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Whiskers


by Paul de Denus


 

He worked on in the early first light, chopping with a crooked axe at the knotted stump of oak that stubbornly grasped the ground. A few birds stirred as the east gave slow rise to the sun coming up over a stand of tall pinewood. He stood straight for a moment, wiped his forehead and watched the horizon. Behind the stand of pine, the first light glowed phosphorescent; a smoky green smear almost unperceivable that blended into the purple rose sunrise.

Some thin's comin', he grunted to no one about. He looked up at a startle of blackbirds suddenly shooting across the warm August sky and then went back to chopping the tree stump.

 

Around midnight, he rose and went to the window. Lightning flared a silent electric green. Book-ending his hands against his temples, forehead against the glass, he peered out into the darkness. The moon was up; a silver dollar played. From the east, the wind rippled across the cornfields, their ivory chaff rustling like long dead bones.

What is it? she said, half turning in their crumpled bed.

Never mind, he whispered, go back to sleep.

Did you hear sum'thin'?

It's nothin'. Prob'bly the wind. Go to sleep.

Maybe it was me? she said, turning. I was havin' such a dream.

 

After breakfast she went out the back porch door and down past the barn and strode slowly through the lower eastern pasture. She walked with her head down, humming like a young girl idly wasting away an autumn's day. She crossed a small trickle creek and entered the glade of dark shadowed pinewood. Next to a small ravine, she found the spot of reddish boulders stacked one upon another. On the ground next to it sat the cairn of circled rock. She scraped up a nest of loose pine needles and twig, then took the egg whisk from her apron pocket and gently nestled it into the rough thatch. The whisk, an unwanted gift sent to her from a distant relative, looked like a grotesque remnant of false birth; something rightfully abandoned by a fleeing mother. From its egg-shaped handle protruded a metal deformity, the thin and bulbous wire quivering. She placed the nest of twig in the circle of rocks and left.

 

She slept fitfully and when he awoke once, late in the night, he almost thought she wasn't there.

 

He came in early from the pasture and she was already up, standing at the kitchen counter. Wash up, she said. I'll make breakfes'.

In the pantry, he poured water from a bucket into a shallow metal bowl and lathed his hands and forearms. In the kitchen, she stared out towards the pinewood, softly humming to herself.

How'd you like these? she said, turning. In one hand, she held a bowl that contained three phosphorus green eggs. In the other, the egg whisk rotated slowly between her first two fingers and thumb, the bulbous head glowing red, its wires gently humming.
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