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By Jason Endfield © 2005
Each winter as a girl, Reba would look forward to the river freezing over. Although it brought with it deep, frozen days and long dark hours, the winter would also provide the prospect of skating on the river.
Gradomsk was a small hamlet, several miles from the nearest big town and, in her childhood, Reba had just two friends nearby - Tomasz who was a little older than her and Hana who was a similar age and was Reba's best friend.
Every winter when the ice on the river was sufficently thick, Reba and Hana would don the crude skates that Reba's father had fashioned for them from wood and they would skate and have fun on the ice.
Several years later, Hana was to marry Tomasz and they left Gradomsk for the big city many miles away. Reba had remembered that the feeling of losing her two friends at the same time was the hardest thing she had ever had to bear. A few letters had arrived during the following months from Hana and then they stopped. Reba had felt so alone then. She remained in Gradomsk and eventually inherited the small farm that her parents had, in turn, inherited from Reba's Grandfather.
Unmarried, Reba had had to employ labourers to help her keep the farm going. The years had come and gone and so it was that Reba found herself alone again at the age of eighty. She often chided herself for not having left the hamlet years earlier when she might have made something of herself or even met a man who could have become her husband.
Now it was all too late. Now Reba felt her life had passed her by. It seemed to her that somebody else in some other place had been wrongly allocated the life that Reba should, by rights, have lived. Reba had worked the farm year in and year out because she had to. It wasn't her choice; her parents had left it to her and with no brothers or sisters, she had, at the beginning, felt a duty to carry on the hard work that her family had put into the farm. In later years, when she had thought about selling up and leaving the hamlet, nobody at all wanted to buy this small, out of the way, life consuming place that she had now called home for eighty long years.
She was alone for much of the year. The other villagers had drifted away and now only returned in the warmer summer months. And so Reba had become stuck in this cycle of unfulfilling hard work.
Now at eighty, she yearned for those long ago years when she could have run away and made a different life for herself. There was no doubt in her mind that it would have been worth any risk. What could be worse than living alone at this time in her life? Living in a small, cold house in a tiny hamlet and still trying to keep a long dead farm running with no hope of anything changing.
Reba knew that she would die here alone, never having accomplished anything, never having even tried. She felt she had not only let herself down but G-d too in some way - life is surely much much too precious to have spent it all here in one forgotten little village that even G-d may not have remembered. "If only," she would mutter to herself often, "if only I had taken a chance! Gone away from here! What could be worse than this place? Even the Lord Himself would run from this place!"
Now another dark winter had descended. The river had frozen over, the ground was solid with deep, penetrating frost and there was nothing to do but keep warm until the spring. Reba had enough food - if there had been any blessings in her life, Reba was aware that she had never had to go without food. She had most years managed to grow enough grain and vegetables for her small appetite and that of her few animals - some chickens and a couple of goats over the years.
This was one of the coldest nights of the winter and Reba had gone to bed in several layers of whatever clothes she could find. Alone in her small dark bedroom she had drifted into a fitful sleep of dreams and visions. She awoke in the night with a start and was surprised that the room felt a little warmer. Blinking, her eyes adjusted slowly to the dark and, with only her head peering out from beneath the layers of her old thick blankets, she saw what appeared to be a small man standing at the foot of the bed looking at her.
Reba gasped and could not say a word. As she stared, terrified at this small fellow, he began to talk in a strange, high-pitched voice that crackled as he spoke. "You must do it!" said the man, his image still obscure in the dark; all that Reba could see was his silhouette; "you must do it!" he repeated. He appeared to be no more than three feet tall.
Reba, bolstered by the warmth that had filled the room, let go of the blanket that she had been clutching tightly. She looked at the man, trying to decide what he was, for he was certainly not of this realm. A demon? she wondered, a sprite from the woods? She had heard of both but never in her life seen either. Perhaps she was still dreaming?
It was possible - some people live a whole life unaware that they lie asleep in a bed somewhere. To them, the dream is as real as life is to the living and who can say which is really the true existence? The figure spoke again; "you must do it now - look!" The voice was so strange, it resonated wth a kind of desperate excitement that was both terrifying and encouraging at the same time.
Reba got out of bed and approached the little figure. As she reached out to touch it, the little being dissolved with a noise that sounded like rushing water.
Reba went to her dressing table and lit a candle. On the floor where the creature had been standing she could see a pair of wooden skates just like the ones her father had made for her all those years ago. Without hesitation, Reba purposefully put on the skates over her thick bedsocks.
Carefully, she trod out of the bedroom into the tiny hall and unlocked the large wooden front door. It was snowing heavily outside.
With small deliberate steps, Reba walked through the snow and down to the river. With one large stride she was on the ice.
Through the driving snow, two figures, hand in hand, skated away into the distance.
Jason Endfield is a UK based Jewish writer. He can be contacted via: firstname.lastname@example.org
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