by J D Francis
Woodrow Franklin sat resting, slowly pushing back and forth on an old, wooden bench swing that hung from a rusty chain on the front porch of the tiny cottage. It is where he has lived for thirty-seven years, alone. The bench squeaked and moaned with every pass. He stood and walked over to the railing and gazed out over the mountains. The moon had begun to rise, pushing away the last of the daylight, bringing with it the night. It was warm, the air still and heavy, more so than in days past. It is time, he thought.
He returned to the bench he left gently swinging and picked up an old, worn violin and bow that had been lying beside him. He walked down the creaking steps onto the slate path that went out to where a wooden mailbox sat atop a worn, graying post connected to the old, whitewashed picket fence.
The fence, abused by time and the elements, ran skewed the entire length of the front garden along old Lakewood Road. Daisies and buttercups, and red and purple wildflowers with Latin names we simple folks dare not pronounce, sprouted up intertwining and growing through the weathered palings. Woodrow saw no need for formality or symmetry in a garden. He always believed in the beauty of God’s handiwork and thought it not wise to interfere other than to be the instrument and toss the seeds to fall where they may. After which Woodrow always prayed a silent prayer; “Not my will, but God’s.” And so it was as he had always believed.
Woodrow walked across the dirt road onto a narrow path that cut through more wildflowers. The trail went through a stand of some fifteen oddly misaligned apple and pear trees, of which he alone had scattered the pips when he first settled on Lakewood Road. Woodrow continued farther on down the path through a thicket of pines and blackberry bushes that presented a small clearing of sand along the water’s edge where cattails and water lilies lined both sides.
If you stood upon the shore on the opposite side of the lake looking out, you might think it resembled a theater stage, and the moon and stars overhead would shine like stage lights. In the middle of the clearing stood one lone tree stump, cut purposely to sit upon.
Woodrow Franklin was a simple man with no peculiar tastes in life except for music. Classical music. His only failures and disappointments in life have been, well, music. Trained since he was a child, he never quite achieved the standard of excellence that was demanded of so many who were drawn to the world of rhythms and chords. So, in quiet despair, Woodrow transitioned from that life to settle into a menial profession of melancholy existence as librarian and curator of rare books for the State College in Parkville. He would go on to live his life in solitude and obscurity and loneliness, never to marry. Maybe it was because he would not abandon his first love, music, that eluding mistress.
It was the last days of spring just before the summer solstice; the cold air from the north had not come rolling in over the mountains that night. You could hear the familiar sound of rusty springs stretching on wooden screen doors then slamming shut. Wood banging against wood as everyone in town migrated to their front porches and gardens to sit and watch the stars as they had begun to show themselves brighter.
The moon, like a maestro, stood out in all of heaven and took its place just above the mountains as everyone breathed the night air deeply in liberation of the long day. For many had come out in hopes of this night. They knew those euphonious notes would soon call out as they had this time every year past.
Wade Miller stood leaning against the post on the front porch holding an ice-cold can of beer to his cheek. Sweat and grime ran down his neck. His wife, Annie, sat patiently under the porch light rocking slowly while humming as she knitted a cap for her sister’s newborn.
Leland and Martha Gleaves sat on their front steps holding hands as they always had since the day Leland gave Martha his class ring back in 1974. Pop Wilson came out of his little cabin carrying a mason jar half-filled with homemade blackberry spirits he called Mountain Moonshine. Most everyone in town had come out for this evening.
No one ever sees much of Woodrow Franklin around town, usually at Halloran’s Market or the hardware store. He mostly keeps to himself, never seeming to socialize or get on with other people. Getting Woodrow to say anything other than a cursory hello or goodbye is next to impossible. Although Mattie Hays, clerk at the town hall, was once able to engage Woodrow in a bit of discourse when he came by to pay his taxes a few years back.
They talked about his apple and pear orchard and of her garden. It was a conversation that lasted all of eight minutes. Woodrow was painfully shy. She mentioned how much she was enjoying their little visit when suddenly Woodrow nervously turned and hurried away. Mattie thought she might have scared Woodrow off. Still, those eight minutes were long enough for Woodrow to form a bond, and of those times Mattie would see him again, she found him looking at her, smiling timidly as if she might be his only friend. But Woodrow had many friends—friends he really did not know of, friends that came out every clear, warm evening to hear the songs of Lakewood. Friends that, when the time comes that those warm nights will be forever silent, would miss Woodrow Franklin terribly. Life then will never be the same for North Hill.
Woodrow looked up into the dark, clear night illuminated only by the clusters of stars and brilliant quarter moon. Any hint of daylight had disappeared. With violin and bow in hand, he walked to that cut tree stump sticking up from the sand. He sat upon it, adjusting himself as he would if he were sitting in an orchestra pit awaiting the conductor. He plucked the strings of the violin while turning the pegs, tuning the delicate instrument to a perfect sound. He played a couple of quick scales, and then that painful silence, where, only for a moment’s time, stood still as everyone in town sat out on their porches and steps in keenness, turning their ears toward the lake. Some lay on the grass, looking up at the stars and the moon. Woodrow postured himself stiffly. He drew the bow gently and precisely as the graceful notes of “Claire De Lune” danced across the water filling the whole village with music, beautiful music. Everyone’s ears perked up to the long-anticipated melody filling the town with a joyous sound.
When he had finished, Woodrow lowered the violin, resting it on his lap; he shook his hand lightly, squeezing it into a fist a few times. Again, he placed the violin under his chin and, with the same precision and passion, began to play “Gabriel’s Oboe.” Everyone listened, mesmerized by the clarity and tranquility of each note. Some, you might say, were lost in their dreams, transported to a place deep within their souls. For those who struggled daily, it was a release from the shackles of life and salved their wounds, whatever they may be.
Leland put his arm around Martha and held her. Wade Miller looked over at Annie as she sat in the rocker with her knitting on her lap; she paused to listen. A tear ran down her cheek as she looked up at her husband and smiled. A young couple danced slowly while barefoot on the village green. When Woodrow had finished, he could hear the faint clapping of hands from across the lake, and a few voices shouted “Bravo!” In the starlight and glow of the moon, Woodrow Franklin bowed his head, for this night he was not a failure. His music for some thirty-seven years has helped to keep this town in perfect harmony. He looked up and again postured himself stiffly as he placed the violin back under his chin and gave an encore performance of the old hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.”
All was well for everyone who came out on that warm spring evening in North Hill.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story