Please enjoy this continuation of what I expect to be my fourth novel.
Mazie stood behind the chair that had always been her mother’s place at the porch’s outdoor dining table. She ran her hands along the welted seam of the – what was it called…Naugahyde? – chair, the miracle synthetic material that supposedly lasted forever. Mazie smiled down at the gray, marble-patterned Formica table. Her parents would be astonished to know that the chairs and table they had carefully chosen with their eternal vigilance to thrift would one day be precious collector’s items for scores of retro-crazed home decorators. Neither the word “chic,” nor the value it represented would ever had entered her parents’ lexicon. They insisted that their furnishings and possessions be practical and durable enough to weather children, animals, friends and the vicissitudes of life in general with a minimum of worry or bother.
Mazie ran her hand along the Formica, and once again along the welting at the top of the chair before lifting her gaze back to the orchard. She thought she saw a flicker of movement between two of the old apple trees on the far slope, and she unconsciously rose up on her toes to get a better look.
It was mid-morning, not a time of day that one would expect to see a deer. It was also unlikely that a deer would decide to amble through a relatively open orchard well before the time of year when any apples could have ripened enough to fall. Mazie saw a flash of red, high enough above the ground that she reckoned it could only be a person, one who seemed to be plodding in slow motion through Mazie’s orchard.
Mazie stood and watched fixedly, shock, wonder and suspicion whirling within her, as an elderly, snow white-haired woman came into focus. The woman wore a cotton print dress, much as Mazie’s grandmothers and their various sisters had worn most days, with ankle socks and well-worn walking shoes. Around her neck she wore a red bandana, the flash of red that Mazie had seen from afar. The woman carried a cane in one hand, or perhaps it was a walking stick, which she leaned on heavily. She watched her feet intently, making her way among the multitude of rocks in the thoroughly uneven, hazardous orchard. The woman had gotten all the way to the near end of the orchard before she chanced a glance upward, at which point, she immediately saw Mazie standing behind the chair at the outdoor table on the porch.
The woman raised her cane in the air, a kind of salute. “Oh! Hello, dear!”
Mazie was not sure what else to say besides, “Hello!”
“I’m not used to seeing anyone!” the woman said. “You gave me rather a start.”
“It’s my place,” Mazie said, “my family’s place.”
“Oh, I’m sure it is, dear, seeing as you’re standing there on the porch. But I walk through here every day, through your orchard there. So, you’re what’s different for me. Never saw anyone before.”
“I was just thinking about the orchard,” Mazie said. “Wondering why anyone would choose such rocky, uneven ground for an orchard in the first place.”
“Well, I can’t answer that one,” the woman said.
“What I’m wondering is, why you would walk through such an… inhospitable orchard, when the road is right there.” Mazie pointed.
“The road gets a little boring after a while, lovely as it is. I do walk on it. This is my little foray off the beaten path, as it were. Just through your orchard and back on up to the road.”
“You know, when we first bought this place, my parents were intent on trying to mow it, you know, tame it into a nice, grassy meadow kind of an orchard.” Mazie laughed. “You can’t imagine the sound when a ride-on lawnmower hits a rock. The lawnmower engine stops dead, and this…enormous…noise reverberates through the woods in every direction. Oh my gosh, I can still hear it clear as day.” Mazie laughed. “Except that one time, the whole lawnmower rolled right over, right on top of my father. That wasn’t so funny.”
Mazie observed herself, talking to a total stranger, who was technically trespassing on her old family farm.
The woman smiled. Mazie regarded her.
“Oh. Perhaps you’d rather that I don’t walk through it,” the woman said.
Mazie considered. “Well, I’m not sure that makes any sense,” Mazie responded. “Seems kind of mean-spirited and arbitrary, out here in the middle of all this land. No, you go right on walking through the crazy, rocky orchard any time you like.”
“Very kind of you, dear. I suppose if you’re up and about, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Where are you headed, anyway?” Mazie asked.
“That way.” The woman pointed up the road, the opposite direction from the one she had come, and began walking without another word.
Bottom photo is of Emma Rowena Gatewood, better known as Grandma Gatewood (October 25, 1887–June 4, 1973), an extreme hiker and ultra-light hiking pioneer who was the first woman to hike the 2,168-mile (3,489 km) Appalachian Trail from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine solo, and in one season.