Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write CONTEMPORARY FICTION (10/30/14)
TITLE: Cries in the Wilderness
By Ann Grover
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"Excuse me?" It's Mrs. Telford from the Forest Room, named for its tree-inspired quilts and woodsy trappings. "May I have a glass of juice, please?"
"Of course!" I fetch juice for her, plus several digestive biscuits. Her husband is out fishing, and so she sits with me, passing the time, telling me about her roses and her childhood in Vancouver. It's what I'm here for. Making beds. Washing towels. Grilling elk steaks. Offering comfort and respite to harried and weary folk at our wilderness lodge home, so remote it's accessible only by plane. It's what people want.
It's what I want.
Mrs. Telford decides to take a walk. I ask her if she'd like to pick some tomatoes and lettuce from the garden for supper, and she wanders off, happy as a clam. I finish my tea just as the dryer chimes. Time to prepare the Lake Room, with its view of the water and decorated with a fishing motif, for guests arriving today.
The next morning, Samantha Rogers, the new guest, joins me on the sundeck. She is petite and quiet, with a hunted, haunted look.
"Do you work?" I ask. No.
I must peel vegetables for supper, so I reassure her that she's welcome to relax and enjoy the sunshine, and would she like her coffee warmed up? No, thank you.
I keep an eye on her while I fold napkins and slice cucumbers. She doesn't move, and at times, appears to be sleeping. At lunchtime, she picks at her salad, then disappears in the afternoon while her husband hikes with the other guests. At supper, she doesn't smile when Mr. Telford tells an amusing story from his youth, and she refuses dessert, a particularly good strawberry pie. Her husband's eyes are shadowed. They hold hands under the table.
On the fourth morning, Samantha joins me again on the sundeck. The bruised circles around her eyes are fading, and her eyes are brighter as she gazes out at the lake and woods.
"It's so quiet. I could stay here forever."
I know the feeling.
"I'm sorry. I've been very rude to you," she goes on.
I tell her it's fine. I’m just the means for our guests' comfort and well-being, not companionship and entertainment. That's my husband's job, taking them fishing or hiking or riding, sharing wood lore and survivor skills with them.
"Do you have children?" she finally asks.
"Four. Three daughters and a son."
In a manner of speaking, yes. "Yes. And how about you?"
"One of each." Her eyes darken into pools of misery. "Sort of."
My heart starts to pound, and I swallow the stone rising in my throat. "When did you know?"
She takes so long to answer I am afraid she is sinking back into despondency. "I think I always knew. He was always different, you know?"
Yes, I do know. Little signs that make sense in retrospect, but at the time, in ignorance and denial, I did not, would not, acknowledge them. Giving flight to the thoughts would have granted strength and substance to the searing, terrible, heartbreaking truth.
"He told us five months ago. I really fell apart."
I had to quit my job. Lost thirty pounds. Almost divorced. Then, we bought this out-of-the-way, in the back-of-beyond lodge, hoping to piece our hearts and life back together. Listen to the wind's sighing lament in the timber. Watch the deer. Heal.
"I'm so sorry. Here I am, dumping my garbage on a perfect stranger." Her lips tremble.
I tell her it's fine, and that I'm not perfect at all, believe me. Her eyes catch mine, and I see she does believe me, that she knows we share this unspeakable burden, one that is often cast onto the backs of mothers, who must surely be the ones responsible for sons who choose dolls and baking and ballet, and finally, other boys.
Together, we watch the waves gently caressing the lake shore, sifting the sand, until nothing remains but unbroken smoothness.
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