OPHELIA

By John Thomas Tuft

The path leads off the road, through the trees and into a small clearing where there sits a small house of weather-grayed boards with a red tin roof and the window casings painted in the same faded ruby rose. In front of the sagging porch is a garden of polymer: giant sunflowers, daisy pinwheels, and pink flamingoes on one spindly leg. Off to one side a giant Buick with fins from the 1950s sits on four cinderblocks, hood raised up as though drafting the yaw of an ancient dragon. A long dormant orchard crowds up close to an old shed and barn, with stacks of beaten apple crates of wired together slats leaning into the wind coming off the mountains to the west. Of course, there is a swing on the porch, and a collection of kitchen chairs in various degrees of disrepair and comfort. Over the screen door is a hand-lettered sign: Welcome to Ophelia’s.

Jedidiah approaches the house with no small trepidation. Ophelia steps out the front door at the tremor in the air of approaching footsteps. She is the epitome of the words of Shakespeare: “Oh, when she is angry, she is keen and shrewd! She was a vixen when she went to school. And though she be but little, she is fierce.” Raven hair streaked with gray, pulled back and tied with a pale blue ribbon, reaches nearly to her waist. She has the lines of experience of a proud woman at the edges of her expressive eyes and at the corners of her determined mouth. Praise does not spring easily to those lips, but the heart within is open and caring. Around her neck, a small pouch hangs from a leather thong, and a tiny silver feather dangles at the tie.

The two stare at each other for a moment of eternity. Jed’s baggy work pants flap in the breeze, scattering small clouds of dust from the quarry as he slowly sinks to one knee, twisting a fisherman’s cap in his hands. “Get up, you old fool,” Ophelia admonishes. “It’s been ten years, how long was I supposed to wait?” Jed is stricken dumb, and the labor of his years shows as he pulls himself erect. “Well, come up on the porch and sit a spell,” Ophelia offers as she takes a seat on the swing. Jed pauses to look at the weary orchard awaiting someone to tend to it, prune it with prudence. Ophelia watches with narrowed eyes, pondering the preponderance of the evidence. Is this a midsummer night’s dream, or a tired rerun of love’s folly?

A mockingbird chatters excessively, invoking luck and charm from a nearby blueberry thicket. “Was it worth it?” asks Ophelia as Jed settles onto a chair with uneven legs so that he has to struggle for equilibrium. “You are a handsome woman,” he offers. “Always was, always will be,” she responds. Jed tries again. “The orchard needs some attention. Maybe it ain’t too late.” He looks hopeful and bashful all at once. Ophelia points to the sign over the door. “This is mine.” Jed studies the sign for a long pause. “It also says welcome, woman.” She sighs. “I’m doin’ fine without you, Jedidiah. Do you want some sweet tea?” He draws in a deep breath, as though inhaling two lungfuls of courage. “I love you, Ophelia.”

“So, is that a no on the sweet tea?” Ophelia’s eyes remain steady. Jedidiah is crestfallen. “A man’s gotta try, Ophelia.” She closes her eyes, breathing deeply of all the hopeful searches over the years. Ophelia opens her eyes and draws the leather tong from around her neck. She slowly opens the pouch and spills its contents into her hand. One hundred tiny shiny pebbles sparkle in the late afternoon sun. “I gather these from the creek. Hold out your hand,” she commands the supplicant. He carefully obliges. Her hand hovers over his as she pauses.

“Love is 100 choices a day. Love is 100 decisions a day.” She studies his face. “Love is 100 x 100 words and thoughts every day.” The pebbles spill from her hand into his. “When you can fill this pouch today, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow, you can ask for this feather.” She smiled. “Now, do you want the sweet tea, or don’t you?” And the breeze died to a whisper and the mockingbird stopped its chatter as she rose and stepped through the doorway where there’s a sign over head that reads: Welcome to Ophelia’s.

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.