Friday, May 4, 2018

Alva and Leith

To walk up the steep and narrow back stairs behind the kitchen, in the earliest part of summer, was to climb into a crush of air, warmed and scented with spring.  At the top of the stairs, a small window, with bubbles and one badly cracked pane, floated even with the trees.  The leaves young and tiny,  sprightly and uncertain, and still friendly with the sun still felt new and rare, and so she took an extra moment to notice them, watch a little as she moved past, and inhale it all.  The air was green scented and new, with just the slightest blossomy sweetness. This was an introduction for her, the first taste of summer in this, her marriage home.

She had changed the thicker winter curtains, just a few days before.  The curtains that blocked the squeals of wind and the layer of crusty ice that often coated the window panes, and even the miniature drifts of snow that would sneak in and onto the sills.  But those curtains had been aired on the line and were found folded on a shelf in the attic. And in their place,  thin breezy white curtains now moved at the long narrow windows.   

Sun had spread strong across this day, hot enough to warm the little road that lead through the two side meadows to the house.   I'm not sure we can rightly call it her house  yet for it hadn't even slightly detached from her husband’s parents. But with the passing of nearly six months, Alva had begun to settle in here, learning the chores and routines, and every day she fastened herself to a little more of it.  And this day, with her arms full of fresh, sunscented bedding, she noted that this may be the prettiest time of year for these upstairs rooms.  The bedrooms seemed to have been built for days like this, situated perfectly to soak up the pure country light.  Their sharply sloped ceilings, inclined at an angle so dramatic, that she smiled while she watched the light bend across the painted plank floors.  Pink bounced in from the fields, and glowed in it’s own peculiar earthy way as it rippled through those simple white rooms.  She tucked sheets onto beds and felt the muslin curtain bulge with little breaths of breeze, brushing against the back of her leg, and then tuck back in against the screening.  

Alva had married Leith at Christmas in a simple little snowy service.  With winter already in a rage, her parents had not made the frigid trip from Tignish.  And, it seemed that the solemn little affair that was her wedding, had locked her away from her family.  And from her family’s secrets, secrets she barely knew the outer fold of.  Her family was from far up west and they had sent her the summer before to pass the warm months with her mother’s cousin in Crapaud.  Her parents had hoped to remove her from a certain situation that was causing whispers and unkind chattering focussed on their family, specifically her brother Harold.  Alva, although she knew bits of the scandalous story, didn’t know the entirety of the shame she was being so expertly sheltered from.   And so her devoted young husband, along with his somber, hard working parents who’s home she now shared, knew nothing of the disgrace that hovered thinly above their heads.  

The story was not an overnight scandal, but had taken time to ripen.   Harold had always been a rowdy sort, a bit of a rabble rouser, but never anything but a good natured and kind brother to Alva.  However his latest stunt was more than just a spot of trouble.   For he’d found himself involved with a married woman who was several years his senior.   This woman was beautiful, with a restless, dreamy air surrounding her.  And eyes that had a faraway stare in them.  They suited one another, Harold and Iris, and they carried on together for some time, in secret.  But the horror was made quite public,  when it was learned that the pair of them had run off, under cover of night, making their way off the Island and South to the States.  And the most odious detail:  this exodus was not before a child had been born, a son who Iris tried to pass off to her husband as his own progeny.  It wasn't until her disappearance that the man she’d married almost a decade before, realized the deception.  When he stood at Alva’s parent’s door early in the morning following the couple’s disappearance, he had the baby bundled in his arms.  And when he withdrew a short time later to return to his farm, his arms were empty.  

All of these dark twists of the heart had taken place after Alva had been sent away to summer with cousins, sent away to keep her innocence in tact.    And much of it happened after her quiet little wedding to Leith. She only held a suspicion that Harold was keeping company with someone her parents found unseemly.  And so it had been just that chaste little particular that she shared with Leith in whispers.

This day that was spreading summer, in all it’s flowered loveliness, across the hillside farm she was learning to love, took a grave lurch when she saw the storekeeper Arnold Yeo turn in the lane.   It was the middle of the day and an odd time for him to be away from the store.  And, instead of walking the short piece from the store, he was in his car.  He stepped from the car just as her husband appeared from around the barn.  Arnold gave her a long and haunting look as she stood in the kitchen doorway, and he walked off with Leith toward the barnyard.  She could see their faces.  She saw Leith suddenly lean against a fencepost.  After just a few minutes, Arnold walked back to his car, nodded to her with a sad and gentle smile, and drove back up the road.  

And so Leith and Alva’s first child, although born to another, settled into her arms that same week.  There was a swaddling of tragedy and love, of sadness and scandal in this little bundle.  For the news that Arnold Yeo brought from the telephone at the store, was that Alva’s mother had not survived their family ordeal.  The layers of shame had pierced so deeply, her heart must have felt the blade, for the baby was left with her but two days when she was found in her bed, grey and lifeless.   And Alva’s father, desperate and grieving, buried his wife and the next day brought this grandchild to it’s young aunt to be raised.   And although a difficult request for a young couple, married but half a year, they welcomed the baby and loved him and named him Ralphie, and before too many years, gave him a houseful of cousin siblings.