we have a happy life. people who look in on it from the outside would probably say 'strange' is a better name for it; the solitude and the long, quiet, winter months, and how i climb the trees in spring just to spend hours lost among the apple blossoms. the way dee makes cider in the fall, enough to last us through the cold months, the way he teaches me from old books over the kitchen table. it's the sort of life most people can't easily relate to or categorize.
most people run away from the things that fight behind their eyes; they fill their brains and senses bursting with noise and scents and flavors. they fill each moment and chase away the quiet so that they never have to hear what the whispering voice inside them has to say.
i might have lived that way too if dee hadn't raised me. he was different than most people. he didn't run away from the smoke and the sound of war, he ran towards it. to do anything else, he said, was to let the demons win. it seems a heroic sort of principle to live by.
dee never says much, so when he does say something i always know it must be important. so tonight when he looks at me from across the table and clears his throat, i listen.
"em, this morning when dog ran off, did you go wandering in the woods when i told you not to?"
i twist my lips, biting back the honesty. my expression is enough confirmation for dee. he tips his head back and sighs.
"em, i tell you things for a reason," he says. "do you think i just want to be an old stick in the mud?"
i shake my head.
dee rests his elbows on the table and clasps his hands together. his soft brown eyes study my face.
"there's dangerous things in the woods - wild animals sometimes. if i'm not with you, there'd be no one to protect you, em," he says, and he's very serious. "don't go wandering unless i'm with you."
my lips are still twisted and there's a thousand thoughts running mad through my head.
"what about whoever lives in that house?" i ask. "they're out here too."
one of dee's thick, black eyebrows lift. "house?"
"the little house - the one that's a few miles off in the hollow where the ground is all soft and rusty with pine needles," i swing a hand toward the window. "you ever seen it?"
dee's expression doesn't change from that serious one. his forehead is etched.
"don't you go snooping in where you don't belong,"
"who lives there, then?"
dee heaves a long sigh.
i bounce in my chair a little and plant my elbows on the table. "if you tell me the whole story, i'll be content. if - if you don't then you know how i am: i will think of nothing else until i've gotten myself twisted into a mess."
dee rolls his eyes and takes a long swig of cider, probably wishing it was alcohol.
"alright, fine - if you promise to just stop."
"that's a really vague request."
"stop snooping around that house, you understand?"
i take a deep breath and consider it. it doesn't sound like a promise i'll be able to keep, but i know that if i don't agree to these terms i won't get even a scrap of the story twitching on the tip of his tongue. and dee is the best kind of story teller - the kind who makes really good sound effects and does the different voices and everything. the temptation is too great.
"alright," i sigh.
"alright," he repeats but in a satisfied tone, rolling up his sleeves and sitting back with his glass. "alright, then i will tell you the story."
dee pauses and sips his cider, then he settles into a different frame of mind, it seems.
"you know mrs. hilling, the old lady with the gray hair who lives -"
"the one who lives down by the river, a couple miles away? yeah. the one who makes the yarn that you gave me for christmas last year."
"yes, her. well, when i first moved out here after i got out of the military, i went down to her house and introduced myself to and let her know that i was building a place and moving out here with my niece. i didn't say a whole lot else, but you know how she talks: she told me, among many other things i cannot remember, that i should take care bringing a young girl out here because of the wolves and because you would get ugly hands from all the hard work, but most of all because..." dee gets quiet, his eyes sparkling with firelight. "...and this is the crazy part, so listen carefully."
i lean in.
"...'and because, mr. desmond,' she says, 'there's a hermit living in the cabin down in the hollow - a hermit who never leaves his house - a hermit none of the locals have ever seen' i just chuckled and said 'well, mrs. hilling, there aren't too many locals around here, and there's nothing wrong with liking a little peace and quiet'."
dee sips his cider, then he cracks a little grin.
"do you know that lady stabbed a finger right in my face and said with the most serious look on her face, 'mr. desmond do you know what people have called him? do you know what they say about him?'"
he pauses again and i raise an eyebrow.
dee looks at me for a long moment then smiles and shakes his head. "i told her thank you, but that my niece wasn't afraid of the occasional coyote or hermit, or of getting her hands dirty. but she did tell me that she'd heard him called, this guy who owns the cabin - she'd heard him called 'one-eyed billy'. i kid you not, it was like something out of a movie," dee drains the rest of his cider, setting the empty glass down on the table.
"one-eyed billy?" i repeat, stunned by the delicious mysteriousness of it all. "do you think that's true? do you think he's only got one eye?"
dee shrugs. "that's the man's business, not my own."
"no, no, nooo, none of that," he shakes his head with a stiff lip. "people are unkind to say stuff like that, and to talk about it is to fuel it."
"but why do you think he only has one eye?"
"we don't even know that it's true."
"why do you think he never leaves his cabin? doesn't that seem kind of strange?"
dee gives me a long hard look and then points one weathered finger at me accusingly. "remember that promise you made me, hmm? you're not going to go poking around that poor guy's house. just leave him alone. do you think i'd want some irritating neighbor girl snooping around here because she'd heard some bitter old guy with big scar on his arm was living out here with his niece like some charles ingalls wannabe?"
i almost choke on my cider. i shake my head, wiping my mouth. "i guess not, sir."
he rolls his eyes and gets up to take my empty dish and his. "didn't think so."
i sit at the table for a minute, draping my hand down into the soft fur hunched next to me. thoughts swirl around in my head as i think about the house and the dark windows and the lack of smoke piping from the chimney. i think about how empty it looked and how lonely it must be to live there. i think about the prospect of only having one eye.
"how does she know he's only got one eye if no one's ever seen him?" i ask from the table.
"it's just a rumor. i think the kid who brings him groceries started it."
"oh nothing," i keep petting dog. "i'm just trying to imagine it all now."
"well stop that."
i smile a little, biting my lip. "i promised not to snoop," i call back into the kitchen. "not to quit imagining."
"bet you wouldn't like it if someone imagined all kinds of things about you," dee retorts.
i trace my fingertips back and forth through dog's fur, thinking about it. i tip my head back, turning the idea over in my mind.
"i don't know," i say at last. "i guess it would depend on what they imagined."
it's been a cold cold but bright blue fall day here in vermont. the leaves are red and gold and the sunlight is falling in bright yellow beams. it felt like just the right sort of day to post this part of the story. not going to beat about the bush, i'm a little in love with the character of dee.
i've been over here writing and editing like mad, and doing yoga and drinking lots of tea in between. i have a few things i'm just bursting to share with you !!! ANYWAY, what's your favorite part of the week been?? let's catch up in the comments <3