Monday, June 30, 2014

Indiana Highway

I'm pulling a Randy.  Here's a short fiction piece I wrote recently.

The day feels hot, rippling off my black dashboard, and the open windows can’t do anything to dull the melt of the sun spilling in from the west as I drive north.  My left arm prickles with the heat. 
The narrow Indiana highway slices due north through the cornfields, and although the season is still early and the winter had plenty of snow, if the summer heat brutalizes the crops like it did last summer, the farmers will be in for another rough year.
            I am driving home from Sam’s.  It is Sunday afternoon, and I won’t see him again until next Saturday.  It is what it is.  My mind is on him, not the heat.
            So this is how it is as I speed north on the highway.  I listen to Sam’s iPod that he left with me again, Death Cab for Cutie plays.  I turn it up so I can hear it better over the blast of the wind through the open windows.
            I need you so much closer.
            I should have the air-conditioning fixed before the summer gets much worse. 
            Then, over one of the uncharacteristic slopes in the road on these straight stretches on the long Indiana highways when you aren’t thinking about where you’re going, I speed over the hill and see an old man walking.  He walks right there in the middle of the right-hand lane.  Certainly, the shoulder is basically a white line on the edge of the road before the asphalt transforms into wildflowers and then corn and soybeans, but this guy is walking in the middle of the road.
            I slow down.  I’m a writer.  I’m curious.
            An old farmhouse stands about a half-mile behind me, and I don’t see any cars.  He must be walking from the farmhouse.  I’m a writer.  I remember these types of places.  It’s one of those farmhouses: the weeds overtake the yard like a planned assault, the barn’s roof threatens to fall in on itself next winter if we get a snowfall of more than six inches, several discarded old trucks hide in the corners of overgrown weeds and fallen trees, and the house needs some sort of touch, female or otherwise. 
            I wonder if he lives there alone.  I wonder if he has anyone to keep him company.
            It seems odd to me. 
            Because I’m a writer, I imagine him living alone, tinkering with old farm machinery and working long days in the fields, more because this is what he has always done than because he has to.  He drinks cheap beer in the old barn, taking apart engines and piecing them back together, his hands more often caked with oil and dust than not.
            No cars drive in the opposite direction, so I pull in the other lane and take in as much of his appearance as I can.
            He walks slowly, no shirt, tanned and loose skin hanging over tight muscles, khaki shorts the color of earth sag past his knees.  Gray hair cut short, military-style. 
            I’m not much of a writer.  I don’t pick up on much.
            He seems slow.  Head hanging.  He doesn’t watch where he walks, and he certainly doesn’t look up when I pass.
            About a hundred yards later, I think I see why he is walking. 
            A pile of very dead fur lies in the road.
            It must have been a gray cat, short hair, very dense fur.  I have a cat like that at home, but she has gray fur with white paws and a white belly.  Her hair is dense and soft, like a chinchilla. 
            I see the cat for just an instant.  It is all gray.  It lies on its side, knocked over and stopped.  Not curled up as if it lived for a few brief moments, long enough to attempt to curl up into a little ball.  It isn’t like that.  It is just plopped over on its side, like my cat does on a hot day. 
            But this cat isn’t napping.  The matted fur shows differently.
            The cat has a blue collar and a license that reflects a little sunlight as I pass.
            A car speeds toward me in the opposite lane, so I carefully swerve back around the cat and into my lane. 
            I look in my rearview mirror.  The man walks slowly toward the cat, I think.  I need you so much closer is still playing.  I turn up the volume a little more.

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