This story was inspired by my friend, Sarah. I had asked her for 5 words to work into a story. She suggested: Persistent, Horizon, Forgiveness, Natural and Chilled.
Jessie knew the sun had just gone down but she had never had a clear view of the horizon to know for sure. Growing up in rural Appalachia, situated literally between a rock and a hard place, a long range view on anything was a luxury. But tonight, as her Papaw’s last batch of homebrew chilled in the creek near the south corner of the wood, she found a glimmer of hope for the things yet to be but were not easily seen.
She had been raised by her Papaw since the age of 4 when her own Ma, Lucy, had run off. For the years that had followed she had wondered and the questions in the dark of night, persistent. It always came back to the same thought, why would the woman who would take her in the woods to look for feathers and frogs take off in the middle of the night? Papaw never seemed to care much that she had run off and never mentioned her again.
Papaw did his best to supply a roof over her head and more food than most. But it was Miss Cece, her Ma’s friend, who did her best to fill the other spaces. She made sure her hair and wardrobe was tended to. When she was 13 she explained to her why the boys she had always played with now met her with downward glances and puppy dog eyes. She even talked about Ma, starting most sentences with, “Back in the day….” Pawpaw died on an ordinary day last year, leaving what he had to her, including one small photo of a young Lucy when he had still considered her his child.
It had been Miss Cece who delivered the letters to her on her 21st birthday. There were 17 of them. Each arrived in a large envelope addressed to Miss Cece, but with another envelope inside with her Ma’s best grade school handwriting, Jessie. In 16 of them, they were empty except for a feather. Each one different and special in their own way. But the 17th letter, the one on her 21st birthday, the same age Lucy had been when she had run off had an added surprise of a few scrawled words, “Jessie, someday the winds will carry me home, forgiveness may be too much to ask for, but I dream of such things.” Enclosed was the simplest of all feathers, but the most beautiful of all.
Miss Cece had called earlier this morning, but in her way of not saying much said what she needed to. Lucy had made her way home, they would be by that night, if allowed. Miss Cece barely heard her reply, “I expect so.”
She had spent the day in the woods, seemed to be the natural thing to do. On her way home she stopped to watch a family of Bobwhite’s cross her path as the parents attended to their young the best they could. After they were gone, she found one had left a feather.
Miss Cece and Lucy arrived and met her on the path just as she was exiting the woods. Lucy stood before her, shoulders low as the moon rising over the trees. Jessie extended her hand and the feather, whispering over the emerging noises of the night, “Birds of a feather, welcome home, Ma.”