Just Maddy pt.2

by Martha Hubbard

read the story from the beginning, here

Winters in Northern Maine are long, cold, snow covered, and mostly grey. In the early mornings, waiting for the sky to lighten enough for her to see the path to the main lodge, Maddy would watch the sky slowly turning from inky sable to grey and wonder how many names for grey could be thrown at this one landscape. Then there was March. As bad as the winter months could be, March was even worse. The relentless, damp cold now delivered another challenge – mud. Mud, so thick and clinging, it could snap an unwary horse’s fetlock as soon as look at it. One pitch-black night, exhausted after finishing her chores, Maddy, trudging back to her cabin, got stuck so fast, she couldn’t pull her feet out. Stranded there, cold water creeping over the tops of her boots, she imagined herself pulled slowly down into the underground karst caves that riddled the area. She had just about decided to lie down, to see if this might speed things up, when her father came outside and saw her sliding down into the muck.

“God damnit Maddy! What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m stuck Da. Can’t get out. Can’t go back. Don’t know what to do….”

“Stay there. I’ll get some boards and a rope.”

“Where the fuck does he think I’m gonna go,” she wondered, but not out loud. Once she was finally pulled out, cleaned up and back in her own room, he chewed her out something fierce. But the next day, he had a crew in to put up wooden walkways, all around the camp, that made it safer to get around. 

Not long after the mud incident, Maddy’s Granny Maggie began to talk to her. At first it was just in her dreams, soon it was in all the places she went to escape the unrelenting tedium of her days and Bill’s constant shouting. 

“You’re not as fucked as you think you are,” said a voice she recognised as Gran’s.

“I’m making this up, aren’t I? You’re not real, right?” Maddy was sitting on a large flat stone in the middle of a brook that ran off from the main flow of the river. Her grandmother’s voice seemed to float out of the trilling water swirling around her.

 “I’m as real as you think I am,” said Maggie, before beginning a rambling dissertation about how the stone Maddy was sitting on had arrived in its location.

The next day Maddy came back with a notebook. If her Gran was going to tell her stuff, she wanted to remember them. 

“OK, let’s say you’re real. At least your voice is. Why are you here?” Maddy spoke in the direction of a dark pool near her rock.

“Why do you think I’m here?”

“You do know it’s impolite to answer a question with another question?”

“If you want me to stop, then don’t ask questions you already know the answers to.”

“OK, fair go. So you’re here to help me, how are you planning on doing that?”   

A soft breeze, totally unlike early April, rattled the branches and ruffled her hair. The pool she had been addressing began to swirl round and round until a face she thought she recognised, appeared. “Hey, is that really you? You look a little like I remember my mother looking,” she asked.

“Well, I would hope so. I was her mother after all,” said Maggie. “I’m going to try and teach you all the things your mother would have taught you if she had lived.”

“Like what?”

“You really are a suspicious little thing.”

“You would be too, if you had to live my Da Bill.”

“Fair point. Now, to begin. What do you know about plants?”

“Not much. Some are safe to eat or touch; others will make you sick if you eat them or give you a nasty rash if you grab them.”

“I suppose that’s a start. Now listen…..”

As spring warily crept up from the south and the forest carpet began to turn green and spongy, Maddy and her Gran’s voice – Maggie had explained that it took a lot of energy to incorporate and teach at the same time – examined and sometimes tasted vast numbers of small plants, lichen and tree buds. Maggie learned their properties and uses; which could harm, which could heal wounds or nourish a sickly animal, and how to collect and prepare these. She very quickly stop interrupting with useless questions, sucking in this new world of information and possibilities like a parched sponge. 

Later, when the thaw was fully operational, the runoff that year was so powerful it carved a channel that grew into a ditch under the wooden walkway connecting Maddy’s cabin to the main path. Grumbling as ever, Bill conceded that a proper bridge was needed so Maddy wouldn’t fall in and break something getting to work. Two of his mates from town arrived and constructed a little wooden bridge that actually worked, complete with guard rails and everything. It was a little rickety-rackety, but Bill reminded her that “beggars shouldn’t be choosers.” Maddy silently agreed. 

A few nights later, she was lying in bed talking to Gran, something she did most nights now, before falling asleep.

“…so it wobbles a little when there’s a strong breeze, but I think it’s safe enough,” Maddy said. 

“For you definitely, I’m sure. But…. “

“But what?” 

“… safe enough for a little thing like you. Maybe you should think about loosening some of the joints – just a little bit. And you could scrape away at some of the supports, too. Not too much, mind you…”

“So the bridge would still be safe for me, but someone bigger and heavier would get an unwelcome surprise.”

“That’s my girl.”

keep surfing through for more “Just Maddy”, every Sunday until May 19th.

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