Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Ten

August 4, 2006

Cathy walked slowly through the yard, stopping on the front porch briefly to gather her thoughts.

Walking through the door, she went straight to the front room to help her mother up.

Ava set her knitting aside and stood up, the cat jumping nimbly to the floor and stalking off.

Together, they gently woke Adam and helped him to his feet.

Ava nudged Cathy once Adam was in bed and drew her into the light of the kitchen.

"You were gone a while dear, is everything okay next door?"

"Of course, Mother, I told you I thought I saw John and his family coming in this evening. They send their love."

Ava pursed her lips, and shook her head. "I know you'll tell me when you you're ready." And she began to fill a basin to wash the teacups.

Cathy smiled and kissed her mother, "Nothing bad, I promise, just not ready to talk."

Soon the dishes were done and everything was put away. A fresh kettle of water was set on the stove, ready for the morning, and a saucer of watered down milk put out for the cat.

Ava kissed her daughter good night, and Cathy went to her room where she pushed the cat to the foot of the bed and went to sleep.

Paul sighed as he walked onto the porch. Gilly came back and sat down next to him, wiping her hands on her apron.

He reached over and pulled her close, his rough beard tickling her cheek.

She leaned into him, listening to his heart and his gentle breathing. He smelled of smoke and horses, just as he used to.

"I was gone..." he trailed off, and she patted his hand. "Ten years," she finished, "A lot happened. It will take time to get everything sorted out."

He turned her hand over in his, and looked at it carefully. He traced a small scar on a finger, and set her ring straight.

"You know, I wrote to you at first. I guess they never arrived."

Gilly nodded silently, "We got one, about six months after you left. You had written it when you reached the port city. But we had no way of knowing where you had gone from there."

Paul sat still for a moment. "I wanted to come back when I wrote that -- I missed you so much. But I needed to try..."

Gilly pulled away slightly so she could look at him straight on. The lamp on the porch flickered slightly, and the dog came around the corner of the house, oblivious to anything but the wonderful scent he was following.

"I know you had many questions, and I know you went because it was important," Gilly paused, wringing her hands. "But I missed you. And the children had to grow up without you."

"It wasn't as bad for the older ones -- Annie and Jane were old enough, and John of course -- they helped so much when the others were little."

"But the twins took it hard. They had a rough couple of years when you didn't come back on time."

Paul hung his head, but kept his silence.

"The others -- well they were young enough, and of course Mother and Father -- and Cathy, and of course Peter and his family -- helped as much as they could. It wasn't easy, but we figured things out."

Gilly paused for a moment. She was trying to think of all she wanted to say.

Anna came to the front door and cleared her throat quietly. Gilly and Paul looked around in surprise. They had forgotten they weren't alone.

"Mother, we wanted to tell you the children are all in bed, but Nan would like a goodnight kiss. She is a little overwhelmed, I think, with all the newness of everything."

"Of course, dear," replied Gilly and stood up. Paul followed her inside uncertainly.

Anna smiled at him and reached up to give him a peck on the cheek. "I am glad you are home, Father, perhaps you will tell us more stories tomorrow -- we all enjoyed them." And she followed Gilly to the children's rooms.

John was sitting in a corner, watching his father pensively.

Neither man spoke for a minute. Finally, John stood up and put another log on the fire. As he did, he noticed the small brown bird on the mantelpiece.

Paul followed his gaze, and turned a peculiar shade of gray.

The dog slumped loudly against the front door, taking his post for the evening. The fire crackled warmly and the furniture danced in the shadows. Time stood still for a moment. John caught Paul's eye and stood up to face him. "Father?"

Paul gently picked up the little bird and turned it in his hands.

"So, they found it -- but they didn't tell anyone... " he murmured under his breath.

"John, there are many things I want to explain, and many more things -- wonderful things-- that I want to share with you. With all of you. This is one of them. It comes from a place far from here."

"And it will take more time than we have in a month to get it all in," he looked at his eldest son.

"You are the man I had always hoped you would be -- your family is beautiful, and I am so proud of you."

"And I don't expect you to forgive me for being gone. Not yet, maybe not ever." He frowned as John started to protest. "I would find it hard to forgive..."

John interrupted, "Father -- you are right. I am not yet ready to forgive you, but I know that if you are the man I knew as a child, you had your reasons for staying away. I may not like the reasons, but it's Mother's place to accept them, not mine."

"Accept what, dear?" Asked Gilly coming into the room.

John and Paul looked at each other as Gilly came to them. Paul held out his hand to John, who ignored it and gave him a hug. "When you are ready, Father. For now, I am glad you are home." And he excused himself and went to help Anna finish cleaning the kitchen.

The sound of quiet voices slipped through the walls from the kitchen, the coals being piled up for the night, the door opening and closing as John brought in wood, the chairs being set properly under the table.

Gilly and Paul stood looking at each other again, thinking their thoughts.

Paul's hands grasped the little bird protectively. His eyes filled with tears, and brimmed over.

Gilly wiped the wetness with her handkerchief and kissed him. She gave him a squeeze and looked inquisitively at his hand.

Slowly, he opened it, and her eyes grew wide.

He placed the bird to his lips, and quietly the sound of all the distance, all the years, all the sorrow and all the wonder filled the space between them.

He offered it to her, and ten springs, ten autumns, ten summers, ten winters of birthdays, colds, school plays and berry pies, cookies and spiced ciders entered the room.

Gilly and Paul stood in the silence, watching the fire die down. He banked the coals and put the screen in front. She let the cat in, and put out the lamps.

Outside, the wind whispered and the trees answered. Good night.... good night.

*tiptoes out of the room (good night all)*