This story is by Jacqueline E Chase and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The warmth September afternoon filled with the smell of wild grapes made Susan drowsy. She had picked all the grapes she needed. Susan was reluctant to leave. Here she could forget about homework, housekeeping, and helping her brother. Susan pulled her knees up then wrapped her arms around them. She wished she could run away. To leave behind the sadness that never left. Leaves rustled in the wind. She heard something move in the brush to her left. A glint of color not quite red, browner then true red. Intrigued she stood up reaching out she pulled aside some of the branches. Two eyes looked back at her. Startled she ran.
Only when she had reach home, did she remember her bucket. All those grapes lost, no use crying. Her father would soon want dinner. At least she had started the chicken before she went out. Taking the chicken out of the buttermilk, she dredged it in flour as the fat heated in the skillet. As she sliced the last of the green tomatoes, she listened to the radio. Telstar was playing on the radio. Susan dreamed of faraway places. The porch door slamming brought her back to reality. She started to fry the chicken.
Aunt Millie, expected her to stay and care for her father. What she wanted didn’t matter. Her father needed her; it was her duty. How she hated that word. All her friends talked about dating and movies. Dad didn’t have extra money for movies.
Where was her father? She had heard him come in. Wiping her hands, she looked outside. The porch was empty. No not empty, there just inside the door sat her bucket of grapes. Who?
Who had left the bucket? It was almost dark now. Susan heard a few soft notes on the wind. But were, she couldn’t quite catch. The music stopped when her father’s car turned into the driveway. Hurrying back to the stove, she turned the chicken before it burned.
Dad smiled as he smelt the chicken. “Mama would be proud of you.” Then he pushed Johnny towards the bathroom to wash up. Opening the cupboard, he pulled out the plates for supper.
“Papa I can do that.”
“Now Susan, let me help. You just finish cooking.” He then set the table and poured the milk for her brother.
They ate in silence. Thankful there was food on the table. It had been hard since Mama died. But Susan was proud that she made what money her father gave her stretch. Too bad they couldn’t keep chickens in town. At least they had put in a garden. It was a lot of work canning beans and tomatoes.
At Mama’s funeral, Aunt Millie told her it was her duty to quit school and care for her father. She had never seen her dad that angry before. Dad insisted she stay in school, that he could take care of himself. Aunt Millie said it wasn’t right. It was a daughter’s duty to care for her widowed father. Susan only saw Aunt Millie in church after that. Whispering behind her back on how she failed to do right by her father.
That night as she did her homework, Susan heard music again, Telstar, outside her window. Looking out the window, she could just see a bit of reddish brown in the light coming from the window. Just for a second, she saw someone look up at her. Then he was gone. It was too dark to see who it was.
Someone was interested in her. Maybe the boy would ask her to a movie or out for ice cream. But who was he? That night she dreamed of dancing, of a real life. She dreamed of freedom to choose, freedom to dream. But who?
The days went swiftly with school and housework. Sitting on the porch in the evenings, Susan could hear lilting tunes coming across the yard. He never showed himself. She only caught a glimpse of him if the light was right. While it continued to intrigue her, she was happy just to hear his music on the breeze. Unfortunately, the weather was turning colder. But soon, the winter snows would start. Susan tried to forget the cold of winter.
The first morning there was snow on the ground Susan panicked. His music brought her so much joy. If only he would show himself, then she could invite him in. Father wouldn’t mind. At least she thought he wouldn’t. She had not told him about the music and the boy who played it.
That night after Johnny had gone to bed. Susan approached her father. It all spilled out. The look on her father’s face said it all. She did not understand why her father was so upset. After all, he would be home. So she let it drop.
Susan still occasionally caught snippets of music when she took out the garbage. But it was not enough. It was cold and getting colder. How much longer would he continue to play in the deepening winter?
One night her father came home, the school had called him. Apparently, her grades were slipping. He wanted to know what was going on. Was it a boy. Or had Aunt Millie been putting more pressure on her behind his back?
It all came pouring out, how the music had brought joy into her life. The lilting tunes made her happy. She missed Mama so much. How could they have Thanksgiving much less Christmas without her? Then she started to cry. Dad held her smoothing her hair reassuring her that they would survive the holidays. That everything would be alright.
The next morning Susan felt a little better. She asked again if she could invite the boy to play in the warmth of the kitchen.
Her father, his coffee half way to his lips, gave her a sad look. “Susan it is not quite that simple.”
“Susan, how can I say this. The boy you describe lives in the woods. He is not like us.”
How different could he be? “Please Dad,” she pleaded. “Surely his parent will let him come.”
“He has no family.”
“Then what is the problem? Is he too old?”
Putting down his cup, father gathered up her hands. “He is very old. Older than you could ever imagine.”
How could that be? The brief glimpse she had of him put him to be about her age, maybe a little older. But her father never lied, at least not to her.
“Susan not only that but you can never tell anyone about him.”
“His name is Pan. He is different from us. If you promise never to breathe a word about him to anyone ….”
Jumping up from her chair, she hugged her father. “Will you, will you talk to him? Can he come, please?”
It was several days before Susan had her answer. Friday evening after cleaning up the kitchen there was a knock on the door. Her father opened the door. She heard him sigh as he moved aside.
Susan was shocked. Pan, Pan now it all came together. He was Pan, with cloven hoofs, furred legs, bare chest, a small pointed beard on his chin, and horns that curled on the side of his head. She plopped down, shocked on a kitchen chair.
Bringing his pipes to his mouth, he started to play. Susan became lost in the music. She never heard her father leave; it was just Pan and her. He didn’t talk, could he even talk? It didn’t matter, all that mattered was his music. The music that filled her soul, soothing the daily cares away.
The playing stopped. Pan looked down on her with old, old eyes that glinted with a hint of mirth. Taking her hand Pan walked her into the living room. Handing her over to her father, he left.
Every Friday that winter Pan would come and play for her. He never spoke. Spring came, and he would play from the woods. Sometimes when she was berry picking, she could feel him watching her. He brought joy back into her life.
The years had gone by swiftly. Susan well, another war had come and gone. She was a widow now. Her daughter was struggling with losing her father. Dad had died a few months after Mary was born. He never saw his grandson. Jim had never held his son. Life held no joy.
It was a warm summer evening when she heard the music. Her heart lifted as Pan came out of the woods softly playing. She held open the door for him. Music filled the kitchen and soothed her soul. As he left Pan, he kissed her.
The next morning Mary asked where the music came from, Susan smiled.