The rocks crunched beneath her weary, wrinkled feet. A toe or two cracked under the weight of her time-laden body and small burlap sack filled with sticky crabapples. The saliva puddled in her cheeks just thinking of the sour little fruits, but foraging for food wasn’t a luxury. It wasn’t a simple walk in the woods, a frolic through the fields. It was necessity. Hunger can only be cured by food. And when food on the farm was scarce, she did what her mother taught her to do – go to the forest for sustenance.
In the distance, Nellie’s quaint stone cottage appeared to be cuddling the side of Hare Mountain. The cottage once belonged to her mother, and before that, her grandmother and before that her grandmother’s grandmother. On back into the annals of time, long before the country folk were forced to bid farewell to their pagan customs. Nellie’s mother told her stories about dropping a flaming wheel down the side of Hare Mountain and how the town’s young men would race to outrun it. Stories of mummers dressed in rags, animal hides, horns, and claws made of gorse-brush that would beat on the front door and climb onto the roof, singing ancient songs of the ancestors to ensure a good harvest in the year ahead. Even stories of much older times when the town wasn’t a town, but merely a village with a tribe of people who bonded together in order to survive. A village that worshiped the ground they walked on, the hills that provided their homes shade in the summer and a shield from the blustery winter winds soaring in from the sea.
She smiled in spite of the nagging loneliness. She took solace in her memories of long ago. They were the only slivers of life that kept her alive. Her four children, all daughters, had gone off and married men the next town over. Two had died in childbirth. The other two she hadn’t seen in years. Her husband, the backbone of her farm and the man who held her heart, died a long, painful death just two years before. She sighed and carried on towards home. If it was even home, anymore.
The sun had dipped below the cliffs, saying goodbye just as everyone else had in her life. The heavy bag began to feel heavier. The path stretched out a mile or two before her. Her body was weakening with each step, her pace slowing. A rumble of a cough boiled up from somewhere deep inside of her and erupted, nearly knocking her over with its strength. She wiped at her wet mouth with the edge of her raggedy sleeve and noticed the red again. That hue of scarlet that was once so beloved to her in her younger days – a freshly bloomed field of poppies, the rosy cheeks of her first born child, the summer sunsets over the sea. A color that was once something that brought her joy, immeasurable and insurmountable, now made her stomach turn and her mind soar into the ether.
“Why should I stay?” Her soft words were immediately carried away on the autumn breeze. Gently swept away like her heart on the day of her wedding. On the eve of her love’s passing. “Why should I stay?”
She walked passed the old cottage, dropping the bag of fruit on the path. She had no need for it. Let the birds and critters feast tonight. The sunlight beckoned her towards the cliffs. It called her soul to the horizon. She stepped up to the edge and looked back. There was no one there. No one waiting for her. No one to care for her or to share her bed. No babies to rock to sleep, no faces to wipe, no one to feed, no one to tuck in at night. The loneliness had taken over. It was her only friend left in the world. Well, that and the sun. She mustn’t forget the sun…and the ocean below. The ocean’s waves seemed to call out her name with each crash on the rocks. Nellie. Nellie. Nellie. Come home.
The illness had taken her strength. Nearly taken her sight. But she wouldn’t let it take her soul. She wouldn’t let the sick inside of her body rob her of her last moment.
She gazed into the sunset, one last time. Some might say she lost her mind. But she and the sun knew better. She smiled. The tears rolled down her peach-fuzzed cheeks, dripping into the salty, moist air below her, as she flew off the cliff. Like a gull. Liberated. Blissful. A crone at peace.