September 23, 2014
Farmer Orville and I stood in the pasture outside of the horse corral in the early autumn afternoon and watched a weather front come through. It was marked by a wide contrail, northwest to southeast, and it moved ever so slowly, and subtle warmth pushed the chill, and my left shoulder warmed and then my scapula and then the right shoulder and my bare skin. Cirrus clouds fanned out across the sky, and the trees flipped their leaves northward. Orville rubbed the warmth on the cracks and wrinkles of his face, like it was baby oil.
“Don’t I look pretty?”
Actually, Grant Wood would have paid my friend a great sum to paint that iconic, Midwestern face. Orville and Quilt Queen might be the folks in “American Gothic.”
Reba the farm dog came running across the field, straight through a wide bed of ashes from the fire pit, the detritus painting her belly grey, the used smoke rising re-formed, and she leaped into my arms and wriggled like a puppy and licked my sunglasses and painted my face and shirt with ash, and I was happy with the gift.
Turkey vultures flew the weather front wind, gliding in a line as though they were cleared for landing at Lambert Field. A lone red-tail hawk soared above the corn.
I sprained my right foot walking on Sunday, so in awe of the sky and the white pelicans that I wandered off the trail and stepped into a hole. I was limping like Chester in search of Mr. Dillon.
“We worry about you.”
I allowed as how living alone has drawbacks—some of the time.
“Well, don’t go crazy and get married. It’ll cost you a lot less to hire help.”
I’ve been thinking about this Saturday, when high school classmates will gather at a bar in downtown Alton. Some are coming great distances for the reunion. I am shyer than wallpaper. As verbal as I am in print, I am equally silent in crowds—unless I’ve had some red wine. I cannot talk to unmarried women, and married women hold no promise—well, most married women—well, some married women.
“So far, tomatoes seem to cure you, so let’s go to the shed and get you some. What will happen when them tomatoes are gone?”
I am worse at men talk than women talk. I am a grave disappointment, in the social sense. I dress like a hobo, stare like a hawk (I’m always on duty) and memorize lines. I’m dangerous.
“Your wife will feed me chocolate chip cookies all winter,” I said.
“That is true, we will get fat together. I always look forward to cookie weight.”
How are you? What are you? Where are you? Why are you?
I am one with cirrus clouds, with ashen dogs, with old farmers whose faces are maps of two lane byways, with the mystery and myth of life, with Sir Arthur Eddington’s calculation of the ten viginsextillion atoms of the universe, with big bangs and small luck and irises and exploding blackberries and sax and violins and sex and violence and chemicals that make and take memory and the tiny girl in her father’s arms who, at noon, high-fived me at the café and said, “How are you?”
Her parents have yet to have that talk with her, the one where they tell her she’s going to die, and just as there is Santa Claus, there is God Who Looks Like Us.
There is Dog, wrapped around my left leg and chewing on grass and trying to inhale grasshoppers, and two yellow barn cats diving at its flicking tail.
“Go, don’t go,” Orville said. “Who needs the aggravation?”