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A Day in November
The hills rolled endlessly across the horizon and were black outlines on the distance in the bright November morning. Next to the hills was a plain that stretched for miles on end and trees were scattered along the plain, providing shade for small animals that skittered along the grass. Every now and then a small lizard or a rabbit would run along through the grass and disappear into a small hole or beneath a rock. But there were none now—the day was quiet and still.
The grass was green and tall, about knee high, and morning dew dripped from their tips and unto the fecund ground. A cold breeze blew passed and the grass bent sideways and rustled and the some of the small water droplets blew away, and that rustling noise echoed throughout the entire land and the sound was carried away into the distance. And when the breeze stopped the grass stood back upright and everything was quiet and still again.
In the middle of the plain stood a small wooden house. A dirt road ran in front of the house and disappeared into a small bend behind a steep hill. Beside the house was a small barn. The sound of chickens and horses and cows and pigs came from inside the barn, a myriad of “oinking” and “mooing” and “neighing” filling the still morning. A small, metal water pump stood outside, and next to it a woman with a bucket. The woman had messy chestnut hair and she had on a dirty shirt and a long, brown skirt. But if someone looked at her from behind they would have thought it was a small, thin man, instead of a woman, not because of her appearance, but because she bore herself in a way common only to men. She placed the bucket beneath the pump and began to fill it up with water, her arms moving up and down as it held the metal bar, tirelessly, the muscles growing taut then lax then growing taut again. Small beads of sweat formed from her forehead and slowly ran down her face. She looked at the water as it raced from the metal pump and into the small bucket.
Then suddenly she heard the sound of galloping in the distance. She let go of the metal bar and straightened her back and looked around. On the dirt road she saw a carriage and a cloud of dust trailed behind it. She squinted her eyes and she gazed at the carriage as it got closer. From where she stood the carriage looked like a black box with small circular wheels. She could see a man in a black hat riding up front, and through the carriage’s window she could see another man sitting inside. Must be a passerby, she thought to herself; very few people came this way since the house she and her family lived in was as secluded area a few miles away from the town.
The carriage was much closer now and she could clearly hear the galloping of the horses. She looked at the driver. The black hat drooped and covered part of his eyes and he had a black beard. His face was covered in dirt and the once white shirt he wore under his black jacket had large specks of dust. Her eyes followed the carriage as it got closer and closer.
The carriage stopped in front of their house and a few moments later the dust settled down on the ground. She slowly walked up to it, her eyes going back and forth from the driver then to the man sitting inside. The man inside wore a black suit and a white collared shirt. He turned to her direction and for a moment she thought he smiled at her, but it was dark inside the carriage so she was not really sure. The carriage doors then opened and the man stepped out and a few particles of dust rose into the air as his black boots hit the ground. He looked at her for a few moments, his face serious, not smiling. His blue eyes continued to stare at her. “Sophia Harling?” he said in a deep, calm voice.
She stared back and after what seemed like an eternity said, “Yes? What do you want?” That voice…have I heard it before? Who is that…
He did not answer. He walked a few steps towards her. She glanced at him then at the driver. The driver just sat there and he now had a cigarette in his mouth. Smoke came out of the cigarette’s tip and disappeared into the air.
She looked back at the man in front of her. “Who are you?” she repeated, this time a little louder.
The man moved closer. This time he was looking directly towards her. She tried to move but she could not. He was a little taller than her so he had to tilt his head a little. She tried to move again, but failed. It was as if the man’s stare was holding her down, making her unable to move her legs. Those eyes…I’ve seen them before… He was now standing directly in front of her and she could clearly see his blue eyes looking intently at her face. Then he gave a faint smile. “Don’t you remember me, Sophia?”
Sophia’s eyebrows arched. “Who…what are you…How do you know my name?”
He chuckled and his smile grew a little wider. “I thought one does not easily forget good family friends? Especially one that claims to have been in love with you for such a long time…” He shook his head, laughing a little. “Let me refresh your memory.” He took a few steps back and placed his right hand on his chest, while the other was raised up in the air as if he were reaching for something. He cleared his throat and said, “’Oh, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” He paused, then continued. “Thou art more lovely and more temperate…Uhm…” His voice faded and his eyes rolled up as he tried to think of the words. His mouth was half open. “Uhmm…something….that happens during May…” He gave a deep sigh. “I never really knew how it went past those first two lines.”
The sides of Sophia’s cheeks raised upwards as a grin began to form on her face. She tried to hold in a laugh but was failing. “John? John Lingard?” she said slowly. “Is that you?”
He nodded his head, brimming.
“How long has it been?” She ran towards him and opened her arms wide and gave him a hug.
He hugged her back, his right arm rapping around the back of her neck while his left hand still hung in mid-air. He hesitated, then licked his lips and said, “It’s…it’s been twenty years, Sophia.” A light smile appeared on his face but it instantly disappeared. “How’s everything?”
She moved back and John’s right arm unwrapped and hung on his sides. “That long, huh? My God! And it’s been great. It’s…it’s been great.”
“That’s nice to hear,” he said gently. His voice was soft. Soothing, thought Sophia. It’s like it hasn’t changed since. “Where’s your ma and pa? How are they?” asked John.
The smile slowly fleeted from her face. Her head looked down to the ground and she licked her upper lip. A light breeze blew and her hair was blown slightly to the right, and they both felt the cold air caress their cheeks. They stood in silence. “Ma and Pa are—“ she stopped as her voice faltered. She swallowed her saliva.“They’re both… dead. They died eight years ago.”
John opened his mouth to say something, but hesitated. “Oh…I’m—I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s fine. It’s fine. They were old anyway, and I guess that’s how life works.” She ran her hand across her hair. Her mouth quivered and she bit her lip to prevent herself from crying. She cleared her throat. “So, how are you?”
John’s right hand grazed his hair. “I’ve been great. I visited a few years back and went to your old house up in town, but they told me you moved here. I knocked on the door and all of a sudden this old lady runs towards me with a stick…ha.” His eyebrow arched and his lips moved to the right, his “devilish smile” as many liked to call it. “Invited me for tea in afterwards though.”
She couldn’t help but laugh; she remembered the young boy standing outside the stores in town more than twenty years ago, smiling at women and women smiling back, naïve, having that feeling of invincibility common in most if not all young men, the feeling that makes them feel as if they had the world in the palm of their hands…but he was handsome all the same. “The John Lingard charm.”
“Of course,” he said mockingly. “Who can resist that?”
“Modesty now,” she said, the smile still on her face. “And I know quite a few girls that have resisted it.”
He gave a slight cough. “Yeah…I guess so.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, unfortunately I couldn’t go then cause I was in such a hurry…” He looked back at the driver in the carriage. The cigarette in the driver’s mouth was half gone. “I guess I’m always in a hurry now, being a lawyer and all.”
“Ah,” she smiled. “The great John Lingard. You were in the paper last time. That’s what Beverly told me. You remember her right?”She nudged him with her elbow. “You’re old sweetheart.”
“Oh…Beverly…” He gave a weak chuckle. “Yeah. Beverly Ingram. How can anyone forget Beverly Ingram.”
“Now, now. Be nice.”
John raised both his hands up in the air, his palms facing forward. “Hey, just saying. That woman can take a heart and break it.” He looked at Sophia and in the back of his mind he thought, But I guess all women can. His eyes then moved passed her, towards the house.
John had a relationship with Beverly Ingram when he was seventeen. But it was one of those relationships that did not last, a summer fling that did not even last for an entire summer; it had lasted for a month. That was why Beverly Ingram was not quite popular among the town’s older denizens—she would go with one man to the next as if she were a child picking rides in a carnival. John smiled in amusement, remembering Beverly Ingram, the way she dressed, the way she walked, the way she giggled every time someone would say a joke. It did not matter whether the joke was funny or not. It was always strange to him. His thoughts were suddenly interrupted when he realized that he had not said anything for a while. “Do you live here alone?” he said. “They told me you never come to town anymore.”
Sophia shrugged. “No, I’m married now.” She raised her right hand and showed him a simple golden ring that wrapped on the base of her ring finger.
He looked at it then nodded.
She brought her hand down to the side. “And yeah, it’s been years since I’ve been to town.” She looked at his face, at his eyes, his nose, his mouth, as if she were scanning each inch of his cheeks, every crevice and wrinkle. This was not the young and carefree John she had last seen twenty years ago. This was the mature John that always came as a passing thought when she was young. The one that she had expected but not hoped to see. But he was here now, alive in the flesh. “You’ve grown a lot since I last saw you John.”
John said, “I was eighteen when you last saw me.” He looked at the house again, then he saw a boy look out the window then disappear back into the darkness. “I guess things change,” he muttered.
Sophia turned to where he was looking at. “Oh, you must have seen my boy.” She placed her hand next to her mouth and called, “JIMMY! JIMMY! COME OVER HERE!”
“Your boy?” John’s right eyebrow raised mockingly. “Jimmy, eh? As in Jimmy McEarchen. As in Ole’ Jimmy boy across the street.” He winked at her.
She turned back. “No,” she replied, a slight smirk on her face. “As in Jim Orally—my husband.”
“Oh, I see. So where is the unlucky man?”
Sophia gently smacked his arm. “John Lingard, that’s not nice! Not nice at all!”
He shrugged his shoulders.“Hey, the truth ain’t nice.” They both laughed. John looked at the door and saw a small boy in overalls emerge from behind it. The boy looked at him. He wore ragged black pants and a blue shirt. He was about three feet tall and his face was slightly smudged with dirt, and he had black hair that was combed to the side. You look a lot like your mother, John thought to himself. He waved at the boy but the boy just hid back behind the door.
“Shy isn’t he?”
“Yeah…” she called his name again and he slowly walked towards where they stood. When he got there he immediately hid behind his mother.
John leaned down so that he was facing the boy straight in the face. “Hey Jimmy. I’m your ma’s old friend, John.” He held out his hand.
The boy looked at it hesitantly, as if the hand was a snake waiting to bite him if he were to touch it.
“Don’t worry Jimmy. I don’t bite.”
Sophia nudged the boy gently on the shoulder. The boy quietly moved towards John and shook his hand. “Good mornin’ Mr. John, sir.”
John shook his hand back. “Ahh, no need for the ‘sirs’ now.” He stood up and ran his hand across the boy’s hair. The boy giggled and looked at the man.
“Ma told me stories about you,” said Jimmy, looking up at John. The sun was right above John’s head so Jimmy had to squint a little.
“Really? What did she say?” He looked at Sophia then back at Jimmy.
“Well, she tole’ me about the McEarchen man, and that time you two went to down the riverbank, and, and…” His voice faded as he tried to think of the stories his mother used to tell him. But none came to mind.
John laughed, turning to Sophia. “You told him about that time in the river?”
She shook her head. “Yeah…” She looked down at the boy’s head, staring blankly at it as if the boy was not there. As if she was just staring in empty space. “Well, not all of it.”
High above them, the sun was shining brightly. There were no clouds and several birds fleeted along the clear November sky. They remained silent for a few seconds, looking at each other, each remembering that day in the river.
Then, finally, it was Sophia that broke the silence. “Do you want to go inside? Or is the great John Lingard in a hurry?”
John gave a light chuckle. “No, I’m not,” he said in a soft voice. “Not at all.” He signaled to the driver, who nodded and took out another cigarette and placed it in between his lips.
Sophia walked inside and the other two followed behind her. As they walked John looked down at Jimmy. “How old are you Jimmy?”
“Five and a half si—Mr. John.”
“Ah, five and a half. A young man then, huh?”
Jimmy smiled and John could see the few teeth he had. “You betcha!” he said.
They walked inside the house and Sophia lead them into the living room. The living room was neatly furnished—an old, run down couch stood at one end of the room, and in the middle, a few feet away from the couch, was a wooden table. Another chair stood directly opposite the couch and it cast a long, misshapen shadow on the wooden floor. On top of the table was an old flower vase that had crude drawings of men on horses. Sophia told John to sit down on the couch. Jimmy ran to the other room and John slumped back and then caught sight of the vase. “You still have this?” He leaned forward and took the vase and held it with his right hand. “I still remember this.”
“Oh, that? Yeah.” She sat down on the other chair. “I couldn’t leave it there at the old house.”
“Yeah…” John turned it back and forth and ran his finger on the drawings. “Yeah…Good times,” he whispered. He placed it back on top of the table. “Where’s your husband?”
Sophia looked out at the window that was located on the right side of the room. “He’s at the market selling some goods for the winter.”
They were both quiet again. Outside the sound of the animals inside the barn could be heard in the house. Another breeze blew passed and for a few moments the sound of the grass rustling mixed with the sound of the animals, then the wind died down and it was quiet, motionless, still.
And they did not talk. They looked at each other, again remembering that time down by the river. That day when they both felt free, young. When he had been in love with her, had hidden the feeling for a long time, had had the feeling since he first saw her in that O’Harris wedding more than two decades ago. Even now as he sat there in that room he could still see that clear and young face and he knew that unlike her appearance her heartiness and clairvoyance was still there, still alive like it had been many years ago, unchanged by time. In those few moments he was able to reminisce all the times they had spent together. All the small adventures that they had—the time they were lost alone in the woods or the time they had to look for John’s younger brother in the town; all the bright summers and capricious winters; the sweat and laughter and tears. And perhaps it would always be like that. Perhaps she would always be the young, care free Sophia that I have known. Perhaps time could not ebb that away. Even if fifty years pass, a hundred, she will still be the same: she is still that woman that had become my best friend, that I had spent all my childhood years with…the one that I love.
They stared at each other, still not talking, but that was enough. That feeling of love and friendship and nostalgia mixed together sweeping both of them like wildfire, strong, apparent. But they were able to control it. And no words were needed to be said. It was as if there was some sort of incommunicable feeling between the two of them, a sort that does not need to be said, just needed to be felt. And perhaps there was a sort of unspoken message between them. They stared at each other, and for those few seconds when a moment becomes more than just a moment, as if time were slowing down, nothing really mattered. There was no Jimmy, no Beverly, no law school. Not yet. The twenty years that had passed was now just a memory, did not even exist. For those few seconds time had paused and had not started, and they were standing on the river bank again—both of them waiting for the other to say it. The boy waiting for the courage to say the words, and the girl waiting for the boy to find the courage even though she knows that in the end she would say No to him.
Even then the words had not come. And they did not come now. Perhaps it never will, thought John. Perhaps we can never be together as lovers. Just as friends. And as Jimmy ran into the room towards his mother it was as if time suddenly sprang back up and the trance that the two had been in was suddenly broken. John suddenly stood up and looked at his watch. “I better go. It’s getting late.”
Sophia stared at him, her mouth open a little, then she closed it and stood up as well. “Of…of course. Of course.” She smiled, and for an instant John thought he saw the twenty-one year old girl he was madly in love with twenty years ago.
But that was it—only for an instant, and that instant went as fast as it had come. Only friends…Oh, my Sophia… John smiled as well. “It was nice seeing you again.” He walked up to Jimmy and again ran his hand across the boy’s golden hair. “It was nice meeting you Jimmy.”
“You too Mr. John.”
“Make me a promise, okay?” He glanced at Sophia then back at Jimmy. “Take care of your ma for me.”
Jimmy nodded his head. “I sure will Mr. John.”
“Now that’s a good boy.” He looked to Sophia. “Well, I guess this is it. Too bad I can’t stay longer.”
“I wish I could. I really do. But I need to go.”
“It was nice seeing you again. Reminds me of good old times.”
She ran her hand across her hair to get it out of her eyes. “It does? Doesn’t it?”
“It does.” He turned and began to walk towards the door, but stopped halfway and stood there, staring at Sophia. “Say hi to your husband for me.” He paused. “I’ll see you when see you.”
“I’ll see you when I see you.”
“Yeah…” he turned again and walked outside. She then heard him talking to the driver, and a few minutes later the sound of the horses hooves against the ground started again.
“I’ll see you when I see you,” she whispered to herself. “John, John, John.” She shook her head.
Eventually, the sound of the horses’ hooves faded into the distance. And soon they were gone. Jimmy rubbed his hand across his stomach; he was hungry. He looked up to his mother and said, “Ma, what’s for supper?”