Dusk, the last day of harvest and Luke stood with his wheel barrow, gazing out at the Hopping Field. After a moments searching his eyes settled on a small mound of stones piled up to waist height in a far corner of the barren plot.
His weather beaten face cracking in a smile, he said, ‘I’m coming Granma. Just you wait.’ Then moving quickly he set off towards the mound.
No time to waste.
The bloody harvest moon had already begun its march across the sky. All around him the soil of the Hopping Field fizzled and crackled with arcane energy.
He had until the moon reached it’s peak. Then it would be too late. She’d be spoiled.
Luke set the wheel barrow down beside the mound and made sure his shirt sleeves were rolled up past the elbows. His flushed face creasing in a smile, he said, ‘S’been a good harvest Granma. Best in a long while. S’all waiting for you. Back home. Everything’s just how you like it.’
He rested a hand on top of the mound and gently patted the cold stone, picturing how her face would light up when she saw how well he’d fixed her old rocking chair.
But what would she say if she saw him dilly dallying like this?
She’d curse him for a weak brained fool. That’s what.
She could be stirring any moment now too. Eye’s beginning to flutter. Thin old chest starting to rise and fall.
Get her out quick.
Luke tore at the stones, grunting as he cast them aside. Heavier than he remembered. Got heavier every year in fact.
How long ago now was it since that first planting? Who could say. Longer than he could count, that was for sure.
He’d been a boy when she’d taught him the magic of The Hopping Field- the secret words and signs that she’d stolen from an old Indian Chief. Couldn’t have been more than ten or twelve winters old when she’d made him promise that when she went, he was to plant her good and deep.
You reap what you sow.
The last of the stones gone, Luke hunkered down over a damp circle of black earth and ran his fingers through the soil. Gently, gently, his questing fingers scraped at the earth anxious for a sign.
There. A few wispy strands of hair sprouting up out of the earth.
Working as fast as he dared he scooped away the soil with his hands. Soon, the top of Granma’s head showed. Then a wrinkled brow and finally all of her face. And damn, if it didn’t look more like a wizened old turnip than ever before.
Luke slid a finger into the purple mouth and hooked out the poultice of herbs wedged tight between the gums.
Granma’s eyes shot open.
She blinked. Blinked again, then began to work the muscles of her jaw, the movement sending tiny cascades of fine dirt sliding off her sunken cheeks.
She turned her gaze up at her grandson who stood hulking over her, face split in a grin.
Her rheumy eyes narrowed.
‘First,’ she said, her voice thin and rasping, ‘I thought I told you I didn’t want you planting me no more. What have you got to say for yerself? Well?’
‘Aw.’ said Luke, lowering his gaze and staring down at his muddy boots.
‘Second, you spend too much time alone and you ain’t bathing regular. I could smell you coming a mile off. You need a woman in your life and I don’t mean me. That Miller woman, she’s fat but she’ll do for you.’
‘She don’t like me none.’ said Luke, cheeks flushing.
‘She will when I’m done,’ Granma set her lips in a grim smile, ‘You just fetch me something of hers and leave the rest to me. Third, you forgot to light the fire in my bedroom before you came to fetch me. Do you think I like the cold and dark that much do you?’
‘Gee, I’m sorry.’ said Luke, eyes widening.
‘Fourthly, you’re not digging and I’m itching to try the stew you’ve got bubbling in the pot.’
Later, when she was sat in front of the fire with a blanket draped on her bony shoulders and Luke sat at her feet, his fingers massaging life into the purple, mottled, skin of her legs, she sighed and said, ‘Not many seasons left in me, I reckon.’
‘You always say that and every year you crop up, good as new.’
‘That’s a barefaced lie and you know it. Nope, this will be our last Winter together. I aches all over and I just ain’t no good anymore.’
‘Good enough for me.’
‘Hush now. When I shuts my eyes on the first day of Spring, I don’t want you to go planting me again. Do you hear? I’m serious this time, I’m done.’
‘You don’t mean that.’
‘Oh I do. Look at me. I’m rotten all over. You got to let me go now boy. I just wants to sleep the good sleep. ’
Luke rose to his feet and fetched a bowl of steaming soup.
‘Ain’t no stew in heaven,’ he said as he held the bowl to Granma’s puckered lips. ‘And what am I gonna do with myself all year knowing I ain’t got the Winter to spend with you?’
‘Good God boy,’ said Granma, spitting soup from out of her toothless mouth ‘You ain’t a baby no more. There’ll be no more planting and that’s the end of it.’
When the bowl was empty, Luke took a cloth and dabbed at the old woman’s chin. Then, kneeling again by her feet, he pressed his face against the twig like, stalks of her legs.
Grandma sighed and ran a twisted, knotted up old hand through his thinning hair.
‘Well boy,’ she said, in a soft voice that sounded like the wind blowing through a field of corn, ‘Harvest is over and you got me a little while longer.’
They sat silent for a while. Luke with his eyes shut, the ancient woman staring into the crackling flames of the fire. Finally she began to speak, whispering all the old stories that Luke knew better than his own reflection.
Smiling, he let the rise and fall of her words wash over him and soon enough he was fast asleep and snoring gently.
The long Winter months with his wise old Granma were the best of the whole year.