Saturday, April 5, 2014

Burning Bill

Burning Bill

Every morning she sat at the kitchen table in front of the large window overlooking the slopping garden. She placed a match box and a glass of water by a thick porcelain plate. She smoothed her apron and sat straight, looked around the yard and set her hands flat upon the tablecloth. Shallow breath and vacant gaze, she grabbed a twenty dollar bill out of her pocket, lit the match and gently caressed the paper money with the growing flame. When the fire reached her fingers, she let the white dish receive the last of the sacrificial   ash and then she rose to go about her day.

The woman knew the intimate feel of crisp bills, placed face up, smoothed and stretched in little white envelopes for each purpose; to pay the propane man, the electric company, the taxes. That was all she needed. With the passion of an ascetic she had saved many a small fortune over years. She loved the sound of stiff paper, the sound of enough, just enough.

No one had grown hungry around her but many had taken advantage of her generous skills; a chicken here, a bushel of potatoes there, and perhaps she could dole a dollar for whatever? Oh yes, she gave a few of her precious pieces of paper to worthy projects. Mostly she made gifts for those in need, never wasting nor giving others a chance to do so.

She feared neither wind nor pain, she performed her rituals in the spring, waking up the earthen plot. None went needy by her, first her man, then the chickens, the cat, the rabbits and the occasional goat. She fed her little world, and went to work at local farms.

In winter she painted by the north facing window where diffused light calmed her eye and soothed her anxious mind. Then everyone wanted her pictures, she obliged the few, kept some for the county fair, saving profits for appliances and perhaps an emergency.

This small woman framed in the large window, burning the last twenty dollar bill of the month at dawn. Passing mirrors as if they held no image, this woman listening for silence.

That’s how she remembers Bill, the man who used to watch her dress and put her socks on, slowly. He would bring her shoes wordlessly before she left to go to town to fetch his needs at the store, every day, sometimes twice a day and on mean days three times.

The grass is greener now under bare feet on the lone path. Flowers bloom among her carrots and peppers. Nothing else has given a clue to her loss. Her eyes are drier, her hair thinner over this plate, his plate, where she sacrifices one more, one last wrinkled token of his absent need.

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