of the house rise; above, the roof settles like a mantle, each shingle carefully split and placed. I haul stones from the river five miles away, meticulously joining each one snugly to its brothers, fashioning a fireplace, a hearth where my wife-to-be will comfort our children, and winter’s grip will be kept away.
I am warmed by the thought and the intensity of my labour.
How are you? my sweetheart writes.
Never better, I reply, surveying the bladelets of grain greening the newly turned field. Glass windows glint in the sunshine, smiling, I fancy, on the efforts of my calloused and often bleeding hands.
From the dawn’s pearly rays to the hovering light of dusk, I sweat and ache, enduring winter storms and summer heat. I dream and long for my sweetheart, but we must persevere.
The first crop fails, crushed by a snowfall in August. I am undaunted, turning my hand to cutting and peeling poles and fence-posts.
Soon? my love inquires.
Yes, I answer, smudging the words with prairie soil. It’s late. It’s always late. My eyes burn and redden from grit and fatigue, and my head drops into my plate of cold biscuits while my tea cools.
I build a corral for a milk cow, a shed for chickens and a pig or two. Laboriously, I hand plane the floors of the house. Just five rooms, but still grander than the dirt-floored soddy of my nearest neighbour. Only the best for my beloved.
Is it time? she asks. Her words are smeared and the letter, even after a three-month journey, is fragrant with lavender.
Almost, I write. Be patient.
The third year’s harvest is bountiful, and the fourth, even better. I finish the barn roof and set my hand to furnishings, whittling spindles for chairs. It’s painstaking and tedious. I caress each polished curve and joint proudly, lovingly. A table gleams beneath a Christmas dinner yet-to-be.
To a howling symphony of winter wind, I design a cradle, a china cupboard, a headboard fit for royalty. Each night, I sweep the shavings into my fire.
Now? she pleads.
Soon. My dearest does not understand these things take time, so much time.
I am weary. Rubbing oil onto a writing desk, I imagine my darling seated at it, reading, or perhaps dipping her pen . . .
My dearest Charles, the letter declares. My heart is heavy . . . my deepest apologies . . . I’d have been content . . . too long . . . I’ve met another . . .
The sun sets beyond a row of fruit trees, their first blossoms littering the ground. My tears fall among them.
Too long, and the days and years and miles have diligently whittled away, leaving shavings, like those I’d swept into the fire. Ashes.
Too long, yet what other way to create a perfect home for my beloved.
Only hindsight is perfect.
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