Two were boys and two were girls, brothers and sisters. All of them were sharp and burnished at the cheek and collarbone. Two of them slept in the loft, and two below.
They lived alone outside of town, and their steps were quick across the small lot between the barn and the cabin. When it was warm, they ate dinner at a table they pulled outside into the yard.
Occasionally, at the end of the day, they would break off into pairs. Summer evenings gave good light until quite late. By then even the small work, the work of corners and undersides, was done. Often the girls would walk to a nearby field, or the two younger ones would be left behind to brush the horse to a dull gleam that would protect them all as they slept.
They'd quit caring about one another for a time in the spring after their parents died, but they eventually healed by caring only about each other. At first caring entailed making sure everyone had a bit of food, but they slowly got better at it.
A trapper by trade, I was puzzled by their predicament when I first started watching them. They were strong, and yet they were dying. But then the younger girl spent a day pouring tallow over string to make candles. A while later the boys helped the older girl pack cut meat into crocks. Eventually they started coming out of the house in dresses and shirts that had been mended. They were fully used by their lives. More needed to be done than they could hope to finish.
The older sister spoke the least and worried the most. She was urgently dark-haired. If she headed off between the trees after dinner, the older boy would follow shortly after. He ran ahead to jump in the water, but she'd sit on the riverbank most of the time. When she did slowly slide down the bank and climb in, she looked as if she were being dragged.
By the end of summer, whenever the two youngest got left behind, they'd go sit in the barn together, refusing for a moment to do any work. The girl wandered around, lightly touching a harness and then a shovel. The boy sat on the stool and talked, even though it was clear she wasn't listening. I imagine the first time she walked across the floor and sat on top of him, and I think she must've stared past him as if it were impolite but there was only this one stool and she needed to sit down.
It's hard to admit how often I was there that summer and well into the winter. Most evenings, every afternoon. Several times, the older boy spoke to me about keeping my distance, but I gave them much-needed wood and meat. He told his family they should just ignore me and I'd go away.
Sometimes I didn't even look at them. I'd lie on the ground behind the cabin and listen to their talking. I was in danger of letting life become stranger and more powerful than it should be. I knew I'd have to move into town soon. I'd need to start grooming myself. I'd need to learn when interactions were over and how to respond promptly to a doorbell.
Before I left I wanted to tell the youngest girl it was alright to be overwhelmed by an event you didn't see coming. Look up at the tips of the pines trees circling over your head, nothing much has changed since the beginning of time. Things that happened once or even twice don't leave any mark on the surface of the day.
They'd needed a creature to forgive, so they accepted me. The five of us survived together that year. She must have understood. She left a plate out in the snow at night. It made me into an animal, but it fed me.