August 15, 1942


“Off to tend the cows,” he said,
glad for the company of his wife this time,
who, pregnant more often than not,
was finally free to join him.

How many mornings
had she watched him from the window,
striding across the green meadow,
till he reached the curve of the glacier
and disappeared into the vastness of the world.

That’s where the cows lived in summer,
across the glacier, high in the Alps,
browsing as they pleased on fulsome grass
and tiny nodding flowers
that turned their milk sweet and golden.

Oh, it was lovely up there, he told her,
eagles, wild sheep, marmots tame as dogs.
They could have a picnic!

He had made her boots, beautiful boots,
with thick soles and ample tread.

For safety’s sake,
he must have taken the same route each time,
especially this time.

They could have stepped together on a skim of ice
that did not look at all suspicious.

More likely she slipped, not used to the ways of ice,
and when he tried to save her fall,
he too went reeling, spinning alongside her,
the two of them plunging into a chasm
so dark and deep
they were gone without a sound.

It was a resort worker who found them,
two patches of black he had not noticed before.
The first thing he saw were the boots,
perfect against the snow, as if they’d been worn yesterday,
and then the shrunken limbs inside them,
and then the head of a woman.

There was a book, too, and a bottle of wine,
a pocket watch that went on without them,
at least for a day or two.

She knew they’d be found,
the daughter said,
and so she would wear white to the funeral,
for white is the color of hope,
which she never lost.

She did not curse the mountains,
as many would assume.
That glacier held her parents for 75 years,
long enough for faith to find them.

Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

10 thoughts on “August 15, 1942

  1. Thank you, Jean, for your so moving words and story. Please never stop sharing your immense writing talent with us who so revel in your words.

    1. Janet, I am grateful beyond words for your loyal readership, which sustains me in moments of doubt, and for your friendship, which is invaluable.

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