The day was dry and hot, but the brook was cool. The women all bunched their skirts around their thighs, knotted them in place, and waded into the brook. Some of them carried baskets and others washboards. The brook was perfect for doing the wash. Large rocks littered the whole brook, so that they could rest the baskets on top of them, or set the whole washboard against the rocks and not worry about them falling over.
Lorna loved going into the woods. Other girls might shirk the duty, but she never did. She loved the smell of the water (other girls said that the water didn’t smell, but of course it did). The other girls said that there were beasts in the woods, bullywogs and will o’ the wisps and bugbears and death dogs and trolls and wolves and bandits. So what if there were? Wouldn’t that be neat?
Her cousin Lately set her washboard down. Lorna set the basket on top of a rock nearby. They set themselves apart from the other women. It was just the two of them, and the shade of the trees. Lorna could feel the rocks under her feet and between her toes. She could feel the dirt wiggling under the current. She could feel the tension of the ground above the river bank, the tree roots snuggling into the ground, the leaves swaying in the breeze (“but there is no breeze Lorna” “there is always a breeze Kaetlan”).
Lately began whistling. It was a bird song. Lorna recognized it. She didn’t know exactly what bird it was (who cared) but she knew what the song was about. The bird didn’t want anyone on his tree, except for ladies, obviously, but the ladies had to know that it was his tree, but they were welcome, but you know, it was his tree. Lately was so good at whistling.
They pulled the clothes one-by-one from the basket and rubbed it into the washboard. They didn’t speak. Lately just whistled, and Lorna just listened. A bird called back to Lately, demanding who she thought she was, this was his tree and his forest, she better apologize and get out of his way. But Lately just kept whistling the same song. Lorna grinned.
The bird became frustrated. Did she want to fight? (well actually he was using the second person, he was saying you, but recounting this, I must use the third person, she)
Lately kept whistling the same song.
Lorna giggled. Lately smiled at her, but she kept whistling. Lorna sometimes wondered if Lately understood bird song. She was so good at whistling.
Lorna heard the bird fly. She turned to look at him. He was a blue-chested songbird of some kind (who cared). He hopped from tree and shrub to tree and shrub, looking for the intruder. Lorna tapped Lately and pointed to him. Lately frowned, confused. She stopped whistling.
The bird hopped around, looking around. He whistled a few notes. He called the intruder a coward, told the intruder that next time he would get what was coming to him, and to never come back. Then he flew back up to his tree.
“That was a pretty boring bird. Why did you show me that bird?” asked Lately.