Enjoy the latest story by Sunday Writers’ Club member Connie Phlipot.
Writing inspired by a SWC creative writing prompt.
The Winterborne Water
By Connie Phlipot
The canes of the raspberry bushes had to reach a purplish stage of red. Each early January morning the villagers would gather around a patch of raspberries at the edge of town. They didn’t need to say anything or make some kind of an announcement. They’d be doing this for so many years they all knew at a glance when the right shade had been reached. The village was also ringed with poplars, swaying in the northwest wind. When their buds swelled to just the size of a child’s thumb, then it was definitely time.
Only one person would go to find the source of the river if the above conditions were met. Each year a teenager, newly confident in his powers of observation, would start a campaign to enlarge the expeditionary force, but he was always put down by tradition. The director of the historical society went — alone. Poorly sighted, wobbly in the knee, it didn’t matter. Only that one person could go.
Miss Mazie put her father’s old rubber boots over her sneakers and stepped out onto the sidewalk. A small gaggle of villagers wished her well, but didn’t attempt to follow. She walked quickly to the edge of town, past the filling station and the abandoned pharmacy. A dirt road led from the chalky field to the woods. This was the difficult part. Miss Mazie actually would have liked to have had a sharp sighted teenager to help. She took a deep breath and began to count her steps. Her father’s boots helped by lengthening her stride. 25 paces. The ground was thick with damp, rust-colored leaves. The leaves had fallen late this year due to an unusually warm and rainy fall. They had lain on the ground for only a few weeks; no time to decay. Miss Mazie picked up a stick to push them away. They clung to it like cooked porridge. She knelt down and pushed the sodden leaves away with her bare hands. No sign of the stream and her hands throbbed with chill. A rustling behind her — someone was coming down the path. She looked up at an old man and shook her finger at him. Trespassing on the ritual. He strode on as if she were only a squirrel searching for the acorns she had buried.
She warmed her hands under her arms and returned to digging through the leaves. A glint of crystal. She scratched more quickly. An icicle had formed along the branch of a wintergreen plant.. then more.. a delicate candelabra of ice. That was it. She pulled away a few more leaves to make sure she had found it. The source of the winterbourne river. She strode out of the woods to where the village city administration was waiting. The mayor held a silver pitcher, tarnished along the edges, dented at the bottom, but never to be replaced.
“We were gettin’ a bit worried,” he said as they led the parade back into the woods.
“Thick leaves, ya know. From all that rain back in November.”
“Ah yes. Remember Mr. Oakley’s last year? Snowed near up to 15 inches night before. Didn’t think he’d a ever find the stream.”
“But he did, huh? Always been found, right?”
“As far as I know. Don’t know if we’d be ever to go on if the winter water didn’t come.”
The mayor set down the pitcher on the ground as his deputy handed him a small shovel. He dug a few feet on each side of the cleared leaves. The water bubbled up, freezing instantly as it splashed onto the surrounding grasses and bushes. Miss Mazie smiled as she realized she been tensing her muscles up to this point. She filled the pitcher, handed it back to the mayor and they all trooped out to the village. The inhabitants had already formed a line leading past the field. The mayor poured a drop of water into the cupped hands of each person. Some drank, other’s splashed it onto their faces or delicately dipped a finger into it.
Later that day, the pedestrian work would begin. A bobcat bulldozer would complete the digging the mayor had begun by hand; a tractor would haul in a cement cistern and heavy piping; by the next morning the village would have a source of water for the rest of the winter.
Miss Mazie sat at her kitchen table and drank a cup of tea made out of the last of the previous winter’s water. The best water in the world, the villagers said. They had actually connected to the city water system years ago. The winterbourne water was kept for tea, coffee or making raspberry wine. The villagers savored the sweetly ferrous taste. Some enterprising locals had tried to copy it by adding chemicals to the city water. “We can sell, it you see.” “But it’s not ethical.” They snorted. “Who cares — is anything real anymore?” But in fact it didn’t taste right and had a strange, foul color. They abandoned the project.
Mazie finished her tea. A freezing fog had moved in. Particles of moist air froze in the light of the street lamp.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Connie draws upon her experiences as a former U.S. diplomat in her short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her novel-in-progress is loosely based on her grandparents’ lives as Belarusan immigrants in the coal mining community of early 20th century America.