TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
He stood on his tiptoes at the small cabin’s rear window, staring out at the deepening dusk, sensing the excitement in the town’s air. The cold wind seeped through an old crack, tickling his chubby cheek, and a whirlwind of red and orange leaves made him laugh. The corn stalks rustled in the brisk breeze, waving to him. He waved back.
Behind him, Mommy was busy in the small kitchen and delicious smells wafted his way, making his tiny tummy grumble with glee. She was making lots of treats to tempt the town’s children. After all, she’d promised him a new brother or sister…
(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)
“Tell me, Mommy! Tell me!”
The one-room cabin shakes with excitement as he hop-skips around his mother preparing dinner at the small wooden table. She finishes chopping and lifts the lid on the simmering stew pot. Clouds of steam waft up, adding savory smells to those succulent and sweet scents already filling the room. His stomach grumbles in anticipation.
She scoops the vegetables into the pot and begins the story. “It’s harvest time, a time when everyone reaps what they have sown.”
The story is familiar to him and he helps in the telling. “Good people, good. Bad people, bad.”
“That’s right. Good people will find good things in their gardens and bad people will find bad things in theirs.” She watches as his eyes move from the still-warm loaf of bread to the crinkly-edged apple pie.
He claps his hands together in glee. “We good!”
“Yes, we are good. And because we are good we will have our harvest stew tonight. And then…” She lets him finish.
“Festival!” He is a big boy, too big to be running around inside. Four steps take him from one end of the small cabin to the other. His weight shakes the floor and vibrations run up through the walls. Plates and flatware rattle in the sideboard as his enthusiasm threatens to bring the structure down around them. “Dinner’s almost ready. Will you set the table?” She removes her apron and hangs it on a hook by the door and watches through the window as red and orange leaves blow across the porch.
This cabin is not much and, except for each other, it is all that they have. A cold wind rustles dry corn stalks in the garden, and seeps in through a crack in the wall. She feels the chill and, with it, a fear.
She tries to push the thought out of her mind but she knows that she will not be here forever. She knows what will happen to him when she is gone; they will come and take him, put him away. They will do what they have always wanted to do.
She remembers the pain, the blood, the doctor come all the way from town to scratch his chin and talk of problems – problems with her and with her baby.
There was a lot of talk back then: from the doctor, from the townies and even from Tom when he tried to explain why they should put their son somewhere “for his own good”. She heard the talk, but never listened, and still wonders if somewhere in that whirlwind of words, like the leaves blowing around outside, was a single “goodbye” from Tom.
Friends and neighbors helped for awhile but when they realized that she was not going to accept their advice – that her son was not going to be put somewhere or sent away – they labeled her “unfit” and requested that the state intervene and remove the child from her care. Raising her son was not going to be easy, she knew that, but rather than helping her, they had tried to take her child away.
She fought them and their hateful ideas to keep her son with her. If she had to fight death to remain by his side then she would do that, too.
Ladling the hearty stew into bowls, she imagines how they would feel if someone came and took a child from them.
They eat quietly, blowing across their steaming spoons and sopping fresh bread in the flavorful broth.
Many years the stew is weak, the broth thin and soupy, but the summer has been good to them and this year the harvest stew is thick with vegetables. She spoons a large chunk of meat and is thankful that their hunt two days ago brought them something more substantial than the occasional squirrel or rabbit.
She will clean the dishes under the well pump in the yard before they walk into town to enjoy the festival. She has put aside a few pennies to buy her son a licorice whip or a piece of peppermint bark. His wide eyes, filled with blinking lights, with colorfully dressed people, and with the foods and crafts and animals on display, will not see the sideways looks or the fingers pointing at him, pointing at them.
Music will fill his ears and he will not hear the whispers about the child gone, missing, disappeared two days now. He won’t hear that the family is still searching, still hoping. He won’t hear but she will. And she will know that this harvest there is a mother who feels what it is like to have a child taken from her.
A cold wind rattles the window pane sounding like dry bones tap-tapping, wanting to be let in. Another long winter is approaching. She is grateful for their harvest and for the sweet and tender meat chilling in the root cellar with their supply of potatoes and onions.