“And you two complain about me being a slug-a-bed.” Alistair commented with a look over his shoulder at the curtained alcove where Jarrett was asleep.
“Because you sleep in every morning.” Sawyer retorted. “Jarrett’s up before the sun most mornings, if he chooses to go to bed early, he can.” Although, Sawyer couldn’t help but look over his shoulder also, though not with disdain, with worry. The closer they got to midwinter, the worse Jarrett was doing.
Jarrett burrowed a little deeper into the covers on the bed, he could sort of hear the murmurs of conversation from the other room, but it faded to soft shushing like the waves against the rocks at the edge of Lake Haven. The smell of apple wood slowly morphed into the heady smell of lavender, and night became day. Jarrett was dreaming, in some vague way he knew that he was dreaming, it only remained to see what the dream would do.
The cottage had stood on a hill covered in lavender, even though the plants were no more than hillocks of snow at the moment, he knew the way they’d poke up come spring, their scent carrying on the breeze for what seemed like forever when the blooms came. He remembered the whimsical little railing, the rough stone base. The way the thatching lay on the roof. The way the wooden rails broke up the whitewashed plaster. The lace curtains as they hung in the front windows.
The smell of Ivy’s soup as he opened the front door. The familiar warmly papered hall. He could hear Rosie’s feet clattering on the wooden stairs, running down the stairs to greet him with the smell of dried petals surrounding her.
“Papa! Papa!” A whirlwind of rose pink and long, shimmering hair descended upon him.
“My Rosie-girl!” He bent to hug her.
“Papa, I taught Frankie how to build a town! Just like you taught me!” The six-year-old looked up at him with his eyes. “Do you want to see our town?”
“Surely. I’ll even bet your town is even better than my town was.” Jarrett told his daughter.
“I don’t know, your town was an awful good town.” Rosie said skeptically.
“Well, let me decide. I’ll be fair.”
“You can decide after supper,” Ivy’s voice, which sounded like honey tasted and cinnamon smelled, cut through Rosie’s excited chatter.
“Mama has spoken.” Jarrett said gesturing his daughter past with with a bow.
The kitchen, the stone walls, the hearth with it’s big iron pot. These things were so clear he thought that maybe perhaps he could reach out and touch the walls and feel the familiar smooth roughness. Maybe…
Did Ivy look more tired? He wondered when he had missed it, from the vague disconnected portion of his mind that knew that this was a dream, a memory. If he had just seen that she was sick, before–before…
It had been a very good town. That wasn’t even just a papa talking, although, perhaps there was a little bit of “papa pride” involved. He remembered standing, watching. Watching his children, watching Frankie slip the foot of one of the wooden dolls into his mouth and gnaw just a little, knowing that there’d be hell if Rosie caught him at it. But in the solidarity of little brothers who had older sisters, Jarrett wouldn’t rat Frankie out.
They’d played for a long time and Jarrett had just watched them with indulgence and fatherly pride, his lips twitching with a smile when Frankie had finally slipped up and Rosie had caught him with the toy in his mouth. But of course when Rosie looked up at him, he’d schooled his features into a solemn expression befitting the lecture.
But all to soon, both for Jarrett’s children and for the dream Jarrett, it was time for bed. First Frankie into his crib with it’s bright striped fabric and then Rosie into her bed.
Ivy had been waiting in the parlor like always, her needlework slipping into the basket beside her when he appeared in the door. Those eyes, like the leaves of her namesake, sparkled just a little as he came into the parlor.
“Do I want to know what’s out in the village today?”
“No.” Jarrett said.
“It’s bad isn’t it.”
“All we can do, love, is hope. Hope the gods haven’t forgotten us.” He pulled her into his shoulder and smiled as she smiled.
The dream-memory melted into another, laying on the bed, Ivy’s head against his shoulder, the smell of her hair thick in his lungs. His lips brushed across her temple and he held her closer. He knew that he needed to get out of bed, knew that he had work, chores, the shop to tend. But the dream Jarrett, the one who knew that he would not have too many more mornings like that urged him to stay in bed that morning, to hold her as long as he could.
Then it melted again, to his Rosie-girl, just she and he in the kitchen, Rosie’s chatter more subdued than usual, neither of them looking at the empty chair, but so hyper-aware of it that it might as well have loomed ten foot tall.
“Papa, after breakfast, can I visit mama? I wanna give her my new drawing.” Rosie asked.
“Aye. She’ll like that.” Jarrett remembered agreeing, anything that would bring Ivy some sunlight. She seemed so much weaker these days, the heart half out of her as it had been since little Frankie had gone off to the priests. He worried for his son, but he worried for his Ivy too.
“Aye, Rosie-girl?” The smile Ivy gave her was almost her old one. It was the almost that broke Jarrett’s heart. As if he knew then that her smile would never again be quite as it had once been.
“Are–are you?” Suddenly the little girl pulled her hand out of her mother’s grasp and ran for the door. Jarrett followed her into the upstairs hall, a tiny little pocket of a room with room for absolutely nothing in it besides the stairwell and a few pictures. Rosie was sobbing into her hands and Jarrett knelt beside her.
“Rosie, my Rosie girl.” He murmured to her.
“Mama’s sick. Mama’s sick, like Frankie’s sick! Like everybody’s sick! Is Mama gonna go to the priests too? Cause the people in the village, they say once you go to the priests you never come home.”
“Oh, your mama is stronger than that. And Frankie–well, I wish, baby I could tell you that Frankie’ll be okay too, but if the Gods want Frankie with the angels…”How could you explain this to a child. He couldn’t explain this to himself.
“I hate the Gods, Papa! What kind of Gods take everybody away?” She interrupted with a wail as he smoothed her hair, her mouth spewing out what Jarrett hadn’t even been allowing himself to think.
His heart was breaking for her and he didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t say that some days he hated the Gods too. Well, not hate, he didn’t understand them. What did this plague even prove? What had it done? What had caused it–why?
He waited for words to come, the desperate need for Papa to fix. But they didn’t come, they never came.
She had eventually pulled away, leaving Jarrett to stare after her as she disappeared down the stairs. He started to go back to talk to Ivy who called for him.
No, he struggled and fought, don’t let me remember that. The dreaming Jarrett thought tossing on the narrow bed. No! He wouldn’t remember Rosie’s crumpled form, his sister’s voice telling her that they’d had to send Rosie, his beautiful Rosie girl to the priests. No!
He wouldn’t remember breaking down when they told him that Frankie was gone. He wouldn’t remember Ivy, nearly to weak to feed herself climbing out of bed, using every ounce of strength to make it to the hall where he stood sobbing, to comfort him.
He wouldn’t remember her asking him to fight this, to stay, to live.
Jarrett could fight off those memories. He could and he would, even in the dreams. He woke then, woke to the sound of Alistair’s snoring, to the sound of the cattle lowing softly in the barn below.
He pulled himself out of bed and dressed, then stumbled down to the water bowl to splash some water on his face. And there, with the water in the bowl acting like a mirror, he saw one last memory.
The house had been eerily silent. Only the soft crackle of fire and hiss of snow to off-set his heavy footsteps. He opened the door to the nursery, pausing for a moment to look at the town that they had built the day Frankie had passed. Then he closed it once more and headed for the kitchen. There was a single bowl on the table. His, from that morning.
It was almost like a geas that he’d clean it up, wash the counter. Take one last deep breath and wrap himself in the warm memories of the house. Not the sad ones. He’d take the good ones.
Just the good ones.