That’s Moira. She’s seventy-two. See how the strong sunlight makes her pure-white hair glow. She’s holding in her lap a straw hat with a plastic daisy in its brim. Her eyes are closed as she tilts her head back and lets the sun warm her skin. Her wrinkled cheeks are pink and beads of sweat stand out above her upper lip. The gentle breeze toys with the lace trim around the collar of her bright yellow blouse. Watch as she raises a hand and blindly swats at a flying insect; it’s a movement done almost in slow motion. She’s sitting on the front bumper of an abandoned car. It rests on flat tires, is covered in rust, and its windows are broken. Its hood is raised and most of the engine is gone. Inside, the seats are ripped and rotten and littered with animal droppings. Moira and the car are in a field. See how she brushes the soles of her bare feet across the tops of the blades of golden prairie grass. There’s a smile on her face.
The barbed wire fence extends for as far as the eye can see. It bisects the prairie, dividing private land from the Badlands National Park. See Moira there, leaning against a fence post. On her head is her straw hat, blown slightly askew by the breeze. She’s staring at the rock formations in the distance. In the late afternoon sunlight their layers of color have turned to light brown, gold, and dark purple. Watch as Moira momentarily raises her eyes to watch white jet contrails cut across the baby blue sky. The air is alive with the sound of insects. When a grasshopper lands on her bare forearm she turns her attention to it, studying it. It flutters away when she attempts to poke it with the tip of her painted pink fingernail. Something about it makes her giggle; a childhood memory, perhaps. Look at the way she quickly turns her head to see the meadowlark that has landed on a nearby post. After the bird warbles its melodic tune, Moira tries to whistle back, but only blows air through her puckered lips.
After tiring of trying, she says, “I wish I was a bird.”
See her walk away from the fence carrying her shoes by their straps. She glances back at the formations several times as if to make certain they’re actually there. The hem of her green skirt catches on a briar. Before pulling it away, she bends down and gazes at the thorns protruding from a stiff, red, stalk, unlike any of the grass it stands among. Watch her fingers tremble as she detaches her skirt from the thorn. A wayward wind catches her hat and carries it tumbling though the air and catches on the fence. She removes the hat from the barb it is stuck on and holds it close to her chest.
Rays of sunlight stream through the holes in the roof, spotting the barn floor with splashes of light. Watch as Moira walks barefoot through the last remnants of hay as she stares up at nests built by barn swallows and terns.
“We kept chickens,” she says, and then adds a moment later as if it’s important she say it, “and cows.”
See Moira stop to stare out the open barn door. One of the barn doors lays against the outside of the barn. The other is broken in two. One half of it swings back and forth on squeaky, rusty hinges. Seen through the open doorway is the farmland reclaimed by nature. It’s blanketed with prairie grass. The remains of wood rail fences stand out on the landscape in no discernible pattern. She brushes a loose hair back from her forehead, bites nervously into her lower lip, and then walks over to what was once a horse’s stall and peers over its cracked door. Black eyed susans carpets the floor. Watch as she crosses her arms on the stall door and rests her chin on her arm. She remains still for some time. When a barn swallow enters the barn through the hayloft and circles around the barn, Moira looks up and watches intently as the bird finds a nest and settles into it.
See her get her hat from where she left it sitting on a workbench and how gently she places the hat on her head. She leaves the barn and sits on an overturned rusty bucket and puts on her shoes. She then stands and smooths out the wrinkles in her bright green skirt.
Listen to the wonder in her voice when she looks at the barn and asks, “Do you believe in ghosts?”
The bank along the river is mud that is thick and the color of clay. Moira has her red skirt pulled through her legs and tucked into her belt. She’s standing on the bank watching the shallow, clear water of the river flow over the black and white pebbles on the riverbed. Schools of minnows hover near the water’s surface.
“My father taught me how to fish in this river,” she says.
The mud is up to Moira’s ankles. Listen to her giggle as the mud makes a sucking sound as she lifts up a foot. When she steps into the water the minnows scatter. She stands in the cool water and follows the movement of several jersey cows passing by in a field on the other side of the river. When they are gone, she kicks her feet in an attempt to clean the mud from them. See her bend down and scoop water in her hands and splash it on her face. She does this several times, soaking the front of her light blue blouse. She climbs out of the water, stepping onto a patch of bright green grass, and pulls her skirt from the belt. Look at her as she stands there, holding her straw hat in one hand, letting the sun and warm breeze dry her. See how her skirt flutters. Her walk to the car is slow, her steps measured.
Hear the tremble in her voice when she gets in the car and says, “Next Sunday will be my last walk,” and pauses before she adds, “You’ve been such a good friend.”
You can see the sweetness in her smile.
The air is heavily scented with pine. It’s mostly ponderosa pine and Black Hills spruce trees that line both sides of the path. It’s early and the sun that shines through the tree branches hasn’t yet removed the morning chill. Birdsong fills the forest. See Moira walking ahead, her pink sweater across her shoulders, her straw hat tilted back on her head. She carries her shoes in one hand, swinging them. Her pale orange skirt swishes as she walks. Entering a small grove of quaking aspens, she stops at one tree and lovingly runs her hand up and down the white bark, and then places her ear against it and holds it there for several minutes. She pats the tree, tenderly, before leaving it. At the bottom of a small incline on the path, watch Moira look up and gaze at the glowing light that fills the forest beyond.
Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 260 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies since June, 2016. He has two collections of short stories, Sand and Rain, that have been published by Clarendon House Publications. His third collection of short stories, Heat, was published by Czykmate Productions. His YA collection of stories, The Tales of Talker Knock was published by Clarendon House Publications. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com/. He is on Twitter @carrsteven960.