Monday, August 9, 2010

Short Story: The Woman Underneath The Maple Tree

It had taken an hour to get Eli’s precious pumpkin on the bed of his black, Ford pick-up truck. His assistant quickly departed thereafter. He had been complaining about the coming rain. 
 “Muddy streets and overcast skies don’t make for a safe ride home,” he had said.
Eli was glad to be left alone. The enormous vegetable now towered at least two feet over him.  He watched the orange ribs of his pumpkin undulate gently over the thick rind. This year he would win the blue ribbon, and he would rub it in his neighbors’ noses, especially Erkela’s, that snobbish, pretty woman that lived next door.
She had won first place at the Country Fair every year since she moved into town. The foolish old busybodies said it was because she put a spell over her patch; no one could have pumpkins that large three years running. She never gloated over her success. Nonetheless, Eli hated her. Maybe it was because of the look she gave him, as if he was an inconsequential dog on the side of the road. Still, that didn’t keep him from looking over the previous week as she hung her laundry. He could tell that she wasn’t wearing a bra. He eyed her from over the handle of his shovel taking in the darkness of her areola that seeped through her white-lace chemise.  
An infant’s cry woke him from his reverie. He pushed back his thick, gold-framed glasses and looked around. The heavy wind made it difficult for him to locate the source of the sound. Had it not been for her porcelain skin contrasting against the ever darkening skies he would have never noticed the woman underneath the Maple tree. She wore a thin, autumn colored blouse and a long dark skirt. She fumbled with the buttons of her top as it struggled to join the voyage of the wind. The large blue bundle she held in her hands made the attempts to tame her shirt futile.
She swayed in the wind as she struggled towards him. He wondered what she was doing in the middle of his field and how she got there. Her red lips and thin complexion reminded him of his neighbor. For a moment Eli thought that’s who it was. But her hair was down, and long. Erkela kept her hair short, in a tight bun. 
“Can I can help you ma’am?” He had to yell over the increasing roar of the wind.
The woman continued her approach without responding. 
“Are you in trouble?” Eli walked over seeing that she was having difficulty getting through the maze of green vines on the ground. 
Looking up at him with eyes as dark as onyx she pleaded, “My baby needs food. She hasn’t eaten for a week.” 
Tears slipped from her eyes. A flash of light in the sky revealed one of her breasts as the wind threatened to rip off her blouse. Eli felt a mixture of guilt and sympathy. He thought of his pregnant wife at home. Thunder clapped nearby. 
“Listen, let’s get inside before it starts pouring,” he shouted over the wind, “My wife can fix up something for you and your baby to eat, and we’ll figure out how we can help you.”
“Your pumpkin…” Eli could barely hear what she said even though she was only a few feet away from him. “My carriage isn’t far from here. Sir, your pumpkin could feed my baby through the coming winter.”
Slightly dazed by the implied request, Eli tried to decipher whether or not the desperate-looking woman was serious. 
“Are you asking me for my pumpkin?” He pointed to the truck bed.
She nodded. Her hair was now blowing perpendicular to her thin frame.
“Ma’am, I gotta tell you, I’m having a hard time not seeing this as a joke or a scam.” He strained to project his voice as thunder ripped through the air once again. “This pumpkin is not for food.”
The woman did not reply. She observed his pudgy features imploringly. Eli stared back incredulously. She was not joking. The sky was nearly black now. He heard dense drops of rain land on the broad leaves lying on the ground. His eyes shifted to her blue bundle. The thick cloth was wrapped very tightly around the baby. It pained him to even consider giving away his pumpkin. He had waited very long to finally be able to win the blue ribbon. But it would easily feed her infant all winter. One or two more lightning strikes and the rain would come pouring down on her and her child. Something ominous about the woman’s eyes was moving him to give her his pumpkin. Lightning struck, revealing her supple skin once more. Fighting his lust and a fresh wave of guilt he acquiesced to his burning conscience. 
“Okay, but we have to move fast! I don’t want you or your child to get sick.”
The woman got into the truck’s passenger seat carrying her bundle. Eli turned the key and the engine roared over the howl of the wind. Rain began to splatter his windshield. He drove until he saw a covered carriage with a horse tied to it by the side of the road. He backed his truck near the loading side of the carriage. It took him fifteen minutes to heave the enormous pumpkin over into the cart. The woman thanked him briskly as he helped her into the carriage. She yanked on the reins while still holding her baby in her arms. Eli stared appallingly as the blue bundle slowly shrank into the distance.
That night he didn’t sleep. The next morning his wife scolded him for being foolish enough to give away his prize pumpkin. He wasn’t surprised to find out a week later that Erkela won the competition. Neither was he surprised when his wife lost her baby in a miscarriage a week after that. He expected something like this would happen ever since he realized that stormy evening that the baby in the woman’s arms was dead.

Remy Dou.