It was September 1918.
The Brownie made a clicking noise. I quickly turned my attention from the house and stared at my intruder.
“I’m sorry,” he said, confronted with the tears on my face, “forgive me… I saw you from the road. Something in the way you looked at that house spoke to me… I felt a need to capture the moment.” He gestured to his box camera, his face apologetic.
Wiping away tears, I struggled to my feet with his hastily offered assistance. He noticed my leg, but averted his eyes.
“My name is Wyeth. I’m a painter.” He pointed to the house. “You live there? Here, let me help you back home.”
“Not yet,” was my strangled reply. “I came out here to get away… needed some thinking time. The ambulance wagon will be coming soon.”
That took him aback.
“Charles is up there… Pa, too.” The horror of the night before came back to me, the two men I loved best in the world, lying in fever-soaked beds, their eyes glassy with delirium. Neither recognized me at the end.
Not knowing what to say, the man bit his lip, looking down at the ground.
“Charles loved this old place. Worked it with his Pa.” I looked at my visitor. “You would’ve liked Charles, everyone did – had a gentleness to him. Best day of my life was our wedding day.” I looked at my crooked leg and heavy shoes. “He was able to look past the infirmity and see the woman instead.”
The reality of my loss hit me then, and I almost stumbled. The man reached out, steadying me, his face sorrowful.
“Oh, Jesus!” I cried, unable to bear the grief without divine assistance. “I thought we was safe when Charles didn’t have to go fight that foreign war! I thought we was safe!
“Lord, I wish we could go back in time… before the sickness!” My arm reached out toward the house, begging mercy for unanswered prayers.
At the sound of the approaching wagon, the man touched my arm. “I’ll be going now, Missus…”
I could see he was at a loss for words. He turned, hurrying through the field to his automobile at the edge of the road.
That was a long time ago. I’m an old woman now and lots of things have changed since 1918. I met another good man, married, got myself a bunch of kids.
Today one of my great-grands came by the home, bringing an art book from her trip to a museum. After she left, I flipped through the pages, stopping suddenly in surprise.
I remembered again the kind man, the clicking noise of an old box camera.
There are different kinds of horror in this life; the longer you live, the more likely it is you’re gonna face one. Still, there’s a special kind of horror in seeing your dreams and hopes slip away. That’s what mine did that terrible night in 1918, the year of the Spanish Influenza.
Author’s Note: Apologies to Andrew Wyeth for my creative license in utilizing his painting, ‘Christina’s World,’ and giving it my own twist, one he didn’t have in mind. Also, I took a little liberty with the time line; Mr. Wyeth was born in 1917, and would have been an infant at the time of the events recounted in this tale.
This piece was written in response to the 500 words only prompt, ‘Staring at the painting in the museum, I was horrified to discover…’ from ThainInVain’s weekly flash fiction challenge. I took a bit of creative license with the prompt, too. Sometimes a story takes you in a direction you hadn’t anticipated, and this one certainly did – and I had to follow.