Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Old Barn

There was to be company for supper, and Mama needed her to mind the baby.

Ruth hitched Samuel to her hip, and scooped a bucket to fetch water from the neighbor’s well. With the drought this summer, theirs was mud and stone. When Mama was all hot and bothered, and muttering to her Lord, it was best to move like lightning.

“Mercy, Sammy. You smell like an outhouse.”

He slobbered over a toothless grin, while the chickens scattered at her stride.

Ruth scrunched her nose at the foulness staining her apron, but didn’t stop. All of his diapers—and two-year-old Peter’s—were drying on the line. Everything had fallen one step behind since Mama started taking in sewing work, on account of Father losing his job as a—

As a—

Well, no one ever bothered to properly explain what it was he did.

But whatever it had been, he had come home dark as thunderclouds. In want of that sharp sludge in the jugs Mama took to kicking from time to time.

Ruth tripped down the rutted road, humming “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” for Sammy. Mama didn’t approve of the Irish on account of their being the Whores of Babble-on, but Father sang the tune on those evenings when his cheeks were flush and his heart wide. Mama seemed to forget God altogether then.

Passing by the pasture gate, Ruth paused. It was open again.

“Houdini!” she hissed, spotting the black mare in the road ahead. “You naughty—”

She started toward her favorite horse, when she heard the sound. Something low, and snuffling. Something to strangle her song.

Her eyes twisted toward the old barn. A cold wind clutched her neck, though the day was fine.

“Hush, Sammy,” she said, though the boy was strangely docile.

Ruth approached the barn, swinging her bucket. Still wanting to believe in that blue, blue sky.

Through a gap in the grey siding, she saw her father, sitting on a stool. An empty jug lay on its side.

Tears streamed down his cheeks.

His lips smiled hugely about Grandpa’s Burnside carbine rifle.

Hands choked the muzzle.

Toe on the trigger.

She dropped her bucket, and shielded Sammy’s head against a thin shoulder.

Her father’s wild eyes turned, and bulged. The toe slipped.

“Get outta here, Ruthie,” he sobbed, spitting out the cold iron. Rising, he listed to the side.

She stared at the dark weapon in his hand.

“Din’t you hear, girl?" he slurred, charging toward her, spittle spraying. "I said, get.”

She got.

Even remembering to close the pasture gate behind her.

And when she heard that rifle fire, something like Mama’s Holy Ghost passed through her small body, when she saw that big, sweet horse drop to its side.


Ello said...

Oh wow! That was amazing! I have chills. Serious goosebumps as I read this!

Anonymous said...

I read this way too rushed the first time. Now that I'm properly calm, this really opened up for me. Stunning job! It's hard to dive into backwoods folk (or dusty farms) without falling into painful cliche. But you did it deftly and with artistry. The I-didn't-just-see-what-I-just-saw horror was excellent.

When I expanded the picture, it really came to life. I'm not sure that little format gives it room to breathe. Dang blogger.

Sarah Hina said...

Thanks, Ello! This is based on a partially true story. My grandmother was the little girl. The father's near-suicide was my addition, though.

I'm glad it unfolded for you, Jason. :) It was a tough one for me to write.

I liked this Photoshop filter because it brought out a rather menacing red in that rusted roof. Filters are great tools for emphasizing or concealing, depending on your needs. But yes, Blogger mutes the colors and scope a little. Alas.

Aine said...

Wow-- great writing! I love the voice. You really captured the feeling of that time period.

I want to know more about Ruth and her family. This feels like the tip of a huge iceberg....

And, nice photo! ;) I love how the planks of the barn appear to be painted. And that roof is so unique-- striking.

More, please.

Sarah Hina said...

I'm tentative about leaping back in time, Aine, because there's so much room for error. But I'm very glad you felt the voice was authentic. :)

That said, I don't know that I feel confident enough to delve any further. I just happened to become entranced with old barns when taking the camera out, and this anecdote from my grandmother's past came into focus for me.

Thank you for the vote of confidence! That always helps. :)

Billy said...

You have an award waiting on my blog, Sarah. Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

This is how the best stories grow. Fact woven with fiction. I think this is the second time you have delved into this way of life. You have a grand touch for it. You remember not to take it over the top. I applaud you.

Sarah Hina said...

Thank you, Ruth. I always love your comments.

Perhaps it's a good thing that I feel so insecure about period/place pieces. It forces me to keep the writing somewhat lean, and--hopefully--true.

Your cave series comes to mind as I think about this.

ChrisEldin said...

I hope you expand this. The characters jump off the page, and you do a brilliant job of capturing who they are, honestly, without mocking or judging them.
I also had to read this twice. The first time I read it soo fast, and then had to say to myself 'Did that really happen?'
This seems similar to the flash fiction piece you did for a Clarity of Night contest. It's very well done--I'm hoping you'll somehow merge the two....

Sarah Hina said...

You're the second person, Chris, who's noticed this piece's similarity to "Christina's World," the story I wrote for Jason's contest.

A very interesting idea to merge the two. Perhaps Ruth grows up to be Christina. Or the reliable, compassionate friend who gives her a shoulder.

Thanks for giving me something to stew over...and for the kind words.