Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chapter Seven

I love my truck. It is a beater - a 1966 Ford F100. It has stone dings, a hole in the rear panel for a toolbox that is no longer there, and a few surface rust pits. It is three shades of paint and bondo. The truck and myself are a lot alike: we do not look like much on the outside but still have some horse-power left.

I had both windows cranked down – two by sixty air conditioning. When someone came from the opposite direction I’d steer a wheel into the ditch then bounce back on the road with a downshift on the column. I thought they were waving at me so I waved back - funny how they waved with their middle finger.

The one concession to modernity I had in my truck was satellite radio. I was listening to a business channel as they prattled on about Greece defaulting. Hard for me to see how the Greeks had done worse than the USA save we had the status of reserve currency. More and more I thought the dollar was ‘Monopoly’ money and wondered why anyone still took it. It is academic, though, as I did not have enough money now to buy a decent meal. Still, the dollar stinks.

I came to the backside of the farm and pulled into the rutted pasture entrance. Blackberry, honeysuckle and thistle choked the unused road. A few hundred feet in and I pulled to a stop in front of a rusted pipe gate. The combination lock was the same, and with some effort I turned the dial and popped it open. I swung the gate back with a squeal from the hinges and chained it to the bent t-post. In case I came back running I wanted it open as I was skeptical about my former ability to hurdle it.

The hedgerow on the backend of this pasture was still thick this time of year with kudzu and wild grape. No one could see me from the house as I approached. The smells brought back memories of brighter days, chewing a stem of grass, meadowlarks and fireflies. Smell brings back memories more than anything now.

When I came to the opening in the hedge where I could see the house there was nothing. An acrid damp smell accompanied the charred remains. Partial columns of stone and brick remained in the ruins. It took my breath. My home was gone.

The gut punch I felt let me know I could never return. Despite years in exile I realized I had hoped of walking the halls of my youth again. I wanted to sit in the kitchen in my grandmothers’ cane rocker. I wanted to smell the slight reminisce of pipe tobacco from Papa’s closet. Tears warmed my cheeks.

After many minutes staring at the corpse of my family home I started to walk down the hill. As I passed through the gate something caught my eye to the side and behind me. I turned and looked for it. I scuffed the ground with the toe of my boot and found nothing. So I took a knee and brushed the grass with my hand. Something metallic caught my fingers. It was a spent rifle casing. I looked at the bottom where it was stamped 7.62x54-R. The cartridge was made popular by cheap Soviet surplus rifles. I smelled it and the slight sharp return of nitrates filled my nose. It had been shot recently. Fibromyalgia had dramatically increased my sense of smell. I pocketed it and then got up and walked down the hill to the char.

As I got closer I could see a lonely figure leaning on the remnant of the brick fireplace. It was Walters.

We stared at each other for a while, and then he motioned me over with his hand.

“Hell of a thing” he said.


He had a trench coat folded over his arm. He was a clothes snob, no doubt. A beautiful tie well tied above a crisp linen shirt. Both were custom made. I could tell, I had bought similar years ago for myself. I looked down at my worn cotton Marine Corps fatigues and flannel shirt. I preferred my dress code to his.

“Thought you’d come by.”

“You are a regular Sherlock-fucking-Holmes.”


“Dorothy always said I could sit on a cone of ice cream and tell you what flavor it was.”

That puzzled him for a moment and then he got it. He started to smile then saw me scratching my eye with my middle finger and the smile turned to into a scowl. I am an acquired taste. Few acquire it.

“I’d watch that if I were you. “

“Good thing you aren’t me then.”

“Hells bells boy, you are up to your ass in kimshi.”

“Cussing comes hard for you doesn’t it Walters? Hells Bells? Lordy.”

“Damn you!”


“Are you going to take this seriously?”

“Well, I am miffed that no-one invited me to the marshmallow roast. Did you get invited?”

He stared at me daring me to say something. I began to whistle an old Bing Crosby tune. He snorted, shrugged his shoulders and then walked away down the front drive. I am obnoxious by nature. Today I had cranked it up, as I needed to poke around without anyone standing over me - especially Walters. I watched and waited until he was well out of sight. Then I waited some more.

I walked over to the crumbled stonewall housing the cellar stairs. I reached into my back right pocket and pulled my leather gloves out and put them on and began pulling the charred beams and posts away from the stairs.

Despite the cool day I was sweating after an hour’s work. I had taken my flannel shirt off to cool down and to keep it clean. I had excavated a passage down the stairs and into the cellar. My surefire flashlight lit the place as I worked my way to the far corner. With my Leatherman I pried back a surface stone at the top of the foundation wall. The fish-scaler chipped the brittle mortar away until I heard a ‘clink’ from hitting metal. With much prying, a scraped knuckle despite the gloves, and a few choice words I removed a small metal box.

The basement was covered in soot but was mostly intact. I looked around and found an untouched field sack and shoved the box into it. I put my flannel shirt back on and tucked the box beneath it and walked back up the stairs. I scanned around and saw no one in the twilight and left the farm the way I had come.

I placed the box beneath my truck’s bench seat and went to sit down when I felt the shell casing in my pocket. I stopped and withdrew it, looked at it for a moment and then placed it inside my shirt pocket. I sat and stared out the cracked windshield for a moment and then turned the engine on.

I backed down the rutted entry and onto the paved road. I drove around the farm and turned off the headlights as I coasted to a hilltop looking back at the farm. I sat for a moment and watched. The satellite radio droned on about a Congressman’s tighty-whiteys on twitter. The Congressman’s name and photo were a delicious irony. After a few minutes headlights pierced the darkness and backed down the front drive of the old farm.

I sat in the truck for a few more minutes and then backed the truck up, turned the lights on and drove home to Moira and that stupid dog.

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