I stood in Magda’s kitchen as dark crept over the mountains and extinguished the light. I lit a few candles and stared out the window. I set the front door back on it’s hinges and then stared out the door. I brought in her handkerchiefs from the line and folded them into a little pile. I touched her open Bible and I looked at the deer meat pooling blood on the work table. We were to cook that for a late lunch. Before I hiked on out of here and back to my life.
I stoked up the coals in the hearth and added kindling as a stiff wind picked up outside. I chopped the meat into cubes. How was it that touching meat didn’t bother me anymore, in the space of a few short days? And how had I been filled with love for a woman I didn’t even know last week? When did I not care if I got back to work on time? When, ever, did my career cease to be the most important thing?
I slid the grate over the coals and added the cast iron pot. A glob of lard next and then the an onion, chopped, from a dried braid over the mantle. Then the venison, browning nicely. The smells were like a warm, familiar quilt pulled close.
Someone was knocking on the door.
I quick added hot water water to the meat and slipped a lid on to let it stew and warily approached the door. It was Carl, who, in my mind I began calling “Tortured Carl” on account of the perpetual knot of tension between his brows, his bloodshot grieving eyes, and the hard lines of his clenched jaw.
“Who are you?”, he demanded, “What are you doing here?”
“I…I’m Naomi. Magda was….Magda was helping me after I fell on the trail.” What else could I say? He was obviously irritated at finding me here, being neither family or long-time friend of Magda’s…it occurred to me that maybe he was.
“Were you and Magda…close?”
He turned away and I could see his jaw clenching and unclenching. The breeze blew the anguished words to me, “Not near as close as I wanted us to be.”
Something came over me; Magda must have rubbed off on me. “Come”, I ordered, turning on my heel and leaving him flummoxed in the doorway.
I don’t generally extend hospitality to jerks, but maybe that’s just what Magda did for me. Oh yes, she did.
I went to stir the stew and heard him close the door and settle into the couch Looking over I saw his head in his hands. His shoulders were shaking and there was a great big wad of grief trying to work it’s way up and out. I came near him, his grief like a magnet to my own. What had come over me? I reached out to touch his face. He jerked back. I turned back to the kitchen and crunched a handful of herbs into the teapot; that same bundle from four days ago when Magda had begun healing me. I steeped it as he watched me. He was the very picture of misery.
I poured him a cup and sweetened it with thick honey. I pressed the warm mug into his hands along with one of Magda’s handkerchiefs. He watched me with his Tortured Carl eyes. I moved slow in Magda’s kitchen; it felt right to tread her space as she did.
Magda. Her broken, torn body was burned into my vision, the thought bringing a copper taste to my mouth, the memory of the scent of blood. I gripped the work table and willed my rioting stomach to calm. I replayed her last words to me, I was shaken by how she kept saying “I knew, I knew”. Knew what? Oh! The letter!
I spun towards the living room, eyes seeking out my backpack. Carl was alarmed. I had gone from slow-as-molasses-in-January to racing across the house. Opening my pack, I found a leather guestbook and an envelope with my name in her flowing script, “For Naomi”.
Carl watched this all. Seeing the guestbook, he asked, “Why do you have the guestbook in your bag?” I felt the accusation behind it, but somehow I’d lost my prickliness.
“Magda put these in my pack. While she lay…there…after the bear…(breathe, girl)…she told me that she wanted me to ‘tell them that she loved them’ and she said ‘guestbook’. This letter is from her too.”
I picked up the letter, smoothing the paper between my fingers nervously.
“Did Magda know she was going to die?” The question leapt right out of me and it struck Carl right in the heart. He sucked in his breath, closed his eyes.
I hadn’t forgotten how she’d said, “It’s okay, I knew, I knew.” We sat in silence. Carl finished his mug of tea but held it in his hands. His hands needed something to grip.
“I loved her. I loved her more than anyone or anything. We were the same age, her grandma Sue introduced us. She was so skinny back then, just sick-looking. She didn’t trust anyone, sort of like a dog who’s been kicked. But Sue really fixed her up, drew her out, she was a new person within a year of her coming up her. We’d go fishing together for hours, spend whole days shooting cans off the fence.”
He leaned forward, pinching that worry knot between his brows with his thumb and forefinger. “I asked her to marry me when we were twenty…I asked her half a dozen times over the years.” He laughed bitterly. “She always told me the same thing, Carl, I love you, but I’m not to marry. It’s not what God has for me.”
“I remember raging at her after one of her refusals, ‘Well what if you’re what God has for me? What could He possibly be calling you to that you couldn’t do with me at your side?’ She just smiled sad and said, ‘Carl, God’s calling me to die for someone’.
to be continued….