She was bent over stirring a lentil soup as I came in and the heat from the hearth was irresistible. I searched for words to make up for my outburst down at the stream, but I was somewhat transfixed by the steam rolling up from my wet dress as it dried.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen something dry before my very eyes before. My mother certainly wasn’t one who would hang laundry out on a line; we are efficient modern women, and we leave that to the machines and the maid. I noticed the lady’s dress was steaming too. Here we stood steaming together and I couldn’t help but laugh.
She looked at me curiously, and though surely she’d seen this a thousand times over, she laughed too.
“I’m glad you’re here”, she said simply and ladled out the soup into bowls. My apology stuck in my throat; her kindness kept pulling the rug out from under me and I could never seem to take control of any of our interactions.
“Come, eat. Would you pray?”
“I believe in science”, I blurted out awkwardly. Pray? I’m not going down your wacky road into weirdo-ville, lady.
“Me too. Would you pray?”, she asked again, brightly. Somehow I just didn’t have it in me to disappoint her. Maybe it could take place of the apology I couldn’t seem to frame.
“Um,” bowing my head (because at least I wouldn’t have to look at her giddy eyes), “So…God….um, thanks for food. Amen.”
My head shot up, my eyes wide. “Did you hear that?”, I demanded. The lady just raised her eyebrows and smiled that irritating smile.
I wanted to throttle her, just take her by the shoulders and demand to know just what she thought she was up to, drawing me into her madness. Why did she bring out the worst in me? What was it about her that made me feel like such a violent, peevish, small woman with bared claws?
I ate my soup. It was irritatingly delicious.
Darkness was falling and she was loading her gun and latching all the wooden shutters over the windows. “We’ll have guests tonight. I left them the organs a half mile from here, but they’ll want more than that. If you need to go to the bathroom, there’s a chamber pot under the couch…”
She paused in her speech and waved me to the window, her whole face alight. “A moonrise”. I came to her side and my jaw dropped.
“What is your name?”, I whispered.
“Magda. What is yours?”
“A beautiful name. It means “pleasant” in Hebrew.”
I didn’t know that. The irony of me having a name that meant pleasant. I should have a name that means ruthless, ambitious, selfish, prickly, jealous. Pleasant. May it be so. I know, I know, I prayed, to who I don’t know, maybe to the Great Mother Donut of Venus, but oh well, I was at least acknowledging that I needed some help, right?
“I need to go in the morning. I’ll have thousands of messages on my phone that need to be answered. I had taken four days off of work and tomorrow will be the last day.”
She nodded, her face all illumined by the moon. “Your body is strong enough, dear Naomi, I will trust the rest of you to God.”
She turned and climbed up the ladder to her bed and I pulled the wooden shutter shut and hooked it securely. The last thing I needed was for a bear to lick me awake. I stretched out on the couch and pulled the quilt up to my chin. Tomorrow I would hike back to the real world where I was a Titan, where I was powerful and feared and envied. I would load my pack into my parked Land Rover and tear out of this wilderness and become me again.
I tried to smile about it, but tears came instead. Hot, messy tears. I didn’t even know why, maybe my soul did. I pulled the quilt up over my head to muffle the sobs that wracked me then. From up in the loft I heard soft singing. Magda was singing what sounded like a lullaby. I quieted and lowered the quilt from my face. A lullaby. For me. Her soft voice seemed to lift my sorrow from me for a while, to make my heart lighter and my eyelids heavier. It was good to be here. I’m leaving in the morning, but for now, it is good. It is good.