Everett woke early in the morning. The peeking sun over the horizon greeted the world as old friends do. The chickens’ gentle clucking began his day the same as all the rest. As he opened the woven wire door, he cast a quick glance around the run, checking for damage from nocturnal visitors. Opening the small doorway for the chickens, he clicked his tongue in a distinctive pattern that lured the chickens out. It was his way of saying, ‘Come on girls, breakfast will soon be ready.’
Walking over to the galvanized container in the corner, he lifted the lid and tapped it three times on the side of the container. The last few hens raced out of the coop, eager for food.
“I thought that would bring you ladies out of there.” Two big handfuls of grain were flung across the run as thirty chickens darted in all directions with their heads bent low to the ground, nodding in agreement to the grain found among the grass blades.
Returning the lid, he brought up a hand to his eyes and scanned the sky. “Going to be a nice day.” Whistling softly, he headed to the barn. The weathered wood of the big sliding doors with its flaking mismatched paint offered a sense of security for him. Since fixing the door, he had wanted to repaint it one color, but a certain amount of charm resonated from it, staying his hand. Maybe one day he would get around to painting it when all the paint was gone and the wood was as weathered as the house was.
Inside the barn lay his solace. Here he practiced his ax throwing for the annual town contest. The chipped ring hung from the ceiling by a rope. Only twice did his aim prove high and cause the slab of wood to come crashing down to the straw covered floor. As he approached it, he ran a familiar hand across the surface, feeling the chips and remembering the exact throws which produced them. Off to the side was an old worn table that his father used to repair tack and bridles with. He never had an interest in the larger livestock of the farm and sold them when his father was unable to care for them. Aside from his daily morning visit, the barn lay unused. One of the numerous tuxedo cats watched him from the loft with a carefree eye.
A whetstone lay on the table beside a leather sheathed ax. Releasing the knotted leather, the gleaming metal came alive in his hand. A gentle caress of his thumb proved the edge was up to the challenge. Placing his back to the target, he counted out ten paces and toed a line into the dirt beneath the straw. The ax drew straight in line with his ear as he lined up with the target. Drawing the ax back, a step forward surged the momentum through his arm, launching the ax end over end to the target. A solid thuck sounded as the blade pierced the wood sending it spinning and swaying. It was a near perfect throw missing the center of the target by a few inches. Lurching the ax free and stabilizing the target, he returned to the line and threw again. He practiced until his aim was true and hit the center nearly every time.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, he went over to the table and spat on the whetstone and set about honing the edge again. As he did, he hummed an old farm song his father taught him.
The chickens come in to lay,
and the horses start to bray.
The cows have their fill of hey,
and sheep have gone astray.
Master, Master, can it be,
an apple pie for me?
A hard day’s work is now all done,
and now we have some fun.
When the day was finished and the sun disappearing behind the fire red clouds, Everett closed the door to the chicken coop and headed to his house.
A new day brightened the world as the sun leapt from its hiding place, bringing light and warmth to the world. The chickens were getting restless as he struggled to get out of bed. The cool of autumn set its grasp firmer in air with each passing day. Only a sense of duty permitted the motivation to swing his legs over the side of the bed and stand on a pair of tired and wobbly legs.
His steps to the barn red chicken coop dragged through the fallen leaves creating a steady swishing rhythm. The grain flew through the air sending bickering feathers after it. It was the final day of the farmer’s market and the last chance he would have to get a new rug for the entryway before spring of the following year. A source of brightness and cheer was needed to endure the monotonous winter months. Exchanging his chore boots for leather shoes, he checked his hiding spot in the top of the front door. His fingers searched for the money stash. It was considerably smaller than he expected. Pressed for time and against his will, he decided to take along a few chickens to trade for the rug. It was a risk to take, but the winter months weighed heavily on him cooped up in the house by himself.
The old green buggy with pale yellow lichen on the side boards, clattered along the road alerting those in hearing distance he was coming. His father’s buggy had outlasted its owner and would probably outlast the second generation. The town wasn’t far away, but, far enough that Everett felt the isolation of the distance.
The weekly farmer’s market was held around the square every Saturday morning. All the neighboring farmers scoured their property for extra items to trade or sell. People knew the unwritten trading rules and value of every item in the market.
The town square was packed with farmers, cattle drivers; hired hands and dozens of other types bustling about their business. He drove around to the east side of the square where the household vendors set up small booths and makeshift tables. While there were several established weavers there, one woman in particular was bold enough to use bright colors that stood out.
After parking the old buggy and setting the brake, he unloaded his chickens and searched for her table. The tables of potters and carpenters preceded embroiderers and glass blowers. Leather workers and painters were next. At the end of the square were lace makers and weavers where the young woman he sought was located.
As he got closer, the rugs displayed on the grass resembled a garden lush with flowers in full bloom. They were bold and unashamed of the bright colors that composed their composition. He politely dismissed the elderly lace maker as she held up a doily made in the likeness of a snowflake. The young weaver looked up at him with curious brown eyes.
“Hello, Everett. See something you like?”
His eyes traveled over her various rugs and runners with a longing. “Yes. I find that I’m in need of a new rug for my front door.”
“Well, which one buying? I’ve had a slow morning so pick one and I’ll make a deal on it.” She began braiding her flowing chestnut brown hair. It was hard to imagine that they were nearly the same age. His skin was tanned and rough due to the farm work. She suppressed a smile as she looked up from the end of her hair after binding the end with a thin strip of leather.
He scrubbed his face with his hand as his pride threatened to make him walk away.
“That’s the problem. I’ve run short on money and I was hoping that you would consider a trade. I brought two of my best laying chickens. It’s all I have of value.”
“I couldn’t take your birds. I’ve heard how much they mean to you.”
His chin crashed to his chest in defeat. Without a word he turned to leave, but her voice halted his steps.
“I’m not done with you.”
As he turned around, a smile hinted at the corners of his mouth. She signaled with her finger to come closer as the lace maker leaned in trying to discreetly eavesdrop.
“I’ll make you a deal. You pick out one you like and we will work out a payment in the springtime. Deal?”
Everett scrubbed his mouth with his hand as he mulled the idea over. Turning back to her, he walked the few steps back and placed his chickens on the ground.
“You would wait that long? Surely you need the money for winter.”
A smile broadened across her face. “I’ll be fine. Pick one out, please.”
Her contagious smile spread across his face as well. He walked down the line of rugs displayed across the green grass. His eyes settled across a rectangular one that was primarily blue with highlights of orange and deep purple. Her face lit up when he squatted down and grasped the end of it, rolling it up.
“I was beginning to think no one wanted that one.”
“They were saving it for me. It was a tough decision, though. They’re all unique and beautiful in their own way. Are you sure that you won’t take payment now?” He gestured down to the small cage.
“I’m sure. Take your girls and enjoy the rug. I’ll see you again in spring.”
Everett headed towards his buggy with his chickens and an iron grip on his new rug.
The temperature began to fall until the pond needed broken several times a day for the animals. Snow drifted down from the sky adding an ethereal effect to the land. The cedars and pines with their evergreen limbs held out shelves of snow until the weight became unbearable. Snowdrifts built up the landscape into an uneven rolling scene of brilliant white hills.
Everett looked through the window at the miles landscape covered in a white blanket. The steam from his coffee fogged the window as he took a sip. Humoring himself, he drew a smiling face onto the window. It was weeks since he last seen another person. Holding the coffee mug closer again, he added long hair to the face.
The cold months dragged on one day at a time as Everett paced his house. Breaking his boring routine were chores and natural functions that forced him outside into the bitter cold. Melted snow provided the water for coffee and tea. Bathing was limited to once a month due to the effort it took to warm enough snow for a bath. Spring would be coming soon with its vibrant colors and newness of life. Until that day, he passed the hours staring at the rug by his front door.
Early one morning, as Everett was nursing a strong cup of coffee, something caught his attention. It was just beyond what his bleary eyes could focus on. Putting his cup on the table, he pulled on his coat and stuffed his flannel pajama legs in his boots. Up went the zipper of his coat and down his fur hat over his ears as the door flew open in his haste.
The snow was melting off, leaving behind at most, six to eight inches. The top layer crunched under his boots as he marched to the point of interest. Underneath the largest cedar on the outskirts of his yard was the small green plant. As he loomed over it, a wave of joy overcame him. A single snowdrop pushed its way around the crusting snow. It was the first sign of life in ages.
He squatted down and lifted the white, downcast petals, revealing the green center. It felt delicate in appearance, yet the hardiness of the plant would endure the harsh conditions. Looking around, he noticed the area was dotted with snowdrops. A smile broadened his face as he puffed out a laugh. Life had once again came to the hillside.
The following mornings had Everett bundled up and wandering the nearby area for more snowdrops. Hundreds dotted the landscape as the temperature continued to rise as spring strengthened its grip on the landscape. The roads were clear enough for regular traffic and Everett was eager to get to town.
Trees thinned out closer to town to make room for the crop fields. Crude fences kept livestock within limited spaces as the owner rotated the animals around the property. Hedging, thick and full of wild brambles, lined the borders keeping feral pigs and animals out of the crops. Everett used very little fencing as the distance between the next neighbor was over five miles away. The buildings began to grow taller and larger as more and more clustered together to the point of leaning on one another for support. The town was old and the ways of the people ancient.
He stopped by several businesses to buy supplies and catch up on the local news and gossip. Nothing notable had occurred except a single new comer had moved into town. The talk about the man was surrounded with contradictions. The barber said the man moved into the area to start up a business. The tailor said that he had a conversation with him and he was an orphaned young man seeking to start an orphanage for local children. The baker said that the man was an escaped convict trying to lie low. Every male Everett spoke to seemed to have a different story about the man. The women, however, were all in agreement about how attractive he was. But, was any of it true?
With a full wagon of supplies and his head spinning with thoughts and questions, Everett slowly lead his pony towards a farm that was half a mile from the town. As he drew closer, colorful banners flew in the breeze atop the trees and festival poles were still wrapped in crisscross patterns. This was a joyful estate and full of vibrant colors.
Sheep bleated as they trotted away from Everett and his golden pony. The home owner refused the idea of fencing, giving the animals free range of the land. A free spirit flowed across the landscape giving Everett a sense of peace and calm. His last visit here was before the snow fell.
Picketing his pony on a young and tall standing elm tree, he made his way to the door of the log cabin with his boots echoing on the wooden porch. A few short raps on the screen door announced his arrival.
“Coming.” A female’s cheerful voice called out from inside. Elinore, the young weaver came from the kitchen wearing an apron while wiping her hands on a towel. “Everett, it’s so good to see you again.”
He ducked his head as redness flushed his face. “I, I came to settle my debt with you.”
She crossed her arms, “And what debt do you owe me this time?”
Reaching into his pants pocket, he pulled out a handful of change and bounced it in his palm. Displeased, he stuffed it back in and fished around for some bills. Pulling out a few, he offered Elinore his payment.
“You owe me nothing that can be settled with money.”
They stood there in silence as he tried to comprehend the situation. He could find no logical answer to the situation and broke the silence.
“I don’t understand. We made a deal last fall; I took a rug in exchange for payment in the springtime. It is clearly spring and I have come to pay my debt.”
The breeze passing through the trees was the only sound to be heard. When Everett thought he could take the silence no more, she brought her eyes to his and whispered.
“Did you look at it?”
“Every day. It was the only bit of color for miles.”
A smile exploded across her face as her eyes lit up. “Good. Then our debt is settled. Pick some irises on your way out. They grow all around the house. Have a good evening.” She turned on her heel and returned to the kitchen, leaving Everett alone on the porch.
He slowly turned and made his way down the steps. Reaching out, he plucked a single iris. Rotating it showed off its vibrant yellow throat and the contrasting shades of purple of the petals.
A week passed since his visit with Elinore. Everett was at the table dipping his crackers in tomato soup. He focused on the rug by the front door. Its vibrant colors reflected the creator’s personality. Even at the peak of day, little light passed through his dirty windows. The candle in the center of the table flickered with tantalizing movement, reminding him of the upcoming annual festival. Everyone would be dressed up in elaborate costumes to celebrate the new crop seasons. He normally avoided the crowd during this time, but something deep within nudged him to consider going.
Elinore grasp her bag and slung it over her shoulder as she walked out the front door. The screen door slammed shut behind her scaring the tabby cat napping on the chair. After heading to the barn and saddling the horse, she picked some wildflowers and pushed them into her pulled back hair. Heading into town, she softly whistled a song about marriage and raising children her grandmother taught her.
By the time she made it to town, the festival was at the height of its entertainment. Two men were facing each other juggling clubs, occasionally tossing one across to the other. A group of men were gathered around a pedestal watching a pair of men engaged in an arm wrestling match. A big hurrah sounded as the weaker man was defeated and wagers were handed out to the bet winners.
Women dressed with skirts and paper wings danced around in a circle drawing an audience of all ages as their laughter lightened the mood. Some people were dressed up as crops and flowers while others wore makeup resembling animals of the area. It was a joyous time for the people as she scanned the faces for one in particular.
She recognized the cocky strut as the newcomer approached her. He stopped two paces away, allowing Elinore to fully take in his costume. He bowed with a flourish and she returned a bow with equal magnitude. A moment of silence separated them.
“It’s good to see you again, Elinore.” His voice flowed like warm honey and entranced all within earshot. A smile exposed a row of perfect set white teeth.
Still an arrogant obnoxious jerk?”
His smile faded. “I am sorry for my past. I truly am. I’ve moved on to a better way of life and I want to apologize to you for how I was in the past. I’m not the person I once was. I’ve changed for the better this time.”
She held out her arms as she crossed the distance. She embraced him and squeezed with all she had. Taking a step back, she punched him square in the chest sending him back a few steps.
“That is being a jerk. If you weren’t my brother, I wouldn’t put up with you. How come you move into town and wait until the festival to come find me?”
“I wanted to come sooner, but, I was preparing for tonight. I’m a performer now. Things are different now.”
They spent a few minutes to debrief one another on the finer details of each other’s lives. With a final hug, they said farewells and he strutted off to the wagon in the middle of the clearing.
“You look wonderful.” The deep husky voice was behind her and sent a thrill up her spine. Suppressing an urge to spin around and embrace him, she slowly turned and cocked an eyebrow at him.
“And who are you supposed to be, Everett?”
“A traveling poet. Although, I’m afraid I’m not much of a poet.”
“Have you ever tried?”
His face gushed red as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Miserable attempts, I’m afraid. More fit to work the land than work words in a fancy sense.”
“If it comes from your heart, it’s poetry in my eyes.”
“I’ll remember that.”
The festival was received by all until well into the night. Laughter echoed across the fields as people departed with hearts overfilled with mirth. Elinore’s brother had the audience in the palm of his hand as he performed magic tricks and illusions for the crowd. Games and races were held and the winners crowned with various types of laurels.
Everett went home after saying goodnight to Elinore. He had a thousand thoughts going through his mind which kept him up late. Elinore lay awake in her bed looking out the window at the moonlit hills. Her weary eyes soon closed as her dreams filled with fairies dancing around reciting poets.
The days passed without any contact between the two. Elinore gathered her things she needed, heading to town. Riding at a steady pace, she covered a quarter mile before she yanked on the reins drawing the horse to a stop. Pulling to the right, she made the horse come closer to a young tree at the side of the road. Carved into it was a crude heart with E + E within it.
“Do you like it?” Everett came from behind a bush. “I’ve been waiting for two days for you to see it.”
“It’s beautiful.” Elinore fought back the tears.
“I thought about hiring Macky to carve it for me, but he was a little more than I could afford.” He looked over his shoulder at it. “It isn’t the best, but it comes from the heart; and I would like to ask you for yours. If you’ll have me that is.”
Elinore leapt from her saddle and smashed her lips to his. She clasp his face between her hands as the tears fell like rain from her cheeks. Breathless, she asked, “What took you so long?”
“Had trouble finding words that rhymed.”