It didn’t take long after the divorce for Anna to notice just how bad things had gotten and that they were probably going to get worse. Her father spent more hours in the fields, avoiding his home and his family. When he did come home, his eyes were often blank. He sat at the table, leaving his hands filthy black as proof of how much he just didn’t care anymore.
Her mother’s passion for cooking and housekeeping became minimal at best. The meals were smaller, with less love and care in them. She cooked the bare essentials to keep everyone fed. Not necessarily full, but at least fed. Anna didn’t dare ask if it was because a lack of money for she feared if the answer was a yes all the blame would shift to her even more.
Even Abigail seemed different. Anna never realized it, but part of the healing process Abigail had gone through was from watching Anna and William together. While she never came out and admitted that, she did hint that it was amazing to see two strangers able to be together. It gave her hope that maybe her own pain would once and for all go away. But that was no longer the case. Losing William was like bearing a visible scar. Anyone that looked at Anna saw it, knew it, and treated her differently. Word spread around Lowemills like wildfire, and it was able to happen so fast because William wasn’t in town. He couldn’t control it and neither could Anna. Some people looked at her with shame. Some hung their heads. Some shook their heads as though they knew everything… and maybe they did. Some nodded at her, offering consoling eyes or a pat on the back. Those were the worst. Being touched by strangers.
No matter what she did or where she went, she felt watched and judged.
If she cooked a meal for her family, to try and help out at home, she worried it wouldn’t be good enough. And if it wasn’t good enough would her family then compare that to the failed marriage? And those thoughts plagued Anna all the time. Worrying if there was more to the divorce than just not being able to conceive a child.
Was she not a good enough homemaker?
Was her cooking bad?
Sure, William could afford someone to take care of all that, but it was Anna’s job to do it.
Most of all, was she an unsatisfactory lover?
It made her cry sometimes, out of nowhere, when she thought about it. She had tried her best to understand what William wanted and tried even harder to please him. Never once did she deny his touches or demands for her body. Never once did she do anything but smile and appreciate when he enjoyed her.
After crying, Anna quite often found herself angry. With the anger came her own distance. She would stand on the porch and stare out to the open world before her. It seemed so large yet so small. All she had to do was walk, right? Just walk a straight line and leave. She could be anywhere she wanted… maybe even west, just like William had mentioned. Anna had heard the chatter about women in and around Lowemills going west to answer the call to be a bride. Many men had moved that way for farmland and opportunity. Maybe that’s what Anna needed for herself too.
Anna was setting the dinner table when her father came in with a large hole in pants. His exposed knee was cut, red, and looked swollen.
“Are you okay?” she asked her father.
He looked down and shrugged his shoulders. “What do you mean?”
“Your pants are ripped,” Anna said. “And your knee…”
“They’ve been ripped for days,” her father said.
He walked away with a slight limp, breaking Anna’s heart again. Anna looked up and saw Abigail standing at the other side of the table.
“I don’t understand,” Anna said.
“They haven’t been patched yet,” Abigail said.
Abigail raised her eyebrows. Her beauty was so radiant it drove Anna wild. No matter how many times Anna looked in a mirror and tried to pull her blonde hair back tighter or tried to imagine her blue eyes becoming bluer, it never happened. Abigail was certainly the prettiest daughter.
“That’s not fair,” Anna continued. “Our father shouldn’t be out there with holes in his clothing.”
“Mother hasn’t fixed them,” Abigail said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Anna understood. What else was there to say?
This was a terrible mess and Anna bore the guilt of it all for the last month since the divorce.
After a quiet meal that tasted bland, Anna crept away. Later that night, she found her father’s pants and fixed them. After patching the pants, she left them where her father would find them the next morning.
The very next day her father went to work outside, wearing the newly fixed pants, but he didn’t say a word about it. He didn’t thank Anna nor acknowledge it had been done. And the same went for her mother. No matter how much Anna cooked or cleaned, nothing was ever said to her. She felt used.
Then came the night, a week after fixing her father’s pants, when Anna found Abigail in her room, silently weeping while hugging a pillow, staring out a window. Her parents had gone to bed and something bothered Anna, something telling her that Abigail needed her. She walked into the room with care, not wanting to scare or embarrass Abigail. Abigail did her best to put on a straight face each day. There were times when memories bothered her – the last time she really cried was when William made his comment about time, referring to the death of Abigail’s husband – but mostly Abigail held herself together.
Anna sat next to her and thanks to their sisterly bond, Anna didn’t need to say a word to begin to comfort Abigail. She touched her back and rested her head on her big sister’s shoulder.
After a few minutes, Abigail took a deep breath and that ended the weeping.
Just like that.
She somehow trained herself to just turn it all off.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Anna asked.
Abigail stood and Anna remained on the bed.
“Sometimes I dream about him,” Abigail said staring out the window.
The darkness outside somehow made everything look spooky, as though Abigail were speaking to the darkness that perhaps resided inside her.
“That’s okay,” Anna said.
“It’s not,” Abigail said. “How can I love again? It would… it would have to be arranged, wouldn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I couldn’t find someone to love,” Abigail said, “I’d have to be arranged to be married. Then the commitment would take over and matter more.”
Anna swallowed. These were feelings much deeper than the ones she held inside at the moment.
“When I saw you and William together,” Abigail said, “it gave me hope. It gave me purpose, Anna.”
“I gave you purpose?” Anna asked.
She was shocked. She never considered having any sort of impact on her big sister’s life.
“Of course you did,” Abigail said. “I knew you didn’t love him. Your eyes told me that. But it worked. You had an arrangement and a commitment. It made me really feel that someday I could have the same. I waited for you to love William though. But you never did…”
Abigail’s voice trailed off as the pain began to rustle up in Anna’s chest. She had an inkling of where the conversation was heading. The smart decision would have been to stand and hug her sister. Then leave the room. But Anna didn’t move.
She waited. And listened.
“You never conceived a child with him and he left you,” Abigail. “Just like that. So quick. Without an ounce of remorse. My hope is lost now, Anna. If someone could change their mind and heart like that… what’s the use?”
“Abigail,” Anna said, “you can’t look at my life like that.”
“But I can!” Abigail cried. “You didn’t love him. And because of that you couldn’t have his child. You couldn’t give him what he wanted. And… now…”
Abigail held her breath and Anna wanted to plead for the rest of the sentence, but it came a moment later, after Abigail closed her eyes.
“…everything is ruined.”
“I’ve ruined everything?” Anna asked in a whisper.
“You never loved him. You never fell in love.”
“It wasn’t my choice,” Anna said.
“And I’ll never have the choice then either,” Abigail said. “I’ll be like this… forever.”
Anna stood from the bed but didn’t go near her sister.
Maybe that was the final piece of harsh truth she needed to hear. Hurting her parents was one thing. They were really interested in the financial and social benefits of the marriage between Anna and William. With Abigail, it was something more. It was emotional and it certainly impacted Abigail’s life in a way that kept Anna up for the rest of the night.
Into the wee hours of the morning all Anna could think about was how much trouble she had caused. Did her inability to give William a child really come down to love? Was there something greater than the coming together of man and woman to create a child? And to Anna’s own defense, she begged herself to understand that she couldn’t love William. Not right away. Not that fast. Where was the relationship? Where was the enjoyment of company? Everything was done and implied.
Morning came with a brilliant show of deep pink colors that became a hopeful yellow, leading to yet another blue sky day in Lowemills. Anna rubbed her weary eyes and set out into town. She had a mental note of things she needed to get for the house, including more eggs and more cloth. Her father had another pair of pants with two tears in them and her mother hadn’t taken the time nor had the care to fix them yet.
The thirty minute travel into town left Anna plagued by her own thoughts and worries some more. Once in town, Anna decided to walk more than she had to. She needed to experience life and people. To experience something outside of her house, outside of the guilt, the regret, the pain. She walked by eggs, knowing she needed to buy eggs. She walked by the store where she could get more material for her father’s pants, also doing so on purpose. At the post office, she paused and admired some of the people walking in and out. Some smiled at Anna. Others acknowledged who she was by offering snide remarks and scoffing at her.
But one thing caught her attention.
A man stood just inside the post office.
He was dressed in the most beautiful suit Anna had ever seen. A golden chain hung from his pocket and he held a small hat in his hand. When he turned his head and whistled, Anna saw a thin black mustache on the man’s face. He had his right hand on the counter and tapped his fingers, without a care in the world.
Anna took a step, ready to leave the post office when she heard the man clear his throat.
“Don’t think I didn’t see you looking at me.”
Anna froze. Her eyes went wide. She slowly turned and saw the man stepping towards her.
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Genre – Western / Christian Romance
Rating – PG
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