Marie Dufore sat alone by the woodstove

Excerpt from the Prologue to The Wives' Tale: The night before her great-grandson Daniel was to be buried, old Marie Dufore sat alone by the woodstove and kept him company on his last night among the living. She was over ninety, and felt closer to the dead these days, anyway.

It was dark in the living room; Gran Marie had turned off the lights hours ago. Now and then she opened the stove door to feed the fire; its warm, orange glow licked at her face, darted hungrily after shadowed corners, gobbled up as much of the dark as it could before she shut the door, plung­ing the room into blackness again.

Outside, February pressed cold against the windows, and even with the fire going strong she felt a chill. She’d been feeling it off and on for some years—even in the heat of summer it would creep up on her sometimes, freeze the blood in her veins, slow her beating heart. The chill of an open grave was how she thought of it, and it didn’t frighten her; after all, she’d been born at the end of the nineteenth century, and now here she was, little more than a decade from the end of the twentieth. She looked at the coffin resting just a foot or two from her chair, felt a tiny surge of anger. Had it really been so unreasonable to expect the next grave dug for a Dufore would be hers?

Thief.

She reached out, and rapped her knuckles hard against the slick wood. The sound fell leaden into the silence.

There had been a lot of deaths over the last hundred years, not all but enough in her own family. She’d sat by enough coffins, kept vigil with enough of the dead—her brother, her son, her husband—to stop fearing her own death. She hadn’t slept in nearly seventy years, and that in itself was a kind of dying, she thought.

This death was the hardest, though. The last of her line was sealed in his casket; tomorrow the Dufore name would be put in the ground for good.

Would it have come to this if Allie hadn’t gone? She’d never know, of course, but it nagged her sometimes during the long nights when there wasn’t much else to do except pull at loose threads in the fabric of her memory, and watch all the events of her life unravel while she tried to find some pattern in it all. She’d been doing it for years now, weaving and unweaving and reweaving the Dufore history, trying to remake it as it might have been. If Allie hadn’t left; if Daniel hadn’t gone to the quarry that day; if we hadn’t left Davy alone…

It was an occupation of the old, she supposed; the young had no time for it and the middle-aged were too afraid to unravel the threads for fear of finding it had all been wrong from the start. No, only the old were suited for this game, and only when they were very old indeed. She’d realized some years before the futility of playing. Like solitaire, you seldom won and on the rare occasion when there was a resolution to the problem, it was empty anyway. Still, it had become habit; monotonous, perhaps, but compulsive.

She sat alone in the dark beside her great-grandson‚Äôs cof­fin, reviewing all the events in her life, in her family‚Äôs, in the life of the community. Would I be here tonight, like this, she asked herself again, frustrated and bored even as she asked; would Daniel be here tonight, like this, if the juggler had never come?

Round and round she went, her mind casting far back over the years, as she waited out the long hours of the night before Daniel Dufore’s funeral.