Ruth met Howard in a dark pub on Maisonneuve Boulevard in Montreal. Now finished with the Army, she was eager for change. Her assignments were complete, her uniforms now retired. Instead, she now wore a pencil skirt and a silk blouse with long loose sleeves and tailored cuffs that featured pearl buttons. She opted to wear kitten heels because she didn't feel the need to appear taller, and her feet preferred the comfort of a shoe that respected women's rights to choose. Ruth was an admirable woman.
After the Second Great War, Ruth and Howard courted and then married. Then, following some challenges proposed by geography and family, the two settled and made a life on the prairies. There, Howard erected a Barn on a piece of land that he won in a poker game. A barn that he built with his own two hands and for it was immensely proud. A barn that, to him, represented his salvation, built from the ground, with the strongest of timber. He constructed a fortress for his animals, providing safety from the climate and refuge from predators of the night. Howard found a unified community on the prairies. The building of his barn brought together friends and folk that would become a support group for him and Ruth; neighbours, ones that would be relied upon in times of need.
Pear Trees grow hearty in Alberta. Amongst the Pines and the Poplars, they dot the landscape reaching to the blue sky above. Their roots grow deep into the ground providing a formidable foundation for abundant growth. Howard chose the pear trees, knowing they would outlive him. Their hearty branches would provide fruit that wasn't commonplace like the apple. He enjoyed the feeling that planting provided. He dug their holes with a spade in the heat of a June afternoon, his intention set on enjoying a juicy pear plucked from the branches of a tree grown in the gardens on his vast and abundant land.
Howard planted the trees on the side of the barn that received the most sun. Ruth couldn't fully see them from her window in the kitchen. But at certain times of the day, she could see their shadows, casting eery images on the grass. Ruth could almost always hear their branches rustling with the breeze, the leaves giving way to the wind, whispering secrets they might have captured yesterday, telling tales, and spinning stories. She would sit in the afternoons, enjoying the shade they provided, reading a book of poetry or writing notes in her journals.
The loneliness of the farm weighed on her. In the beginning, she hadn't thought she would survive. She dove deep into herself, the strife of solitude and hardship bearing down on her constitution. Howard feared for Ruth and their new daughter, her sorrow eating away each day, robbing her of seasons. Ruth became so deeply melancholy, some days, she even found bitterness. She had made sacrifices for love. For Howard, she chose to leave her family and the distinguished city that she knew.
However, the building of the barn brought a newness that Ruth needed. So she invited the neighbours to help and won them over with her baked goods and teas. Ruth made a place for herself amongst the community. She began to find Ruth again.
Eventually, she missed the city less, the longing for Montreal began to cease, and she became more and more at ease with the surroundings that she had. She learned from Howard how to manage the sheep and how to feed the hens and the pigs. She bottle-fed the wee piglets in spring and sobbed each fall when Howard took them to auction. She wrote stories of her time with the animals in her journals while sitting under the pear trees. She'd sip iced tea, sometimes drifting to sleep if the sun brushed her skin just right.
Howard became even more enamoured with his beautiful wife for all that she had allowed him to see. Everything that she had shown him he appreciated. He never spoke to her of his fears, of how her sorrow worried him awake late at night. It was the parts of her that she kept hidden, the mysterious past she wrote about in her journals, memories that coloured her silences. It was those that he craved knowing more of; it was for those memories he lusted. It was her secrecy that created his fear.
Days turned into months, passed into years, the trees grew and eventually, Howard believed everything was right. Ruth found a smile each morning. She greeted him with a kiss and baked in the kitchen he had made for her. He allowed her to sleep when she needed it and gave her the space to live in a past that only she knew. He placed some of her souvenirs from that era in the barn, her records and her golf clubs, a few special items that he knew she would take enjoyment from seeing. Then, when the moon was rising and if the timing felt right, he would set the record player on a hay bale and the two of them would dance in the summer heat, enjoying the evening air and the laughter that only two lovers share.
Ruth had become okay with the farm. It wasn't the life she might have wanted. It wasn't extravagant or as exciting as living in Old Montreal, but she loved Howard, and she enjoyed the connection she had with the outdoors and the animals she grew to adore. Howard knew that she missed the cobblestone streets, the aroma of croissants baking in the morning, and the music that played into the night.
So instead of music, Ruth would listen intently to the sound of the flocks she referred to as her birds. She learned the song of the Warblers and Chickadee, who would flutter and sing each day with the sun's rising. She taught herself to bake and made the best of what she had. The smiles came to her easier.
As they grew over the decades, the pear trees learned to attract varieties of foul in many forms that Ruth appreciated. These birds perched on the branches and sang only to her. The sound of her voice brought a smile to his face one day when Howard noticed her singing along with them. The sun was glowing brilliantly in the sky, threatening to fall into the horizon, an arduous departure after a long and eventful day. Howard was tired, working in preparation for the fall harvest.
It wouldn't be long until the sunset. The air that night felt cool on Ruth's skin. It had been oddly humid that day, as though the rain had fallen. It was early September, just before he would take his crops off for the last time this season.
Howard heard a noise that frightened him. A piercing squeal making the hair on the back of his neck stand up. His head swivelled in the direction of the barn, at the same time that the birds scattered from the trees. Droves of birds swarmed suddenly above them, squawking ridiculously, shouting at the other animals. Howard turned on his heel and ran towards the house.
"Ruth, get inside."
She stood to her feet quickly. "What is it, Howard? What was that noise?"
"Get in the house, Ruth!" She knew enough to follow his command. His voice at that moment was not asking her. Ruth jumped to her feet and ran towards the house. Her fear forced her feet to move her more swiftly. She looked over her shoulder as she reached the house and saw Howard as he loaded his rifle.
She watched him as he raced into the barn without hesitation. Ruth heard two shots.
She raised her hand to her mouth. Then, with tears streaming down her face, Ruth waited for Howard to emerge.
She knew this was part of it. This was part of farm life, and she knew it, but she hated it. She hated every moment of this horrible reality. She knew something terrible had happened. She didn't want to know. Ruth tried to pull herself away from the window. She tried to move to the bedroom, away from this spot where she knew she would see the gruesome reality play out in front of her. Ruth wanted to walk away, but her feet wouldn't carry her. She stood motionless.
The tree roots grew deep into the ground, stabilizing the trunks of the pear trees in the holes that Howard had dug. These roots offered a firm and resilient foundation. Like their marriage, the trees were strong. From the branches, covered in lush leaves hung fruit bright and green. Their unripened colour was a sign that it was time for her to pluck them from the tree. For a pear allowed to ripen fully on the branch turns rotten to its core. Ruth often thought about children permitted to mingle in the homes of their parents for too long. How similar they could be to pears. Her mind wandered often.
In times of stress and great anxiety, Ruth found herself searching for alternative dialogue. Her mind providing a haven, a refuge like the barn that Howard had built.
She saw his face as he walked through the barn door into the field that stood between them. In his arms, he held two of her piglets, their soft pink skin covered in dewy hair. With their eyes closed, their necks fell limp over Howard's arms. In the mornings before breakfast, she would feed the piglets. She bathed them and cleaned their pen. She cuddled them when they were newborns and used a baby bottle to ensure they received enough nourishment to survive. There had been six of them. Six little pigs that she fell in love with when the sow died giving birth. Ruth could see that both piglets that Howard carried were covered in blood, their bellies ravaged by a sneaky coyote that had managed to get past the dogs.
Ruth wept. She fell to the floor, and she cried. Her body heaved against the floor, her fists pounding the tile. "Damn you. Damn you all to hell." She cried for the piglets lost, who made an effort to live despite losing their mother. The squeal heard too late, she cried for the baby piglets that had given her hope. She cried for her memories that were trapped, now nearly forgotten. She cried that day for the birds that sang to her in the Pear Trees, those that came for the fruit but stayed for the ambiance.
About the Creator
Taught by some of the greatest literary minds of this century, Sandra's delivery method is reminiscent of her mentors and yet uniquely her own page-turning style. Her novels are suspenseful, unpredictable, & thought-provokingly colorful.