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Fiddleheads by Lorette C. Luzajic




Every morning, at dawn’s first flicker in the near dark, the small girl watched the thin man descend the steep and stony incline of the hill. He filled his flask with water from the spring, drank deeply, and tipped it over his face, then filled it again. She didn’t know if he saw her there all those years or if he thought he was alone.

The thin man’s bones jutted pointedly through the grungy dungarees, and his skin was as pale and moldy as cheese. Even in the grim gray shroud of morning she could see his teeth were rickety and jagged. She followed him back up the hill as far as she could from her curtained window perch. The wooden way his feet splayed to either side as he climbed reminded her of stick insects, or a daddy longlegs spider.

  At the other end of the day, when the stars started rushing through the slate dark sky, she opened the screen to let the night in. If the world was still enough or the winds were blowing right, they brought down sounds of bluegrass from the steep. She fell into dreams at the medley of the fiddle, and his mournful falsetto, as beautiful as any bird soaring inland from the distant sea. 

  Once she had shared her heart for the hermit, an error she wouldn’t make twice. After a moving message on the Beatitudes one Sunday sermon, she’d knelt in the humid alcove at the back of the chapel and pressed a few meagre coins into the prayer box. Solemnly put flame to wick and lit a candle for the thin man’s soul. Why that was nice, said Mother, and the small girl opened to that rare warmth and blurted out that her prayer was for the hermit on the hill.

  The girl knew from the stories all around how no one had spoken to the thin man in her lifetime. This was the most heartbreaking thing she knew, cutting even deeper than the still small grave in the garden, the sick sister she’d come after. It made her even more sad than the Blessed Mary cradling her grown gone boy across her lap.

For goodness sakes, child, Mother huffed, save your pennies. The man on the hill does not want your piety. But the girl knew different. She heard his midnight hymns, felt them cutting her open the way his scrawny leg bones edged against their denim.

She didn’t say so. Her pity, or was it love, had escaped her natural guard, and it wouldn’t happen again.

 

One afternoon, the small girl found herself deep in the hollow, having chased after a rascally baby goat in vain. She lost her way, although her only distress was for the lost creature. She knew eventually the smoke from dinner’s hearth would lead her in the direction of home. She paused when she came on a brook, cupped her hands to quench her thirst, then turned, knowing it was the same spring that she could simply follow home upstream.

When she raised herself from the cool water, she saw the thin man in the clearing, walking towards her in a misty mirage, his arms around the baby goat like the good shepherd’s, and the goat bleating with such calm comfort as a purring cat.

  The man set the baby goat down and broke into a wide grin when he saw how it ran towards her. His one eye was like a milk glass marble, and his ribs and clavicle were concave hollows. Thank you, Mister, she spoke, nodding and smiling, scooping low to greet the prodigal goat.  The man watched her kissing her little friend and she watched him back.

I am Greta, she said finally, holding the critter skillfully in one arm and extending the hand of the other. He shrunk back into the mist. It’s okay, she said, and then said it again. She felt something like courage inside her, a solid certainty at her core. I am Greta, she said again. And then, more: I am like you, because I also love music.

He stood stricken, grin turned to grimace, all those awkward bones with nowhere to hide. Tears sprang into the sockets of his face. He squeezed his eyes shut, shook his bony head from side to side, and the drops scattered into the darkening loam around them. 

The small girl nodded, kept holding out one hand, but she did not threaten him by moving towards him. The few sweltering curls he had left were ash white and sticky against his scalp. She had the same ringlets he did, but hers were fiery and silk. He was as jittery as the power towers they passed once or twice a year on those rare trips into town. She could feel his nerves humming at the same speed.

  After a long quiet, the wild man dashed awkwardly towards her in a moment. She wasn’t frightened at all. She nodded again to assure him, to welcome him, to invite him into her circle. He raised his skinny paw, and again he looked like Christ in all those paintings, wan and wounded and wise, elongated fingertips tipped almost elegantly into a mudra. The goat was still purring. The man’s hand stole fleetingly through the curls in her hair. A wail rose out of him, something born of both wonder and pain, and he drew back then, far, far back into the trees.

The small girl waved after the thin man. It’s okay, she called again, even knowing he was not coming back again, even knowing she would not see him again where he would see her too. She thanked him for bringing Bella back to her, then turned homeward, filling her smock with fiddleheads in the falling light all along the way. 

תגובות


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