For Lillian. Prose Entry for Roots & Wings Contest.
|It was hard travel. The wooden wheels struggled to cut a path in the cross-hatched maze, the crusty, muddy trails that ran one way, then another as if there had been a race. I clutched the reins, racing to beat the fading light, held between life and death by the whims of a cold April.
I wrapped a blanket around Lillian and she held arms around her belly. But there was no holding in the pain. It escaped her lips whenever the rough road defeated the spring of the buckboard’s seat.
I never had such hard travel. Fourteen miles of shadows chased my heart all the way to Grand Falls and the French doctor.
Not so long a trip to make to take potatoes to market, or fetch Mama’s supplies on a fine day with a bright sky. But this was an undecided April.
The night whistled with frosty breath and dropped icy tears. My horse snorted disapproval, but I was glad of an excuse for the trail of water on my cheek.
I became full grown the year that the cold crawled into Daddy’s lungs. And I became the man, the farmer, the father to Lillian and the little ones. But at seventeen to have her life in my hands?
Mama, I prayed every prayer, every word I could remember from Sunday services. The doctor prayed,too. Though I couldn’t understand the words, I saw his hand making the cross.
Skilled hands but too late, the poisoned organ burst before it could be excised - precious time the road had taken from us.
It was hard travel, fourteen miles through the snow that, ashamed of herself, April had thrown down to cover what she’d done. Fourteen miles back alone, back to the farm, back to the little ones.
Fourteen miles back to ploughing and planning, with Lillian already gone home.
The story of Lillian is a true one, based on family history told to me by a person living at the time and information from the death certificate, the weather almanac and Google maps. It is indeed 14.1 miles from the farm to Grand Falls. She was a sibling of a direct ancestor. The details in the poem are mostly accurate except where poetic license is taken to imagine emotions, reactions, etc. A medical emergency out in farm country meant a trip to the nearest town with a doctor, and the trip was rougher at some times of year than others. In some cases, it was too late.