Helen watched from her kitchen window as the young man approached. He carried a plate loosely covered by a napkin.
She dried her hands with a small towel that she folded and placed by the sink. She waited by the door for the man’s knock and then allowed another few seconds to pass before greeting him. No gain, she thought, appearing to have nothing better to do than stare out windows, or in being too anxious for visitors.
He spoke with a southern accent, not usually heard in her town of Inwood, certainly not common elsewhere in Indiana.
“Helen Peterson? I’m John Atkins, your new neighbor on the west side of your farm. The farm that had been Ben Wilson’s is mine now.”
“Ben was a good friend,” she replied. “Sad to see his place auctioned. I hope you have better luck with the property.”
“Expect I will. I’m up for the hard work. My wife and I are looking forward to being your friends, too. We hope you might enjoy these muffins, a favorite recipe.”
“Well, you’re off to a good start, offering muffins, young man. Please come in.”
Helen felt comfortable addressing him that way, as she was fifty-eight and he had to be in his twenties.
John set the plate down on the kitchen table and removed the napkin.
Helen smiled. “Bran muffins. Delightful! A welcome change from corn muffins.”
As John looked puzzled, she gestured toward the window and the view of her farm’s corn field. “Just a joke. If it’s not on the cob, we’re eating it in bread, muffins and whatever.”
“I know what you mean,” he replied, laughing.
Then his demeanor seemed more serious. “Sarah, my wife, suggested something. I thought it was a good idea. We would like to help you, if help is needed.”
“I don’t know that I need help.”
“Well, first let me say you have our condolences on your brother’s passing. Inwood is a small community. It didn’t take long for us to hear about your loss.”
“I appreciate the sympathy. I’m doing well, though. My brother Billy was more an overseer than a worker, and I’ve been able to manage the farm hands myself. They do what’s needed.”
“Still, I noticed you have a quarter acre, plowed but only partly planted. This late in the season, you’ve got to be planting if anything’s to come of it. I want to offer my own farm hands for that, if yours can’t get to it.”
“Mighty kind of you,” she replied, and gestured for him to sit at the kitchen table. She sat in a chair opposite. “Truth is, that part of the farm is intended to be fallow ground.”
She took a white hanky from her apron pocket and played with it nervously for a few seconds, as if she expected to have to dab tears.
“Billy married late,” she continued. “He and his wife, Caroline used to say there was no likelihood of their living to celebrate seventy-five years of marriage, but they might both be here for a fifty-year celebration. Sad to say, not long after their tenth anniversary, Caroline passed, taken by a weakened heart.”
“I’m so sorry, and now your brother is gone, too. You’ve had a lot to bear.”
“I carry on with this farm as Billy would have. It gives me purpose. Part of that is what you see in the fallow ground.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Billy felt blessed by the ten years he had with Caroline. He thought constantly of the forty years denied him, years that would have brought Caroline and him to their fiftieth-year celebration. On that quarter acre, he plowed and then planted ten rows of corn to stand for the good years. He plowed but left fallow forty rows to stand for the years missed. Billy continued that tradition every year. Now that he’s gone, I’m honoring him by keeping to it.”
“I thank you for sharing that with me. I’ll not withdraw my offer to help, if needed in any other way.”
A few minutes later, Helen watched him from the kitchen window as he headed home. She was thinking about all that she had chosen not to share.
She might have mentioned that the corn from those first ten rows were the sweetest of any grown on the farm, sweeter than any grown elsewhere in Inwood. She had conjured it so.
The power of warlocks and witches in her family’s bloodline had dissipated greatly over many generations. Billy had given up on the prospect of casting spells while still a teenager, and gave no thought to it after that.
Helen never told him her own powers were intact, though slight, too slight to bring health back to Caroline, no matter how hard Helen tried. She failed as well in her effort to save Billy.
Her success was only in applying her secret talent to growing ten rows of the sweetest corn possible. She was confident Billy never suspected.
Helen closed her eyes to focus her mind on John Atkins and his farm. If she had anything to say about it (and she did, mostly in Latin, some in ancient Aramaic), that nice young man was going to be pleased with his farm’s bumper crop of very sweet corn.