Maxims in Winter

Ida walked the length of her backyard in old tennis shoes, holding a thin sweater tight against her ribs. The dew on the grass made her toes cold. She planted a foot at the edge of the muddy plot she had gardened and leaned in over the garden, trying to find a bright spot at the center of the mess.

There lay the cukes, prickly and pithy, bittering themselves. A few beans hung limp in thinning leaves, runners tangled on a trellis made of rusty chicken wire. The bottom half of her last ripening tomato had been gnawed and left to ruin, thanks to the groundhog that lived under the empty doghouse at the far end of the yard. She had tried poisoning his burrow in the spring but all she got was a pile of black moles. Moles had eaten the grubs that ingested the poison and then died in a heap of star-nosed little bodies, an organizing of corpses, which she attributed to the neighbor’s tomcat who didn’t even have the grace to eat one and die. The cat was a daily eyesore. The groundhog haunted only when he pleased and ruined only what interested him. He was a ghost she did not know how to get rid of.

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Lois Wolfe is a West Virginia native who now lives in Florida, where she has led the Marathon Writers Workshop since 2015. She is the author of two novels, The Schemers (Bantam, 1991) and Mask of Night (Doubleday/Bantam, 1993), and numerous pieces of short fiction, poetry, essays and book reviews.

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