Sixth Annual Wild Violet Writing Contest Winners (2008)

Fiction — Second Place

Over the years, many of Sonia Suedfeld's short stories have won awards and prizes, placed in contests, and been published online and in print. Her story “Expert Advice” won the People’s Choice Award through public voting after it was selected as one of five finalists in the Summer 2008 Warren Adler short story contest. Two others were also published in 2008, one in Frontier, an anthology of new Canadian fiction, and the other in issue 14 of

By Sonia Suedfeld

Vegetable fields with a darkening sky

The day Gertrude Martin went into labour, hurricane winds had been barrelling down from the north since the night before, pushing along masses of clouds that boiled and blackened the morning skies.

My father peered out the kitchen window at the crack of dawn, squinting in the gloom, but there was no rain. Yet.

"Looks like we're in for a heck of a storm, Marianne. It's going to pour buckets when it starts to rain later," he predicted as he dipped a crust of bread in a jar of my mother's homemade blackberry jam and ate it while standing at the counter.

I went to stand beside him and together, we peered out the window and watched the wind bend saplings nearly to the ground and snap in half the last of the hollyhocks growing along the fence. We watched it rip shingles from the roof of the shed on the other side of the driveway and tear one of the barn doors clear off its hinges. We even heard it gusting down the chimney into the parlour, sounding like the wail of a terrified old woman.

But so far the rain was holding off.

"Well then, time to get a move on," my father said, and went to fetch my two older brothers, rousing them from their warm beds, so they could go out and harvest the last of the wheat before the rain hit and destroyed the fields. Minutes later, fortified by cups of strong coffee and clutching paper-wrapped ham sandwiches my mother had gotten out of bed to make for them, they ventured out. I watched them cross the yard to the barn, all three struggling against gale-force winds that plastered their coveralls and plaid lumber jackets to their bodies and threatened to pick them up and toss them into the air as if they weighed no more than feathers.

Pouring herself a cup of coffee from the cast iron urn on the old wood stove, my mother joined me at the window, her teeth worrying her bottom lip. "It's going to be a bad one, Marianne. Maybe you should go out and pick the rest of the tomatoes and beans from the garden before the rain comes. And get the squash, too."

"Can't you get Amelia or David to do that?"

The last place I wanted to go was outside. Plus I didn't see why my two younger siblings couldn't be woken up and sent out to the garden; they were 11 and nine, hardly babies. I was just a month shy of 13, but I was the one who helped my mother the most around the house. I cooked and cleaned and looked after the youngest ones, six-year-old Eric, three-year-old twins Denise and Danielle, and 13-month-old Philip.

My mother didn't have to say a word. She just turned and gave me one of her famous squinty-eyed stares. I scrambled from the kitchen, threw on a warm coat, pushed my feet into a pair of rubber boots, and grabbed a basket from the front porch. The wind wrenched the door right out of my hand when I went to open it, slamming it into the outside wall of the porch. I struggled to close it, then stumbled down the steps into the yard.

Stinging my eyes and whipping my long hair every which way, the cold, harsh wind pushed me along, sometimes so strongly I could feel my feet lifting off the ground.
But still the rain held off.

I hurriedly picked all the tomatoes I could find, even the green ones, as well as the few beans that were left clinging to brown, wilting plants, and the yellow squash that I loved cooked in the oven and served dripping with butter and honey. I even pulled out the rest of the carrots and found a lone zucchini hiding under a giant leaf in the back of the garden.

When I hurried back into the house, my hair was a bees' nest on top of my head, my eyes were wet with tears and my fingers were numb with cold. I could hear the twins babbling at the table in their little girl voices and Philip crying in his high chair as I came into the kitchen. Setting the basket down on the counter, I started taking my coat off.

My mother wiped her hands on a worn tea towel and turned to me. "Keep your coat on, Marianne. Mrs. Martin called just now. She's gone into labour, and there's no one who can help her. Mr. Martin is out of town on business, of course, and all her other kids are just too young. So I told her we'd be right over."

"But don't you need me to watch Philip and the others?"

"Amelia will do that. She's getting old enough. Plus, we won't be far."

"But what am I supposed to do? What if something happens?"

"Don't worry," she said, patting my back. "Everything will be just fine."

She put on her warmest coat, went over a list of instructions with Amelia, and kissed the little ones. Then we headed out into the cold, biting wind, walking arm-in-arm down the driveway to the road, our long skirts twirling up around our knees and our eyes stinging with tears.

The sky was bruised black and blue, but still the rain held off.

Our closest neighbours, the Martins, lived on a small farm about half a mile from ours, just along the straight gravel road that led into the village. With the wind pushing and prodding us along, it wasn't long before we trudged up the driveway to their old farmhouse, our faces frozen stiff and our noses bright red with cold.

We knocked, and the front door was soon opened by Mrs. Martin's oldest child, Antoinette, who was eight. She led us into the kitchen, through the parlour where her three little brothers, Sam, Denny and Joe, and her baby sister, Anna, were running around playing, and down the hallway to her mother's bedroom.

The door was open.

We heard a scream, then a long, low moan that raised the hairs at the nape of my neck. I cowered against the wall, but my mother grabbed my hand and pulled me along into the bedroom. Mrs. Martin was lying propped up against several pillows in the middle of the bed, her nightgown bunched up around her wide hips, her legs splayed open and bent at the knees. Red-faced and sweating, she was moaning in pain, her head trashing from side to side, her hands fisting on either side of her, crumpling the sheets.

"She'll be okay in a minute, Marianne, the contraction's almost over," my mother said, pushing me closer to the bed. I watched as tears flowed out of Mrs. Martin's tightly closed eyes, leaking along the sides of her face and pooling in her ears.


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