From the Hill Over the Sea
By JD Miller
In the cottage at the top of the hill, the dew was still glistening on the lawn. Nobody had been by to call in three days, but the flowers in the crystal vase remained as immaculate as if they’d been clipped only moments ago. At the bottom of the hill, where the sea sprawled beneath the gray sky, a ship was passing by, small and faded red.
From the cottage at the top, the woman watches, smiles, waves, as though the men on the ship know just where to point their binoculars to see her. There is a chance that they do. The right one will.
Of course, this is not the ship she is expecting. That ship, literally and figuratively, ‘sailed long ago.’ But she still waited. She had to wait. It was in her nature, just as it was in the nature of this town to stand against the sea’s worst tempers; and the nature of its people to gather around hearth and candle light, or to shoo the gulls from the docks, or clip hydrangeas for the vase.
The sun has barely risen, and is good deal less than warm. But the woman doesn’t mind. She is both numb to the cold, and constantly with a blanket at hand, which she has been told makes her seem much older than she is. But she is old, she says, speaking of her soul more than her body. If they could see my soul, she thought, they’d think, ‘she’s older than the hills.’
The neighbor boy had told her as much. And she couldn’t do anything but laugh at him, and thank him for his honesty.
“Margaret,” said a fisherman’s wife, spreading marmalade on toast, “You’ve got to stop this. You have so much life left to live.”
But the boy knew better. “Just how old are you?” He asked.
She leaned her head back so that she could laugh toward the sky. It was the proper way, she thought, to laugh. It was the youthful way to do it. And laughter should always seem youthful. “When I was your age,” she said, “ships ran on steam, or better yet, on nothing but wind. But even back then there were old ladies, believe it or not. And we would ask them the same question.”
And back then, she thought, there were young men as well. Young men with sun-bronze arms, and a whiskery smile that could melt even a heart determined to be cold. So many men like that—or at least, hers—had sailed away. And so many of them were still out there, somewhere, waiting on the bell to call them back, waiting for the watch to end.
That’s what she was doing, she told herself. In between the clipping of flowers. Sitting here, with the sun-dazzled pillars of dust standing around her, and the fruit gleaming in the basket, and the flowers in the crystal vase exhaling perfume, and the kettle always seeming to heat and never seeming to boil. Somewhere, the gulls were always crying, and the ships were always going out and coming in.
The boy next door was kicking a ball, and sooner or later it would come over the fence, and he would be over to collect it, the one flicker of conversation she could always depend on. And just like all of that was nature, so too, she thought, am I. She pulled her chair a little closer to the edge of the porch. The little ship had passed out of sight, and soon, another one would replace it. Maybe it would be the one. And even if it wasn’t, she would wave.
And on the dearest days, the days that she kept nearest to her heart (which was actually quite big from all the waiting), she could see the distant shape of someone standing on a faded deck, and waving back.