I shan’t look up. I use my fingers to sew and I move them rapidly. He glances down into my face as the softness of the candlelight warms me. Our congregation is blessed to have Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale here in Boston.
I, a mere youth, took to fancy the warmth of Roger’s offer of matrimony, for he was my superior in intellect, wisdom, and wealth. The safe hearth his home provided gave me all the reasons I needed to marry him. As an advancement of Roger’s age took away his desire, I resigned myself to the comfort of conversation.
The Reverend took this confession with little shock contrary to my fears. Tis a relief to confide in such a man of upmost character.
Arthur began to instruct me in my ignorance not long after Roger’s voyage across the Atlantic began. As a member of the church, the attention seemed not out of the ordinary at first.
This, the third month since we began our course of instruction, has proven to be the most wonderful of all my years. Arthur, he has insisted I pray call him Arthur, has moved his finger across my hand again. I shall not give in to the enjoyment of the closeness of his finger to the palm of my hand as he twists it as to see the way I stitch the letters. My vanity must not stir, and the beauty of my needlepoint speaketh for my heart. The letter “A” only a seamstress of skill could create is my silent profession of desire.
My face blushes as he asks me. “Hester, pray tell, what it doth represent?”
I see his eyes full of fire as he speaketh. My finger trembles as he caresses my palm. The letter I hold presses dearer to my heart than my thumb. The fancy scarlet color as bright as the hottest embers give his name new meaning. The letter “A” has only one desire in my breast, for Arthur to forgetteth his duty to the church and become a mortal man. Mortal man of Adam’s heritage, to see the woman before him as part of him as the rib to which she was formed forth! Two are one and flesh will not deny my churning for his touch!
The slowness of his response brings forth a sorrow too harrowing for me to carry as a bundle! His love denied, his truth revealed. My scarlet letter as rich as fancy will be cast aside by his collar!
Lo, Arthur takes his hand and moves it to my head and I breathe rapidly as he loosens the pin which holds my hair fast. As my hair falls, my lover kisses my lips as the candle burns. He stoops low and his sweetest sigh tells me his name has been burned in my breast.
When my husband Roger was reported lost at sea, I knew tis meant he had gone to his reward. When my Reverend spoke at his memorial, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” I knew he had the heart of a man close to God’s love.
Four months passed since the vows we severed brought forth the child in my womb. No longer shall I hide the secret from the townsfolk. Out of love God giveth desire, and from our love springs forth his child and my heart will never deny him. Henceforth, the church will turn against me and band me an adulterer. Tis truth pray I shall not deny, but his name shall never part from my lips. The last call he maketh upon our secret rendezvous, my heart speaketh truth again. Long will I live with my sin hidden. I spoketh the fear and folly for I have fallen far from God! My Arthur insists on his punishment being observed, yet I reproach him! Two to live a burden would break my heart, and secrets are meant to be held in reserve. My lover shakes his head and I plead!
“If I bear the shame alone, I feel atonement for my sin!” My Arthur turns his ear to listen. Methinks he has heard! He breaks down with his gentle hands placed into mine. As I kiss them with softness, I feel them tremble.
“No, dearest, do not weep,” I sayeth, “For my joy is to be born through labor’s pains. The child shall be my pearl and our love will bear her name.”
He kisses me with closed lips. Was it my imagination? I felt the genuine lack of warmth in his kiss.
Two years together, and lately he always followed me around. Yet, it's not like in the beginning when I loved his attention. Maybe I should leave him. We are predicable, me working and paying the bills, he is tinkering in the basement since he stopped working three months ago. Long ago we did everything together, from going to the grocery store, to weekends on wine tours. It happened to be lovely. Now, I doubted he'd glance up from the computer when I entered the room.
I go upstairs, like usual, when I got home from the hospital after my shift.
I jump in the shower. The warmth of the water washes away my doubt. I put on a robe and wrap my hair in a towel, which makes me look like a mummy.
I walk down the stairs and I hear a faucet left running. I go to the sink and turn the handle to close it. What's he up to now?
I see the back door is open a crack and I look outside and Dewy is moving the wood to the wood pile with his scarf flying in the wind. I shut the door and then I hear a sound. It's not a usual one, like the T.V. switching between programming and paid commercials, or the bark of a dog outside, or even the sound of the wind bellowing through the wooden frame of the house and down the fireplace. No, it's a gurgling.
I feel paralyzed as I listen. The I hear a banging. It's coming from the basement. Do I go down? I glance at Dewy and he is half way through the wood pile. Then I hear a loud boom. Is it the furnace? Maybe the water heater? My feet stick to the tile as I move to open the door to the basement. I flick on the light and I move down the stairs with a fast gallop.
I get to the water heater and I see nothing amiss. Then I turn to the furnace and I take a flashlight from Dewy's tool box and flash it to the back of the furnace. I hear another bang as the furnace grinds to a halt. The coolness of the cement floor and the grinding halt of the furnace make me shiver. It will never give us warmth again.
I flash the light to the very back of the machine, and as I peer through the spider webs, I see an adult skull set carefully behind the tubes. My heart flutters and skips wildly and I feel faint. The blood rushes from my face to my heart.
I must escape and I must go before he knows I've seen it. I turn to go and he's next to me. Dewy's long nails dig into my arm.
Sidney felt a trickle on his face, but with the rain falling it had to be expected. The shanty was a boarded up den of wood sent down on the riverboat long ago when the ghost town lived a fine life. Chipped pieces of timber flake off the walls and he kicked the dead cattle skull that sat on the floor boards. Once this beast, like the town, had a name.
The flooded roads forced him into the building when he realized his gas gauge was wrong and he ran out of gas on the highway that ran near the old town.
Inside the aged place, a photograph of a young woman sat on the shelf, perfectly preserved in the remains of the place nobody remembered.
Sidney took out his phone and tried to get a signal. He found none and sighed. When the rain stopped, he'd walk back to the highway and hitch hike. He remembered a town somewhere not too far back on the road he had taken.
The photo seemed to indicate the woman was someone important. Her eyes seemed soft as if they would live on in the two dimensional outtake of the forgotten three dimensional woman.
He took the etched glass framed picture into his hands. He brought her image closer to his eyes. The haunting glance that she gave the camera made him wonder who she was. The dress she wore draped her figure to her ankles. Yet despite the old fashioned clothing she had an appearance of a modern girl. His hand gripped the photograph and his index finger touched her face. It was almost a sacred act to touch her.
He felt the swirl of wind flow through the holes in the walls like the spirits made their way through that time to this one. The rain stopped all at once as if the ghosts demanded they be allowed to go back to sleep. He set the picture back onto the shelf. The dust from the neglected years turned into a film of slime.
With the rain gone, he went out of the building, happy to leave the place.
A mile down the road, he saw a welcome sight – a car. He waved vigorously as the sedan passed. The returned bright sunlight made the glass of the sedan glare.
He turned around to wait. He waited to see if the car would stop. After a moment of breath holding, the car pulled to the side of the road. He ran to the halfway rolled down window, still unable to see as the rays of the setting sun reached the metal car.
“What happened to you?” a female voice asked through the window.
“I ran out of gas. Please, could you give me a lift?” Sidney said.
“I don't give rides to strangers.”
“Oh, well.” Sidney looked up and over the roadway. “Can you call a tow truck for me? I'm a tourist – ”
He went around to the passenger side and got inside the car.
He turned to say thank you and stared at the woman. She was the woman in the photograph -- or at least she looked strikingly similar. Sidney felt a strange feeling, as if an arrow opened up his heart.
Sidney thought of the ghost town as he glanced into the rear view mirror.
Kent took off the protective ear plugs and heard the bobbing. The drill’s thrusting through solid rocks caused the thin bubbling of reddish liquid oozing up through the cracks and this began to concern him. Only a thermal suit came between him and the liquid.
He hated this job. His father signed him up for a five year stint the year he was born. Dad said he was lucky to get the work and by signing up his son, it meant the mining company would have a replacement if anything went wrong.
Kent walked over to the machine to manually shut off the switch in the control room. Move a little too much to the left, and he’d be crushed by the swinging drill, too much to the right and he wouldn’t reach the switch. It was supposed to be automated. Supposed to be and actually is were worlds apart. Just like he was from his mother. He recalled things, the softness of her voice, the way he could hug her forever and she wouldn’t complain. After his eighth birthday, he was sent to live on Voterra with his Dad at the mining town.
Voterra only had light from its sun every other day and for this reason wasn't considered a desirable location, but the people were there to make fast money and then get out.
There was a pledge that the company made which stated all of its employees were retired at thirty-five and would be free to settle into retirement with a pension. It was a lie. No many men or women made it to thirty.
Dad didn’t know it back when the fracking on Voterra started. He didn’t know a lot of things. The protective layer surrounding the planet was shrinking and some of the most learned men attributed it to the radioactive material that seeped up as the drill went down. But the yorkic rock vein produced a pure form of a natural Voterra gas that was sent to various planets. It was the most important discovery of a hundred years.
Two more workers approached, and with helmets. He hadn’t thought it was necessary. The signaled him to follow. His own work clothes were only a thin level of protection, and Kent’s boots had an inch of thick red slime sticking to them.
Fracking had made Voterra a boom planet among all the other planets in the Junior Galaxy Way where the colonies expanded. Rocket fuel was cheap.
His misery was to be stuck in a job his father had, and now he watched his father dying of radiation poisoning at the age of forty-four. Everyone blamed it on his old man's greed, nobody works to forty on this rig.
As Kent walked, the red goo began to drip off his boots. Kent and his coworkers walked out of the chopped up rocky pit and up a steep hill. The view beyond the mining site was spectacular. A bronze sky touched the ground covered with a jade colored plant called the rem. He loved the smell of the rem as the fragrance was sweet and faintly like the pine trees he knew from earth. A small flower-like plant grew among the rem and the site of early morning Voterra filled him with wonder.
To his left was the road leading into town, and the three workers hopped into a ship that transported them back to the company owned apartments. Working the night shift was a difficult deal for the worker as he would never enjoy a normal life, but with his dad so near the end of his life, Kent needed the extra pay in order to care for him.
Once his dad died, in a morbid sense, Kent would be free. Would he return to earth and try to find his mother? How would he support himself there? Once a miner always a miner.
Earth was so backwards. If he was born into any other planet system, then he would have been better off. No one of significance stayed back on earth. All the exciting opportunities were elsewhere and that little back woods place was rarely talked about. If Kent’s mother wasn’t a native earthling, then he would probably head out for Yewtown in the fifth galaxy where he might mine for double pay.
The company might give him permission to visit Earth after his dad died, and he would request the last known address for his mother who by all likelihood was dead.
He hopped off the ship as it slowed by his apartment complex, the approached the conveyer belt and the machine pulled him along as a chemical spray covered him. Everyone knew was a lie that the chemicals worked to stop the cancer most miners died from, but it was policy. Maybe it made those in charge sleep better at night. The red film around his boots washed down a drain.
He took the elevator up to the apartment and opened the door with his card. He saw the place was neat as a pin. He went to the drawer in the kitchen and pulled out a small laser. Kent whipped around to see two cleaning women he hadn’t authorized and had no money to pay, and they screamed as they looked at the laser.
“It's okay, Mister!” the taller one said.
“Why are you in my apartment?” Kent asked.
“Not yours anymore,” she said in a broken English as she picked up her bucket full of cleaners.
Kent lowered the laser. “What do you mean?”
The other woman handed him a computer tablet. He read that he was being evicted immediately.
“Where’s my dad?” he asked.
“They didn’t tell you?” the tall woman said. “Oh, I’m sorry. He…he’s dead. Died last night. The chip was removed and he was cremated probably an hour ago. The notice will have the address where you may pick up the remains. I’m sorry. They should have sent someone to tell you out at the fields."
Kent read the fine print and said, “Why should they care? Well, then I guess I’ll pack up my things and go.”
“I packed them already,” the woman said.
Kent looked up from the tablet. “I suppose when you’re out, you’re out.”
“I could talk to my boss--"
“No, it’s okay. I expected my father wouldn't live much longer. Maybe this is better. The notice says I’m entitled to ride the ship to any destination of my choosing as a part of my termination.”
“Where will you go?” the maid asked.
“I’m heading for Earth.”
“Earth? Well that’s a strange choice. Any particular reason?”
“Nope,” Kent lied.