In the Middle of the Fields

by Mary Lavin

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1351

Part 1

"In the Middle of the Fields" begins with a description of a recently widowed, unnamed woman in her house in Ireland. Surrounded by fields, she feels her house is like an island but admits that she is less lonely on the land where she and her husband had lived together. Nonetheless, she often experiences anxiety during the day, and she is always fearful at night. The townspeople have talked about how she must be feeling about her loss, but she insists that they do not know. When they tried to talk to her about their own memories of her husband, she became annoyed since their reminiscences triggered her own.

When the story opens, the widow is concerned about the grass in the fields that needs topping (trimming), and she worries about how much it will cost. Ned, the old farm hand, suggests that Bartley Crossen, a neighboring farmer, could do the job, noting that her husband "knew him well." Initially, she cannot recall who Crossen is, but then she declares that she has seen him but never met him. When Ned tells her that he will set up a meeting, she insists he come before dark because she does not like to be downstairs at night. She locks herself and her children in their rooms after dark, dreading a knock at the door. Ned tries to reassure her that no one would pay her a visit at night and insists that she is safe. He makes sure that whenever he needs to come at night to tend to something on her farm, he announces himself as he comes up the walk so that she will not be afraid. When he does come, she is grateful to have someone in the house.

Crossen arrives at the house with Ned before dark while his wife waits outside in the car. As they discuss the job, Crossen looks out over the fields to the riverbank that he claims he knows well. He tells them that when he was young, he courted a girl there, who the woman later discovers became his first wife. Crossen tells her that he can do the job in the morning and that he will be fair with the price. As Crossen leaves, Ned whispers to her, "he's a man you can trust."

After Crossen departs, Ned tells her about Crossen's first wife, Bridie Logan, who, he claims, was "as wild as a hare" and "mad with love." The two married young, and soon after Bridie got pregnant. Too soon after the baby was born, Bridie decided to help Crossen milk the cows. When he told her that it would be too far for her to walk, she jumped on her bike and pedaled out of the gate. As she got to the bottom of the hill, she turned the bike around and started "pedaling madly up the hill again." Half way up the hill, she started to bleed internally, and later that day she died.

Ned notes that the baby was strong and that Crossen's second wife, who had more sons with Crossen, did a fine job of raising it. When the woman asks Ned whether Crossen has forgotten about Bridie, Ned tells her that he has and that it will be the same with her. But she shakes her head "doubtfully."

At night in her room, the widow wonders if Crossen has really forgotten Bridie. As she brushes her hair, Crossen knocks on the door, which fills her with fear. When Crossen calls out, she recognizes his voice and comes down the stairs to let him in. He apologizes for disturbing her so late when he sees her with her hair down and in her dressing gown. He tells her he has never seen such "a fine head of hair" and that it makes her look like a young girl. When she smiles with pleasure at his compliment but sharply exclaims that she does not feel like one, he responds that he can see she is a sensible woman.

They begin to discuss cutting the grass, and Crossen tells her that cutting the tops off costs him as much as cutting hay. He admits that she does not get an immediate return from cutting the grass, but she will in the long run as it will be better for her cows to eat. When she angrily disagrees, he insists that he made "a special price" for her, especially because she does not now have a man to take care of the farm for her. She declares that she can take care of the farm herself to which he responds, "that's what all women like to think!"

When he tells her that he would like to do the job later in the week rather than the next day, she gets angry, insisting that by the time he gets around to it, her fields will be ruined. He admires her authoritative stance but tries to maintain his position, insisting it will be only a few days. When she stands firm, he gives in. As he prepares to leave, he tells her that he hopes that she does not think he was trying to take advantage of her and that no one in the community thought that she would stay there after her husband died.

He then asks her if she gets lonely at night. When she corrects him with "you mean frightened?" he says yes, but assures her that she is safe there. She admits that she is "scared to death sometimes," which makes her go up to her room so early in the evening. When he responds sympathetically, she asks him to wait until she goes upstairs and then turn off the light as he leaves. He is genuinely troubled about her fears and asks whether anyone could stay with her but then realizes that that would not work out.

As she "somewhat reluctantly" starts up the stairs, he calls to her, asking how to put out a light. She comes down again saying she will do it. While he blocks the doorway, Crossen grabs her arm and inquires "are you ever lonely—at all?" and then asks for a kiss. He tries to get a better hold of her, but she wrenches her arm free and escapes out into the lighted hall. As she begins to laugh, he appears "pathetic in his sheepishness," which she is surprised to admit touches her. She tells him that he should not feel badly, that she really did not mind, but he is miserable, claiming "I don't know what came over me." She tries to make him feel better, but he remains dejected. After an awkward silence, she tells him that she will see him in the morning, but he does not immediately go. He feels the need to talk about the incident, insisting that he did not mean any disrespect. He cannot understand why he did it and wonders what his wife would say if she knew. She tells him not to tell her.

Crossen muses about how good his wife Mona has been, how she took care of his and Bridie's son from the time he was a week old. He admits that he is grateful to her as he remembers Mona taking the baby all day, each day to her house next door, bringing him back for a while in the evening, and then taking him back to sleep with her. She helped him become "a living man" again. Eventually he decided that he should marry her, which would make things more convenient. When Crossen insists that he has shamed Mona, the widow argues that what happened has nothing to do with her, adding that it has nothing to do with any of them except Bridie. She demands that he blame her, and with a note of hysteria claims, "you thought you could forget her" but he could not. After her outburst, Crossen leaves without looking back while exclaiming, "God rest her soul." Lavin does not make it clear whether he was referring to Bridie or the widow.

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