Robert took up the fleece from its peg on the wall, the one from the big old ram, the one used to cover the seat of the sleigh in the wintertime, gently placed it over the horse’s back explaining in soothing tones, “It’s as much ta protect your back as my backside, I’m a lot more bones than the last time we rode up ta see Mary Eliza.”
The last time had been almost four years ago, ostensibly to look over the apple orchard with Mary Eliza’s father, to let them both know he’d be leaving with the Vermont 1st Infantry, and now, his satchel bristling with cuttings, he was again making the trip up the hill road on the pretense of checking on her father’s orchard. The old man’s orchard had seen great improvement in the time that Robert had begun to take an interest in Mary Eliza, before he had gone off with his regiment, but as he rounded the bend in the road, nearing the farmhouse of Mary Eliza’s family, Robert saw that the orchard was again going wild, appeared to have been unattended in the time that he was gone.
Robert also saw three figures watching his approach from the front of the unpainted farmhouse, and it was the old man who spoke first, saying simply, “You’re a might late, young man”, and thinking he was referring to the apple scions, Robert replied that he thought they might still take, but that there was a lot of pruning work to be done as well.
The old man spit on the ground, told Robert that all he ever needed from that orchard was cider apples, that it was fine just the way it was.
By now Robert had dismounted, stood beside his horse confronting the sight of Mary Eliza standing with Elija Jones, a young man about his own age, from a farm further up the hill road than Mary Eliza’s, a farm that had always, even well before the war, been run down in all ways, and there stood Elija, grinning awkwardly, balanced on a crude wooden crutch, his left leg gone below the knee, and, though it ended below the elbow, his right arm around Mary Eliza.
As if to explain, Mary Eliza said, “Elija needs me.”
“But, I thought…” and Robert trailed off, for he hadn’t ever voiced his intentions and now his eyes slid over the ragged orchard and the scrawny horse in the paddock by the barn and he had to wonder what it was he had thought.
Robert fetched the grafting knife from his satchel. He used it to strip some pieces of rawhide from the edge of the fleece that blanketed his horse, then cut off a broader piece, one that had a generous amount of soft wool. Then Robert helped Elija to lean against Mary Eliza while he bound the thick piece of fleece to the top of Elija’s crutch.
“That’s much better, much obliged”, Elija finally spoke, but Robert was already back on his horse, already turned around and headed back down the hill road to his own family’s farm, his apple cuttings still bundled in his satchel.
This six sentence story is a 12-pack, I doubled up. Written for Unchartered Life under the Radar cue word “fleece”.
This story follows “Seeing the Elephant”, last week’s Carrot Ranch flash.