The Bearded Farmer and the Hill Wife have been happy enough at their little mountain farm for the past eleven years.
In the early days, his beard was short, dapper. Someone who knew about beard fashions would have called it a Van Dyke beard. The Hill Wife was slender and sparkle -eyed. She liked the Van Dyke, it reminded her of the small city in which she had grown up, with its cafes and trams. The Van Dyke Beard, however, was no substitute for Turkish coffee and conversations about books — in fact, she realized what she had given up when she moved to the mountain farm and the Bearded Farmer’s beard grew out.
Now that the beard is brambly and owl-infested, like the upside-down mane of a lion, she sees nothing in it of sophisticated life she had dreamed of as a girl — she sees only the wild briars of the hillside and the mourning geese.
She calls her mother. Fine. Doing well. Miss you. Died last year? How sad. Yes, we must, soon.
The Hill Wife has been wandering farther and farther from the farmhouse of late. Her mouth is downturned, her eyes are dull. Away from the farm she finds the same wilderness repeated over and over — tree, rock, beehive.
The Bearded Farmer knows nothing of this. He is carving a thing out of a small piece of wood. This occupies his mind more or less completely. Hello, dear, do you want to know how the carving went today? No? All right, then.
The Hill Wife cannot stand to be near the house. To enter it – to feel the close damp of the kitchen, the sleeping body smell of the bedroom – is nearly unthinkable. To embrace the Bearded Farmer, with his sighing forest of a beard, his keening sea of a beard – she puts the thought out of her mind.
A voice floats up from the well, a voice repeating the word “cauliflower” and sometimes the word “blindness.” At this, the Hill Wife’s heart curls up inside her and she only wishes to be gone.
The Bearded Farmer is calling for his Hill Wife. He only wants a fried egg and a kiss. Where she has gone he does not know and will never understand.