I remember the feel of the barn with its rough pine floors and too much space above our heads. North-facing windows like the Winslow Homer house down the road, so the light in winter was weak and unfriendly. Ellen lived there. She was an artist, and the daughter and granddaughter of artists. Her mother painted and acted; her father was a Broadway director; her mother’s father was a famous illustrator. She painted ostrich eggs for a living. The lost wax process, she informed me when I once dared ask how she did it.
I helped her find local goose eggs—a lot cheaper than ostrich. My neighbor had four of those mean, biting creatures and while I distracted the hissing snake-necks she went and raided their nests. At the time, this seemed grounds for relationship. Funny what seemed grounds for relationship back then. Someone on the road who helped you change your bike tire; a roommate who loaned you a scarf; the grocery clerk who winked and let the outrageously priced shiitake mushrooms slip into your bag for free; or the cute veterinarian who clipped your dog’s toenails so easily and beautifully, the secret being, she said, to go in from behind.
So goose eggs…yes. It was a different kind of first date that led to a very different kind of courtship that involved a lot of climbing in and out of windows and serenading under windows and long bicycle rides at night illuminated by the moon. And flowers gathered from the several fields between her barn and my house. And rich rejections mixed with lean promises of future acceptances. But it was in her home, her barn, that I encountered the last rejection, the no that snapped the last strand of the unraveling thread we called our connection. It was simple, a simple insult, too personal to ignore or forgive. I walked out into the afternoon—it was summer then, the glorious time of year—and pedaled back to my home with a hollowed out chest. I remember leaning my bike against the north side of the house and opening my own front door and staring at the spoons on the kitchen table and the glass of water near the sink, and wondering, Who lives here?
Margaret Erhart’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Best American Spiritual Writing 2005, and many literary magazines. She won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, and The Butterflies of Grand Canyon (Plume), was a finalist for an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. Margaret welcomes responses and conversations at www.margareterhart.com