Topsoil and bedrock
The next morning Charlie got up early, as he usually did, and quietly went downstairs. There was no sign of Lynn, but he felt relieved when he saw her car was still parked outside. He made a pot of coffee, grabbed a donut that they’d picked up yesterday and fed Wilbur. Even he was moping about, not his usual self. Charlie wondered if Wilbur were feeling left out with a slight case of three’s-a-crowd, so he set out to take him on a walk. But nothing seemed to rouse Wilbur from his morose mood. Charlie hoped he wasn’t getting sick. He was secretly hoping that, when the time came, they would both pass on together.
Back at the house there was still no sign of Lynn, but he heard her moving around upstairs, so he called up to her. “Lynn, I’m going to church. Be back in an hour.” He thought he heard a muffled. “Okay.” So, very much doubting that she would want to tag along, Charlie left for church.
He was hoping for an uplifting sermon and a few rousing hymns but again he was disappointed. He guessed that word from the diner had spread all over town like the flu and everybody was pushing their noses in where they didn’t belong. Charlie tried to hold his head up high and ignore them, but he was outnumbered. The preacher did not help in the least by basing his sermon on John 2:16 which was all about lust and pride. He felt the people’s eyes bore into the back of his neck. Normally joining the other parishioners for coffee and cake following the service, he decided he could not face the expected interrogation, so he ducked out of the church early.
“Dammit,” he said when he turned onto the dirt road and saw that Wilbur was not waiting for him in his usual spot. “Have you deserted me too, old buddy?” Said Charlie who was starting to feel sorry for himself before he suddenly became worried that Wilbur might really be ill. When he pulled up to the house, there was Wilbur, frisky as ever, playing with Lynn who was sitting on the back steps.
Ha! thought Charlie.
“Morning,” called out Lynn.
“Ruff, “said Wilbur as he bounded towards Charlie.
It was as if the sun had suddenly reappeared after a week of clouds and rain. Lynn made breakfast, or ‘brunch’ as she called it and Charlie told her of his encounters at the church. Not one word was spoken about the diner episode. Afterwards, Lynn asked if they could walk to that place by the river where they’d gone yesterday.
“Sure,” said Charlie. He liked to keep moving. The hour or so at church had filled up his quota of sitting time. As they walked it seemed like Wilbur was limping a little more than usual which prompted Charlie to think about Benjamin.
“Benjamin was an old mule we had. He belonged to a farmer a few miles away. Word got out that he was going to put the mule down, ‘cos he was getting too old. Soft-hearted Ellie heard about it and said we’d take him and give him a home for the rest of his days. I had no say in the matter. The mule had been worked hard all its life and didn’t even have a name. It were just a mule.
“Now, I had an old uncle who was quite a well-known character in these parts. Uncle Benjamin was his name. A cantankerous, white haired old devil he was, and everybody said he was stubborn as a mule. This mule we were given was white-haired, stubborn, and very crotchety, just like my uncle, so we called him Benjamin. He and Wilbur never hit it off and one day Wilbur got too close and Benjamin up and kicked him. His leg ain’t never been the same since.”
“Aw,” said Lynn. Then Charlie touched her arm, made a shushing motion with his finger against his lips and nodded ahead. Wilbur was standing stock still in a pointing stance, his head thrust forward and his tail sticking out straight behind. Charlie and Lynn quietly stepped forward so they could see what Wilbur had spotted. There at the edge of the water, in Charlie’s special place, was a doe and two fawns. The young ones were drinking and splashing in the water, but the mother was ever vigilant, her head and ears constantly turning from side to side. A sudden noise, unheard by the humans, spooked her and all three were gone.
Lynn was almost in tears, deeply affected by what she had seen. Almost like a child in wonderment she whispered, “This is my chapel.”
“Aye.” Said Charlie.
They stood quietly for a few minutes savoring the moment as Wilbur savored the scents left by the deer.
“I didn’t mean to come here,” began Lynn, almost as if she were talking to herself. “I mean to see you, to this town. I just wanted to get out of the city for a while, just drive aimlessly around and not have a daily agenda. I tried to stay off the interstates until the evening when I’d look for a hotel. By the third morning, I was looking on Google maps to see where I was, and I saw the name of this town. It rang a bell with me. Then I remembered that my mom had once said that her mother had come from around here. I knew Mills was grandma’s family name because my mom kept it in her name. Then I cheated a little and called my office and had my team do a little research. It didn’t take them long to find you and to learn that Aunt Elizabeth, Ellie, had died a few years ago. I debated whether or not to call you and decided that I’d just see what the town looked like first. The next thing I knew I was driving down your road. And here I am.” Lynn threw her arms out wide and spun in a circle just like a little girl.
Charlie had been listening intently. He was leaning on a tree, Wilbur lying at his feet, looking straight at Lynn and not missing a single word. For all her court appearances in front of numerous juries, Lynn had never had such an attentive audience. Once she’d stopped talking and swirling around, Charlie’s mind was buzzing. People’s stories were like the earth, he thought. There were layers upon layers until you reached the bedrock underneath. What had just uncovered was the humus, not even the topsoil. He wondered if he’d ever learn about Lynn’s bedrock. You could know someone your whole life and never find their bedrock, but I’d sure like to hear this gal’s story. There’s something hiding much deeper inside her. I can feel it in my bones, but I ain’t gonna push. Push too hard and you cover up what you’ve already uncovered, thought Charlie.
“It’s amazing where life will lead when you lust let go,” said Charlie as he pushed himself off the tree and started walking back to the house. “Ellie never talked much about her family, and I never asked. I remember her once saying something about there being a big ruckus and her sister up and left and never came back. Except once to borrow money. Her name was Ruth, wasn’t it? That’s about all I know.”
“I don’t know much more than you do, Charlie,” said Lynn thoughtfully. “I was kind of hoping you could fill in some of the blanks. My mom told me a little but…” and here Lynn just trailed off.
Now, there’s a layer that’s about to be scraped off, thought Charlie. Wilbur, who’d grown tired of all the talking, had gone ahead and was almost back at the house.
“Apparently, my grandma Ruth, Ellie’s sister, died in childbirth, giving birth to my mom, Louise. So, I never knew my grannie.” Lynn picked up the story again. “I don’t know who my grandfather was. I’d heard rumors that Ruth was a bit of a wild one and it must have rubbed off on Louise, my mom, because she too had her problems. She was raised in the foster care system where things happened to her. That’s all she would say about it, ‘Things happened.’ She came out of it and tried her best but basically she was a mess, and I was one of the results.”
And now we’re digging through the topsoil. Charlie’s mind had adopted the role and imagined voice of a radio commentator, just like the old days when he rode the tractor all day. Strangely, for someone accustomed to amusing himself, he was enjoying the distraction of listening to someone else’s stories. But he could only take it in short doses. By now, they were back at the house and Charlie said he’d like to take a short nap and went upstairs. To her amazement, Lynn found herself dozing comfortably in the sitting room chair.
End of chapter
There are many more chapters to come.
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