Owen was out in the shed, sorting junk for Edith’s rummage sale. He slid an oak hutch aside and there it was; a hole in the dusty floorboards, the size of an apple, in the center of the shed’s floor.
Owen scratched at his chin and stared at it.
That evening, Edith opened the kitchen window overlooking the yard and called Owen to supper. When he didn’t respond, she stomped along the gravel path leading from the house and out to the shed.
Owen stood by a bed-sized hole, his thin gray hair plastered to his brow, a crowbar in his hand, his flannel shirt darkened with sweat and clinging to his thin frame. Splintered floorboards littered the shed floor. Boxes, knick-knacks, Edith’s sewing machine were shoved into the corners.
“Owen!” Edith said. “What are you doing?”
Owen looked at her.
“I found a hole,” he said.
Edith crossed her arms and shifted her weight.
“I can see that,” she said. She surveyed the shed. “You’re supposed to be gathering sale items. What’ve you done to the floor?”
“Well, my dear,” Owen said, “I’ve tossed three boards, a chair and a lamp into this hole, and I’ve heard nothing of ‘em since. No clatter, crash, or shatter. I admit I’m perplexed.”
Edith stepped closer and peered into the hole. It was dark. She didn’t see a bottom.
“I’m cooking a pot roast and you’re throwing my antiques into a sinkhole?”
Owen waved a hand at her.
“Antiques? Yesterday they were yard-sale junk. And this is no sinkhole. You smell that?”
He sniffed at the air, his nostril flaring.
“Smells like fresh hay, doesn’t it?”
Edith smelled it too, but was loathe to admit it.
“Owen,” she said, “you’re too old to be ripping up floors. Come away from there and call the town hall about this hole. Get somebody to come out and fill it.”
Owen smiled wistfully.
“Yep, fresh hay,” Owen said. “Remember the barn, my dear?”
Edith smirked. She remembered.
That long-ago summer of their first year of marriage, Owen worked at her daddy’s farm. Edith would climb the ladder into the barn’s loft to watch Owen finishing his day’s work, stacking bales of hay and tending to the farm equipment. There was a tire-swing hung from the barn’s rafters, and Owen would climb the rope, strong and quick, and Edith would giggle and clamber onto her husband’s back, arms around his neck, legs around his hips, and he’d easily lower them both down and they’d walk home hand-in-hand.
Edith blushed, remembering fondly the scent of her new husband’s sweat, the muscles he’d had in his shoulders and back, long before the years had wasted them away.
And how they sometimes remained up in the loft for awhile, newlyweds that they were.
Edith snorted. “What I remember is that you’re not a young man anymore, so stop this nonsense and put them floorboards back, or you’ll be sleeping on the couch tonight.”
She turned and marched back to the house, scowling, or trying to, but for the hint of a smile on her lips.
Owen remained, gazing into the hole.
He thought again of that summer, and the old barn. He remembered how the hay could get into the oddest places when you rolled around in it naked.
He remembered the year after that summer, sitting in the doctor’s office, holding Edith as she wept when they were told they could never have children.
He remembered the years of farm work, and later at the factory in town, while Edith taught children at the elementary school, and the years passed, and their hair thinned and grayed, and retirement came, and the years passed, and where had it all gone?
Owen returned to the house after dark. He found a blanket and pillow waiting for him on the couch and curled up with them, and slept, and dreamt of younger days.
Edith found the note taped to the shed door the next morning. In Owen’s jittery scrawl, it read “Climbed down. Don’t worry. Be back soon.”
There was a rope tied to the rafters over the hole, the length of it disappearing down into the dark.
Edith walked around the hole a few times. She thought she could just make out the soft whisper of distant winds from below. She smelled fresh hay.
She found an old stool in a corner and sat.
Towards evening, when she was all cried out and terribly hungry, she heard a creak from the rafters. She noticed the rope was taut and trembling.
She rose from the stool and approached the edge of the hole.
Ascending from the dark, hand over hand, climbed her husband. His hair was a thick, full brown. As he came, she saw the lines on his face had softened, and there was a sparkle in his eyes she hadn’t seen in years.
He climbed the rope, strong and quick.
Owen stepped onto the shed floor and stood next to his wife. He wiped a tear from her cheek, and Edith smiled.
“I thought you’d left me,” she said, playfully punching Owen’s shoulder.
“Sorry, dear. Just exploring.”
“And what did you find?”
“Come along and I’ll show you,” he said.
Edith put a hand to her chest and gaped at the rope.
“Me? Climb down that?”
“No, silly,” Owen said. “I’ll carry you.”
Edith started to protest, but Owen slipped a muscular arm around her waist and lifted her off her feet. He reached out with his other hand and grasped the rope.
“Ready?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she whispered. She put her arms around his neck, wrapped her legs about his waist, and he pulled them onto the rope, and slowly, gently, they began to descend.
G.T.MacMillan lives with his family in Pennsylvania where he plays drums and reads a lot.