Annie Blithe stood in her doorway and squinted against the sharp light. The sun had reached that brief moment during sunset where it seemed to shine brightest. The moment right before it finally melted below the hills, extinguishing the day.
She had been watching her husband Tom as he laboured. What had been a smouldering heap just days before, was beginning to resemble their barn again. She wished she could tell him how proud she was to have him, how constantly she thanked her god for sending her this man of strength and kindness in equal measure.
She wished he would hear it.
“Come in now, Tom” she called out.
He looked to the sun as the last drops pushed past the hills, dampening to a haze around the edges. The work was done for the day.
He laid his tools down and walked towards the house.
She moved aside as he passed through the doorway, and followed him. He hung his hat on the hook, and pulled the straps of suspenders down his shoulders. She followed the movements, thinking of the early days of their marriage when it had been a frequent delight to help him out of his clothes, and hers in turn. The heat of the day making way to feverish nights for these young newlyweds.
Her cheeks warmed. She stepped towards him, extending a slender hand towards his broad shoulder.
“Do you remember our wedding day, Tom?”
His shirt was damp with sweat, she pulled her hand back, sure he would reject the touch now. He was bone tired, she could see tension in every sharp angle of him.
“I wore those marigolds in my hair. You said they were a counterfeit compared to your golden girl. Do you remember, Tom?”
He knelt before the hearth, blowing gently on a tender flame. Annie took a step back.
“Right, I suppose it's not the time for reminiscing.”
He swept past her and dunked his hands into the water bucket, scrubbing the dust of the day from between his fingers, under his nails. Annie clucked.
“Oh Tom, you’ve mucked up all the water. You’ll have to go out in the dark to fetch a new bucket now.”
He loosed a sigh that Annie thought more resembled a moan. He must be in terrible pain, she thought.
The door swung shut before she knew he had left. She followed. She hated to miss him.
The sun had set completely now, making way for night. The sky was clear and painted with swaths of glittering starlight in the way she had only seen here in the wilderness of the frontier. Annie had never seen the ocean, but she imagined it was something like this— a vast coolness, sparkling with silvery warmth. She imagined herself swept through the streams of it, gathering handfuls of stars and watching them trail from her fingers like sand. The thought filled her with peace, and fear. For Tom wasn’t there.
She looked for him now, suddenly sure she wouldn’t find him this time.
But, he was there. Steadfastly pulling the water up from the well.
She felt the pull to be near him like a thread between them, tugging her closer as he moved away. She had felt it since the day they met. She was sure she always would.
The air was warm and thick. A storm was coming.
Good, Annie thought, we need a good rain to wash away the ashes, and the rest. She didn’t quite remember what the rest was, but she knew it was bad. And she knew she wanted it gone.
“Come on in, Tom. You’ll be soaked if you stay out here.”
But, he didn’t come. He was kneeling by the barn now, his large frame curved inwards like a great willow bending in the wind. His shoulders trembled as he laid a hand against the ground in front of him.
“Tommy? The rain...” she whispered.
A small crease appeared between her brows as she looked to the clear sky. She must have been mistaken. There wasn’t a cloud in sight.
Tom was still on his knees, facing away from her. She desperately wished he would look at her. See her again.
What could be keeping him from her? What had happened to them?
With a graceful sweep of skirts, she knelt beside him.
“Tom? What kind of burr you got in your sock, hm?”
She smiled warmly, reaching towards him again.
He stood abruptly, dodging her touch. She didn’t have time to look away. She saw what had been distracting him all along and with a feeling like she had been dropped headfirst into that cool sky, she understood.
The ground was freshly disturbed here. A cross of scrap wood. A ring of marigolds.
She smelled smoke and acrid gunshot, heard the whoops and hollers of the men who had come through. They took what they wanted, they burned the rest.
She remembered and her throat tightened as she looked to her husband— he stood beside her, still as glass now. He wouldn’t look back. He would never look back again.
She felt like the sugar cubes she used to make sweet tea in the sweltering summers. She was melting. Less substantial by the seconds. Soon she would be gone, the thread between them pulled loose at one end.
The first fat drop hit her cheek as the sky cracked open.
She raised her hand, face up. A cool drop landed in her palm and shimmered there. The stars are weeping, she thought.
But, she didn’t melt. Each drop was a cool relief, a glittering piece of that eternity above her. That eternity that echoed along the thread between her and Tom. It was forever that she had promised him, and forever wouldn’t be taken from her. It couldn’t.
She let the rain cover her, closing her eyes and flinging her arms wide in supplication until every inch of her was shimmering. She shivered, but she didn’t feel the cold. Only the peaceful warmth of the stars as she held fast to this life.
When she opened her eyes, she saw the deep blue of Tom’s eyes looking into hers.
His gaze searched her face for less than a breath before falling to his knees before her. He took her hands in his and pressed his mouth to her fingers.
She pulled them away and cupped his cheek, lowering herself. She studied his features, the slope of his nose, the ruddy warmth of his complexion. She hadn’t seen his face in days, really seen it. His cheek was slick with rain, and warm against her palm.
“Hello, Tom” she said.
His eyes fluttered and closed. He turned into her hand and his arms came around her waist, pulling her against him. She felt him across every plane of her body. He pressed her against him as if his touch alone anchored her there. Perhaps it did.
“Hello, my golden girl” he said. His whisper was soft and tremulous against her fingertips.
At hearing his voice, she lit up. An ember blooming, suffusing the thread between them with golden light.
“I’ve missed you. I hate to miss you” he said.
“I do, too Tom. I do too.”
She smoothed her hand across his jaw to his chin, tilting his face towards her. He opened his eyes, fierce pain still dimming them.
“The rain will pass, Tom.”
“I don’t think I want it to”
“Don’t you want to see the sun again? To be warm again?”
“I’d rather be cold with you, Annie.”
She couldn’t tell tears from raindrops.
“You can’t stop the rains, Tommy. But, you can’t call them either. It’s alright to stand in them for a while, let them clean things up a bit and cool down. But, you have to dry off sometime. I want to see you warm again” she smiled, and as quickly as it had come, the rain slowed to a stop.
When she looked to the barn, she saw that the ashes and the violence had been washed away. The structure was incomplete, but it was there, ready to be built back up anew.
She was fading again. Tom felt it too.
“Annie— no! Please, please, please, baby, don’t go.”
She felt for the thread between them again, but found something much wider. Many threads— their wedding day, those warm nights, the home they shared, the love they shared. This was no thread, this was a tapestry vibrant, alive, and shining. There were threads of blue, a sprinkle of black, and red that cut deeply near the corners. But, when she stepped back, all she saw was gold.
She grasped the corner and laid it over Tom’s shoulders.
“It’s time to get warm, Tom.”