miss e

she landed in our cornfield.
not, like you may have heard, in the bermuda triangle or somewhere in the pacific,
but in a soft patch in auntie’s north 40.

and she liked it so much, she just stayed.

our house was small, and nothing fancy; just some wood and brick and not even indoor plumbing — but there was always room for one more, auntie said. and feeding another mouth? heck, back then, we all knew how to stretch a meal.

at first she didn’t talk much. not at all, really.
so we made sure she wasn’t hurt and then we left her alone.

we fed her air and light and quiet time when she seemed to need it — which was often — and soup and bread and hot, hot tea, with honey.

auntie told me to let her be, to not follow her around or disturb her with talk unless she spoke to me first. i was full of questions, but tried hard to be patient and waited for the answers to float down from the sky.

she slept on a cot in the tool shed — one tattered blanket was all we could spare — and she seemed to like being close to the ground. but she looked up a lot, squinting & frowning at the clouds.

our dog lucky was drawn to her. she smiled when he would come around, and let him sleep at her feet.

after the first week miss e started to talk. by then we’d figured out who she was but didn’t let on we knew anything except what she’d told us. which was nothing much, ‘cept that a storm came up, she lost her bearings, prayed hard, and … woke up in our corn.

auntie thinks she lost her confidence along with her bearings, but she didn’t say that out loud to her, just to me. “people sometimes go from bold to bashful overnight. ‘specially women,” is how she put it. “this gal, she’s known false comfort, and betrayal, and lately she’s known more pain than anyone else. the pain of losing herself. she got caught up in something, and is trying to find her way back.”

back to where? i wanted to ask. but auntie just shushed me and told me to go get a nicer pillow from the couch for mel’s head. that’s what auntie had taken to calling her, and she called auntie a dear, and eventually she called auntie a lifesaver, and eventually auntie called mel to her bed.

and lucky’s heart took flight ’cause after that he got to keep both their sets of feet warm.

and i breathed easier, though i wasn’t sure why. i still missed my dearly departed uncle jake, but never since the day he died had i seen a grin on auntie’s face like the one miss e put there.

it wasn’t hard, keeping miss e a secret from the neighbours. we said she was auntie’s long-lost cousin, recently widowed, penniless and heartbroken. and that we’d put her up ’til she got back on her feet. everyone knew that mean forever, ’cause where else was she gonna go?

and my grinning aunt continued to feed her soup and tea with honey. miss e, er, mel helped her with the corn. she detested the cows. said they wasted the wings that god gave them. whatever that meant.

she taught me to catch a baseball, patch a tire, and could mend the tractor even better than uncle jake used to do.

she told me that the answer to just about anything would come to you if you stared at the clouds long enough. sometimes she would walk to the end of the lane at night, look up at the stars and just sigh.

she and auntie always seemed to get along real fine. the closest they ever came to having an argument happened one day when auntie came home from town with a newspaper tucked under her arm. she showed it to mel and they tried not to let me see, but i made out the words “called off” and “presumed dead.” they talked for a while in low voices, stern but calm.

i asked what was going on and they sent me to the pump for water.

when i got back, auntie was at the stove and mel was sweeping up the shards of our brown betty teapot that lay broken on the kitchen floor.

then she took lucky for a long walk, and they didn’t return until suppertime.

auntie didn’t say a word, just cut her a slice of bread, set a bowl of soup in front of her, and went to bed.

mel picked up her spoon, twirled it in her hand a few times, set it back down and then followed auntie into the bedroom. lucky and i went out on the porch and sat until the stars came out.

the low murmur of their voices wafted through the window. i didn’t want to eavesdrop so i threw stones at the shed and tried not to hear what sounded like my auntie crying.

i curled up on the porch swing and was whistling an unhappy tune when mel came out a little while later. she told me she had decided it would be best for all of us if she left.

auntie came out and said the only thing that was best for all of us would be if mel stayed.

i looked from auntie to mel and back to auntie.

mel took her hands out of her trouser pockets and placed them gently on my auntie’s shoulders.

“you sure?” she asked softly.

“absolutely,” auntie whispered.

“then i guess i’m not goin’ anywhere,” mel smiled.

“except to town tomorrow, to buy a new teapot,” auntie grinned.

lucky howled at the moon.

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