WHEN YOU REACH THE CROSSROADS…
By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
The woman stepped from between the rows of corn, stalks tall and bristling with ears not yet ready for harvest, and out into the intersection of County Road 12 and Hixon Steerage Road. With a purposeful stride, she crossed the dry, dusty track, moving toward the lone mailbox planted at the northeast corner of the crossroads.
The plain grey box, weathered from several decades of standing sentry in the middle of Kansas farm country, had neither number nor name to identify its owner, but allowing as the Hixon farm was the only sign of civilization for twenty miles in any direction, the likelihood of the postal carrier’s mis-delivering the mail was about the same as that of Todd Hixon complimenting his wife on her hair… or her dress… or her cooking for that matter.
The woman’s sigh was barely audible, almost lost in the faint rustling sound of the wheat and corn fields carried away on the soft summer breeze. The sigh, and the thought that had precipitated it, were quickly forgotten as Heather Anne reached the mailbox and saw that the little red flag was pointed downward at a forty-five degree angle. The mailman had come and gone, leaving…
Heather Anne, not for the first time this day, pushed up the left sleeve of her black and white gingham dress… Todd’s one concession to what he considered ‘fancy’ in his wife’s wardrobe… and checked the date again on her wristwatch. In the tiny window on the black face, the number 20 showed, just as it had the last time she had looked… and the time before that… and the time before that… and…
The woman quickly straightened, pulling the sleeve back down and looking around, as if she didn’t want anyone to see what she had just done. Her heart beat quicker in her chest and Heather Anne nervously licked her lips, the flesh dry in the summer heat.
The letter. It was here. She knew it. Before the woman even opened the mailbox, she knew. In her heart… deep down in that secret place… she knew. Today was September 20th, and just as it had every September 20th for the last twenty-seven years, the letter was waiting for her… this, her heart knew.
Heather Anne rested her hand on the small pull handle, but did not open the box. Not yet. With her hand still on the warm, grey metal, she turned and looked at the fields across the road. The wheat would be ready for harvesting in another month. She turned her attention to the cornfields in front of her and extending as far as the eye could see, down the length of County Road 12.
Todd would expect her to work alongside him, far into the night, more often than not, to bring in the crops… just as they had done for the last twenty-seven years.
The woman wasn’t afraid of hard work; that wasn’t what gave her pause now. She had learned over the years that work was only as hard as one made it, and while it had been difficult at first; she had grown into it… grown accustomed to it… accepted its disappointments… as she had accepted the occasional pleasures it brought.
Todd had never promised an easy life out on the Kansas prairie; quite the contrary. He told her… too many times to count in those early years… that it was a hard life and he’d make her a hard wife… “by Joseph!” That was one of Todd’s favorite expressions. Good or bad… everything was “… by Joseph!”
No, Todd had never promised an easy life. He had made only one promise to Heather Anne, other than those in their wedding vows, and that was… “I’ll make a farmer’s wife out of you, Hetty… by Joseph, if I won’t.”
The caw of a blackbird, perched up on the power lines criss-crossing the rural intersection, brought the woman out of her reverie. Unaccountably, perhaps she thought the sudden appearance of the crow a bad omen; Heather Anne felt a stab of doubt. She hesitated a moment and then tightened her fingers around the curved pull. Whispering a silent prayer… please be there… please be there… the woman opened the mail box.
Sorting quickly through the stack of envelopes, Heather came upon the familiar light blue envelope at the bottom of the stack. She felt her heart give a little ‘jump’ and a small lump rose in her throat. The woman stuffed the other letters back in the mailbox and with trembling fingers, tore open the blue envelope.
“Dearest Heather – I came across some old photographs the other day… from the lake? I knew… when we first met… there was something about you… and you would never leave my heart.”
Tears came to the woman’s eyes as she read the letter, reliving those wonderful memories… the best days of her life… before…
I must close now, Heather; the postman will be here shortly. I would leave you with these words from Anais Nin –
‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’”
When you reach the crossroads, Heather… just follow your heart.
I’ll be there… waiting.
The woman stood in the crossroads for a long time… a thousand thoughts swirling through her brain… feelings awakened in her that she hadn’t felt in… that she hadn’t felt since the last letter… and the one before that… and the one before… and…
She stood there in the hot sun, perspiration running down the valley of her spine, looking around at the fields of corn and wheat. She thought about all the years with Todd. She thought about the feelings that were in her heart right now… feelings that Todd had never given her. That you never gave me, husband! The realization fell on her and with it… her answer.
I am leaving you.
The crossroads await.”
She left the note on the kitchen table.
The woman stood in the middle of the crossroads.
The blazing sun baked the barren landscape around her. She watched the bus drive away, its dusty silver shell shimmering in the midday sun, growing smaller and smaller, until… it was gone.
The stark wilderness of southern Australia held an incredible beauty about it that the woman knew, instinctively, she would never tire of. With camera and brush, she would capture the majesty around her.
Un-slinging the large duffel, the woman dropped it on the red hardpack next to the wheeled suitcase. Heather Anne closed her eyes and listened… taking slow, measured breaths… and listening.
After several moments, a smile curved her lips and the woman opened her eyes. She slung the duffel back up on her shoulder, and grasping the handle of the suitcase in her other hand, began walking… following the sun.
At first, it was just a dot in the distance. As the woman walked on, one dusty Doc Marten in front of the other, the dot grew larger… and larger… gradually taking shape in the form of a large, two-story Victorian house.
The woman passed under the wide wooden arch, the gravel crunching under the soles of her boots as she walked up the driveway. Halfway up, she abandoned the suitcase… its small plastic wheels refusing to navigate the loose gravel.
As she stepped into the long shadow of the house, the screen door opened and a tall figure came out, adjusting a wide-brimmed hat before stepping off the porch.
The woman stopped… waiting.
A pair of dusty Doc Martens crunched across the gravel.
“Heather Anne.” A smile the woman hadn’t seen in twenty-seven years.
The woman’s eyes filled with tears and her heart gave that little ‘jump’ again.
~ finis ~
© 2012 – Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw. All Rights Reserved.