The Diamond Hearth

I’ve been having trouble posting a vignette every week as intended, so today I offer something a little more fulfilling. This is a short story I wrote several years ago inspired by my childhood growing up on a farm. I hope you enjoy it.

*

Dark. Cold. Leaking through the cracked window. She shivers and smiles. She reaches for the lamp next to her, warm, yellow, bright. But not enough to drown out the night. Winds surge. Leaves whoosh. Wood creaks. She could be a pirate on a ship sitting out a storm. Storm’s coming no doubt.

“Wish I could enjoy this as much as you.” Mom closes the window. She sounds stern, but her cheeks are rosy. Eyes twinkling. “But I’ve a farm to look after.”

“Cows’ll be fine,” replies Ferry.

“It’s not the cows I’m worried about.” Mom walks around the room pulling out plugs. “Get the TV?”

Ferry’s sad to leave the window, the portal to the storm. But Mom asked, and Mom knows best. Her fingers follow the wire into the shadows. Pop goes the plug. “Then what scares you?”

Mom looks at her, sighs. Ferry knows what she must be thinking: she’s too young. That’s what she said when Dad left a year ago. You’re too young. But she’s not too young. She was eleven then, now she’s twelve. She didn’t understand why Dad left, but neither did Mom, and Mom’s thirty. She stares Mom in the eyes.

Mom breaks. “The goats. I didn’t tell you this last year but … one of our goats froze to death.”

“It ain’t that cold,” says Ferry. She looks around for more plugs to pull. The thought of a frozen goat scares her, but she can keep working, see?

“You’re right, it’s not. Not yet. Got a book?”

Ferry nods. On a shelf of dusty books, her book’s clean. Spine broken. Well loved. It’s a mystery book. Ferry got it almost a year ago, after Dad disappeared. She knew his disappearance was a mystery, and thought she might be able to figure it out. Read it once, couldn’t figure out anything new at all. So she picked it up to read again. Maybe she’ll find more clues.

They sit at the table. Mom puts the lamp back in the middle and sits with her own book. Ferry watches her. Beautiful. Pale sweaty skin, even though it’s cold outside. Mom works so hard. A bandana over her rich black hair, spilling a little onto her face and sticking. Twinkly black eyes, happy one minute, sad the next. They’re not moving. She’s not reading.

“Mom,” says Ferry. “What’s your book about?”

“Mm.” Mom looks at the cover, as if to remember. “It’s a … silly romance.”

Ferry nods. “You miss Dad.”

The twinkle goes out of Mom’s eyes. Eyebrows furrow. “Not everything’s about your Dad. He’s gone. Best forget about him.”

Mom doesn’t want to believe what other people said about Dad: that he was a thief and a criminal. They told Mom she was better off without him, and made her watch the news showing his “Wanted” picture, connecting him to a jewelry store robbery. Mom said to turn it off, and she wouldn’t talk about it. Ferry wanted to know what Mom knew, but Mom wouldn’t say anything. It’s hard to solve a mystery without any clues. Once Ferry even tried to go through Mom’s papers, but there was so much junk, she couldn’t find anything useful.

It seemed true, though–that Mom was better off without Dad. After he disappeared, Mom seemed to have a lot more spending money. She wasn’t a big shopper, but she didn’t hesitate to buy some things she did before, like nice wines and breads.

Mom’s still looking at Ferry. Mom sighs. “Honey, there’s something I’ve been meaning to say. I can’t stay on this farm forever.”

“… What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’ve been looking into other places. I found a very nice house, closer to town. I think you’d love it.”

Ferry can’t believe what she’s hearing. “But … what about the animals?”

Mom shakes her head. “Just … think about it. I wouldn’t do it until next fall, anyway–”

“We don’t have the money for that!” Ferry remembers hearing Mom and Dad argue about money all the time. She knows what she’s saying.

Mom looks away from her. “I have the money, sweetie.” Her voice is quiet, quieter than the wind outside. “I have plenty.”

The outdoors roar–the wind and the trees and everything living. Mom straightens up, nervous. This is their first winter without Dad’s help. Dad helped run the farm, but Ferry remembers that he complained a lot, too. He cursed the animals and called them dumb. Sometimes Mom got tired of his complaints. Ferry remembers, and she thinks Mom does too, even though she pretends not to. She pretends Dad always liked it here.

The first echo of raindrops, metallic, bounce off the barn’s tin roof. Pouring, flooding closer. Ferry huddles in on herself, represses a smile. Waits for the wave to break. Whoosh comes the rain, over the field and onto the tiled roof of the house.

They read. They pretend, anyway. Mom’s probably thinking about Dad, worrying about what might go wrong. Or maybe she’s thinking about a house near the city. Ferry’s listening to the rain, and how it sends a different echo from each part of the farm.

Mom sees her smiling. Frowns. “If it floods, then the chicken coop …” Her eyes widen, filling with fear. “I should check on them. I should stack more sandbags.”

“I’ll do it!” Ferry slips off her chair.

“Don’t be silly!”

Dog starts barking, probably Masters. Ferry hates that the dogs have to stay outside, even when it rains. They need burros, or llamas. Otherwise dogs are the farm’s only protection, and that’s not much when it comes to coyotes. Sometimes the dogs ignore the coyotes altogether.

Mom listens, considers. “I guess you could check on Masters.” By now, more dogs have joined Masters. They sing a storm chorus.

“Can I bring him inside?”

“Only if something’s wrong.”

Rain jacket, rain boots, and a very big grin. She’s ready to go.

The ground pulls at her feet. Mud grabs her heels like hands. So much rain. She can’t see much, but Masters keeps barking, so she follows the sound. Out here, she could disappear like Dad did. There are a hundred ways to disappear. Probably more. She could run off right now and Mom would never find her. But she won’t.

Masters stands on the other side of the field, up against the fence. The other dogs stand further back, sometimes adding a supportive bark. Masters always barks first. He’s a waterside terrier, big, tough.

“Masters!” calls Ferry. Usually he comes to her when she calls. More barks, same place. He’s not coming. “Masters!”

“Bark bark bark bark bark!”

Only thing to do is keep going. She wants back inside already. Wants her mystery novel. A stove. Some hot chocolate. “Masters!”

He stops barking. Roar roar roar goes the rain, drowning everything else away. At least she’s close now, she can see him, not far from the lamppost. His fur looks like the mud, brown and slimy. He stands so still, rigid. Rain drops down her back. She shivers. “Masters?”

Masters barks once more, and then Ferry sees it. The sea monster he tried to warn her about, loping closer, out of the dark woods and into the lamplight.

She screams and runs back to the house.

The corner’s safe. Nothing can crawl out of the wood to surprise her. Warm, bright, tiny corner.

“FERRY!” Mom rushes inside, the wind howling after her. The mist of the rain travels all the way across the room and tickles Ferry’s skin.

“Don’t let him in!” cries Ferry.

The door slams shut. Warmth and light recollects. Relative silence and peace.

“Let who in?” Mom’s voice trembles. “What happened to you?”

“A m-m- …” No, she’s too old to believe in monsters. Right?

Cold wet raincoat against her skin, but that’s okay, Mom’s only trying to hug her. Ferry reaches under the coat to hug her Mom’s sweater, dark but warm.

“Sweetie, what’s gotten into you?”

Clack clack clack. A bony human fist, pounding against the door of the house. Mom’s nails dig into Ferry’s skin, but that’s okay, Mom’s like a shield, fastening tighter.

“That must be him …” says Ferry. She stares Mom in the eyes. She told her so.

Mom takes a deep breath, pulls away. Eyes dart around, land on a cabinet next to the bookshelf. A key in her hand–Ferry doesn’t know where it came from–twisting to open the cabinet. Inside is a rifle. Mom pulls it down, loads it.

Ferry gets behind Mom. Mom holds the rifle pointed down towards the floor, against her leg. She slowly approaches the door. “Who’s there?”

“Don’t mean no harm.” The voice groans through the wood, barely audible over the storm.

“Then what do you want?”

“Shelter. Just shelter.”

Mom looks at Ferry. Ferry shakes her head: don’t trust this man yet. Mom cracks the door open, keeping the rifle just out of the monster’s sight.

Ferry can’t see him yet. Just hear him. “Hey ma’am. Name’s Zack.” (more…)

Published in: on February 4, 2014 at 7:58 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,