I found another of your marbles, this time a yellow cat’s eye. I think there’s seven of them now. They turn up in the pasture, scratched by hooves or rocks or sandy earth. When I wet them, the scratches disappear and they gleam. I keep them on the kitchen windowsill in a Mason jar where they catch light and throw shafts of it on the wall. I like knowing they’re from another time, before me, as though they might know something that I don’t.
I have your St. Francis medal too. I found it in the barn. It’s not the kind you wear around your neck—it’s bigger and made of tin, hollow in the back. I imagine it was once on a wall, keeping watch over the cows or sheep or pigs. Stray cats, perhaps.
I remember the day you stopped by. I watched you drive slowly past the house, then back again. I figured you were checking out the horses like so many people do. When you pulled into the driveway, you hesitated, perhaps garnering a quick escape in case we were the “No Trespassing” kind. You stayed in your car until I waved and approached. Because that’s what we do.
You were dressed in a suit. You might have been selling vacuum cleaners if it was the ’60s or perhaps bringing religious pamphlets these days, but you said you’d just come from the funeral of a classmate at St. Mary’s. You said you didn’t really like him, nobody did, but you went because it seemed like the right thing to do.
You told me the house used to be on the other side of the driveway, that your family had moved it piece by piece. That explains the giant mismatched slabs of wood we found under the drywall. I told my husband it was shiplap, it was historic, that we shouldn’t cover it because it was a reminder of the age of the place. He said I’d been watching too much HGTV.
You mentioned how the house looks so different from the outside, that we’d made good decisions when we added on. I wanted to show you the inside, how the kitchen now faces South, the bathroom in the middle. How we widened the steps going upstairs by two feet. But I was ashamed of the clutter, the clumps of pet hair lining the walls, the dishes. So I asked if you’d like to see the barn. I saw the delight in your eyes.
I told you that my husband bought this place for the barn. You said it was probably 120 years old and built without a single nail.
As we walked up the stairs to the hay loft, you pointed out the square cut-out in the bottom of the door. You said you put it there so your cat could move around the barn even if the door was shut. When you said it was the only cat you ever had, I heard your voice crack. We have a barn cat, a feral one we call Sid, and I’ve seen him zip through that cut-out in the door. I only feed him at night so he has a full belly and hopefully stays to sleep it off during the hours when the coyotes are wandering and hungry. In the winter we set out a heated water bowl to keep him from roaming to the lake for a drink.
I saw you finger the porcelain doorknob on that hayloft door. You were pleased we still had it. Once in the loft, the place you played as a child, I asked if it was true that a young man hanged himself up there. You said no, but after thinking about it, you said you had a cousin who hanged himself, but not on this property. That made me feel better. I always wondered if there were spirits up there, especially at night.
The giant black walnut tree you said you planted with your dad still stands. I swear, every spring we think it’s died, but then it comes back and the walnuts feed those pesky red squirrels. I once asked the owner of a sawmill if the tree would be good for wood planks. He said a tree that old likely has nails deep in it from people posting signs, and the nails would damage his machinery. That and the fact that it’s been hit by lightning more than once will make it only useful for firewood.
You clearly didn’t want to leave so we lingered. You told me how you forked hay down to the cows through the chutes, how the hay wasn’t bailed then, it was loose in heaps and how you had to climb those ladders and beams to get to the top. And then, for fun, you’d jump into the mow.
You asked if you could bring your grandchildren for a visit, and I hoped you would. I’m still waiting. For now, though, I want you to know that I’m keeping your marbles and your St. Francis medal safe.
Mostly I want you to know that you’re still here.
splits her time between Northwestern Michigan College, where she teaches English, and the Lake Leelanau hobby farm she shares with her husband, David. Her writing has been featured in KYSO Flash, Dunes Review, Dime Show Review, Bear River Review, and others, and was nominated for the Best of the Net awards. Her fiction chapbook Proud Flesh won the 2017 Michigan Writers chapbook competition.
⚡ Real Calcutta, CNF by Nancy Parshall in KYSO Flash (Issue 10, Fall 2018)
⚡ When the Horses Are Dead
, flash fiction in Dime Show Review
⚡ The Neighbors Will Take the Chickens, flash fiction in KYSO Flash (Issue 5, Spring 2016)