Mary Lavin's "In the Middle of the Fields" is often referred to as one of the author's "widow stories," a group of stories that Lavin wrote in the late 1960s that reflect her own struggles with widowhood. Patricia K. Meszaros, in her article on Lavin for Critique, writes that her widowhood "informs" this work "in her searching and compassionate portrayals of loneliness." "In the Middle of the Fields" is one of the most gripping stories in this group in its focus on the efforts of a recently widowed woman to resist the pull of the past in order to function in the present.
The unnamed woman is determined to run the farm herself after her husband dies. During the day, she demonstrates an independent spirit that suggests she will ultimately succeed in her attempt to establish a new life and identity for herself. Yet in the evening, her fear of being alone makes her more vulnerable to her memories. An encounter one night with Bartley Crossen, a neighboring farmer whom she employs to cut her grass, highlights the tenuous balance she has struck between past and present and the sometimes overwhelming sense of loss she experiences. In this intimate and sensitive story, Lavin reveals the painful consequences of death on those left behind.
"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...
(The entire section is 1,564 words.)