Stephanie Heller sat on the stream bank, her eyes staring at the way the water slid and gurgled around the rocks trying to block its way. She’d been there, mind lost in the ripple and swirl, for an hour as she watched orange, yellow and bronze leaves pass. The warm afternoon sun was setting and the air began to chill when she pulled herself from her reverie. She rose with a sigh, the water was so soothing, constant yet ever changing.
As she walked home the rustle of fallen leaves drowned out the muted sounds of the forest. Like the water, it soothed her as she focused on the way the sound of the leaves varied as her feet moved through them. It was a mile to the house and she was sorry when she emerged into the dusk past the forest edge and stepped onto the lawn of her farm house.
The windows were dark. There was no one there any longer but her to turn on the lights. She studied the house, how empty and cold it looked. Stephanie took one step, then another, following the path across the lawn to the back kitchen door.
The house didn’t used to be dark and cold. She opened the door and flipped the light switch. The kitchen was bathed in the cold blue light of the energy efficient bulbs. The room, where at this time of day should have been filled with the warm smell of dinner cooking, seemed sterile. She filled the water kettle and put it on the stove to heat. She was chilled and a cup of tea sounded good to her.
There were those small things, like a hot cup of tea that kept her going. That, and sitting by the stream, watching the water flow by. It had been there all summer, getting her to acknowledge her life. She went upstairs and changed into her pajamas, throwing on a red and black flannel quilted shirt over it all. Stephanie stroked the front of the shirt then wrapped her arms around herself as she watched her reflection in the dresser mirror. It was a poor replacement for her husband’s hugs but it was all she had left.
On her way back to the kitchen her step hesitated outside a closed bedroom door. It wasn’t time to face what was in there she decided and hurried down to the kitchen where the kettle was just about to whistle its readiness. She poured the water over the teabag in the cup. The scent of orange and cinnamon filled the kitchen as the heat from the kettle warmed her hands.
She took the tea to the living room and built a fire in the fireplace. Watching the flames consume the firewood was nearly as good as watching the water. Fire roaring, she cuddled into the sofa cushions and covered herself with an afghan. It was one she had made, a simple ripple pattern in gold and orange and chocolate brown, back when she was pregnant. That thought led to pain, so she shoved it away and picked up her tea.
Her friends had cared for her after the accident, helping her take care of the house and grounds as her broken arm and leg healed. The brought her frozen casseroles, kept the yard mowed, took her to her doctor appointments. They cleaned the house for her, too, but when they weren’t watching, she went behind them and laid all of the pictures face down. Looking at them was too hard to handle. After she was healed physically, they hugged her and reluctantly left.
Stephanie understood they knew she wasn’t healed yet but there was no reason for them to stay. She thanked them for their help and closed the door softly behind them. Since then she’d spent the days at the stream or if it was raining, watching the fire. The casseroles had been put to good use since she had gone to the store for only the most basic supplies. Aside from tea and toast, she hadn’t cooked a meal since the accident. It created too many memories of better times.
Autumn wound to a close and the colder days made it harder to sit at the stream side. Phone calls came in, inviting her to coffee, to Sunday Brunch, to dinner. It was on a gray day that she answered the phone. She watched a lone, brown maple leaf thrash on the tree branch outside the living room window as the caller asked her to come to a movie with her. Stephanie saw the wind rip the leaf from the tree and watched as the leaf sailed with crazed abandon around the tree and up into the sky out of sight.
Stephanie nodded. “Sure. I’ll meet you in town.” When she hung up the phone she felt better than she had in months, lighter, somehow. She went to her bedroom, showered, changed into jeans and a sweater, and brushed out her hair. As she passed the closed bedroom she stopped and lay her hand on the door. It was still too soon to go inside but she entertained a brief thought of the baby who used to be in there, chubby arms and legs and a dimpled smile. Her throat tightened and tears sprang to her eyes but she could bear it a little.
She passed the door and went to the garage. It occurred to her as she drove to town, that she could get a few groceries after the movie.
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