A journal of narrative writing.
Page 3

A trio of semis roared by. The woman waited till the last truck had passed then said, “Have you given any further thought to selling your farm?”

Waldemar stiffened. He took a deep breath and went over to the side of the truck and grabbed a few silvery ears of corn. He pushed them into a tall brown paper bag and held them in front of her. “Take these. No charge.” He clenched his jaw and forced a smile.

The woman raised her eyebrows and took the bag from him. “They’re Buttergolds, right?”

Not even close. Waldemar nodded.

She peered over his shoulder at the boxes on the back of the truck. “Well, thanks. I actually came for baby potatoes.”

Waldemar didn’t turn to see what she was looking at. He was watching the road where a sleek silver motor home sailed by. When it vanished into a shroud of fog he turned to the woman and said, “Lady, it’s September. Only adult potatoes now.”

The woman made a wry face then pursed and unpursed her lips, finally settling on something between a simper and a smile. She looked past Waldemar at the back of the truck and a few minutes later drove off with the corn, some broccoli and a white-bellied cucumber.

Waldemar shook his head and dropped into the tattered lawn chair. As the sedan faded from his view, he noticed something moving in the tall grass near a thicket on the other side of the highway. He sat forward and squinted. He couldn’t make out the details but guessed from its size and lumbering sag-bellied gait that it was somebody’s cow, free for now from its barbwire existence. The animal appeared a few minutes later on the grassy verge a little further up the highway. Its head was down in the fall grass, which was almost as tall as the beast itself, and when it finally raised its head and stepped onto the edge of the pavement, Waldemar could not believe his eyes: it was a great black Hereford bull, the largest he’d ever seen, with a jagged strip of white from its pendent scrotum to its low-hanging dewlap to the broad arched poll from which grew its menacing, downcurved horns. Waldemar had never seen a Hereford with horns.

Around the same time the bull was swaggering into the far lane, a trucker carrying a load of hothouse tomatoes averted his eyes (which he never told police) to find a better radio station. He’d done it many times before, but never had he looked up to find a giant bull in his path.

Waldemar saw the truck coming long before it reached the animal. He burst from his chair to do something – chase the bull, warn the trucker – something.

The trucker swerved and it was only after he’d passed the indolent creature that his focus turned to the old pickup truck parked in the grass on the other side of the road and the rickety stand in front of it on which some farmer had placed his locally-grown, farm-fresh produce and in front of that, near a tipped-over lawn chair, a tall thin man in faded jeans, his mouth a gaping O and his arms flailing.

Waldemar stopped when he saw that the truck was no longer on a collision course with the bull. He did not see what happened next.

The trucker braced himself for what he knew was going to be a horrible, horrible accident. He did his best to avoid the man who, for whatever reason, stood nearly motionless on the grass not far from the produce-laden pickup now in his path. But it was no use. The truck hit the man with a glancing blow, enough to send him flying. The rig slowed only a little before it hit Waldemar’s truck and when it finally groaned to a standstill, all that remained of the little Ford was a twisted metal carcass and the scattered guts of the carefully loaded boxes. The two-by-four produce stand was exactly where it had been erected, the stack of neatly trimmed corn and the pyramid of full-grown Sangre potatoes on its little display shelf untouched.

Waldemar felt no pain or discomfort when he came to, though he did notice a prodigious thirst and an unexpected but not unpleasant warmth in his chest and thighs. He could not remember where he was and lay for a while with his eyes closed, listening. He heard birds. He heard a hiss and the drip drip dripping of liquid on metal. He heard a dog barking somewhere in the distance.

And then, as the old cliché goes, Waldemar’s life passed before his eyes. Surprising, though, were the things he didn’t think about during his final lucid moments. He didn’t think about the pure pleasure of watching Janet at six in tattered shorts and a too-large hat in the dusty bucket of the old tractor twirling her blond pigtails around little fingers and dangling her dirty bare feet above the fertile soil. He didn’t think about Fredrik and his gap-toothed grin as he’d stood beside him on the bank of a mist-blanketed river, the silver flash of a steelhead gap gap gappering on a hook at his side.

He didn’t think of the inexorable dread he’d lived with after Lydia had said “Incurable,” nor did he recall his joy all those years ago when she’d picked him, despite ugly burn marks inflicted by his drunken father, because he’d held her while she cried when she couldn’t go to college. And he didn’t think about that first hopeful summer on the farm, sitting astride the clamorous John Deere, and his beautiful barefooted Lydia standing next to it in a cheap cotton dress and an old straw hat waiting for him to come kiss her. He didn’t think about his father at his mother’s funeral, saying “It would have cost less if she’d died in Poland.”

This is what he thought about: skyscrapers; car horns bleating and echoing down the concrete canyons of the city; stumbling on the sidewalk, his mother taking his hand as he stares up between buildings at a sky of incredible blue, interrupted by a few billowing clouds, white and unspeakably lovely; a corner packed with people waiting to cross the street, everyone rushing for somewhere; the feeling of being anonymous in the crowd; the cool, granite foyer of the Empire State Building; his mother’s eyes shining as she tells him about a scene in a Cary Grant movie filmed right here.

A lovely drowsiness tugged him downward. They found Waldemar, not much later, in the tall wet grass a small distance from the wreckage. His face was turned up to the darkly glorious boughs of the yew tree, which were bejeweled as if for some merry occasion with tiny, red uncelebrated berries.