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Down to the Bear Bone
About the Author: C.L. Cobb is published in magazines such as American Iron, Outlaw Biker, Woman’s World, and Mystery Weekly Magazine, and she has written nonfiction such as Crime Scene Chemistry for the Armchair Sleuth.

I’m a farm girl, through and through. Loyal, steadfast, and strong. I stand by my family, through thick and thin, even when things go wrong.

Even terribly wrong.

Even terribly, terribly wrong.

Sam glared down from our second story window, but I didn’t care. After forty years of marriage, glares bounced off me like the morning sun.

We’d met at agricultural college, where my parents sent me to learn bookkeeping and accounting—knowledge as necessary to farming as tractors and rain—and to find a husband like Sam who appreciated value over beauty.

But after many wedding toasts, my new husband declared he was city bound and we were moving away from the farm. Thus Samuel became Sam and learned to play golf, but I remained Maggie, committed to raising my family with a love of the land.

After my first son was born, conceived in the exuberance of honeymoon, I erected a shed in our backyard, cleared space for a truck patch, dug a pit for composting, and planted fruit-bearing trees.

Then my second son was born, followed by a third—

And I learned the error of my ways.

Suburban boys want to play soccer, not dig in the dirt. Weeding couldn’t compete with computers, cellphones, and videogames. Sam insisted I fit in with the other mothers, so I wore designer sweats and running shoes to the market. I entertained Sam’s business contacts, attended school functions, and volunteered.

The shed became storage for broken furniture and bags of potting soil bought with good intentions. The truck patch became a graveyard of old plastic toys, my compost pit became a pile of random refuse, and my fruit trees dropped fruit that rotted on the ground. Neighbors on both sides opted for privacy fences, and Sam wanted me to build a barrier in our backyard too. But the backyard abutted a broad strip of land assigned to the city as a utility easement—which was universally ignored as someone else’s problem—and became a suburban jungle with neglect. I didn’t feel it was worth the effort to seal it off.

But Sam insisted and I resisted until I finally bought rhododendrons for a hedge. But before I planted them the poor things languished in their pots for years, victims of my resentment.

My boys, however, flourished. The youngest went into business like his father, the middle boy studied law, and my oldest, Moses, now known as Moe, became a therapist specializing in substance abuse.

Then, one night, after dinner, Sam announced he was going to retire.

“They gave me two options,” he told me. “I could draw a large amount from my pension while I’m alive, and you’d get nothing when I die. Or I could go for a lower amount, but the payments would continue after my death.”

I had a bad feeling.

“I went for the first option,” he said.

My heart sank and he must have seen it in my eyes.

He laughed. “Aw, come on. I want to spend the money while I can! If you had my pension, you’d hoard it for some imaginary disaster. When I die, you’ll have my insurance and the government dole. You can fix up the house and sell it. Move back to the farm. The house will be your pension. You’ll be fine.”

I walked outside and looked up at the night sky. I loved my house, but it wasn’t worth his pension. The walls had dents from high-spirited boys and needed paint. The front yard had more bald spots than Sam’s head. The weeds were having a party in the back, the shed was imploding from neglect, and the attic was exploding from forty years of yard sales that never happened.

But what could I do? Leave Sam and force the courts to give me half? I couldn’t do that. I had sworn to be his helpmate for life.

Besides he’d fight—not for me, but for the money—which would end up in the lawyers’ pockets.

No, if this house were my retirement, I needed to protect what was mine.

I took off my sweatsuit and jogging shoes and put on coveralls and boots.

As an old farm girl, I was not without skills. I repainted the house, reseeded the front yard, and power-washed forty years of grime off the brick.

Sam grumbled but didn’t say much until I turned to the backyard.

“I said you could fix up the house when I died! Do I look dead?”

“Only in the mornings, dear,” I said with practiced concern.

This story appears in our AUG 2023 Issue
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