In June, the woodcutting season, Hal dumped a bucketload of split wood in the woodshed. I had run upstairs for Tansy’s sweater where it had been left on a laundry basket in the bedroom we did not use. When I didn’t hear the tractor drive away, I stood at the one window and looked down. Kneeling in the driveway, Hal bent over his chainsaw, sharpening the chain. In his gloves with the split thumbs, he rammed the file down each tooth, lips drawn back from his teeth, his jaw clenched, eyes narrowed. I stepped nearer the window and studied him, his shoulders hunched over his work, oblivious to the world about him. Rasp, rasp, rasp. He shoved the file against each slender tooth.
With increasing frequency, each morning as Hal went out to the farm work, or disappeared with Nat Gilchrist, he didn’t bother to look at the child and me. Without speaking of it, he ceased to touch me. I wondered if I had been merely a need, something as physical as oatmeal, pork, whiskey. That need he was slaking somewhere else, in whatever way. I held Tansy’s small red sweater in one hand. In my own tender place, I was red as the slender muscular tongues of birds, my internal flesh filled with folds and crevices as a peony bloom. What bit of joy I might have gathered there had quelled. Its absence was a loneliness, an emptiness in me.
From the window, I saw our small daughter crouching beneath the lilacs, in that curious little kid way, all elasticity, her hands gathering something on the earth I couldn’t see from my angle. Against the green foliage, the long lavender flowers above her head withered to a rotting brown, she was a bright pink patch, her hair two spindly sprigs of braid. Hal kept on with his chain sharpening, the side of his face toward her as he knelt over that chainsaw, no more than a stone’s throw from where she bent in the lilacs. He did not look at her. Nor did she turn to him. Instead, she glanced over her shoulder at the house – for me, I knew – and then returned to her child’s work.
The window I looked through was significantly over a hundred years old, six panes over six, the once-upon-a-time white paint dirty, stained with mold where wood met glass. The panes were smeared with dirt in waves where condensation had slid down the glass, accumulating in ripples of stuck-on dust. My thumbnail chipped absently at a line of the debris.
Rasp, rasp. My husband’s shoulders bent powerfully to the task. In her little blue mud boots with yellow polka dots, Tansy crabwalked further into the lilac thicket.
At the window’s top, dusky clouds tore across the sky, immense and bunching, jostling as a great wind bore them along the mountainside. Stepping nearer the glass, I tipped up my face. Would it rain? Would the clouds smash and empty, or would the inclement threat simply sail by? The clouds rushed by, so many of them, apparently without end. For just a moment, I imagined myself channeled saint-like up into that massive cloud bank, the freezing wet slapping my face and body, twirling around in that ethereal realm. Would I be able to tread cloud like treading water, dip my head beneath the hazy scrim, and observe the workings of Hidden View?
In June, this should begin the loveliest of Vermont’s seasons.
As if I had been transported to the heavens, I saw the farm: the beaten down farmhouse with its rusting metal roof and the barn, bowed at the front, threatening to burst, its boards popping loose in places. As I followed the curve of path, the sugarhouse appeared with its sprawled trash of used plastic tubing, hodge-podge of things no one would ever want again, and then the fields with their stony poor soil, my garden where the slugs had set into the lettuce already, to the clothesline that had snapped that morning and dropped wet jeans on the muddy ground where I had abandoned them.
Rasp, rasp. He threw the file away from him. His hand knocked through the oily pouch of tools.
I had once believed the world so small, so microscopically possible. An if you can imagine it, you can become it kind of universe, a phrase you could write on an index card, thumbtack over a kitchen sink, and live by. I had come to Hidden View with my eyes open to the fields overrun with thistle, the garden buried beneath burdock, the asparagus eaten up by wild raspberry runners. Indeed, I had imagined my hands and my husband’s hands, put to the land, would tip the inclination of this farm from disorder to order.
Below me, Tansy moved deeper into the thicket, so I saw merely a patch of candypink moving back and forth, back and forth, as she eased her way into the branches.
The farm was a ring I suddenly realized, a circle from house to barn, sugarhouse to garden, bending back to house. We had chopped that ring in two, the barn and sugarhouse his territory, the garden mine, and the house a nether in-between zone, center of strife. Without realizing it, our lovemaking and affection had quelled, evaporated. I couldn’t recall the last time either of us had touched the other with mutual desire.
His searching hand hadn’t located what it needed. Frustrated, he scattered the pouch, spilling the tools, and then leapt up and kicked at the dispersed things, his lips drawn back in that angry sneer.
From my vantage, how wide our world seemed then, the infinite challenges not in the permutation of weed or wood, sap or seed, but in our own inner worlds roiling with our chaotic rubbish.
His hands clenched into fists by his sides, Hal tipped his head back, his thick throat exposed from his raised beard, veins pulsing in his temples and along the hard cords of his throat. He howled, a wordless rage at the sky, eyes wide open, and then he swung his fists out into the air, whacking at a great nothing.
The patch of candypink disappeared in a flash. Hal stalked away, out of my sight, as if through the strength of his rage he could change the being of Hidden View.