Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hay Season

 In this dimly lit room, she can see that very little about the hospital has changed in 15 years.  Sterile white plaster walls.  Brown linoleum floors.  Scents of antiseptic and soap.  The memory she draws upon is from the last time she was here.  A happier occasion.  The birth of her son.  This time, though, she is here to be with him while he dies. The doctor has confirmed her worst fear.  There is nothing more to be done.

This son of hers, Jack, lays motionless on a narrow bed.  In an attempt to make his few remaining hours more comfortable, he has been covered with a blanket, a damp cloth placed on his forehead.  Traces of blood at the corners of his mouth are the only visible sign of the accident, almost letting her believe that her son is not so terribly broken after all.  She remembers the night he was born.  A perfect little boy.  But still, a mixed blessing.  Sons in this family grow up to be farmers, and if there is one certainty in farming, it is that nothing is ever certain.


The boy’s father is not at the hospital, as one would expect.  The cut hay is ready to be baled, and rain is forecasted.  Hanging in the balance is the livelihood that one thousand acres of sweet timothy will provide.  But as he hurries to bale row after row, anguish consumes him.  Farming is a gamble. Rain. Insects. Fire.  Drought.  The risk of serious injury.  Still, he should have realized that his boy was too inexperienced to drive a tractor so close to the irrigation ditch.  So close that a wheel happened to catch the edge of the slope, and the tractor rolled, crushing his son beneath its iron bulk.


Around two a.m. she loses her fight with exhaustion and nods off, but is roused a few hours  later by an insistent Wake up Elsie! She is alert in an instant, heart pounding.  Her eyes, full of questions, seek answers from the owner of the voice.  Her husband.  Tears are streaming down his face.


Her tone is shrill.  His words spill out, cracked with emotion. 

It’s ok , Elsie!  Look!  Jack’s conscious! The doc thinks he’s going to make it!

It takes a moment for her disbelief to turn to relief, and then, utter joy, and she rushes to cradle her son, her boy, her baby, in her arms.

For now, Henry decides, the news about the rain can wait.

On the Subject of Romance

 Her room, second floor, third door on the left, was directly across the corridor from his.  She taught English, and he, Mathematics.

Though introduced by name and subject at the orientation given for new teachers in late August, the pair had yet to engage in actual conversation.  They had not, however, failed to notice each other, and the attraction had been instant.

Throughout each school day, both found any number of reasons to stroll casually past their respective classroom doorways, stealing glances across the corridor, hoping to catch glimpses of the other. 

He chanced, one Tuesday afternoon,  to see her reach up to erase a list of spelling words from the blackboard and in doing so her dress rose an inch or two, revealing a considerable expanse of her well turned ankle.  I say! He thought to himself, swallowing hard. She is certainly one nicely balanced equation!

Likewise, one Friday morning, as he lectured his students eloquently on the finer points of Algebra, she observed him remove, in the heat of his explanation, his jacket, exposing his masculine  shoulders.  Oh my!  She quivered.   He is as nicely put together as a perfectly written term paper!

Their mutual admiration might have remained undeclared for the entire school year, if not for a timely fire drill, carried out on the last Wednesday in September.  As she started to descend the flight of stairs and make her way to the exit on the first floor,  she was knocked off balance by a herd of unruly youth.  Just as she lurched forward, he rushed towards her and caught her in a rough embrace.

With his strong arms about her, and his cheek fitted firmly against hers, there was little doubt, at that moment, as to which subject they both wished to study further.


Dishes for Two

The first time she saw him, she was doing her dishes. Washing up her plate and glass.  Her knife, fork, and spoon.  Washing away the evidence of a dinner for one.

It was love at first sight, though she could not tell you why. He was simply walking down the sidewalk, one hand in the pocket of his suspendered trousers, the other hand holding a book about four inches from his spectacled face. She was finishing up her silverware, and when she’d looked up for a few seconds to escape the steam from the sink of hot, soapy water, she noticed him out her window.

And here she is again.  In her kitchen, preparing to wash her dishes.  She is waiting, too.  Waiting for a glimpse of a man with a book.  A man she loves but has never met. Feeling as though one more evening of her life is slipping away.  Tears slide down her cheeks, though they could just as well be beads of sweat from the steamy water that is slowly filling the sink.  A squirt of liquid dish soap erupts into an explosion of suds. Sends a cloud of rainbow colored bubbles high into the air.  She reaches for her dirty glass, plunges it into the waiting water, and starts to scrub it clean.

With a sudden surge of courage, she shakes the water from her hands, grabs the book she’d previously set out on her gray Formica counter, and sets in motion the plan she has been rehearsing for weeks.  She is tired of waiting for her destiny to come to her.  Today she is meeting it head on.  Walking in his direction while pretending to be engrossed in her own novel-and bracing herself for the carefully orchestrated collision that will change the course of her life.  Books will fly. Glasses will be knocked askew.  And a heart will be won.

The last rainbow colored orb of soap breaks, and she wonders how long she has been staring at her motionless hands, still immersed in the soapy water, clutching the glass.

Tomorrow, she reassures herself.  There will be more dirty dishes tomorrow.