Fairweather Blue

This little story's been sitting patiently in my drafts folder for close to year now, waiting for the finishing touches. Many thanks to the handful of folks who read over it and offered some suggestions for sprucing it up a bit. Maybe it's still not everything I'd like for it to be, but I feel like it's at least presentable.

source unknown

- Fairweather Blue -

"Abigail! Are you wasting water again?"
  "No, Mama." I fumbled, one-handed with the stubborn metal lever while water overflowed the edges of my cup and splattered to the tile floor.
  "Here." Mama's hand closed over mine, shoving the lever back into place. "You oughtn't to waste, Abby. Sweet water is money." Several drops plinked slowly from the piping in steady punctuation of her words. "One, two, three," she counted them, "that's coppers down the drain. They bring it from inland and you know how we all must pay!”
  “Sorry, Mama.”
  I took a careful sip from my cup and looked out the window and across the remote bustle of the port down below. Shards of sunlight danced across the ruffled surface of the ocean and frothed against the dark hull of a ship; a large vessel that swayed and bobbed at her anchorage with heavy dignity. I recognized most of the shipping that regularly came and went from the port, but the golden letters flowing across the stern of this vessel were of a shape unfamiliar to me.
 I pointed it out. "'Tis a new one."
  Mama followed my gesture. "Aye, so it is." 
Her eyes wandered beyond the ship and the blue horizon and fastened on something I could not see. The hint of wistfulness that lingered always at the edges of her face spread and covered her in its shadow. Her fingers strayed absently to the locket dangling just below the ends of her black scarf on a piece of discolored string.
  Carefully, I set my cup aside and leaned against Mama's apron, my nose buried in the fresh-smelling dampness of the checkered cloth. She ran gentle fingers through my hair, combing out the wind tangles, then reached down and cupped my chin in her calloused palm. Her brown eyes looked straight into my blue ones, and I knew what she would say before the first word had formed upon her lips.
  "Fairweather blue." She said. "'Tis a lovely color." As always, she joined the words to form a single, lilting sound, like sunlight rippling across the endless leagues of sea.
  "Like the man in your locket?" I asked before considering.
  "And how would you know that?"
  I scuffed my bare toes across a cracked floor tile. "Looked once, whilst you were washin' up."
  Mama turned her back to the window. "I'd best be washing now." She said with a determined briskness, "those clothes won't rinse themselves."
  I helped her rinse the last tub full of laundry and lug the sodden clothes into the dooryard. We wrung them out, one of us standing at each end and twisting until our arms ached, then pegged them up to dry. When we'd finished, every available space of our small dooryard was garlanded in fresh laundry. Shirts and petticoats, trousers, linens and stockings fluttered gaily on the sea wind in mimickry of the ships’ pennants in the harbor down below. Their drying smell was the freshness of wind and sunlight, with a whiff of brine from the brackish water in which they'd been washed.
  Mama planted both fists in the small of her back and drew a long, slow breath. "If you'll take the dry things down, Abby, I think I'll clean up a bit indoors and start some tea."
  I began to unpeg the dry clothes. The wind bellied the sheets but I snatched them quickly and wadded them securely into the clothes basket. Absorbed by my task, I did not see the man coming, as he must have come, up the long path from the sea. I did not see him stop and lean against the gate, and I do not know how long he lingered there, watching me, before I stepped into his shadow. I looked up, surprised at the sudden shade, and found a pair of hands at eye level. They were scarred and discolored and gripped the top of the gate so fiercely that white showed through at the knuckles. My gaze traveled further upward, past the fraying shirt cuffs and the billows of sea-stained calico, to the face. It was the face of a sailor - beaten and marred by many leagues of sea - and seeming very old. He was tanned to the rich brown of imported leather and his eyes were a sudden and surprising blue.
  I gawped at him, all politeness forgotten. We rarely received visits, and never from strangers. I studied the man carefully. He seemed kin to the wind and sea and the sky and his appearance was like a familiar but half-forgotten thing. For his part, the man stared back at me with no less directness. There was a depth of emotion in his face that tore at something deep inside of me.
   He spoke at last; "Are you...Ab-i-gail?" My name came out slowly, as if he were testing the quality of each syllable.
  I nodded. "Did you come to see Mama?"
  "Is she well?"
  I considered the question. “There was a sadness on her when I mentioned the ship down below.” I gestured vaguely toward the harbor. “In her eyes...a little like yours." My remorse tumbled out before I considered the fact that I was addressing a stranger. "I suppose I...oughtn’t to have spoken.” I looked down, tracing the outline of a paving stone with one dusty foot.
  "Aye, well. The ocean and the ships bring sadness to us all, I think." The man replied, kindly. "Could be she still holds to something." His voice went soft, and he seemed to be talking more to himself than to me. "Memories. Or maybe a ghost...God grant that she does."
  "Anyway," I said, loudly and uncertainly, "did you want to see her?"
  "Yes...well...perhaps." A touch of whimsy entered his eyes and the corner of his mouth twitched up in a half-smile. "You're a perceptive one, Abby. Do you think she would like to see me?"
  I considered. "Mayhap she'd like to hear news of the sea...so long as there wasn't too much talk of the ships. We don't get many visitors...strangers, I mean. "
  "Am I stranger, then?"
  His voice sounded so sad and far away that I shivered, despite the blazing sun. I wanted to offer some comfort to this unknown hurt of his. 
"You're a little like the man in the locket." I volunteered. "He's a young, handsome man, and you're old, but your eyes are the same."
  “Old?”
  I studied him again. Perhaps he was not so old as I'd thought at first. It was hard to trace the years that had passed over that brown, scarred face. He was young, maybe, with a sort of ancient timelessness. I shrugged and asked impertinently, "Well, how old are you?"
  "Who's to know? The sea, perhaps, or the tall ships...Heaven may bear witness that I've given time enough to the both of them...I’ve kept no reckoning. But this locket, now, is it made of yellow wood and carved with flowers and vines and such?"
  I nodded.
  "And she wears it about her neck?"
  "On a piece of string." I supplied.
  "About her neck! Ah, then God is indeed good to me! Go and call her, will you? And give her this." He opened one hand and displayed a chain made of tiny, carven wood beads. The color was as rich as gold in the westering light and it seemed to glow there in his brown, scarred palm. I caught my breath, and leaning closer, I saw that each bead was fashioned into the precise and delicate shape of a leaf or a flower.
  "It's beautiful!" I sighed, and took it gently into my cupped hand.
  I entered the house and saw Mama standing by the little window above the water pipe. She turned the lever of the tap and the first few drops of water splashed into the iron kettle before she noticed me.
  "Abby? Where's the laundry? I told you..."
  Impatient, I spoke out of turn. "But there's a man outside, Mama."
  "Oh, I thought I heard voices. Whatever did he want?"
  I crossed the room to her and held out my hand. "He said to give you this."
  Mama's dark eyes flared wide.
  "Is it...can he...?" She hovered, immobile, for a second, and carelessly allowed the kettle to slip from her hand. It clanged like a thunderclap against the floor and water splashed in all directions, but Mama paid no mind as she flew towards the door.
  I trailed her and watched as she flung both arms around the stranger. She was laughing and sobbing and talking, all at once. The man was also saying something deep-voiced into the coils of her hair, but I did not catch any of their words. Instead, my most distinct impression was the sound of water overflowing the sides of the kettle and splashing upon the floor.

Comments

  1. Ahhk! The imagery was amazing. You sucked me straight into Abigail's world. I love the detail and description. I loved BEING there.
    I guessed the man's identity quickly, but still held my breath as he talked with Abigail. I felt her perceptive ignorance and the man's hope/agony at the same time.
    And tears sprang to my eyes when Mama spilled water.
    I want to hold this story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you liked this little family and their little world. I loved them so much it was a little hard to let them go into the wide, wide interwebs.
      Thanks for the comment. It was encouraging, as always.

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  2. This is beautiful! The setting and the characters are so real and vivid, and the storyline is sweetness itself.

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  3. Beautiful! One of my favorite of your stories that I have read!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Clara! So glad you liked it!

      Delete

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