The Chair      

                                                                               A short love story by Claude Pigeon    

 The brilliant February sun was blinding as he emerged into the clearing.   He was so near death that his pupils were not even constricting.  The sun was high in the sky and the fresh white powder reflected the dazzling light, doubling his difficulty.  He squinted and held his black swollen fingers to his brow to shield his eyes. It took several moments for him to focus and get his bearings.  His brain was so addled by the pain and suffering of the last thirty hours that it functioned at the lowest level.  His tortured body and mind knew the only hope was to keep moving, as difficult as that was.The ropes had sawn through the towels he had placed as makeshift pads on his shoulders.  His skin was tattered and his blood soaked wool tunic stuck to him and pulled at his damaged body with every step.  The ropes had cut off circulation to his arms.  Blood clots were breaking loose and clogging the arteries of his lungs.  His breathing came hard. His heart was losing its battle against the fluids that were slowly killing him.   Fifty eight years of hard work had not prepared him for this.  He was dying.

He put Bosebuck Mountain to his back and set off in the direction of Parker Hill and Aziscohos Mountain.  He was heading across the ice to the dam at Aziscohos.  From there he could follow the road into Wilson’s Mills. The deep snow hampered his every effort to move forward.  He had barely enough strength to stand up.  His load pulled him backwards every time he lifted his boot to take a step.  Muscles screamed, joints screamed, his lungs screamed, his chest felt like it was on fire.  All he was aware of was his pain.

 Yesterday, his trip had started well.  The weather was mild and there was enough of a crust on the snow that his snow shoes glided easily and swiftly.  He made good time.  He traveled almost twenty miles in the first eight hours.  He had stopped to adjust his load several times, but still he grew weary. The storm circled at a distance before it settled in.  The wind blew so hard that his lantern would not stay lit.  The lantern was secured to a thick twitch that he cantilevered off his pack, and the dim light from the kerosene had been enough to keep him moving, but then the wind picked up.  Soon the snow was falling so heavily, it filled the creases in his scarf and piled high on the brim of his hat.   Still, he refused to stop.  Ignoring the mounting cold and his dropping body temperature, he pressed on.  Engulfed in darkness, stymied by knee deep snow, racked with pain and burdened with his load, he kept moving… He made little progress, but he kept moving.

The storm continued through the night.  He shivered violently for hours, and then the shivering stopped.  The pain receded, and he felt warmth.  He felt himself swimming in a warm pool.  With every stroke, he glided effortlessly through the gentle waves.  Somewhere in the middle of the lake, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a frozen hell, he lost consciousness.

Parmachenee is a very remote pond in the raw and exquisitely beautiful Maine wilderness.  At the head of the Magalloway River, it is thirty miles from the nearest settlement, Wilson’s Mills.  Loggers have crisscrossed the wilderness with a network of carry roads from the main road in Wilson’s Mills to their remote logging camps. Large trout ply its deep cold waters.  Even by the standards of 1919, it was a far and isolated place to choose as a home. Ezra and Martha Hollis had settled here just after the Great War.  Prior to the war, Ezra had worked on the building of the dam and fell in love with the western Maine forest lands.  For the most part, he had been a teamster and brought supplies into the jobsite and the camps.  His experience driving a team earned him more of the same in Europe.  Towards the end of the war as allied troops were breaking out of the trenches and gaining ground, he was hauling a 120 mm cannon to a breakout in the line.  Exposure to lingering mustard gas damaged his lungs.  Upon his discharge, he had made his way home to Bethel and married his childhood sweetheart. With the stipend given to him after the Armistice, he had purchased a piece of land on the shores of Parmachenee in the woods he had grown to love.  He and Martha had cleared a large swath of land and built their cabin.  With the prosperity of the post war world demanding huge amounts of timber, lumbering operations appeared all over the vast wildernesses of western Maine and northern New Hampshire.  The demand for food to feed the small armies of men cutting the wood and sending it downstream kept Ezra busy and made him quite prosperous. He sold the timber he cut to clear the land for his growing farm.  In short order, they were able to abandon the cabin and build a comfortable frame house.

In the summer they would get occasional visits from sportsmen looking to fish the lake for its notoriously large and colorful trout.  Sometimes they heard the noise of the new mechanized woods equipment off in the distance.  Dartmouth College had a large grant of land nearby and once in awhile they saw hiking parties finding their way back to the cabins.  Winters, on the other hand, were long but very pleasant. The woods roads that led to the farm were not maintained in the winter.  So deeply in love and so fully satisfied with each other’s company were they that they enjoyed the long, isolated winters.  They played cards, talked, and read the Bible together.  Martha sat in her favorite high backed rocking chair while she knitted and sewed.  Ezra tended to their wood pile and carved deer antlers.  When the weather permitted, Ezra hunted the woods that surrounded their home.  There were plenty of deer, rabbits and game birds.  Supplemented by the beets, turnips and potatoes from their root cellar and the vegetables they had “put up” in the fall, they had an abundance of food.  Whatever they didn’t need for themselves, they sold to the camps.

Penelope was born during their fifth year at the pond.  She was frail right from the beginning.  Martha and Ezra doted on the child and smothered her with their love.  For four years they nursed her many colds and afflictions and stayed up with her through many long fevered nights.  In her fourth year she grew weak.  She lay in bed for weeks.  Her lips became bluish and dark circles appeared under her eyes.  She suffered dreadfully and her loving parents were tortured by their inability to make her well or to even ease her suffering.  Martha administered belladonna until it ran out.  She made steaming herbed poultices and spicy salves to no avail.  They buried her at the edge of the clearing where the granite ledge denied the forest a hold on the land.

Ezra came to. He didn’t know how long he had been unconscious.  He had been pushing Penelope in her swing on a hot July afternoon.  Her squeals of delight echoed in his mind as he regained consciousness. The warm July air was replaced by the chilled February cold as he vaguely grasped his whereabouts and his situation. One thing was certain; he was no longer the man that had set out from the farmhouse 20 hours ago.  The pain, the exhaustion, the numbing cold, had pushed him out of his mind.  The lines between reality and insanity were as blurred as his vision.  Mercifully, he was no longer aware that he was dying.  As he moved over the crunchy ice on the lake, he carried on a long conversation with Martha.  As she always had, she showed tender consideration for his needs and insisted that they go home and abandon the effort to find a doctor.  She wanted to die at home and be buried next to their daughter Penelope.  She instructed him to take care of the irises she had planted over the grave.  She had always favored irises and had been so happy to plant the bulbs. “No” he shouted above the wind.  “We are going to make it out to the main road and someone will take us to town.”  It went on like that.  She protested, he insisted.  All the while, his pain wracked body trudged through the snow, singularly committed to the task of moving forward.  He no longer felt any pain from his feet or his hands.  His body grew remote and apart as he pressed on.  From her perch, he heard her say “Darling, you must take a rest.  You are pushing yourself much too hard.  Let’s just stop for a little while.  We can rest for just a few moments and then we can continue.  Please, just for a minute or two…” and he stopped.  He never could refuse her when she spoke to him this way.  He felt her weight shift as she turned her head to speak into his ear. “There, isn’t that better.  Doesn’t it feel go to rest?” “Yes, yes it does,” he replied as he let the chair settle into the snow as he sat down.  It was such a great relief to put her down.  He closed his nearly blind eyes.

 A few weeks later, the March sun was quickly melting the winter snows.  The ice on the lake was turning soft and slushy and the Magalloway River was swelling with the spring melt.  Joe O’Brien, Brown Company’s burly chief wood surveyor was on the return leg of a trip to gauge the snow depth and plan the most opportune time to drive the logs.  They had already started releasing the logs onto the ice bound lake in anticipation of the spring drive.  A glint in the shadows at the edge of the lake caught his attention.  As he moved closer, he was stunned and bewildered.  What had caught his attention were the two main stiles of an old wooden rocking chair.  What was incredible was that the chair was attached to the still upright body of a man sitting in the snow.  He was slumped forward with his lower body buried in the snow. The chair was tied to his shoulders and around his chest.  Tied to the chair was the body of a woman.  It was hard to tell, but they appeared to be in their fifties.  They were miles from the nearest house.  He was at a loss to comprehend how they could have gotten here, at the south end of Aziscohos Lake.  She was completely wrapped in blankets with several scarves wrapped around her face.  A narrow opening at her nose had allowed her to breathe.  He was similarly wrapped up.  His oilskin coat was bloodstained where the ropes had worn through his skin.  He wore a billed hat with ear flaps.  Later when the coroner examined the body, they saw that his fingers and toes were blackened from frost bite.  Deep lacerations marked where the ropes had worn into the muscles of his shoulders and chest.  The skin above his boots had been shredded by the constant breaking of the ice on the surface of the snow.  His mouth was covered with the frozen blood he spit up as he died.  The coroner couldn’t say with certainty, but he was of the opinion that she had been dead right at the onset of their journey.

 It took a little while to sort it all out.  When the investigators went to the cabin, they found the butts that Ezra had cut off the rocking chair and the coils of rope that he had used to fashion his makeshift carrier.  They found poultices, elixirs, and other medicinal items around the sick bed.  The pieces fell into place and eventually the remarkable story of Ezra and Martha was told from family to family and generation to generation. In time, the remains of both Ezra and Martha were interred next to Penelope. 

 The house is still tidy and well kept almost a hundred years later.  Much of the fields has been reclaimed by the forest.  There is no permanent testament to the incredible love story that originated here and ended thirty miles away.  Near the granite outcropping at the edge of the woods there is a small patch that has been cleared of stones.  In the spring, it is thickly covered with purple and gold irises.

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