old words

June 13, 2014

photographs and watercraft

This short story was based on a photograph of a man in a boat called Hattie on a lake. I wrote it basically in one sitting (with edits later, though it is pretty intact).

The Rowboat
My Dear Hattie,                 
   You’ll be horrified to know that I’ve gone and named my new rowboat after you. I tried real hard to name her Cordelia or Daphne or something vaguely romantic like that, but your name is written so clearly on every lovely thing I see, that it seemed dishonest to paint any other letters on her.            
   You told me I wasn’t too good at making “romantic gestures” as you called ‘em.  Don’t fear, now, I have given up trying to point out my love for you.            
   I took Hattie out the other day (that’d be the boat, not you or any other Hattie, though I don’t know as I know any other Hattie, and in truth, don’t want to. One woman named Hattie has been about all I can handle.) Anyhow, it was a nice day, though clouds crossed the sky all morning. I was on the lake, thinking about lunch, and the islands—you know, the stone ones topped with mangy pine trees that remind me of my brother?—they seemed a bit like giant hotcakes stacked up through a pool of syrup. Stacked up so tall they were, like the years I have loved you. (Not a romantic gesture, just a fact.)            
   The water, it was strange—very still, but somehow not quite like a mirror. The reflection was too blurry, like the way the world looks through an eyeful of tears. I know you understand, Hattie, because I’ve seen you with an eyeful yourself. You were never afraid of tears the way most folks are. I even remember you saying that blur was good for us, that it helped us see better when sadness passed. I’ve always remembered that. It was the time your friend left to go back eastward without even a goodbye or an address to write to. You sat there, fit to burst and whimpered out those words—bravest words I’ve ever heard, Hattie.            
Sometimes when I am out there on that peaceful lake, I imagine I am in a gondola. You told me about gondolas and Venice once—showed me a picture from a book. So I am in a gondola, gliding through the stone islands and they become buildings, tall and crumbling. And I wonder if in the reflection of me and my boat that I can’t see, you are here, telling me all sorts of interesting things, laughing kindly at my questions. Could there be another world in the reflections where my dreams play out like your Shakespeare’s dramas?           
   I wish the farmer hadn’t built a fence on the other side of the lake. It is blinding white and glares like an ugly skeleton from across the water. He could at least have left it brown.            
   Hattie, this boat has been the best thing for me. You know I love making boxes, chairs, tables, and such, but the sawdust sometimes clogs the thoughts. Out here I can think about you without being too sad, because the lake, well, she understands. She doesn’t laugh at me like your beaus used to, and I don’t have to explain myself. She is a friend like you were. She isn’t afraid of my tears, neither.           
   I cry for you a lot these days—it was always Spring you loved best.            
   I cannot come to you very soon, I am sorry to say. There’s work to be done here, and I cannot be selfish about these things. You taught me that, too, though not with words.            
   I know you don’t want me to say it, but I cannot help myself. I love you, dear Hattie.                                                           
                                                                    Ever Yours,                                                                                                                                                          Hugh

Letter found on the grave of Hattie Bell, 1889-1911


While I was writing, I didn't know that she was dead until just before the end. 

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