Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Valentine (05/16/05)
TITLE: Dead Men Don't Write
By Christe McKittrick
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Dead men don’t walk but they do speak.
I heard the news report with disinterest and filed it in the unconscious recess of useless information. I had more important things to thin about -- 3,000 eggs to set this morning and the heater in barn “C”. Frank said it went out sometime last night. In other words, my day was a mess.
The overnight rain still hung heavy, the haze filtering my view down the valley toward the Checuomagen. Living on the edge of a National Forest hand its benefits, predators weren’t one of them. The hole in the netting caught my attention immediately.
“Frank…” I yelled when I saw her, head to one side at an unnatural angle, my prize Chinese fantail. The door flung open scattering pheasants to the corner of the pen. Wood shaving dust rose as I ran, skidding to Marta’s side. She didn’t move.
Raccoons are carnivores and the delicate pheasant never had a chance. I cradled her body as multi-colored feathers lay around my knees. Hot tears dripped on my hands, mixed with blood and fell on the broken eggs she had protected, now cracked open and sucked clean.
Frank scattered shavings as he fell next to me.
“Oh, mom. No… Not Marta. She had just starting laying…”
My eldest, always passionate, like his father, sat heaving; staring at the shards of what had been the basis of our planned expansion, our future.
“I…She…” the sobs stole my very breath. “She was Pappi’s…His last. How could I have been so careless?”
“Momma…it’ll be OK.” I looked deep into green eyes, so like Pappi’s. His lip quivered and I could almost see his heart being crushed like the eggshells clinging to his pant legs.
“No… This was Pappi’s legacy. We hand carried the eggs back from China. Pappi worked for two years to get government clearance. We incubated them in a box on the kitchen table.” That had been two years ago. Only two hens hatched, and only Marta survived. But three roosters and one hen could build a flock…could build a future. My tears came fresh again, not for Marta, not for Pappi, but for me.
The accident was fresh. Just beyond the gossamer veil of denial I stood in the shed watching EMT’s trying to extricate my husband from under bucket of the front-end loader. Why had he been repairing it while it was running? As their movements slowed, I knew the outcome.
I was startled as I heard truck tires crunched on the farm drive. “What’s John doing here at 7:30 a.m.?” The village postmaster, he rarely delivered mail anymore, and never brought to the house
“Mornin’ Jenny,” John said coming in the pen. “Everything alright?”
“Coons did some damage overnight…nothin’ new.” My attempt to chuckle was more of a squawk. “Is there a problem with a shipment? What else would bring you out so early?”
“No, nothing like that. Did you hear the news?”
“Sorry? What are you getting’ at John?”
“Guy over in Medford used to work for me was arrested over the weekend. Police found 2 bags of mail he never delivered. I’ve been sortin’ it. Mostly bills, shoppers, that kind of thing. But I found this…” He held out a pink envelope.
My eyes widened as I saw the handwriting, I nearly dropped in my shaking hands.
The postmark read two years earlier. The Valentines card was comic, a lady in a hat. But it was his added sentiment that started tears afresh.
“Jenny, I love you,” it read. “And no matter the trials we go through, we not only have each other, we have our family. They are our future, our past, our mark on this world. Don’t ever think I don’t value your hard work, your love for our little “birdies.” If today is God’s gift to us, I’m thankful that he added a little ol’ farm lady to share it with me. Don’t let the clouds take that away.”
He had written it when we were struggling to get approval to go to China. One trial we had rejoiced in together as we were victorious. I searched John’s face and he smiled.
I walked him to his car as the sun broke through a hazy cloud. I put the card in my jacket as I walked toward the barns. There was work to be done, a future to keep building. After all a dead man told me.
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