A solitary dove sang it’s dreary tune as the young woman rose from sleep. In dim lamp light, she roused the stove fire to fight off the morning chill. She sat, shivering, at the small wooden table laden with nicks and scratches from years of use. Today was going to be a long one, longer than usual. Harder too.
When the damp cold had abated a little, the woman, Sarah, rose from the table and set to making a quick breakfast for herself. Nothing fancy, she hadn’t the time nor company to bother with all the fixins. She wasn’t hungry, she never was these days, but today she would need strength.
As she finished her breakfast of stale biscuits and the last of her hen’s eggs, the sun had risen enough to give the room around her a dull gray light, diminishing her lamp light even more. She put out the lamp, cleaned her plate, and put it away out of habit. It didn’t matter if she cleaned it or not, not today. She’d never see this place again. It would soon be someone else’s problem if she left a few dirty dishes and an unmade bed.
The one room cabin where she lived was a squalid affair. The floor hadn’t been swept in weeks. Dust and cobwebs had settled into corners that were no longer used. The windows were grimy from the stove smoke that escaped into the room. She hadn’t bothered to clean them. Wasn’t much of a reason to look out them anymore. It was a depressing sight to look at, and the gray morning light only accentuated it’s disparity further.
It was not always like this, Sarah reflected bitterly. Once, not but a few years ago, this room was filled with warmth and love and laughter, more good times than bad. But the bad times happened. And as time wore on, they happened more and more often. Until, at last, there was nothing but sheer heartbreak, and grief, and finally, desolation. But she shook the nightmares from her head and steeled herself. She had to leave this place. The tiniest ray of hope in her heart knew she had to break free from the grief this mountain had brought her.
She went to the little chest of drawers in the corner and, opening the bottom drawer and pulled out the old carpetbag she had brought when she had moved here as a newlywed. In it, she had toted a few possessions along to start a new life with a man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with. Now the dusty old bag lay empty before her, much like a terrible parallel to what her life had become. The hopes and joys she had carried with her as a new bride had long been extinguished.
She paused for a moment before bending and removing a false bottom from the open drawer, took out a worn old mirror. It had belonged to her mother. It used to be Sarah’s most treasured possession, she had always been a little on the vain side. A major flaw in a mountain man’s wife, her husband had always told her, and he wouldn’t allow it. She hadn’t looked into the mirror in over a year. In fact, she had led her husband to believe that she had thrown it over the side of the mountain years ago.
She looked into it now, and was very nearly distraught at what she saw gazing back at her. Her once shining golden hair was matted and dull. Her braids, once diligently kept, were coming undone and were unintentionally adorned with bits of twigs and leaves. Her eyes, once able to light up a room just by entering it, were now empty and dull, reflecting only the bitterness and grief she so often felt.
How long had she been alone? She wasn’t sure. A month or two, at least. Probably more. Had to be more. The chill in the air this morning suggested that fall was very swiftly on its way. It had been late spring when, well, since the start of her isolation. But it was time to come back to rejoin society now. Time to come down from her mountain and move on with her life. She wouldn’t be able to survive a winter in the mountains alone anyway.
When her few possessions and meager rations were packed in the carpetbag, Sarah put out the stove fire completely. This cabin and this mountain might hold terrible memories for her, but there was no need to burn them down in carelessness. She stepped out and closed the cabin door behind her, not daring to take a last look around the room. The ghosts of her past might not let her leave if she did.
As she stepped across the yard, not more than a small clearing in the surrounding forest, she did dare to look one last time at the dwelling and land that she had called home for the past five years of her life. The small log cabin with it’s windows so grimy, you couldn’t see the faded floral curtains hanging on the inside. Those curtains had been a present from her mother. As Sarah’s eyes strained to see the floral pattern through the grime, her mind quickly drifted to her mother, and her past.
Born into wealth and raised in the city, Sarah was a lady of high Southern class. She was introduced to a charming young man by her older brother. The man, William, was somewhat wealthy by his own accord. He had made his living through wise investments and hard work. Soon after they were introduced, William and Sarah began to court. She had fallen deeply in love.
But the War started, cutting short their budding relationship. She wrote him letters, and for four long years, she waited for him to come home. When he returned to her, there was something different about him. He had suffered nary a scratch to his body, but the spark in his eye had gone out. He seemed to remain the agreeable gentleman she had met all those years ago, though, and soon they were engaged to be married.
They married and honeymooned in the city. His work with the railroad kept him busy and wealthy enough to furnish a home for his new bride filled with lovely things. He rarely slept through the night, though, and woke often with nightmares that he would never discuss with Sarah. But he continued to be a good husband, and after some time, Sarah thought she saw the spark of life beginning to come back into his eyes.
It proved to be only a temporary light though. A string of setbacks at work caused some financial strain in their home. As the days passed and the financial issues worsened, William became dispirited. Finally, he sat with Sarah and told her he wished to move to his childhood home, away from the city. He assured her the change would make him happy, so she agreed to leave everything behind and go with him.
At first, the move seemed to do the trick. The hard work William had put into the old run down cabin seemed to revive him. He enjoyed the labor, and laughed more freely with Sarah as they made the little cabin livable. It certainly wasn’t to Sarah’s taste or expectation, but she was willing to give up anything to see her husband smile again.
Once they had both settled into life on the mountain, William began to change again. He would have moments of rage, followed by grief. He would apologize for his behavior, blame the nightmares that were starting to plague him again. After his rage and grief, the day would move on as if nothing happened. Neither of them would mention it again.
Before long, life on the mountain grew worse. He would become angry with Sarah over the smallest indiscretions. He punished her for things that were out of her control. Mostly, he would beret and belittle her, or would refuse to speak to her for days. Rarely, he would take the strap to her, like she was some naughty child caught thieving from a penny store. He would hold her mistakes over her for days and weeks at a time. When she cried, and asked him why he was treating her in such a manner, he told her it was because she had not given him a child yet.
They tried for a very long time to have a child. But Sarah never seemed able to maintain a pregnancy. She began to fall into despair and William became angrier and more resentful with each miscarriage. When she finally gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, he was disgusted. He had wanted a boy to carry on the family name.
They continued to try for more children, despite the fact that Sarah was struggling with motherhood. The stress of caring for a young child was hard on her, and it was not made easier by the fact that her husband punished her for not having a boy. She thought maybe if she could bear him a son, everything would be fixed. Sarah had three more miscarriages before William broke completely. Before she was left alone on this God-forsaken mountain.
Sarah drew a sharp breath and fought to regain her composure. There was a piercing pain in the hollow of her heart. She couldn’t break down, not today. She gathered her strength and wiped a stray tear from her cheek. This cabin, the yard, and everything within was her past now. It was time to put it all behind her, cling to whatever small hope she could find, and to start anew. The pain abated back to the dull ache she had felt for months. She turned, and began her journey down the mountain.