Wednesday, July 18, 2018

                                       A Family Affair

Within our little Island hamlet, there was much mingling amongst the citizenry.  Most everyone had known one another since birth, and their parents the same.  Privacy had a muddled definition in such a slight world.  For there was a tangle of friendship and family and romance and work, neighbours and cousins, and the young with the old, that had spread through these farms for generations.   Most often marriage was slid into through convenience, and the romance of the deal was mostly a lucky afterthought.   The family names shifting around with marriages, intertwined with a complicated intricacy, the layers of family becoming a language of their own.  It was known early on which of the youngsters would be suitable for one another and slight motherly manipulations would steer those with closer kin away from one another.  A rather delicate, and sometimes awkward, undulation.   

Sally Green was seventeen when she married Lloyd MacNeil.  She couldn't really remember that there was ever much of a romance between them.  There was excitement at the start of it, the thrill of feeling his eyes on her, and the curiosity of his touch.  She had always thought Lloyd a kind and easy sort of fellow, so it wasn’t difficult to spend time with him, to feel his arm around her waist, and to eventually think of him becoming her husband.  And there was a certain allure at the thought of a pretty summer wedding.  But that was almost ten years ago now.  Their’s was a little shingled farmhouse that sat at the end of a long red lane and the work of a farm and babies who had grown into young children,  a boy and a girl.  The marriage wasn't unhappy, but there was little wonder in it either, no delight.  They didn't share their desires or find things to laugh about or dream about.  They worked hard, as was the only way to get by, side by side, but without glances and smiles and intimacies that would make the humdrum moments gladden and sing. Their home was safe and solid and dreary.   They worked hard and loved their children.  And although theirs was not a marriage that fed Sally’s heart,  there had never been a thought that anything should be different.   

Sally was petite and very close to pretty, with a happy and sparkling spirit.   She was very unlike the other married women around her.  She had a youthful, daring way about her.   She wore her hair loose and falling to her shoulders like a young girl, and often chose trousers and a button up shirt instead of the standard housedress and apron.  She was full of stories and laughter and could easily have a fit of giggles shaking the table and spilling the tea with her spell of silliness, laughing until tears poured from her eyes.  Her laughter could fill a room and bring everyone into the joke.  The children always knew there were fun times on the horizon when their cousin Sally walked through the door.  And she visited often.  She’d swing in with a bottle of preserves or a bundle of flowers from her flower bed or a bit of pretty fabric she thought might be nice for a collar to freshen up a dress or come just to tell some gossip she’d heard at the corner.  She would drop around after the dinner dishes were washed up and before supper was begun, to have a bit of tea and share a few stories from up the road.  She’d give the little ones a tickle and then be on her way.  Even with  her own work to be done,  she always found a little escape whenever she could.  

It was an afternoon in midsummer, with the crackling sort of heat that can’t be escaped, a heat that only a long string of hot sunny July days can bake into a day.  The sort of heat that changes one.  Lloyd had taken the truck into town to sell the eggs.  And Sally had decided to walk down to the store hoping to chase away her restlessness and find cornflower blue silk thread for a dress she was working on.  The clay of the roads was powdered and dry from the heat, so that the dust would lift in smoky little puffs around her ankles with each step.  It was the sort of heat that silenced the birds and scorched the grasses and the flowers that tangled together in the ditches and the fields, so there was a green, baked honey scent that rose into the air.  The only sound to brush against her steps was the buzz of insects in the grass that followed her down the road.   And when she reached the corner, there was a thin glistening on her face and arms, and damp curls around her face and neck.  

The store was surprisingly cool when she walked in, shaded and still, with the familiar scent of flour and tobacco mixed with the metallic tinny flavour that hung within the walls all year round.  Creaky floors and the bell on the door brought the storekeeper in from the back.  Arnold Yeo was chatty and jolly, and he always had the stub of a cigar alight, surrounding him in a little cloud of pungent smoke.   She found her thread, chatted with Arnold, asked after Reta his wife, and was turning to leave, when Myron Green walked in, after a bag of nails and a tin of snuff.  Myron was a compact, muscley man, quiet, with a bright sense of humour.  He didn't often have much to say, but when he did, you were sorry if you missed it.  He was Sally’s favourite of her cousins.  

Sally waited to walk out with him, asking if he was entering any livestock in the exhibition coming up in a few weeks.   They chatted about their farms and the weather and he offered her a drive home to escape the heat.  

When Sally climbed into the old Ford truck, Myron told her he was  driving over to Rocky Point on an errand and stopping in at Meadowbank to pick up a piece of equipment from his uncle.  He’d drop her at home first, or, if she’d like, she could come along for the ride to the shore.  And a drive to the shore on a day as hot as this one, was not to be turned down.  Sally’s mother was at her place for the afternoon with her children, so she happily took this opportunity.  There was something frisky and fun and a little exciting about this impromptu, and even secret,  little drive that no-one at home knew anything about.  

The air grew saltier and softer as they approached the south shore of the Island.  They drove with the windows turned down low and the heavy salty air breezed through the truck.   Myron made his stops and then wondered if she’d like to find a bit of beach before they headed back.  A visit to the shore, for these farmer Islanders, would be a rare event.  The work was always waiting, so even a short drive to the edge of the Island with it’s cooler salty air and dramatic bright red sandstone was too frivolous to undertake more than once or twice a summer.   Which made this little afternoon perfectly decadent.  Myron  found a little spot where they could walk through the long grass to the sand, that wasn't too far off the road.  Sally stripped off her shoes and socks, tucked up her cotton skirt and dug her toes into the hot red sand.  She danced across the beach where the movement of the tide had corrugated the sand.   And skipped into the cool lapping waves.     At first Myron stood watching her, a little bewildered.  This was something they were both so very unaccustomed to, but Sally’s daring spirit carried her happily into the joy of the waves.   After a minute or two, he slowly decided to roll up his pantlegs and follow suit.  He walked along awkwardly, bare feet on sand, until he reached the far line where the tide had taken the little sea waves.   The sweet combination of scorching heat and the splashing waves, made children of them both. He threw rocks far into the ocean, skipping them across the surface.  Sally laughed and playfully kicked water at him.  The splashing was sprightly and mischievious.  And she found herself reaching for his arm when she was thrown off balance.  After a few times, her hand stayed easily on his arm, feeling the heat of his skin.  Easily, perhaps, but not without a tiny delicious terror.  And when his hand reached under her hair and found the softest tingly dewy skin on the back of her neck, it was like her heart was choking her.  

Once they were back in the truck, the space between them was slick with tension as they drove back towards their lives.  This sudden turn of emotion and the need it created, was unnerving.  The lowered windows and the rush of air did nothing to cool the flush.  When a burst of air rippled her skirt and lifted it up her leg, she ignored it.  But she felt his eyes glance across and his calloused hand reach over with a boldness that was at once so very timid.  They were mostly silent, both lost in their own reverie, both thinking of only one outcome.  Yet all was left unspoken.  

It was weeks later, on an afternoon, when most of the homes of the village were emptied into the church, with the farmers and their wives and children,  cleaned and polished and brushed and ironed.  This was a Sunday that Winnie and the children  had gone off without Edgar, for  he’d stayed at home to keep his eye on an ailing heifer.  She was in the front paddock, but he thought he'd take her some grain from the barn.  He heard them, before he knew what he was hearing.   And when he continued walking into the barn, he saw them. Their own barns would have been much too risky, and assuming everyone would be in church, they thought this would be a spot that they could steal an hour or more of privacy.   They were lost in each other, against the back wall.  Skin and sweat gleaming through a dusty cloud of chaff mixed in the pleasant herby scent of new hay.  A secret and forbidden tryst. They saw nothing in the dim light.  And their own rustling covered any sounds Edgar would have made walking in.  Their Uncle turned away quickly, his back straight and sure, and walked out of his barn, burdened with a secret only he would ever know they shared.