Martin tucked his chin onto his chest, hunched his shoulders, and dug his gloved hands deep into his heavy coat pockets. Forging his way against the fierce northern wind was as exhausting as climbing a steep hill, but chores needed to be done, no matter the weather.

Other things needed an auspicious moment to be faced.

Tempestuous leaden clouds canopied the sky, and trees swayed to the rustling tune of the clinging oak leaves as the wind whistled between thick trunks and thin branches.

It’s only the beginning of November, and it felt like summer just yesterday! 

Martin couldn’t say who he was griping to, except that he was fully aware that his Labrador, Maximillian, found the who expedition into the backfield a welcome adventure. The dog bounded ahead, scattering squirrels and frightening rabbits out of their wits, completely unmindful of anyone else’s thoughts or feelings.

The lone red barn sat before a line of wooded hills and stood stark against the gray background. A tremor of undiluted gratitude filled Martin as he sought the comfort of the warm interior.

In some kind of masculine intuition, he had claimed this barn as his very own from the first day that Macy ever came to visit. Once they were married, he let her do as she pleased with the old farmhouse, but the barn was his, a retreat where no one could rightfully invade. Not even his wife. He thought of his little son, Donny, and his tiny daughter, Cindy, and knew that he might break the rule for them. Maybe. Some day. If the need was great. But no one else.

He scraped the heavy door back into place and flipped on the light switch, thankful in a resurgence of joy, that he had remodeled this front section as a den of sorts with an antique lamp that hung from a central beam, solid oak siding, a rough plank floor, and a set of comfortable chairs beside an old wood table. His carving tools lined one wall, and an arrangement of projects stood at attention on a sturdy shelf. He had hung this year’s peanut harvest in thick strands along the south end, while braids of onions and bunches of herbs decorated the rafters.

Smiling, Martin sucked in a comforting breath of earthy smells and tugged off his gloves. His primary excuse for heading outside was to fill a wheelbarrow with wood and kindling for the woodstove in the house in preparation for coming snow. He had stacked a great pile of split wood against the south wall and hid a mound of dry sticks under a tarp next to it. Being raised on a farm in rural Illinois had instilled the habit of winter preparation even when his mind doubted the need.

The wind howled, sounding much like Macy’s voice. He strode across the room to his latest carved masterpiece: an owl perched on a branch, ready to take flight. Irritation flickered, warring with the pride he always felt running his hand along one of his carvings.

Macy’s recent words echoed in his mind. Don’t get to daydreaming, Lover Boy. It’s only two weeks till Thanksgiving, and we’ve got to have this place shipshape for the folks. Plus, I’d like you to hang the Christmas lights along the porch railing this weekend, and maybe…

Martin’s stomach churned that the mere thought of family visits, holiday preparations, and to-do lists, which never seemed to end. Macy’s voice always rose to a near-hysterical pitch this time of the year. Everything was so important; she would get nearly sick with apprehension if anything was out of place or left undone.

He stared at the owl. It peered straight ahead without a worry in the world, calm, serene, and at peace within its own natural sphere.

I wish I was an owl.

The thought had come unbidden, but as Martin carried the wooden figure to his favorite chair and studied his workmanship with happy appreciation, he realized that he meant the thought. Really and truly. He wished he was an owl. Eating mice and sleeping in a tree hollow would be easy, compared to the cumbersome life of perpetual worry that awaited him at home every day.

A scratch and a whine at the door woke him from his reveries.

With a huff, Martin put the carved figure aside and rose. He padded to the door and let Max inside. The dog scurried to the woven rug beside his master’s chair, his tail wagging, while the wind complained and swirled to get inside.

Or maybe I should be a dog. Food laid out and no major problems beyond the ever-elusive squirrels…

His phone dinged and vibrated in his pocket. With a grunt, Martin pulled it out. He squinted at the ID. Grandma Violette? What could she want? The old gal was in her mid-eighties and often appeared as timid as a sparrow. But Martin knew better. His mom and dad had died in a car accident seven years ago, and she had lost her husband to a sudden stroke the year before. His brother Matt had died from complications due to heart disease, a direct result of years of bad choices and overstress. And his sister, Myriam, was on her third marriage. Another rocky relationship, as was the natural course in Myriam’s life. But Grandma made the circuit every month, visiting what was left of the family, making check-in calls, and even texting! Martin shook his head and slapped the phone against his ear.

“Hey, Grandma, what’s up?”

Her voice, louder than usual—she probably didn’t have her hearing aids in—seemed to reach across the forty-five miles from her home to his barn and brought her presence right in front of him.

“Martin? Is everything okay?”

A shiver ran over Martin. He looked around at his quiet enclosure, his content dog, and his woodcarvings set proudly on the shelf. “Yeah. Of course. Why wouldn’t everything be okay? Are you alright?”

From the phone, a self-effacing chuckle tickled Martin’s ear.

“Oh, I’m just being silly, I guess. I was dusting the mantlepiece and came across your wedding picture. You and Macy. It was such a lovely spring day, and the sun was shining. Your mom and dad, so proud, grinning at your side, and her mom and stepdad practically glowing with joy. You two were a match made in Heaven. You, so calm and level-headed, she so earnest and ambitious.” A pause. Then clearing her voice like a person gathering her courage, Grandma continued, “I know Macy will say she doesn’t need my help, but I’d like to come by and have dinner with you two and the kids sometime this week.”

His brain scrambled furiously, Where is this coming from? Martin tried to keep his voice steady. “Sure, that’d be great. I don’t know Macy’s schedule, but she never works on Wednesdays. And you know me; I eat dinner same time every day.”

Grandma’s tone softened, her gentle spirit reaching across the miles and caressing him the way she always did. “It gets hard sometimes. Loving the people around you. I once ran away to that old barn—you remember it? The one you fixed up? I was so exhausted by family squabbles and all the work, bad news, and believe it or not, but your grandpa could be quite demanding at times. I just wanted to escape for a bit. So, I ran away and hid in that old barn. One of the old Tom cats found me, and we had a good talk. Well, I did all the talking. I told him every mean thing I wanted to say to everyone. All my complaints came pouring out, and, you know, he just cleaned his paws. Hardly blinked an eye. Didn’t bother him a bit. But I felt so much better.” She chuckled. “Maybe there wasn’t anything special about that barn, but I’d like to visit it again. Just have a few minutes alone to remember. Would that be okay?”

Martin couldn’t explain the tears that coursed down his face, but he managed to gain control of his voice. “Sure, Grandma. You’d be more than welcome.” He laughed. Healthy relief seeped from his body. “I’m in the red barn right now. But instead of an old cat, I have a young dog.”

“Does he listen?”

“If I talk.”

A long pause and then grandma’s voice patted Martin on the shoulder. “Talk, Martin. Even if the dog doesn’t understand, someone does.”

Martin wiped tears from his eyes. “See you Wednesday, Grandma.”

“I’ll bring a salad. Macy won’t need it, but I’ll bring it anyway.”

Laughing, Martin ended the call and returned to his chair. He picked up his owl, and he talked…

Someone was listening.

 

A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

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“As usual, Ann Frailey doesn’t disappoint. Her heartfelt, down-to-earth stories are filled with real-life experiences and emotions that you can almost feel like you are experiencing them as well as you read. She’s one of the best authors I’ve ever read.” ~Ron Hull

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“The collection creates an evocative set of life scenarios that explore good intentions, real-world situations, and acts of quiet love, desperation, and redemption. ~Diane Donovan, Editor, California Bookwatch

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/vermont-fall-autumn-barn-farm-5168248/


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