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Upon A Hill

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When Peter was little he used to watch his mother hang laundry upon a hill. She would dye long rolls of fabric and hang them in the trees to dry. This was his mother's only paying job after the war. In the morning before the butcher, but after the milkman had come to all the houses, there she was with her cart and Peter. He would come with her each and every day, and never say a word to anyone. Standing behind her long skirts, he would peek out at all the people on their front steps. He knew all their names, what their jobs were, and stories neighbors had to tell about them.
The town was small, and after the war was over families started move away into the cities. Peter's father worked in the mines and wouldn't leave their house no matter how much his wife protested. She needed to get out, to change. She wanted to travel, but there was no money, and here they were safe. So she stayed, rubbing her hands raw and pushing the pain away.
The streets and buildings were beginning to collapse, and there was no one to fix them. The roofs sagged deep bellow the beams in barns and the holes in the roads were fattened with every car that passed by. Peter had a small bike his father had pulled out of the ocean for him. He rode it all around the town, and when people waved at him and called out, he did nothing. He'd peddle until he was far off in the distance and look back over his shoulder to see the specks that couldn't wave or say his name anymore.
When his mother would go up to the hill to hang the laundry it was always at the same time. If she hung it any later she knew it wouldn't dry in time before dark. And delivering it at night could be dangerous. The searches were still happening, and being out after sunset brought unwanted attention. Peter would walk up the hill with her to make sure she was safe.

He would sit in the tall tattered grass and look at the clothes. Sleeves flew by in the wind, and inside he saw people. He knew whose clothes were whose. The black long dresses with silver buttons belonged to the widow up the street named Josephine. And he could sense sorrow in every man's clothing. With Mr. Leeward's crisp shirts it was the sorrow of indifference. With Mr. Charles the memories of his lovely lost wife were exposed to Peter through washed out stains and small holes. With Mr. Robinson, the nightmares of battlefields and dead comrades all folded into his wrinkled sleeves. Peter saw these all, and the faces of people long gone. He saw this and stayed silent.
He grew up slowly, living with his mother and never leaving the small town. He hadn't finished school, and spent most of his time fixing broken down buildings and delivering the laundry. His mother's legs had knotted with old age, and walking the distances between the sparse houses was too much for her. He kept quiet, the weight of other peoples sorrows bearing down on his tall frame. He wondered why they were all so willing to hang their heartbreaks out to dry. He wondered how lonely these people were, never leaving this town. No new families had moved in since his childhood, and there were all the same people in all the same houses. They only seemed to die.
One day he married a girl from the city, and moved away. They lived on the outskirts of the city and he walked into the woods while his wife was at work. He'd put a basket full of clothes on his back and make his way through the patchy forest. In the middle of the dead trunks and ferns was a hill above the treetops. From there he could see the city. If he climbed the tallest tree he could see the little town where he left his mother. People in the park near the woods would walk by and wave. He'd wave back, and take off his basket. Peter would drape his wife's damp clothing and his own among the branches and on the flat rocks. While the clothes swayed in the sea breeze he would read. He saw himself in the buttonholes and his wife in the altered hems. He also saw the happiness they shared.
On the day his wife died he was on the hill and didn't hear her. Peter took the clothes down and walked home. When he found her body he used the clean sheets and shirts to sop up the blood. She had been shot, and someone had broken into the house. He called the police and washed everything all again. When he took them up the hill to dry the next day, no one waved. He wanted someone to see his loneliness. From then on he took his clothes to a laundry mat deep in the city, so maybe someone might walk by and see his memories and his wife's face as the fabric dried.





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