They prepared to leave in the morning when it still felt like night.
Four women in cloaks and hoods gathered around the heavy door. Within their fold stood a child barely seven years of age. Standing closest to the door was Mother Prudence, or so they called her, and she was the elder who had arranged this meeting. Her grey eyes made contact with the face of each woman and nodded before leaning over and kissing small Anna May’s forehead. An unlit lantern rested at her side to be used later. Another nod and the door was opened.
Hurried legs in long skirts shuffled through the soft fog. Anna May’s legs were shorter and she acquired assistance every few seconds to keep up. She thought it odd that, even through the dark and the fog, her sisters feared exposure and their eyes darted around continually. No candles in windows were visible and the sun was barely on the rise – they were safe.
Eventually their weary breaths and aching legs could calm. Twigs began to snap under their feet and Mother Prudence announced they were nearing the wood’s edge. The lantern clanged about her side as she fetched a match. A creaky small door was opened to expose the wick. A strike. A flash. The flamed steadied itself and rested within the lantern. Little Anna May’s face was illuminated and the sisters all saw the worry that clung there.
“You must be brave my little Anna May,” her sister with the long red hair whispered from underneath her hood. Then, from her cloak, she produced a small doll of yarn and cloth and added, “We made this for you. Your sisters and I did.”
A smile crept from underneath Anna May’s fear and she hugged her new doll tight. Mother Prudence gave a nod and a look of approval at the sister that went along with it. Indeed she was young, but Anna May had seen that look from the mother before. The glow of the lantern revealed stains upon the doll and stitches where the fabric had been once torn. This was no new doll.
“Let us begin.” Mother Prudence announced. The sisters fell into a single file line. Anna May walked behind the lady with the lantern with one sister’s hands on her shoulders, prodding her forward.
Along their travel, the sun slowly crept up into the wood and Anna May was now being carried by her sister. She had grown tired but her doll remained clutched in her small hands. The sway of her sister’s hips as they trodded lulled her to sleep.
“Sisters!” a distant voice cried with delight. Anna May jerked awake. Her heart pounded. Deep in the wood there were more women gathered. All in the same cloaks. More sisters. They met each other with hugs and kisses upon each other’s cheeks. Bushels of flowers rested behind them. And behind the flowers stood the man who hummed a song.
Anna May stood silent against a tree, always keeping an eye on the man, and the sisters rehearsed their lines. They repeated after each other where exactly they picked the flowers, recited songs they would say they sang in unison on their walk and even practiced their laughter when telling of a sister’s incident involving a briar bush.
“Anna May?” the man called with a gentle wave of his hand. He was grey, and his features wrinkled but he wore very fine clothes. Mother Prudence gave the man a nod and his shiny shoes carefully shuffled to the tree.
“That’s a nice little doll you have there.”
“Do you like dolls?”
She wouldn’t look up from the ground.
“Are you afraid, Anna May? Don’t worry if you are. I would be too. We don’t know each other yet,” He gave a kind smile. “My name is Mr. Manley but you can call me Timothy. Your sisters tell me you lost your mommy and your daddy. You must be very sad. I lost mine as well. So, I’ve been sad too. I’m hoping that maybe I can take care of you. We will have lots of fun together. Promise!”
Anna May continued to be silent and the man continued to hum his song.
“My little sweet girl,” Mother Prudence sighed with her hand lifting Anna May’s chin, “Mr. Manley-”
“Thomas.” he interrupted politefully.
“Thomas,” she continued, “has come to take care of you. Now, we don’t have much time, so be a sweet thing like always and give him a hug”
Crouching low, his arms opened wide and Mother Prudence insisted her in his direction. Anna May obliged the man but as she stepped away from Mother Prudence she felt the doll be taken from her grasp. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Mother Prudence tuck it under her cloak.
It was time to go.
The flowers may not have been for Anna May but one sister made her a crown and rested it upon her white blonde hair as she stood there next the man, her hand in his. Everyone smiled and some even tossed flower petals in the air.
They were celebrating, joyfully.
“Goodbye, Anna May!” the Sisters repeated over and over. Eventually their boisterous farewells, along with their dark cloaks, disappeared in the distance. Some went to the south and others to the west. Timothy led her north, humming along the way.
As the sun warmed the earth and the summer breeze rattled the green leaves, Anna May began to feel content. It was a beautiful day and the man – Mr. Manley – Timothy – or whichever – had a somewhat soothing singing voice. From time to time, while humming, he would release a word or two though never truly audbile.
“How did you lose your mom and dad?” she finally spoke to him.
“Breaking the silence eh?” He chuckled. “My mother and father got very sick a very long time ago and they didn’t live long after that. How about you my sweet Anna May?”
“My mommy and daddy aren’t sick. They told me to stay near but I got lost and-” she was cut off by his hand across her mouth and a cheerful grin.
“Let’s talk about something else! How about it?” He insisted, “Ah! Looky here!” They had reached a clearing where an old rusted truck sat. Like a gentleman, he opened the door for the child and helped boost her into the passenger’s seat. While he helped with her safety belt, he continued to sing and Anna May asked another question, “Timothy what song are you singing?”
“My dear! It’s one I wrote this very morning on my way to meet you!” He proclaimed loudly in the wood, “Would you like to hear it?”
A silent nod allowed him to continue. He slammed the truck door and made his way around the truck. Leaning into the open window on the driver’s side, he serenaded Anna May with a smile from ear to ear and the most boisterous of voices.
They say she’s beautiful
They say she’s sweet
Anna May! My Anna May!
So I sing this song
And I move my feet
To prepare for our wedding day!