Martha Kylies belted her Fair Isle print sweater tighter. The frost on the ground indicated last night’s temperature dipped lower than predicted. The closer to her garden she got the whiter the patches of frost became. Even her breath clouded as she exhaled. The east side of her property would warm as sunrise bloomed. For now, the rose-colored clouds dotting the sky spoke of the return of warmth and a fall day rich in color.
Two steps from the calf high fence surrounding the rows of plants and herbs she carefully cultivated, Azul her Russian Blue feline greeted her. His plaintive mews told of his dislike spending the night outside. Martha squatted, reaching out with her hand, motioning Azul to her. She spoke as she began petting him. “If you’d come in when I called last night, you could have slept warm and snug curled up in the quilt.”
As she started to rise, she glanced toward the garden. Two eyes similar in color to Azul’s golden ones peered back at her from under the leaves of one of the pumpkin plants close to the fence. She slowly moved toward the plant, speaking softly as she did. “So this is why you wanted out last night. Found a girlfriend have you.”
Soft meows increased as Martha reached the where the eyes watched her. She dropped to her knees slowly pulling the leaves back. Four more sets of eyes greeted her as high-pitched mews began. Reaching out she, continued talking quietly. “Easy Momma, I’m here to help.” Keeping her hand where the Calico female could sniff, Martha counted four kittens about six to eight weeks old. Due the lack of efficient light, making out color and markings wasn’t easy. Azul and his female companion had a brood between them. Moving the kittens along with the female into the enclosed back porch wasn’t going to be easy. If the female was feral, her trust of humans might not exist. For now, getting the female used to her mattered. Trust certainly didn’t come easy for those whose past experiences left them burned by those who violated their trust. Martha understood that one first hand.
“You’re Callie. Does Kristoff know you’re out?” Martha spoke stroking the head of the kittens’ mother. A soft purr rumbled beneath Martha’s hand as she stroked down Callie’s side. Azul butted up against Martha’s leg purring loudly too. She reached down with her other hand stroking familiar soft fur. For a moment, peace mixed with tranquility in the early morning quiet. Martha sat back on her heels, enjoying the Azul’s familiar purrs and fur beneath her hand as she petted him. Equally relaxing, she continued stroking Callie’s side enjoying her purrs as well.
Back across the garden and the hundred yards separating Martha’s property from his, Kristoff Bolenger sat at his kitchen table. A half-drunk cup of coffee sat before him. Next to him laid an open Farmer’s Almanac. He rubbed his eyes, reached for his glasses, and yawned. Another late night out searching for his aunt’s cat found him spending the night on his couch again. Taking care of his elder aunt’s prize possession took more than he realized. Ever since the kittens arrived, Callie’s nighttime adventures increased. Nailing the dog door shut hadn’t worked. Skeeter cried and barked wanting out oftener since she couldn’t come and go as she liked. Poor gal liked her freedom. He didn’t blame his Australian shepherd one bit. Sitting on the porch with the chill in the air and the fire pit blazing, Skeeter by his side as the grill across the pit sizzled and cooked his meal, brought an air of peace to the end of the day.
With his reading glasses in place, Kristoff picked up the almanac going back to where he left off reading. Winter’s snow accumulation and predicted temperatures set his internal temperature rising. Even though he gave up farming a decade ago, planning how to keep his moderate gardening business a float during the coldest parts of year took precedence once the first frost appeared. Last night’s chill spoke of careful planning and action. Keeping his neighbors in deicer products and his own hothouse heated took funds that his accounting needed careful strategizing. Over spending could lead to deficits and cash crunches that necessitated using credit that could easily eat into spring and summer profits. Yes, planning careful or not took time and energy. Neither of which he had much of. Outside, two orders for farms on the outskirts of town filled his medium-sized panel truck. On his way back to town, two of farmer’s market tenants needed their produce and wares picked up for the market opening mid-morning in the parking lot he shared with the church next door to his business. No, not much time to sit and plan at leisurely pace. Glancing at his watch, Kristoff cussed. He had forty minutes to shower, shave, and gulp some breakfast.
He pulled off his glasses, tossed them on the table as he rose. He gulped the last of his cold coffee before placing his cup in the sink. Food somewhere registered in the back of his mind. Shaking his head, he opened his refrigerator. Nearly empty and bare shelves greeted him. Great, now he had another item on his growing to do list. Grocery shopping the one chore he despised next to cleaning. He kept his dust bunny population next to nil. Vacuuming once a month worked given the hardwood floors throughout most of the house. The bedroom area rugs peeked out from under the furniture covering them. The guest room served as his office and the small back bedroom held a sofa bed that got used when his cousin Rafe came into state needing a place to crash in-between his truck driving stints. His house told of his male preferences and he liked the way he lived just fine thank you. Next time Aunt Helen decided she wanted to lecture him on his cleaning he’d hand her the mop and broom asking for a demonstration after he lectured her on keeping Callie under control. Of course, Aunt Helen’s next visit was probably a few years off given her recent move to Australia.
Kristoff paused as he neared the staircase. What he saw through the dining room window caught his attention. Martha kneeled near the corner of her garden where the pumpkin plants they planted together earlier in the summer grew. She appeared to be intently focused on something. Her hands moved back and forth in separate rhythms. Was she praying over the plants as she often said she did when he tended his share of their joint garden? He squinted moving closer to the window as the first beams of sunlight illuminated the yard between their places. He swallowed hard as Martha turned her face toward the sun bathing her shoulders and neck. Kristoff began buttoning his shirt muttering as he did. Martha was crying. What or who had driven her from her sleep to seek solace outside in the chill of the early morning?