Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Cottage by Salty Brook

A Short Story
by CJ Heck
The dusty lane was very narrow. Little snippets of grass peeked through here and there between the deep ruts where I walked. I didn't really care where the lane was going. I had already decided to follow wherever it took me. So, the lane and I continued along together, snaking through the lofty fragrant pines until it eventually narrowed and hugged a little brook that gurgled and sang such lovely songs. 

Lost in my thoughts, the dewy morning was only a memory by the time I noticed how the sun now warmed my shoulders from high above the trees. As I rounded a small turn, the lane suddenly widened into a clearing. There I saw a small wooden hand-lettered sign tacked to a post just above a black metal mailbox which read: The Cottage by Salty Brook. A little further down, the lane stopped altogether, dead-ending in front of a small cottage nestled in among even more stately pines. 

The cabin looked tired, like a trusted old friend basking in the sun of his golden years. It had certainly seen better days, however, it also had an unmistakable "cared for" look. The weathered boards were now a faded grey and the curtains at the windows were yellowed and worn. On the wide front porch, two small boys sat playing and I slowed my walk to return their friendly waves. 

The yard was square and wide, spreading all the way to the woods on either side and then around and behind the little house. The grass was sparse, but what was there was well taken care of.  There were toys casually strewn about the yard, and two red bicycles were parked as if patiently waiting for their young riders to return. 

I almost missed the little girl as my eyes first swept the yard. She was sitting under a gnarled and ancient apple tree, with a homemade rag doll in her lap, humming softly to herself. A fragile child, she had the biggest blue eyes and her delicate face was framed in beautiful golden ringlets. She looked to be about five. 

When she spotted me standing there, she put down her doll and ran over to me. At first she seemed shy, peeking up at me with those big blue eyes, and toeing the ground with a sandaled shoe. Then suddenly, she spoke in a rapid succession of questions and statements, which were all strung together, almost as one long one. She asked, how did I get there, where I was going, and where have I been. Then she told me all about her family and finally, she asked me what my name was. I couldn't help but laugh. This adorable little waif had immediately stolen my heart with her gentle innocence. 

I don’t know how long we sat there talking in the shade of that gnarly apple tree sitting cross-legged, indian-style, on the grass. After a while, I simply noticed that our large and small shadows had gradually lengthened at our sides. One by one, I answered all of her questions. I told her my name and, in turn, she shared hers and the names of six siblings. She told me they didn’t go to the school in town. Their mama taught them at home. Then she told me all about their trips into town, again stringing all of her words together just like the pearls on a necklace. 

“The other kids in town all laugh and point at us. They say we’re shabby and poor, but mama says it’s okay. She says we should treat others the same as we would like them to treat us, and she says those kids just don’t know any better, so we shouldn't blame them. When I asked Papa if we were poor, he said no, we weren’t poor. He told me we're very rich in the things that really matter. We just don’t have a whole lot of money.” 

Her mom and dad then came to the patched screen door on the wide front porch. “It’s time for supper,” her mother called. With a wave to me, my little friend got up and headed toward the front steps. One by one the others all came, and as they stepped through the doorway, each child gave their mama a kiss as they passed by her. 

The mother called out and asked if I would like to come in and join them for supper, “There’s always room for more,” and when I entered the clean and tidy cabin, I saw that she had already set a place for me at the long wooden table. 

The moon was peeking through the clouds and all of the shadows by the gurgling brook were gone when I finally left the Cottage by Salty Brook. There was a new coolness to the pine-scented air, but I wrapped their love around me like a cloak and wore it home. 

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