HANNAH: SIX MONTHS LATER • by Mary Lucille Hays

Some days it seems like it’s been years. Some days I think she’ll be right back. I get to crying, and can’t stop. It’s not like me. I know she would want me to look out for David, so that’s what I’ve been doing. The drive out to the farm helps me focus. A couple times a week we might cook something or run into Sangamon for dinner. Or I make him go with me to take the dog on a walk. Poor Trixie, Ruth was the one who walked her. I wonder how we all got so old. One minute we were trading babysitting and the next our kids were having kids. Now we have great grandchildren, and even our children are senior citizens.

Yesterday when I called, David asked me to help him go through Ruth’s clothes. “She would have wanted them to go to Willow Tree,” he said. “I mean, any you don’t want.”

I told him I might find something to wear, but to tell the truth, since Ruth died, I just don’t see the point in keeping stuff. I’ve been cleaning out closets and drawers, trying to pare down. In my more morbid moments I think I’m trying to make it easy on the kids when they have to go through my house and get rid of my things.

I hadn’t been in her bedroom since I had to help David find some clothes for her to wear for the funeral. Their bedroom, I mean. I guess it’s just his now. David had some boxes set out on the bed and he opened the closet. I didn’t really think about it until I got in there, taking her dresses off of hangers, folding her blouses and cotton skirts, how strong the memories would be, how personal. When I pulled a blue, scoop-necked dress down from the rod, David reached out and took the fabric between his thumb and forefinger. He gazed at it for a long moment. It was one of her favorites. She had worn it for years.

“You take this one,” he finally said.

And I told him I would, though it was not really my style. I folded it and set it on the bed next to the boxes, along with a couple of sweaters I liked.

Soon we had finished her side of the closet, leaving it empty, the hangers swinging sadly in the hollow space. Then we worked on her shoes. I couldn’t wear those. Her feet were much wider than mine, but I did take her garden clogs. I started closing up the boxes and sealing them with packing tape.

“Wait a minute,” said David, and he pulled a scarlet terry-cloth bathrobe off of a hook on the bathroom door. “Do you need a robe?”

It looked so warm and cheerful, that suddenly I did want a robe, and I reached for it, and he helped me into it. It was soft and roomy, even over my clothes, and I reached for the belt and tied it around my waist. “Thanks, David,” I said, and put my hands into the deep pockets. My right hand hit something solid, and my fingers closed around it. I pulled out a brown egg and showed it to David. We laughed together about how Ruth used to go out to the coop in the morning in her robe, and it felt so good to laugh that I think we didn’t want to stop. We sat on the bench under the window and told stories about Ruth until the sun came low through the glass behind us, shining a rosy glow on the wall over the bed, our shadows strangely purple in the late afternoon. I thought then about someone peering in the window in wonder at the two old people giggling like they had forgotten their age, the years falling away like petals from a wind-rustled cherry tree.

It’s kind of silly, but I took that egg home with me and set it in one of Nanny’s eggcups in my kitchen window where I can look at it. I know it’s risky to keep it. It might explode. But it lay secret in Ruth’s pocket for several months, so maybe it is evaporating from the inside out, leaving the shell to eventually crumple into powder with age. I’ll keep it there for a little while. I love to think of Ruth finding that warm egg in the coop, dropping it into her pocket while she finished the chicken chores, and then forgetting all about it. Every time I see that egg, I remember my sister, and think about the golden sunshine concentrated in the center of the world.

Mary Lucille Hays writes about Midwestern life. She wants to be an ambassador for the Prairie perspective. She raises chickens, turkeys, and other birds in Piatt County, Illinois, and many, but not all, or her stories have a rural slant. Hays has published stories in Quiddity, ACM, Broad! Short Fiction Break, Coal City Review, and other publications. Her story, “Tribute in Black, White, and Gray” won first place in Sixfold’s contest and was published in their 2017 issue. This story is from her novel, Ruth Harris: Under the Prairie Moon. This is her third story in Every Day Fiction.

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