The vast blueness of the sky frightens a woman to death.
Out here most of the world is sky with just a little strip of land running around the bottom. Sometimes that little bit of land isn’t enough, especially when the sky… (PAUSE…UNCERTAINTY…SIGH)
Tillie Sweet lived in this house. (SIGHS) Aw, me. Tillie came from the big city of London England where there is more land than sky. Just off the boat, she married Willaker Sweet. People round here called them Tillie and Willie. Anyways, Willie moved her out here to the middle of the big sky, the biggest sky she ever saw. Tillie Sweet had never experienced anything so big, so blue, so unforgiving, so overpowering as the prairie sky. It became her prison but one that she eventually escaped.
It was during her second summer out here when the isolation, the homesickness and the desperation of her daily life overtook Tillie. It sent her running, running and running and running and running across the open prairie. She was running from the sky, trying to escape it. She ran and ran until her lungs burst and she fell face down in a clover pasture, never to arise.
When they found her, she was smiling. (SIGHS) Aw, me. (WHISPERS) It’s happened before. I know for truth, it has happened before.
(NORMAL VOICE) The night Tillie died, a thunderstorm came through here and lightning struck the big old cottonwood tree that grew by the Sweet house. (WHISPER) Some say lightning struck it three times that night. (NORMAL VOICE) In the morning all that was left was a jagged stump with a sharp tip, like a finger pointing toward heaven. (SIGHS) Aw, me.
An elderly woman, with great resignation, recounts this tale of prairie desperation. She speaks slowly, deliberately, with a world weariness that indicates her age and experience. She wants, needs to tell the story but there are taboos about it, its horror too vast to bear alone. She whispers two lines that are especially chilling but she gets the story told. The story involves conflict with the elements, resolution and the narrator’s familiarity with the feeling, suggesting perhaps she had similar urges.
Sadly, this is based on true events that occurred on the Canadian prairies as pioneers filled up the west. Perhaps an extreme form of agoraphobia or something inexplicable and individual, running yourself to death was an option for a few pioneer women. Although not widespread and rarely affecting men, running became a fact of some pioneer family’s lives.
The possible reasons or explanations for this behavior are laid out by the storyteller. Her burden of knowing what happened to Tillie Sweet expresses itself as fear in her voice. The script is explicit with directions.
The dramatic moment of Tillie’s death combines several small audio effects including time lapse clouds that speed up, her heart beating faster and faster, her frantic gasping and her feet running through the clover.
The end of the story explains the image of the tree stump, a satisfactory yet chilling end to the tale. The woman’s whispers must be convincing and she must know why she is whispering. Her world weariness is unabated by telling the story and her heartfelt sighs persist.
As ever, Nora Nordin-Fredette did a great job of capturing the sadness and world weariness of the narrator and the peculiarity of story.
This house is located near what remains of Mountain Road, Manitoba in the rolling uplands of Riding Mountain just off Highway #357. This highway offers some of Manitoba’s most stunning vistas. If you are eastbound, the road ends at Hwy #5 with a wonderful descent off the Manitoba Escarpment onto the old lake bed.
I was struck by the exposed bones of the house but it was the pointy stump and its location next to the house that drove my imagination.