Katie Letcher Lyle

Books & Articles:

Fair Day, And Another Step Begun

© Lippincott, 1974; Dell Publishing Co., 1975

Fair Day, And Another Step Begun

Excerpt:

He stood, stroking the creamy neck of the horse colored like moonlight, his eyes squinted just barely in the light February sun. Snow melted in a slow stream of water from the stable roof. He turned. His hair was all she could see of him but his hands, the left one brown-gloved and holding the bridle, the right one white and stroking, stroking the horse’s neck. Copper in the failing sun, his hair glistened as though polished and stood up in waves like the sea. In the blue shadows under the eaves, snow still stood, dingy white. His boots moved restlessly from time to time, as did his horse’s feet. The animal gave a low whinny. He reached into the pants pocket and got something out and cupped it in his bare hand. The horse nuzzled the hand and ate. Its neck arched down like a waterfall.

She sat quietly, brushing her yellow hair back as the small wind fluffed stray strands into her face. She saw him in a shower of gold. He seemed to her a portrait of such beauty she wished she could photograph it with her brain, in all its bright color, with the even rhythm of his stroking the horse and the tiny puffs of haze from the animal’s rosy nostrils. She memorized the flow of the wood grain in the old barn siding, the gold of sunlight, the blue of shadows, the copper of hair, the creamy horse, the bitter brown corduroy like tobacco leaves dried in bales, the leaping green of a patch of Polytrichum commune at the stable door, the moss defying dun snow.

She thought that if she could make an indelible picture of him, he would somehow be hers. If he could only hear what she was saying. I cannot talk, she thought, and you cannot hear, but please listen to me.

She did not say anything.

For a long time she had sat on the peeling top rail flecked with dry bark and lichen. She was very patient. The shadows grew deeper beneath the stable’s overhanging roof. Barn swallows darted in, just missing the top of the door. A flock of evening grosbeaks scattered some juncos from a green patch by the barn door.

For a moment she looked down. At her feet, some yellow crocuses were beginning to emerge from tight buds. They were most beautiful because most scarce: the first of anything was best.

She looked again at the man, and it seemed to her that the simplest thing in the world was also the thing just now scarcest and most precious. Just one look, she thought. No, just one look that carries with it one smile or the twinkle of an eye, and the world will be on course again. If that could be, anything could be. The wheat grains she had found in an old kitchen drawer—dusty, brittle, who knew how old?—had sprouted when she had planted them. Like a resurrection. If that could be, anything could be.

But he was not looking at her, and she could not be sure if he saw her or knew she was there, though she was not twenty-five feet from him. She believed that one could snag people with thought, that there were waves or impulses or something by which minds communicated. If she thought on him, eventually he would think on her.

She sighed. The last people to be civilized are mountain people, she thought. Does that make us worst, or best? She narrowed her eyes and put away that thought, which never arrived anywhere anyhow. Her knowledge, of value to her, would not help her survive in other places. Even in school, her kind of knowledge was seldom of aid. Latin—beautiful words that unlocked mysteries. Still, the wars of Gaul were far away. What good, in Chicago or New York, to have witnessed the copulation of tortoises, the burying of their eggs, and the birth of the young turtles? Was she perhaps stupid that she did not know how to ride a subway? Who could use her understanding of how to overcome fear in wild animals by patience and perseverance and silence?

She narrowed her eyes until the entire scene was blurred, with rays like the sun’s going off in all directions, some crossing each other. The chill moved upward and her feet got numb. She hunched her shoulders and pulled the sheepskin collar up higher.

He turned and flashed her a smile. His cheeks, ruddy always, were apple red, and she remembered or imagined the blue color of his eyes though she didn't really see it. Slowly, he pulled on his other glove, staring at his hand as though he had never seen it before, and led the horse into the dark stable. She closed her eyes and tried to make the time pass by identifying the smell of the air. Something that was so familiar, something she had known forever, was in the smell: smoke, apples, ammonia, snow, hay. She opened her eyes because she felt dizzy.

She was delighted. Magically he had appeared again, this time quickly, walking briskly now toward her, his brown jacket flapping open to reveal a plaid lining, his footsteps certain in brown riding boots. She gazed at his face and took her hands out of her pockets. As he came toward her, she raised her hands to stroke his beautiful cheeks with their tiny veins and creases like a map up close, and they were cold and firm in her cupped palms.

“I’m pregnant,” she said.

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