Ella swept the log cabin clean. Their house was on the edge of a gorgeous lake in the depths of the woods. The lake was big, wide enough to take in the whole horizon and cold. James had been busy. Sketching his drawings and writing his research papers. The Native Tribes had welcomed them when they saw how beautiful Ella was, at the time she was six-months pregnant, and how earnest and intelligent James was. She finished sweeping and went out into the yard to gather some firewood to start the evening blaze in the kitchen. They would have fresh crappy from the lake tonight, some greens from their small garden, the ones they had preserved from last year would be good, salty and stingy in the vinegar brine. James was deep in thought caught up in his studies and his work. He hardly paid any attention to Ella anymore. She stared out at the lake, the Mountains snow capped on the horizon, and the river dumping fresh cold war and plenty of nutrients into the lake as it wound its way through the trees and plains east of here. Ella sighed tilting her head to the side, an errant gust of wind swept across the lake and ruffled her dress as it caught a strand of her golden hair and caressed it across her face. The wind smelled of the snow from the mountains, fresh leaves and a coming storm. Ella could see the clouds piling up in the distance and the minute shift in barometric pressure gave her goose bumps as she waited for the squall to come.
She walked inside humming a tune, not happy, not sad, something that seemed new to her, she didn’t know where it had come from but something about it stuck in her head.
“You’re singing that song again?” James said as he walked in from his study.
The cabin only had three rooms, their bedroom, the kitchen, and James’s study, which wasn’t supposed to be a study. They lost the baby that first winter. Ella had gone into birth early and the baby had been born breach and without a wet nurse or anyone with any experience the poor baby suffocated as James struggled to pull him out, the umbilical cord wrapped around its wet little neck like a noose. It wasn’t James’s fault Ella would tell herself, but James blamed himself, and deep down she did too, but she also blamed herself…They buried the baby in the backyard right next to the sapling Apple Tree, hopefully the two would work together to keep James and Ella alive and together at least for one more year. That winter was brutal, and the two had held together, clinging to each other like survivors from a shipwreck. But with Spring, the thawing of the world, something cold and empty had appeared between James and Ella.
James hid himself in his work, and recently had been gone for days at a time, taking his rifle, buck knife and sketch pad he was on assignment from the university to log and classify all of the local flora and fauna, while Ella tried to keep the house as clean and fresh as possible. She spent her days knitting for herself and James, and for the babies she hoped they would have one day. James was avoiding her though whether out of guilt or disgust it was hard for Ella to say.
“What song is that anyway?” James asked as he picked up a raw carrot from their rough hewn table and took a snap of a bite… “is it one of the showtunes from your days on the stage back in Philly?”
“I don’t know, what it is? I think I heard it in my dream last night. You know I had the strangest dream?”
“Oh?” asked James stoking the fire and putting some of the wood Ella had gathered in a pattern under the cook pot. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to hold you…I found the trail of a team of caribou and followed them near to the edge of the range, I was lucky to make it back before dinner, “What are we having for dinner love?
“I think we’ll have flap jacks with potatoes and some of that deer meat you brought home last week when you were out hunting with Tecumseh and his brothers…sound good?”
“Sounds perfect, I’m starving.”
“So you’re dream?”
“It was so strange. I dreamed of this man. He came down the river, from the east. He was dressed like we used to dress before we came out here. The newest fashions though, somethings had changed since we left, He wore his clothes in a relaxed yet sophisticated manner, and although they were store bought, he wasn’t fancy about them… know what I mean?”
“Sounds like a real catch. Did this guy have a name?”
“He did…Raymond…Raymond Cavalier…he was tall, over 6 feet, with dark lustrous hair. "
“Raymond Cavalier huh?”
James said looking over his shoulder at Ella, who was staring out the window, the knife in her hand, the late afternoon light coming in like honey over her face. And behind her a vista of April blue skies, juxtaposed against the heavy coal black storm clouds rolling down from the north. A sound of thunder carried across the lake as a string of southerly wind brought up the chop and skittered the water in a formation reminiscent of swallows leaping into the air together all of a sudden as if they had all heard the warning cries at the same time.
“He wasn’t alone either, there was another man with him, not quite as tall and fairer in complexion…And…Oh…never mind…It’s silly James.”
“What? Go on…this sounds like an interesting dream.”
James said…getting a little jealous in spite of himself…Raymond Caviler was just a figment of his wife’s imagination, but there was something he didn’t like about him already, real or not…His wife was thinking about another man, dreaming about another man…James tried to play it cool, he wanted to hear more, to see if there were any clues that might tie this “dream man” to anyone he knew here in the real world.
“It’s nothing” …Ella shook her head…” it’s just that when he came here they were in a boat bigger than a canoe…and flatter on the bottom with a sail, like the skiffs that used to drift down the river back home, …he got off the boat and said that…it was so strange, they said that they were looking for you, but in me he had found more than he knew…His eyes sparkled like two diamonds, and his big hands caressed mine as I helped him to shore. Its so strange, he kissed me and when our lips met that’s when this song jumped into my mind, flashed like a bolt of lightning and continued to play, a snippet like rain dancing across stones…I don’t want to forget it. I wish there was some way to preserve it, so it doesn’t just drift out of my mind like so much kitchen smoke.”
“Dreams are funny things, and this Raymond character sounds even funnier if you catch my drift, sounds like a bit of a dandy to me.”
“Oh James, are you jealous, of a dream? I know there’s not much competition out here but you have no need to go around getting jealous of illusions, that is the “dandiest” thing I have ever heard.”
James huffed out of the house slamming the door…”
I’m off to get some wood” …he said as he left.
Ella continued to cook…humming that mysterious song.
They ate in near silence, then James asked, “Why don’t we saddle up the horse and go into town. Maybe there’s a show playing, you could get a taste of the theater again, get some of that old magic back.” he said, smiling at her sardonically, with just a shimmer of hope behind the defiant eyes.
“Alright, honey. Let me clean up and then we can go.”
James saddled the old roan, “Wellington”, out back. Wells was black as midnight, and so shiny in the moonlight he almost looked slippery, covered in oil.
Ella came out in her best city clothes looking elegant and beautiful, James lifter her up onto Wells catching a hint of her perfume, and smiling. Maybe there was still hope for them after all…maybe he just needed to make more of an effort, listen to her more, pay her a little more attention…maybe they should take a trip up into the White Mountains beyond their lake…
The horse galloped down the dark road as James looked through the woods, the trees were dazzling with the first fireflies and smelled of summer rain mixed with wild honeysuckle, and pear trees the earth was finally waking up from its cold winter slumber.
“Hey baby?” James asked looking back to where Ella had her head pressed to his shoulder, her arms gripping him tight around his waist, holding tight with a touch of affection, a searching grip, a curious hold, a fear for the future and for them, a steadying grip as much for her as for him, they needed each other.
“Hmmm?” Ella replied, lulled to drowsiness by the patterns within patterns playing around her, the rhythm of Wellington’s hoofs beating out a resonant drum roll while the swinging trees provided background and the hooting owls sang soprano sonatas It all blended seamlessly into a patchwork quilt of night sounds that soothed her soul…and inside she hummed that same song, which seemed to meet the currents of the night where they swam toward her and James riding to the little town in the hollow of the hills, where the two creeks converged and became the river they now rode beside.
“You wanna take Wells and the wagon and head up into the mountains for the weekend?”
Ella said, a bit breathlessly. She loved the Mountains, they would take the wagon out there and camp amongst the old growth trees, the fresh snowmelt flooding the steep creeks and the young fish jumping wild in their own exuberance, their shiny silver scales shimmering like electric magic in the bright spring sunlight. She loved the mountains, the altitude and fresh air, the even brighter sense of freedom, it was the perfect space to reconnect with James...They hadn’t spent much time alone since the baby Life here was not guaranteed as she and James now knew all too well. She had been in a bit of a fog, feeling James’s distance…James had been the one pulling away…but now she too seemed to be drifting. It was strange she couldn’t explain why, why things that usually cheered her up and made her happy, seemed all wrong now.
“What do you say Ella, it might do us both some good?”
“I…No..I don’t think so James, not this weekend.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence…
That night Ella had the dream again…
When she woke up, James was next to her with a steaming cup of coffee. She rose to her elbows, the song from last night still on her lips and a flush on her face. She felt well rested and excited, as if something big was about to happen. As if some unknown thing awaited her and today was the day. It was like the day James and her finally made their way from Philadelphia, a breaking free, a starting again.
“How did you sleep?” James asked.
“Ooh like a log” Ella said stretching like a cat in the sunlight twisting her legs under the fresh linens.
Ella looked up at him, a little startled, a little guilty.
“Huh?” She asked, feeling accused for something she had no control over, and immediately feeling ashamed for having enjoyed the dream so much, for savoring the music now spreading from her lips through her whole heart.
“You dreamed of that man again…didn’t you” James demanded staring into a dark corner of the room.
“James don’t be ridiculous…” Ella said as she climbed from her sitting position and reached for James’s broad shoulder. He shrugged her hand off.
“You did, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” She said abashedly.
“You know you talk in your sleep, and last night was the worst I’ve ever seen, you laughed and talked and sang, whoever this “dream man” is he sure seems to make you happy…happier than I have in a long time…” James said sullenly.
“Pretty specific dreams too, apparently his boat comes in today…Raymond’s boat…this afternoon down where the creeks meet just before town isn’t that where he and his friend will dock and begin the rest of their journey on foot? Does that make you excited?”
“James, it was just a dream, please honey, you are being really silly. For someone who spends all of his days either buried in the woods or entombed in his books, you sure have taken a sharp interest in my dreams lately.”
“And that damned song you keep singing, you really do love that scarp of ratty music don’t you.”
James got up and went outside. He spent the rest of the morning in the garden hoeing and plowing and prepping the soil to plant for Spring.
Ella stepped outside into the early afternoon sun “Are you headed to town today? Its Wednesday,don’t you usually go to town every Wednesday about this time?”
“No, not today too much work to do around here to get ready for Summer.”
“Alright then, I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Where are you heading?”
“Jillian invited me to come see the piglets, you know their big pig mama gave birth this month, she said if I wanted we could have a few of the piglets to keep here. I was thinking they would be good company, and if we get a few males and females we might even be able to breed a few of them ourselves in a few years, start our own little menagerie.”
“Today? You want to go to Jillian’s today? No honey, not today. I told Willard to stop by this afternoon to help me split some rails for the fence. He said today he would come by sometime this afternoon…you know how busy he is too, so I thought that would be mighty nice of him. Come on in, let’s grab a bite of lunch.” James said solidly holding Ella by the elbow and steering her back into the house.
After a quick lunch of bacon, bread and butter, James grabbed a cold cup of coffee his coonskin cap and his rifle then headed out the door.
“Where are you going now James?”
“I just wanted to do a quick bit of hunting. I heard some rustlings in the woods while I was plowing and I just want to make sure its not a bear or a cougar. I won’t be long. Stay here in case Willard comes by, and if he does tell him I’ll be back shortly. You will stay here, right?”
Ella went back inside and took out her knitting, it had started as a blanket for their baby, but she had just kept it going so now it was a gigantic shawl, big enough to cover her and James and keep them warm with space to spare. She was nervous, her smooth hands worked with a mind of their own as her heart fluttered. She knew James must have seen the smoke coming from the woods this morning, as if someone had pitched a fire, it looked to be in the direction of the town, and none of the homesteaders around here ever built fires that smoke like that, everyone here was careful so as not to attract the attention of wild animals or angry natives…only someone who didn’t know the area, someone who had just arrived would have built a camp fire like that…someone who didn’t know any better.
Ella’s hands worked as the sense of something coming reached a crescendo in her heart, she stitched and hummed. That song, that beautiful song, a song that had sprung from a kiss from the man from her dreams who was to come today. Silly she thought, she was just getting cabin fever, just going a little stir crazy, it had been a long winter and she and James had been through a lot. Spring was on its way and her body and her mind and her soul were just excited that was all. But that song, that kiss…
It was then that she heard the shots clear as a flash of lightning. Followed by another one…a murder of crows alighted from the copse of beech trees on the other side of their cart path, Wells neighed from his hitching post and then there was nothing.
James came home about an hour later, smiling, whistling even.
“Was it a bear or a cougar?” Ella asked from where she was rolling out the batter to make biscuits for dinner.
“Huh? Oh…Neither, I just thought I saw a buck down by the river, tried to get it on the run, but my first shot startled him and the second one just went wild, so he got away. But We’ll meet again.”
“You sure seem happy for coming home empty handed.” Ella said
“It’s just a good day to be alive.” James said as he waltzed behind her and kissed her from behind caressing her soft belly as she kneaded the dough.
“Did Willard stop by?”
“No one’s been here. Except for those two shots, it’s been a near silent afternoon.”
"Huh…oh…you know what…I made a mistake…Willard’s supposed to come tomorrow. I’m sorry honey, I must have gotten confused somehow, you know how the days can run together.
“I know. It’s Ok.”
Ella said…humming quietly to herself, a tune she had already started to forget.