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Carolina

	The trees dripped wetly on the autumnal forest carpet
 cushioning my boots. I stepped carefully among the fallen
 branches and sleeping masses of honeysuckle, spread for a
 sun now hidden behind the misty mountain ridges.
	The grey stones watched me pass, standing like menhirs on
 the slope, guarding against time and inevitable gravity. 
	Emerging from the wood through the meadow-fringing brush, 
 I could see down in the soaked cold valley a rise of blue smoke 
 from some family's woodstove beyond the old barbed wire of their
 pasture, where a window glowed in the dusk.
	Cutting across the pasture I slipped, sliding down next to
 the creek down the embankment, and into the icy cold running waters,
 soaking my boots and up to my waist as a stone on the creek bed gave
 a turn and I fell. As if on cue, the day-long drizzle began to fill 
 with snowflakes: I would have to get dry and warm before heading on.
	I had been up on Chunky Gal Ridge hunting ginsing and
 sapphires in a saddleback, which I could sell in town for supplies,
 took a wrong trail and found myself too far east to get to Deer Creek
 before dark: the snow and twilight told me I hadn't much time at all.
 I was in no hurry; there wasn't anything there that would be gone
 though I took a season.
	Going through the barbed wire I noted it was sore in need of
 mending: a calf would be out in a heartbeat if he rubbed this stretch.
 Maybe the man of the house was ill, or off working in town. I stopped
 a spell to catch my breath, considering whether to approach the house:
 they might be defensive if their man was laid up or gone. But the wind
 picked up and it helped me decide that I'd best seek shelter somewhere,
 perhaps in their barn.
	There was a hewn bridge laid across that same creek, next
 to the house, and as I paused again to consider, a woman stood with
 a bucket to the side of the bridge. "Hello here, stranger" she called.
 "Looks like we might get some snow."
	I could scarce make her out in that shawl wrapping, like a
 hood, her face in shadow. The snow was sticking to the down wood and
 bushes, falling faster, and the flakes were beginning to grow fat.
 	"Might at that." I replied.
	"Didn't hear you drive up, mister. Where's your truck?"
	"It's back up at my place beyond Chunky Gal: I took a wrong
	 turn while hunting 'sang."
	I could sense her eyes sizing me up from within that shadowy
 hood that was collecting a coat of snow, as the ground itself was
 growing white. "Well, you look like you could stand a thaw by the
 fire, and there's supper on the stove, more than I can eat. Do you
 have a name?"
	"My name's Richard" I replied.
	"Richard who?" she pressed. In those mountains everyone traces
 their lineage back several generations, and if it's one of the big
 families, like the Masons or the Gregory's, everyone knows you. If a
 small family you mention alliances by marriage to a large family, or
 at least talk about who you know. But a name like mine is as alien as
 if I had decended from Mars. So I mentioned I had married Sally
 Gregory some years ago, and instantly she knew everything about me,
 and how Sally and I had seperated years ago.
	"You're that Californian, aren't you?" she admitted, and I
 	allowed that I was.
	"Well, may as well come in, I reckon. Can't have you standing
 	out here freezing in my yard."
	I thanked her, took her pail of water, and followed her to her
 front door.
	"What is your name, Ma'am?", but she made as if she didn't hear
 me, and sure enough the wind was blowing into my face as I spoke,
 carrying off my words and bringing me a warm scent of clean soap from
 her.
	We shook off the snow from our clothing, and I used her
 bootscraper before entering the house. There was light and warmth
 from the living room, which spilled into the entry way illuminating
 the coat pegs and bench. Under the bench were a pair of men's boots,
 about my same size, worn slap out, though with new soles, the laces
 pulled loose to be ready to pull on. A Coat on a peg was far too
 large for the small woman before me removing her scarves, to reveal
 a longhaired clean beauty that stirred up my blood.
	It had been awhile for me. She turned and sized me up, and told
 me to fill the kettle on the stove. Setting my tote-sack of ginsing in
 the corner, I sat and removed my workboots, then picked up the pail to
 earn my meal. Snow melted cold wet spots through my socks.
	She had one of those old box stoves that will go all night on
 hardwood and still have plenty of coals glowing in the morning, and on
 top of it was her simmer-pot with the customary cloves and cinnamon
 sticks for scent as the water steamed moisture into the dry heated
 air. As I filled the simmerpot with the creek water, I heard her
 approach behind me, and before setting the empty pail down turned
 to see her bringing my wet boots in, to dry on the wrought iron
 bootstands behind the stove. She motioned for me to sit down in a
 recliner, which was positioned next to a couch such that if I leaned
 back my feet would warm near the stove just right.
	"You just rest here, now, and warm up. I'll be in the kitchen
	just a minute or two, and we can eat. You do like Brunswick
	Stew? I got a big ol' squirrel that had been in my corn-crib
	this morning."
	Now, I don't know how it sets with you, but at that moment the
 thought of a good corn-fed squirrel combined with the flavorful aromas
 coming from the kitchen conspired to cause my lean belly to rumble
 like a spring storm, and she took that as my answer with a knowing 
 laugh.
	Perhaps I drifted off, but I had hardly closed my eyes when she
 was softly saying my name and shaking my toe from a safe distance. I
 knew then her man had been a soldier, because she was careful of a
 sleeping man.
	She had let down her hair, and it was a glory, like spun gold
 among the brown and her eyes as blue as the Carolina sky. She was 
 small in her frame, and her form stirred up feelings I had tried to
 forget since I lost my ex-wife. Seeing her there across from me, 
 eating in the feminine fashion with a tiny corner of her fresh baked
 cornbread in her left and a tablespoon in her right made me feel as
 if I was home again, and my beatup old lonely heart gave a huge
 sensation of relief and healing, tending toward joy even as I looked
 at her.
	She looked up from her bowl, saying softly in that melodic
 voice so sweet the angels bent to hear it "Are you not hungry?" and
 then stopped, as she met my eye.
	There is a kinship in deep honest loneliness, a kinship born of
 goodness, but which can be buried in many by bitterness and anger.
 When our eyes met a number of things dawned for me. One: I was not
 alone. Two: her Mister wasn't ever returning. and Three: my gender
 was just as urgent as it had been dead these many months, and with a
 vengeance. I guess she saw all that in my eye, and I saw it in hers,
 as we both blushed as deep as Tallulah Gorge and looked back to our
 soup, which was mightily good.
	That night, the cinnamon and cloves mingled sweetly and long
 over the blazing hearth of a happy couple.

© copyrights claimed by Richard Romero, 1996

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