The Cheese Maker

They had ham sandwiches and cokes in a dinner across from city hall before setting off for the farm on the pitted and humped mountain road. The truck bounced and Helen braced herself against the seat.

“You okay?” George asked, glancing at her quickly.

“Fine,” she said. It was the boxes she worried about most. She was looking over her shoulder when they arrived.

George had told her in his letters not to expect much, even then she wasn’t prepared for the cabin that squatted like an angry toad in a dense tangle of sumac, birch and maple. Steps led to a deep porch shadowed by a steep roof. A door flanked by two windows, a chimney at one end pointing at the sky.

Inside she was surprised: the front room seemed light and large, a colorful rag rug in front of the fireplace, a long table at the other end with a pot of purple asters.

“You want to see the kitchen?” George gestured toward an open door on the long inside wall.

She nodded and found the will to move.

The kitchen looked smaller than one she and Ned had had in Williston, but, she reasoned, that might just be because it was taken up by the heavy-legged table that dominated the center of the room. She had wanted more counter space in Williston. The table made up for it.

Just inside the door were shelves from floor to ceiling: canned goods and pots, bowls, plates, mugs, a few small glasses, large tins for flour and sugar and such. An icebox was wedged between a small electric stove and a large wood stove.

“Don’t use the big one except in winter,” said George. She nodded.

Across the room was an outside door and set of pegs with one holding a checked wool jacket, and the room’s only window. She imagined hanging curtains. Yellow, maybe. Under the window was a wide sink. She had gathered from his letters that the cabin had indoor plumbing. She told herself she wouldn’t have come if it hadn’t. Everything looked newly scrubbed, put away, ready for a wife. She smiled, displaying the dimple in her right cheek.

“Nice,” she said.

“You want to see the barn?”

She nodded and followed him into the yard.

In the short distance between the cabin and low cowshed, she about lost her dark blue pumps in the mud, but determined to keep them on. Ned would have kidded her with “arrows shoot’n your nose again” because, when she set her mind to something, her small face scrunched up: dark brows and pink lips puckered with concentration. George handed her over the high threshold without a word.

The cowshed stretched right and left: a narrow, silent avenue of cement bathed in cool dampness. A couple of small openings high in the far wall admitted miserly light.

“Where are the cows?” Helen asked staring about her, hugging her arms for warmth.

“Pasture,” said George. He pumped water into a shallow sink near the door. He didn’t ask for help as he rinsed a pile of what to Helen were wooden, high-sided pie plates. He set them to air dry on the wooden counter and dried his hands with a towel. As he replaced it on its hook, he said, “You know how to milk a cow.” It wasn’t a question.

Helen shook her head slowly. “No.”

“No?” He seemed puzzled.

“No. I never said I could.”

“But I wrote you about the farm.”

She looked at the cement floor, following a jagged crack with her eyes.

“You can cook.”

“Oh, yes,” she said, the dimple flashing. “I like to cook.”