How She Fell by Terry O’Shaughnessy

             It will be death by lightning and quick.

Mist descends on two men in a field. There is silence and the promise of a storm. One of the men is a farmer, the second, not a man at all, only a boy with a face that is pure milk under shining black wings of hair.

            Some distance from the field is the woman. She peels carrots in the kitchen, roasts beef, boils water for tea. She presses, smoothes, presses again the woolen sweater cuffs at her wrists, praying the farmer’s dinner will be on time. Hot enough. Cool enough. Not a minute too early, or too late.

In the field, the farmer shouts at the trembling boy to dig harder, better–to lift his spade higher as the storm gathers—to cut deeply into the soft brown peat that fleshes the land’s bony skeleton of rock.

In the woman’s pocket, a newspaper clipping crinkles and she holds the palm of her hand against it to still its sparrow’s rustle. It says: “The Bones of St. Theresa Arrive on Irish Soil,” and she has read it a hundred times. She will go tomorrow on the bus and pray for a miracle, or mercy, an intervention—or anything. She can hear the nearby sea, its wet martyred sigh, its cries of seals, and carries her spade to the vegetable garden, one anxious eye on the dinner, waiting for them.

Here is what happens.

            In the garden, the woman digs potatoes and onions, collects parsley.

In the field, the boy is like a saint carved in stone as an angry hand of lightning clenches and releases at the air all around him.

In the garden, the woman dreams of how she will wear her finest blouse tomorrow, its pale linen the exact shade of summer hail.

In the field, the farmer closes his hard eyes to bear the event he must witness.

            Of all the stories told in the town, it’s the one usually told last. Listeners lean forward to better hear how the boy was surely carried home in rain that fell like nails. How the dinner was burned, the tea cold and her reaction too terrible to watch. How the long years after collapsed in upon each other like rotten boards.

            But what happened was simply this.

The rain starts and the farmer and the boy trudge home in mud and silence in air that smells sweetly burnt. The woman’s place at the table is empty.

The boy lifts the latch to call out to her, a shining wing of hair falling mercifully over his eyes, though not nearly enough.

She is lying there. The trail of her, of how she fell, can be read on the stone wall behind her where long grey strands of hair are caught in blackberry thorns like the tufts of wool left by passing lambs.

The boy lifts his fingertips to stone, holds his palms against it, and closes his eyes, reading it like Braille in the stately rain.

 

Terry O’Shaughnessy is a Hudson-based writer, gardener, and kayaker who is editor of Your Local Journal newspaper and a blogger with the Montreal Gazette’s West Island Edition.

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