“Cross the canal at the new bridge,” the girl said, pointing southward. “Our house is the closest to it.” She looked down at Audrey’s soaked clothes. As she walked away, she said over her shoulder, “I could have told you all that from across the canal, you know.” The girl folded over laughing.
Audrey waded back to retrieve her boots and portfolio. She sat on the oak stump, waiting to dry. She imagined the girl flattered by her gesture, but the girl had laughed as though she were a sideshow attraction. Did she invite Audrey to her house only to laugh again, with the whole family? Audrey decided she would not go to the farm—not on Sunday, nor on any day, ever.
On Monday, as Audrey approached the midpoint of her walk, she saw a woman sitting on the oak stump. She looked to be a farmer, with solid arms propped on thick, sturdy legs. She’s just resting, Audrey thought. I’ll nod and walk quickly past her.
When Audrey was within a few feet, the woman stood. She was an imposing figure, with a six-foot frame and broad, sober face. “You didn’t come to dinner,” she said. “We set an extra place, with the good china. Were you ill?”
“No, but, my father…oh, it’s terrible! The doctor says he has the consumption. He’s mad with fever.” The woman looked alarmed. “It took my mother two years ago,” Audrey continued. “She wasted away, and then she was gone. I could be next. The doctor says I mustn’t cough on anyone.” Audrey covered her mouth with her hand.
The woman stepped away. She gave Audrey a wide berth as she headed south with long strides. She turned back to yell, “Will you be staying on your side of the canal then?”
“Yes, for the rest of my short life!”
Staying on this side of the canal seemed the safest course. It was fine to see and talk to a girl pushing a cart—from a distance. Maybe when she was older, Audrey would cross the canal. For now, it was there for a reason.
Scott Pedersen is a fiction writer based in Wisconsin, USA. His work has appeared in Fiction International, The I-70 Review, Louisiana Literature, The MacGuffin and many other journals and anthologies. When not writing fiction, he enjoys performing in a traditional Celtic band. You can find him on Facebook too.