I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng,
The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep,
And all the earth is gay
"The daisies are very pretty and I placed them on the breakfast table," said the elderly woman reappearing at the front doorway with a tray of shortbread cookies and a glass of milk.
"You are welcome, ma'am," the small girl said shyly.
"There is no need to be bashful with me, Agnes," the old woman said. "I remember you."
The girl was about to ask the woman how she knew her name, but realized that it was impolite to tease in such a way. The frail lady placed the tray down with her spindly arms as the girl touched her sleeve. "I can't eat, ma'am, but thank you, please. It will spoil my lunch," the girl said, and then skipped down the porch steps.
"Why the hurry?"
"My grandma is waiting!"
"I see," she said with a wink. "Well... enjoy your childhood!" the woman shouted from the front porch as the girl dashed off.
Agnes grew up in the house of her grandparents--a house that her grandfather built himself and which still stands, although if you stopped by today, you would find its windows boarded up and the grass growing high. The house faces south and sits about ten yards back from the street. A heavily cracked walkway flanked by two wagon wheels once lead to the stone porch and Agnes' grandmother would rock in her chair on the cement floor all summer wearing her house slippers and clasping a pack of unfiltered Pall Malls. In the front yard, to the right when facing the house, was a very large pine tree and, on the same side, but behind the pine, was a lilac bush. On the left side of the house was a plum tree, one half leafless and gray.
"Do you know what time it is?" Grandma shouted to Agnes as she skipped up the street. "You have only fifteen minutes to eat now before you have to go back to school."
"No-" Agnes tried to explain her lateness as she rushed between the rusted wagon wheels, but Grandma continued.
"I waited and I waited," she exclaimed in a scolding tone. "It's just going to have to be peanut butter and jelly. I know you hate it but-"
"No, Grandma!" the girl cried, slightly out of breath as she reached the porch steps.
"Yes! You don't have time to waste, Agnes, and now we have less."
"But Grandma, I don't have to go back to school. We only had half a day today!"
Without explaining further, Agnes ran around to the backyard, just to catch Grandma shouting, "Then where have you been all this time?" But Agnes could not convey to her the thrill she felt in smelling, touching, and gathering daisies that grew wild in the field behind the school, nor how she stopped to give them to an old woman sitting on her porch, as thin and fragile as her own grandmother was plump and sturdy. Agnes felt compassion for the woman and wanted to brighten her day, because the woman could not run nor jump. She could not spin on the lawn until she fell to the ground and watch the world continue to whirl around her. If Agnes would have only known that an old woman did not need such things.
The property at the back yard was clearly marked out on both sides by pear trees. The tree on the west end of the yard bore fruit that was very hard and coarse, but the fruit of the tree on the east end was soft and sweet. From that tree, Agnes pulled down a pear and sniffed at it. It smelled like impending winter. She let go and the branch and its fruit sprang back up again.
On the west end of the yard, between the pear tree and the house was a peach tree, which Agnes' grandmother had grown from a stone she started indoors before transplanting it after it sprouted, but the climate was not good for peaches in the mountains and when there was fruit at all, it was small and gnarled. Also on the west side, but farther to the back, grew a weeping willow, which had tipped on its side the previous year during a storm, yet the tree continued to grow. Agnes believed the wind had pushed it over for her. It was her tree now. She would often walk up its trunk and pretend it was a ship, bouncing on the thin upper branches, as if waves were punishing the bow.
Agnes walked on past the weeping willow to the oval patch of yard separated from the main section by an abandoned pigeon coop and bordered by patches of forget-me-nots and other perennials. A line of elms grew where there were no flowers. Lawn chairs were arranged there in a shady spot. Behind the sitting area was an open, grassy area used for pitching horseshoes and, behind that, woodland that stretched to an open meadow.
The front door of the house opened to the dining room, and that opened to the living room to the right and to the kitchen at the back. The dining room was always dark, as it had only one window and that was open to the porch. It was wallpapered in faded, chestnut stripes. The living room was much more spacious and bright. It was painted a sky blue and the carpet on the floor was patterned with small, pink flowers.
The kitchen had never been renovated. The cupboards and cabinets were rough-hewn and painted in black and white. The kitchen table was metal and topped with a plastic laminate that was popular in the ‘50s, but now it was piteously worn, cracked, and yellowed. At the back of the kitchen was the back door, and through that Agnes entered and met the stern face of her grandmother. Holding an enameled pot, she turned to the stove and declared, "Now that I know we have time, I will heat some of the homemade soup and make egg salad." She then looked out of the corner of her eye, playfully toward the girl. Nevertheless, Agnes had no interest in food and kept walking on and through the doorway to her left, which lead to a narrow hallway and the bedrooms.
Rarely, and not in years, because she was then still old, did Agnes venture to the closet at the end of the hallway. The closet was merely a dead end with only a curtain separating it from the rest of the hall. If the curtain were drawn, it would reveal a dim, damp space, a space that seemed larger than it was and cold. A bare light bulb hung overhead that turned on by means of a pull chain that Agnes could barely reach, so it was always left dark. A few old clothes, which no one wore, for this closet was not in regular use, hung on a metal rod extending across the space. Some clothes lay in heap in a huge bin. Nothing was new. There was no light and no air and the final time that she resolved to enter there, she saw a frail, thin spirit hovering in the stillness. "Would you like to live as you wish?" asked the spirit. Agnes had always wanted to run through the fields and roll in the grass again. "Now, you will have your innocence returned to you." Then, and with only a little pain, it touched her.
Steven Anthony George is a life skills educator for a homelessness recovery program in Fairmont, WV. He earned a BA in Honors English Writing at Fairmont State University and has worked as a poetry editor for Kestrel. His work has appeared in Angelic Dynamo, Apollo's Lyre, and Eclectic Flash: The Best of 2010. Steven is also a playwright and has worked on multimedia projects with various artists.