Apple Blossom Time

“Lord have mercy!  It’s Reverend Hills!”  I take Izzy’s arm and pull her back onto the boardwalk.  “Act naturally!”

“That is a challenge with you pushing and pulling me and giggling like you are a school girl doing something naughty”.  Izzy laughs despite herself then forces a sober expression onto her face as Reverend Hils approaches.

“Afternoon Mrs. Willoughby.  Izzy.”  He tips his hat.  “Lovely afternoon for a stroll, wouldn’t you say?  Spring is in the air, finally.  Twas a bitter, long winter this year.  Bitter long.”

“Afternoon Reverend, yes a lovely afternoon.”  I let go of Izzy’s arm, arranging myself into the picture of modest sobriety befitting the wife of the County Judge.  Izzy snorts but does her best to disguise the sound with a cough.  I feel my face crumple a bit with laughter but maintain my composure.  The reverend eyes us with curiosity but refrains from comment.  Tipping his hat, he carries on his way.

Once he is out of earshot Izzy lets out a hoot of laughter.  I join her, giggling and grabbing her arm, tugging her off the boardwalk and behind the mercantile to the cabin set back from main street.

“I cannot believe you have talked me into this” Izzy says as she hustles along beside me, peering this way and that to ensure no eyes are upon us.

“Come along, Izzy!  It will be fun!”

“You are going to get us both burned for witches!” Izzy laughs and jumps over a pile of fresh horse leavings, careful not to dirty her hem.

“Nonsense,” I try to sound braver than I feel.  “They rarely burn witches anymore.”  As we approach the porch of the cabin of our destination I feel myself slow nearly to a stop.  Suddenly I am not feeling so very brave.

“Well then let us get to it and get it behind us”.  Izzy is always the practical one.  She marches easily onto the porch.  I hiss at her and beckon wildly, leading her around the back of the cabin.

“Here.  Switch cloaks with me.”  I am taking off my silk lined velvet cape and handing it to her.  When she doesn’t follow suit, I thrust my cloak into her arms and begin to unbutton the serviceable woolen coat she is wearing.

“Ma’am? What in tarnation are you doing?”

“Izzy, language!” She blushes and stammers, but I laugh and yank the coat from her shoulders.  “Quickly!  Put on my cloak”.  As Izzy shrugs on the cape I unpin the bonnet from my head and trade it for Izzy’s simple cap.  Once our costumes are donned I lead Izzy back around to the front porch and this time, with great gusto and confidence, I walk up the steps and rap on the door.

We hear a shuffling sound from within.  Izzy grabs my arm and clings to me.  I cling right back.  The door swings open and there she stands.  Lucretia Vipond, town witch.  I am unsure of what I had expected, but it was not this.  For up close she seems like any other normal woman and not very witchy at all.   The exception is her eyes, which, unblinking and expressionless, are  two very distinct colors: one a bright clear blue, the other dark brown.  It is most disconcerting  and I look away.

“Help you?” She pushes a strand of hair from her eyes and leaves a smudge of flour on her forehead.  I stare at it, transfixed.

“Help you?”  This time she is not as polite, seemingly growing tired of our slack mouths and gaping eyes.

“Sorry.  Yes.  I beg your pardon.  Well.  Yes.”  I fumble and stammer.

“We’d like our leaves read.”  Izzy has taken her new role to heart and walks forward regally.  I shrink behind, grateful for her new confidence.

“Come in then.  Close the door.”  She wipes her hands on her apron and begins to fuss at the stove, adding wood to the belly, putting water on to boil.

“Set yourselves down.  Will be but a moment for the tea to be ready.”  We watch as she fusses with the tea leaves and pours boiling water in to the pot.  She removes her dusty apron and joins us at the table, setting surprisingly delicate and fine bone china cups and saucers before us.

“I take money up front.  Some folk  like not what the leaves say and deign not to pay.  Up front is what I take.”

I hand Izzy my beaded coin purse under the table and she fumbles out a few coins, handing them to our hostess.

“Drink up.  Must to empty those cups before we can begin.”

Hot tea scalds my mouth and throat and I choke a bit in my haste.  Without molasses and sweet cream I find it a terribly bitter concoction to swallow.

Izzy seems not to suffer the drink as much as I and after making short work of her tea, hands her cup to Lucretia.  The witch closes her eyes and seems to murmur a silent prayer, then sets the cup back on its saucer, spins it round three times and quickly flips it over, letting the last drips  drain from the cup.  Izzy and I stare, fascinated.

Lucretia rights the cup and cradles it between her two palms.  Her incongruent eyes stare into the bowl, studying the smattering of tea leaves.  For several moments she does not move or speak, and I begin to squirm.  Izzy elbows me discreetly and regain my composure.  As nonsensical as I know this to be, I am of a sudden set upon by a racing heart.

“Your path is one of luxury and plenty.  You will never want for anything.  Hearth and home and comfort will be yours for all of your days.”

It is evident that Lucretia Vipond is merely reading Izzy’s velvet cape and fashionable bonnet.  We have set our coin on a charlatan and not on a soothsayer.  I am surprised at the level of my disappointment.

She finishes with Izzy’s cup then turns to me and motions that I should hand her my own.  I take the last sip, then relinquish it.  She spins and prays and does her act, then flips the cup over and stares into its depths.  I remind myself that this is merely meant to entertain and try to loosen the holds of my disillusionment.  A few coins for an afternoon of harmless silliness is no real loss at all.

“First the wink of one, then the other to join it.”  I look to Izzy.  She looks back to me, mirroring my confusion.  “The apples weep and poison the tree.  True love carries you to the next land.”  I feel a shiver crawl up my spine and reach for Izzy’s hand.  The witch seems to break her trance and sets the cup down with a clatter.

“That is all there is.  You may go now.”  Without further ceremony she leads us to our exit.

The door closes behind us and I stare at Izzy in wonder for a moment.   Then we begin to laugh.  The sound of our joy rings out and echoes in the very best parts of my memory.

I shift where I lay.

I awaken.  The echoes of our girlish laughter fade and pain from my abscessed breast startles me into full lucidity.  I shift and try not to groan.  Izzy sits knitting beside me.  As soon as she sees my eyes open,  she jumps up from her chair and brings a cool cloth to wipe my forehead.  The fever has been tenacious this day.  I shudder with it and long for another dram of Laudanum.  I look at the clock on the mantel and see there are still hours until my next dose.

“I was dreaming”.

“Mmm.”  She  pats the cool damp cloth along my hairline.

“Remember when we went to get our tea leaves read?  Oh my, that awful Lucretia woman!”  Izzy smiles then and I see the shadow of the young girl she once was.

“Oh the things you led me to!  It is a wonder we did not get ourselves banned from the congregation.  Old Reverend Hills is probably flipping in his grave over that one, rest his soul.  Not to mention the Judge!  Rest his soul, too.”

I laugh a raspy sound and Izzy brings a cup of water close and holds it for me to drink.  It soothes my dry throat and I lay for a time staring out the window.  The trees have begun to blossom.  Another spring.  This will be my last.

“Remember what she said?  The winking and the poison apples?”  My hands reach up and rest upon the bandaged ruin of my breasts.  I see comprehension and horror dawn on Izzy’s face.  She has changed my fetid bandages enough to know what I am referring to.

“Lord have mercy!”  Izzy whispers.  She sits next to me and we stare awhile, at the blossoms.

“Do you need for anything Ma-am?”  She asks after some moments.

“Izzy, how many years have you worked for me?”  I ask.  She knows what is coming, for we have been around this bush a time or two.

“Fifty three years come this September, Ma-am.”

“And in those Fifty three years how many times have I asked you to call me by my Christian name?”

“Many, many times, Ma-am”.

“Do you know what a pleasure it would be to my ears to hear my own name?  Over the years I became ‘Mother’, ‘Grandmother’, ‘Mrs. Willoughby’, then the worst of them: ‘Widow Willoughby’.  But never my own Christian name.  Even the Judge,  rest his soul, called me ‘Mother’.”

“Yes, Ma-am”

“Izzy you must call me by my Christian name!  I insist.”

“Yes Ma-am”

“So you will do it?”

“No, Ma-am.”

Exasperated, I begin to laugh and  she joins me.  Together, we have done laughter well  through these many years.  We are fast friends, closer than sisters with a rhythm to our give and take that brings great comfort to me in my waning days.

The light begins to fade  and we sit and watch the white blossoms become golden, then pink and finally a burnished red.  Another sun set.  Another day done.  I am awash in the beauty of it all.

Days and weeks fold into each other and they all come and go. Faith, Temperance, William, Hudson, Hinton, all of their children and their children’s children, bringing noise and song and chatter to brighten my days.  This is my legacy.  This love and this family.   I know that I am purely blessed to have had a life so well lived.  Blossoms fall from the branch.  They comfort me in my dying.

When my final hour arrives, it is within Izzy’s kind arms that I take my final breath.  Pain has left me and I feel the familiar, forgotten weightlessness begin.

“Rest well and peaceful… Constance. Good night.”   Oh, my sweet Izzy.

As I shudder gently to my end I know that true love has carried me to the next land.

4 Comments on “Apple Blossom Time

  1. Pingback: A Ticket to Ride | Pieces of Me

  2. Pingback: The Senses Awaken | Pieces of Me

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