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.)
A shaft of sunlight slanted through the many-paned window, shone through her collection of thick bluish ink wells lined up by size on the sill, and cast a wavy pattern on the worn, honey colored floor-boards. The kitchen smelled of apple cider and cookies; both the perfect batches and the burnt ones. The boy had waited patiently for his cookie, allowed her to scoot him up to the table, tuck a napkin into his shirt front and caution him about drinking his milk carefully from the heavy glass tumbler.
After she wiped the melted chocolate chips from his mouth, she helped him slide down and run to the window where he grasped the sill with a row of small, chubby fingers. He stood on tiptoes looking out, she knew, beyond the scarecrow, gourds and cornstalks in her own yard, to the town green where the pumpkins had been carved and arranged in meandering rows, soon to be lit from within. The towns’ children were beginning to gather: ghosts, cheerleaders, and television characters she didn’t recognize, it having been decades since her own child took part.
She caught her breath sharply. The thought had come with a punching force. She didn’t have time to censor it. An image of her daughter dressed as Raggedy Ann with orange yarn for hair alternated with the living image of her daughter’s son, fogging up the glass with his chocolate-laced breath, waiting for Grandma to take him to the Halloween party on the green. If he still felt like a guest after five months in her quiet and tidy house, he didn’t say. At four years old, his powers of communication weren’t as well developed as his imagination. Some days he talked only to an invisible friend. And one evening, as she tucked him into his bed in the upstairs room beneath the eaves of the small cape style house, he told her that his mother had gone to the hospital and would be returning soon with a baby sister. His mother had been six months pregnant when the accident killed her and the boy’s father. He was still waiting for the promised reunion.
For months, it had been just the two of them, grieving together and on their own. She didn’t know how to let her daughter go and feared she was even worse at helping the boy navigate the grief of losing two parents. This would be their first winter alone together. She wondered if she should enroll him in a new preschool, if he would be ready to start over. The truth was, she doubted her ability to occupy him through the long winter. And there was her art, an absence from which she was beginning to suffer. She hadn’t stepped foot in her studio, or touched paintbrush to canvas in months.
At first, the grief of losing Frieda had been overwhelming and she couldn’t see clear enough through the pain to work. As time passed, the boy’s presence had become her excuse to avoid creating anything beautiful. She didn’t consciously set out to spite God or fate or whatever misalignment of nature was responsible for her daughter’s death. She simply couldn’t create beauty in the wake of such an ugly reality. A boy left without his mother and father, with only an old woman to care for him. And how long would she be able? Frieda had been a late-in-life baby and an older mother herself. Once I’m gone, she thought, he’ll be truly alone. The unfairness of this gnawed at her until she had to move. She rose from her chair and went to her studio, a tiny room off the kitchen, known in earlier centuries as the borning room, where births and deaths occurred, in the warm center of the house.
“Be right back, love,” she called over her shoulder. But the boy was absorbed in the spectacle on the green. King-sized sheets and glowing orbs were being strung from the century-maples.
She returned to the warm kitchen with easel, palette and paints. By now, the boy was fogging up the lower panes on purpose and drawing in the squares with his fingertip.
She moved quickly. Dusk was settling and soon he’d want to join the other children. His costume would be simple: a farmer, it was all she had come up with, all she could manage. Five months isn’t time enough to heal, she thought as she touched the first warm-brown water colors to paper. She mixed a color for the greenish bottle glass of ink-wells on the sill. She painted the red, orange and yellow leaves, small smudges, falling beyond the window, and their source, the maples in full conflagration.
She painted the boy on tiptoes in his red checkered shirt. She couldn’t stanch the tears and he didn’t seem to notice. He was talking to himself, in a sing-song way, telling himself a story. ‘And how does the story go? she wanted to say. She was remembering asking her little Frieda the same question, keeping the child occupied while she finished a painting.
She roughed in the shapes of the mother and baby in a rocking chair beside the window; the mother’s hand lightly touching the boy’s head where the sunshine had been. “And how does the story go?” she asked him.