Great Aunt Margaret – No. 140

Dust surrounded Adam’s car as they wound down the lane from the main road, toward the farmhouse, with its’ sole oak and picket fence.  As he drove, Adam took a sidelong glance at the withered woman in his passenger seat. 

“What do you think?”

Wendy adjusted her bottle-cap glasses, and peered at the sepia-hued photograph in her wrinkled hands.  Two pig-tailed little girls sat side-by-side on a wooden stoop, sun dresses hemmed with ruffles revealing scabbed knees.   Looking up, she gazed through the obscuring cloud of dust with equally hazy eyes.

“I’m not sure.  Maybe?”

Adam adjusted his grip on the wheel, the leather rubbing against his fresh calluses.  Inhaling, he kept himself from flooring the gas or turning around completely.  Instead, he parked by the closed gate, and sagged into the driver’s seat.  Powdery grains settled on the hood, and coated the windshield in a fine mist.

He waited until the engine clanks quieted before the same question he’d asked at the rest of the potential farmhouses rolled from his tongue.  “Do you want to come?”

“Maybe just to the gate.”

Nodding with Wendy’s rote answer, Adam unclasped his seatbelt, and unfolded from the car.  The crick in his back protested, and he kneaded the spot with his knuckles as he slammed the door.  Wendy emerged, her snowy wisps clasped by ivory clips wavering as a breeze swept over the surrounding fields.  Dry corn husks rattled, and the weather vane perched on top of the farmhouse creaked into pointing east.

Smoothing down the back of his receding hair, Adam marched around the front bumper, and lifted the gate’s latch.  Well-oiled, the gate swung open without a whisper.  Holding the gate open for Wendy’s arthritic stride, he latched it again before traversing the front walk, shaded by the looming oak, and mounting the porch steps. 

A quick search revealed no door bell, so Adam opened the screen door and used the corn-shaped knocker. 

Buttercup-patterned curtains to his right wavered in the window panes.

Smiling in that direction, he closed the screen and positioned himself before the door, hands in full view. 

Steps within creaked floorboards, and then locks thudded.  A wilted face appeared in the door crack, cataract-clouded eyes hovering beneath the remaining chain.  “Yes?”

“Excuse me,” said Adam, donning the smile he’d used each time he’d launched into the same brief explanation.  “My name is Adam Johnson Belay.  I was wondering if, by any chance, there’s anyone else who goes by that name, Johnson, residing here.”

The woman frowned.  “No, no Johnsons.  Not anymore.”

Porch steps creaked behind him.  Adam pressed on as Wendy’s presence hovered at his back.  “Do you happen to know of any in the area?”

“Other Johnsons?”  The woman in the doorway shook her head. “No.”

“Thank-.”

“Margie?”

Turning, Adam found Wendy at his shoulder, clutching the photograph like a ticket.  She stared straight at the door, where the other woman stood frozen.

Wendy extended the picture, a tentative smile on her needle-thin lips.  “Isn’t this you?”

“It can’t be,” said the woman, without giving the image a glance.

Wendy’s face paled.

“Maybe you could just take a look at it,” said Adam.  He took the picture, and offered the image again through the barricade of the screen’s mesh and door’s chain.

The woman’s eyes flickered to the photograph.  Unhooking the chain, she widened the gap in the door and listed forward, bracing her other hand on the screen. 

“No,” she whispered, her eyes locked with the pair in faded brown and ruffles, “it can’t be.”

“Margie?” 

The woman tore her gaze from the image.  Adam retreated as she and Wendy met eyes. 

“My name is Margaret…I was Margaret Johnson before I married.”

“It’s me, Margie, it’s Wendy.”

“That’s not possible.  You’re…you’re dead.  The storm took you…took everyone….”

“Oh honey.  No, it didn’t,” said Wendy. 

Sweeping forward, she yanked open the screen.  Margie fell into her arms where they embraced with a rain of silent tears.

Adam bowed his head, and looked at the image in his hand, the faces of the girls so much younger than the women standing before him now.  The trauma of the flood, and the decades of separation, melted on the sunlit porch like snow in summer.

Their quiet sniffles transitioned into joyful giggles after a few moments. 

“Oh Margie,” said Wendy, withdrawing slightly. 

Margie, however, found her hand in a tight clasp.   “And who is this young man?”

“Margie, I’d like you to meet my grandson.”  Wendy seized Adam’s arm in a vice-grip.  “Adam, dear,” said Wendy, her voice beginning to warble, “you’ve helped me find her, my dear, sweet, baby sister.”

Adam grinned, and brushed away the moisture starting to pool in his eyes.  Bowing down, he accepted Margie’s coiled arm around his neck, her squeeze rivaling Wendy’s grip.  “It’s wonderful to meet you.”

“You too,” said Margie.  She settled into her slippers, and patted her liver-spotted hand against her mouth.  “Where are my manners?  Come in, come in. We’ve got so much to catch up on.”

“That would be wonderful,” said Wendy.

Arm in arm, they swept through the door and vanished into the farmhouse, already in conversation.

Adam smiled at the photograph, before tucking the image into his pocket and taking his time following the pair inside.

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