JONATHAN
 LOVEJOY

The Harvest

The punishments have grown more severe. More sadistic. My mother sometimes disciplines me by laying on top of me, face to face, pinning my arms, pressing down until I can't breathe. She will then push her thumb hard into my back, holding her hand over my nose and mouth until I almost pass out. Trying to squeeze the tears and the breath out of me.

But I will never fight back.

Along with the punishments come brutal threats. Empty promises of great harm. But these grow disturbingly more frequent, until they are textured with unsettling believability.

I have gone to bed one sweltering Indian Summer’s evening, underneath the Harvest Moon, convinced that the next day will be my last. Before midnight, I mysteriously awake from a deep sleep, unsettled, sensing I am alone in the farmhouse. I move quietly to my mother’s bedroom. The room is empty and my mother is nowhere in sight. In the dead of night, the front door lays open

And Mother is gone.

My nightmare has finally come true. But I am lucky. I know how to work our pathetic little farm. The owner keeps our arrangement, and lets me stay in the house. But I am alone. For weeks I sleep with every light on, and the radio blaring. Jumping at every sound, trembling at every shadow. The nightmares are brutal. Nightmares of being chased down, and captured by my mother. But in time, the solitude and isolation of my little farm grows upon me, and I gradually withdraw into myself.
..

Into a private world of melody.

And loneliness.

       q


One cool, autumn Sunday morning, the young man is out and about, strolling leisurely past the church. He’s considered going inside many times, but has not yet gathered his nerve. This particular Sunday he waits, to see what manner of people will walk, crawl, or run out when the doors are opened.

The first person out of the church is a beautiful woman in her late thirties, with piercing gray eyes, black hair, and a stern look as cold and hard as the approaching winter. Immediately behind her is a younger version of herself. 

For a month of Sundays, he waits. Watching them closely. They look very much alike. A shy, fearful young woman, who apparently lives in terror and awe of her domineering mother.

They seldom speak. They don’t have to. Their expressions speak volumes.

The young man knows he has a snowball’s chance. But every Sunday for several weeks he is there, safely hidden a ways down the road. Then one Sunday, the mother doesn’t show up.

The daughter is alone.

He follows her on foot, enjoying the stroll among the trees, languishing so far behind that he almost loses her. A few miles later, she turns off the paved back road onto a dirt road. There is only one house... 

A thick woods surrounds the whole area. A small, empty cropfield lays in back of the house. As he approaches the yard, he remembers that this time, every strand of her black hair had been down, flowing around her shoulders and her back. How can she not be married? Where is the line of hopefuls? Like a watchdog, Barbara Coletti has kept them away. Keeping her isolated. How can they find her, if they don't know she exists? He can't wait to get another look at her mother, even if she comes barreling out of the house on her broom, with her broom, to chase him away. As a pair, the two of them are intimidating. Unsettling. Funereal.

Gothic.

Weeks later, in the chill of November, the young man knocks fearfully on Elizabeth Coletti's door. The music on the radio suddenly goes down.

He knocks again, a little louder. Of course there is no answer. After several more tries, he finally hears soft, lonely footsteps sneaking towards the front door. He doesn't notice the fearful eye staring at him from behind the curtain in the window. More knocking. Five minutes of desperate knocking. And finally, he hears a voice.

A timid voice. 

       q


For the rest of that day, we talk. He learns that I am all alone, that my mother has been missing for some time. He notices that every so often, I have to concentrate to keep from stuttering.

And you don't know where she is?

"I think she left me."

Why?

"I don't know."

I'm sorry, he says. It must've been awful, being left alone.

Before we know it, daylight slips away. We eat our first dinner together, and are amazed to learn we have no family. We are alone in the world.

But no longer.

"Do you have to go?"

I have to work tomorrow, he says. But I'll be back.

"Do you promise?"

I swear it.

Chris leaves in that sweetest sorrow, but returns the next day. Every day. Before long, we are comfortable enough to take one another's hand. We believe it is the end of suffering.

And so it is.

Soon after, we stand together before the Justice. And the woman became Elizabeth Peele.







                                         A Good Wife On the Eve of Dying: Stories of Elizabeth Peele
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