The ancient truck’s open hood concealed her from the waist up as she bent over its engine; she rose a little onto her toes to get a better look at something shadowy and undefined. Try again now, she hollered to nobody in the cab, but all that happened was nothing, only the obstinate click-click-click of a machine that refused to go.
Click-click-click, pause. And again, click-click-click, pause.
A thing on the horizon began to take shape, to come into focus as it might through a camera’s lens. Here, now, she could see it was a minuscule bird, a nuthatch maybe, she guessed. Perched outside the windowsill opposite Lucy’s bed, its tiny beak made contact with the glass as it plucked at the insects dangling in an orb weaver’s web; the spider was nowhere to be seen. Click-click-click, click-click-click went its beak.
Lucy had been dreaming; Charley had hopped off the bed to investigate the bird and sat statuesque with her back to Lucy, observing the spectacle, her only movement the characteristic shepherd head tilt, back and forth, back and forth. Her erect ears jiggled comically each time her head stopped.
As she felt life flowing back into her limbs and consciousness into her head, Lucy allowed herself simply to enjoy watching Charley watch the bird, before finally stirring herself to stretch. She began circling her feet in opposite directions, first this way and then that, and then flexed and pointed them a few times. Where had the spider gone, she wondered. Maybe she had taken refuge in some crevice between window and clapboard on the cottage exterior, and hid there now, helplessly witnessing the hungry bird stealing her hard-won meal. Or maybe the bird had eaten the spider first, and now finished off the spoils in the web.
Opportunist, Lucy concluded, and in the next instant concluded the same about the spider.
She stood and yawned, breathed in the perfume of dark, bitter coffee from the opposite end of the house, brewed and ready. Charley followed her mistress into the kitchen, her tail wagging enthusiastically. Lucy cupped her hands around a warm mug and observed the remnants of yesterday’s biscuits still sitting on the stovetop; she plucked up a crumb and offered it to the dog, who took it delicately from Lucy’s fingers with her tiny incisors, careful not to curl her lips, or to make any other gesture that might be construed as thanklessness.
“Let’s go outside,” she said, acknowledging Charley’s pleading body language. Lucy zipped herself into a down coat, pulled a knitted cap over her head, and stepped through the front door; Charley bounded past her and down the hill towards the river. Frost covered the landscape in a spiky blanket of silvery filaments; Lucy shivered, and clutching the mug more tightly, drew it to her lips. Inspired by the cold, a teardrop welled up in each eye and flowed down her cheeks. The beauty of the morning light, how it illuminated the steam rising in curls from the hot coffee, was not lost on her.
Hoary frost, she said aloud into the chilly air, while she waited for Charley. Her thoughts wandered to the past, into an eleventh-grade public school classroom, where a short, round man in a navy sport coat and a bright red bowtie read aloud Robert Frost’s After Apple Picking. What is hoary grass, was the question he now put to a couple dozen or so wan faces; somebody sniggered. Lucy did not wish to appear disinterested, but did not know the answer; soon the entire class would understand its meaning.
Here it was stretching out before her in this present moment, a steep incline of hoary grass, winter’s cruelty offset by its ephemeral beauty.
Who could blame the nuthatch, for snapping up a ready-made breakfast on a day like this? Lucy whistled for Charley, who turned, tilted her beautiful head, and bolted back up the hill to this loving but complicated human, ready for whatever the day held to unfold.
First there would be treats. And later on, there would be volumes of books to unbox and shelve, antique curiosities to tag and display, and customers to wait upon, customers who cooed at Charley and wished their lives looked just a little more like the one perching atop a high stool behind the counter, in this curious store that still could not quite decide what it would be. Lucy loved her shop all the more for its refusal to adhere to rules, such as they were, and resolved to let it assume a life of its own.