Five and a half miles

The road is long and straight. You could unravel a ball of yarn, if one could be so long, without it gathering or twisting. Five and a half miles. The distance between home and Gunth’s. A few minute’s drive. I walk that distance every day, from the kitchen to the barn, from the outhouse to the summer garden. The garden is worse off than the fields.

Tomatoes so dry that they rot before they mature. Onions like soft blisters. And dirty brown flowers that nod at the dirt. But I walk those miles, tidying, feeding, milking, sweeping, preparing, washing, folding, dusting. Hearing the dust settle even though I don’t always see it. It glows in the sunshine, like something pretending to be beautiful, but if you ignore it for long, you start to see your footsteps between the porch and the kitchen, and feel it gather on your soles. Miles of sweeping and wiping and sweeping. Five and a half miles is easy when you can sit down and wipe your brow on the porch, and pour yourself a glass of water. Five and a half miles in a straight line is different. You can’t sit down if you think someone is following you. And so I walked.

The stunted corn spoke to me in dry, feathery voices. There were two places to get lost in a tall summer day: in the sky and in the voices of the corn. Acres and miles of knee-high corn, weathered and dry, already kneeling before the sun. I guessed it was past ten o’clock already, but that was just a guess. Time felt like a rubber band, badly stretched, with no elasticity left. Five and a half miles of one-step-at-a-time, head down, listening to the wind and the corn and the heartbeat between my ears. I was listening to the click of the pantry door, I was listening to Jeremiah spit his tobacco out the window, I was listening to the sound of the gunshot. The only thing I couldn’t hear was Jeremiah fall to the dirt. I imagine he sounded like a heavy pile of laundry, it was that sudden. Or a basket of sheets, it was that slow. It was rumpled collapse, a folding-up of flesh and cloth. And I stood there, surprised. No, not surprised. Amazed. Amazed at how it all happened, in a moment that wouldn’t surrender itself.

Just five and a half miles. I walk at least that far every day.

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