By Samantha Henderson
“There…on the hill…” he pointed;
the woman turned from her pots, frowning.
He passed his hand before his face
as if in thick fog, trying to determine
if his body still existed.
(although the night was chill), he dropped
into the straw-backed chair
I put down my spoon (reluctant,
because the soup was good,
and she hadn’t stinted on the meat,
as some of these mountain girls will do,
although I pay in silver coin).
“What did you see?” I said, leaning close.
He looked at me, bewildered.
“The hill,” he breathed. I nodded. “Yes,
I know. Begin at the beginning: you went to find the lamb.”
His eyes unclouded.
“It was tangled in the morning glory
at the bottom of the path that borders
Murphy’s land and mine.”
“You found it?”
“Yes. But the passage dips and rises there, the top
of the hillock shrouded in mist, and I felt I must go on.”
A leaden despair came over me then,
for I had missed it, and it came to another –
I knew what must follow. Still, I prodded:
“you went to the top, then.”
Not hearing me at all,
half starting out of his seat –
“the mist was thick as smoke. It had that smell
like someone’s burning leaves out of season,
but it cleared at the top, and there was a cart” – this all in a rush
like spilling a bucket of pebbles –
“a tinker’s cart
and a dappled Shire cropping the grass.
I thought to warn them off, for they bordered on Murphy’s land,
and he has no love for tinkers or gypsies.
I saw the man at his anvil: his hammer,
so small in his hand. I heard
the tapping as he worked on something small,
silvery – a glint in the moonlight – a chain,
perhaps. A stone’s throw away…”
“A woman…” (the woman
at the stove drew in air, audible,
and gripped her ladle).
“His girl, I thought, but she belonged to no one save the earth
itself. And perhaps the moonlight; she stood apart, hair rippled to
her waist, and wept.”
So – she still weeps. And I have missed my chance this year, lazed and
supped and misread the signs. I am growing old, eight more seasons,
and it will be too late.
He sat and stared at nothing,
then startled himself awake. “The lamb,
I had it tucked under my arm the whole time, I must see
that its mother has not cast it off.” He was gone, and at the stove I
heard the dry scritch
of a woman trying not to cry.
I scooped up the last of the soup.
“You have nothing to fear,” I said.
“He won’t see it again. Understand,
he’ll wander a night or two,
call out in his dreams,
but it will fade.”
Then she breathed easy, and gathered the dishes,
not looking me in the face
that I might not see her dislike. Polite girl,
really. “The barn tonight,” I said.
“Straw is good enough, and I’ll wake the sooner.
You’ll not see me again,
and be glad of that, I daresay.”
She did not deny, but in the morning
I found a blanket tossed across me,
And by my hand a packet neatly tied,
Mountain-fashion, within: a fresh loaf, a bottle,
A small wheel of cheese.
I returned the courtesy,
and did not stop at the doorway,
to say thank you and good bye.
Samantha Henderson lives in Southern California with assorted fauna. Her work has been published in such venues as Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, The Fortean Bureau, Lone Star Stories, Sybil’s Garage, and Lost Pages. For more information, visit her website at www.samanthahenderson.com.
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish