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Thursday, 22 May 2014

Novella Three-Christine

Christine walked slowly, with deliberation over her uncle's hills, the golden hills of loess, near ____City in Western Iowa. The hills nestled between two sets of large flatlands, where her uncle tended the heritage farm. Christine was visiting, two weeks into a six week period where she could not work. She had fallen off Scullery Maid and broke her right wrist. For a writer, this accident caused a great difficulty. Christine had to take time off for two operations and now, the rest of the four weeks of healing, as the bones had not set correctly, had to be re-broken and set again.

She tried to forget the pain. Today, the sunshine made the hills look even more golden and flocks of geese moved towards Kansas and Missouri, flying ever more south for the seasonal changes.

Christine watched cattle on the hillside, and made a mental note that these great beasts' days were numbered. Autumn would fall upon the area within weeks, leaving bare hillocks, those of the green grass the cattle favored.

Even today, a cooler wind brushed up against Christine's face. The swallows would soon leave, and the night jars, a sign of summer, would move southwards as well. This year, a frost could come earlier than the date written in The Farmer's Almanac. Christine brushed blond hair away from her face and walked towards Scullery Maid's field. The horse was nowhere to be seen, but Christine knew from experience that the mare liked to hide in the shade of the small oaks which lined the creek.

Suddenly, Christine was surprised by a flash of yellow, then another, then another. Three goldfinches flew past her face. She was absolutely shocked at three of these birds flying among the trees in late August. Then, she noticed a chuck hole. She did not want to fall again. Slowly, Christine made her way past several holes, walking deeper into the copse. Scullery Maid saw her from about twenty-feet away, saluted her with a lazy neigh and continued munching grass. Then, beyond the holes, Christine saw something she had never noticed on the farm, although she had spent all her summers here for fourteen years, back to when she was twelve, when her dad died.

Uncle Jay had become a part-time surrogate dad for Christine and her brother, James. But, James did not have time to visit after he entered the army. His time to retire was coming up next July and Christine was glad that he had decided to come back to Iowa to help old Uncle Jay on the farm. James had never married.

Neither had Christine ever married. There was one man, a long time ago, who was interested, but she discovered a huge flaw in his character which demanded that she break their engagement. He was unfaithful by nature. That was eight years ago, and at forty-six, although beautiful, Christine assumed she was doomed to spinsterhood.

But, now, on this late summer day, the holes in the ground under the copse led to a larger hole in the side of one of the smaller glacial hills covered in grass. Christine could not imagine why she had never noticed this large hole before today. She approached it carefully, and balanced herself with a walking stick in her left hand.

Standing now in front of the hole, Christine met a mystery. Cold air flowed out of the hole. It was a cave.

Now, the neighbor's farm, nearer _______City was full of caves. One of the farmers grew mushrooms in one. But, until today, Christine had not realized that there was a cave on her uncle's property. The three goldfinches flew up over her head and finally, perched in a linden tree, just above Christine's head.

The linden tree, or lime, or basswood, as it is called in Iowa, had been planted by Uncle Jay the day of his marriage to Aunt Iona, who had died a long time ago. Sadly, Iona spent most of her married days battling illnesses, which prevented her and Jay from having a family and caused her to die young at thirty-five. The linden, old and grand, was a favorite of Uncle Jay's, but today, Christine's attention focused on the small cavern entrance.

She carefully sat down on the grass in front of the opening and felt the cold air on her left arm, as she held herself up half-way to look in. Christine sat up. Stairs, small and then larger, had been made about five feet into the cave and led down into the darkness. The stairs clearly had been hewn by the same rock of the interior.

The goldfinches flew over her head. Christine looked up. Coming over the hill was Uncle Jay. Good, she thought, I can ask him about this mystery. She stood up, leaning on the stick.

"Well, you found one opening, I see," said Jay. "If your are curious, there is another one over here, in the center of the copse. Can you walk over here? Be careful of the holes."

Uncle Jay walked ahead of Christine, into the middle of the small bunch of trees. There, on the slope of the hill which ran down to the line of trees, was a huge opening, big enough for a man to walk into without stooping.

"Here is the main entrance. The grade down into the main cave's hall is much easier to follow. The small entrance is steep, with a jump at the end into the same hall."

Christine looked in amazement at Uncle Jay. "You mean you know about this cave and all these years you never told me about it?"

"Wasn't time yet," drawled Uncle Jay. "One has to find things out when one is ready and not before. Now that you found this, it is time."

"Uncle Jay, stop being so mysterious." Christine felt a little hurt and put-out. What could be so special about a Midwest cave?

"Well, it is almost seven and time for dinner. Let's talk about this over ham and cheese and a little of Cousin Bill's beer."

Christine said nothing, but walked slowly back to the farmhouse, about a quarter mile away. The goldfinches disappeared, and another flock of geese flew overhead. Christine knew these birds were only going as far as the wetlands around the Missouri River.

to be continued.....