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    Carol Windley

    9. What Saffi Knew

    By Carol Windley

    That summer a boy went missing from a field known as the old potato farm, although no one could remember anything growing there but wild meadow barley, thistles in their multitudes, black lilies with a stink of rotten meat if you brought your face too close or tried to pick them. There were white fawn lilies like stars fallen to earth and bog-orchids, also called candle-scent, and stinging nettles, blameless to look at, leaves limp as flannel, yet caustic and burning to the touch. Even so, nettle leaves could be brewed into a tea that acted on the system like a tonic, or so Saffi’s aunt told her. She recited a little rhyme that went: Nettle tea in March, mugwort leaves in May, and all the fine maidens will not go to clay.

    Imagine a field, untended, sequestered, grass undulating in a fitful wind. Then disruption, volunteer members of the search party arriving, milling around, uniformed police and tracking dogs, distraught relatives of the missing boy. No place for a child, Saffi’s mother said, yet here Saffi was, holding tight to her aunt’s hand, taking everything in.

    All the people were cutout dolls. The sun hovered above the trees like a hot-air balloon cut free. Saffi’s shoes were wet from walking in the grass; she was wearing a sundress that tied at the back of her neck and she kept scratching at mosquito bites on her arms and legs until they bled and her Aunt Loretta said she’d give herself blood poisoning, but Saffi didn’t stop, she liked how it felt, it gave her something to do. She could see her daddy, standing a little apart from the others, drinking coffee from a paper cup. He was a young man then, tall, well-built, his hair a sprightly reddish-brown, his head thrown back, eyes narrowed in concentration, as if he hoped to be first to catch sight of any unusual movement in the woods, down near the river. Saffi looked where he was looking and saw a flitting movement in the trees like a turtledove, its silvery wings spread like a fan and its voice going coo-coo, the sound a turtledove would make when it was home and could rest at last. But there was no turtledove. Never would there be a turtledove. Saffi was the only one who knew. But who would listen to her? . . . Read More.


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