Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
In such a small house, it was hard to avoid one another. But the yard was large and provided enough space for both sustenance and escape.
There had been bickering of course. Clementine stood in the corner with her face to the wall. Sad and old, she felt invisible and only wished she were. Apricot having been at her again all afternoon, infuriated at some unknown trespass, violent in her disapproval, arrogant in her new found superiority. The older generation was fading fast and the takeover was not always pretty.
Stella stared out at the lawn, uncaring of the discord, surveying the distant tree line, stoic, watchful for that predator she knew was coming soon. Soon. Sooner or later. It always did. She was the head of the household now, though Apricot was the brute. It was up to Stella to keep them safe. And she relished the role. Who needs a man around, anyway?
Eleanor was off by herself dangerously close to the edge of the yard, moving slowly, eyes to ground, stuck in one of her spells, watching her toes as they laced through the leaves of grass. She never bothered to scan the horizon or the even the ensnaring sky. What use was it, after all, now that Ophelia was gone? Her beloved sister, her more beautiful half, taken without pomp, only circumstance, silently snatched to a perhaps better fate. Better than this life, with all the children she labored for, never born.
Stella puffed out her chest in disdain, watching her Aunt Eleanor. She didn’t understand these old ones, their constant droop into elderly spinsterhood a disgrace to the family. They were a tribe of women, tough, full of grit, fearless and independent. Why couldn’t they embrace this? Know it? Own it? Stella the strong, who never even knew she could have had a Stanley. It was true, though, that she had loved Daisy, the lively one, the bold. Daisy had been the light of their lives and then she was gone. The remains of her like flower petals strewn across the lawn. No one had cried for her. No tears for the dead in this house. Stella made sure of it.
Helen sprawled in the sun. Her long legs outstretched. Her chest pushed toward the cerulean expanse of sun washed sky above. The golden girl, even in her old age, still waving her lovely gray feather fan as if she were some queen of a foreign land, abducted for her beauty, one so great it could launch a thousand ships. If she were waiting for rescue, she didn’t let it show. “I care nothing for the lot of you,” she seemed to say. Her hawkish nose turned high.
Every night they slept together cuddled close for warmth. By day, each took her turn, always aware of her place in the group, and just how precarious it was. A family of women. The only man they’d ever known, brother to Clementine, Red, dead all these long years, leaving them to fend for themselves, slaughtered for his reckless violence. He had it coming. Even they knew that. They’d all felt the prick of his brute manliness and submitted as expected of course. But truth be told, they were happier when he was gone.
At dusk the neighbors came. They were a different breed all together, visiting once or twice a day, only for a few minutes, only to deliver food out of pity for the old ladies next door. The shadows spread across the green, and soon the neighbor’s voices were silent, having gone in to their own, much larger house. It was almost dark, and one by one the ladies, a family by no choice of their own, burdened with loss, lacking in love, made their way back to the coop and the perch they shared for another long, black night of blind faith that life would go on tomorrow.
Ariel Swan grew up first among ghosts in an old Victorian and then came of age on the shores of a New England lake where she continued to hear voices in the wind and trees. These gifts stayed with her as she worked through two degrees at the University of Massachusetts, dabbling in literature, sociology, creative writing, and as many playfully wicked adventures as she could conjure. Eventually she settled on a career as a high school English teacher with the clichéd dream of writing over summer vacations. When she moved to a hill town, where the earth itself seemed tinted with enchantment, the seeds of her first novel, DISTILLATION, took root. Ariel loves small town lore, old houses, and rural New England settings. Her writing crosses genres, mixing the mystical with the literary, centered on women’s themes, strong atmosphere and vivid characters. Currently, she teaches English and creative writing in western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband, three cats, and a small flock of happy chickens.
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