"The desert bears only a scathing sun, and nothing more."
"What about mirages?"

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Country Bumpkins - Prose.

The sky was dark and I sat on the front porch smoking a cigarette. The steps creaked under my heavy feet, and when I leaned forward to rest my elbows on my knees, they groaned in protest. I coughed. The sound of my hack echoed down the empty street; orange gleams from the street lamps created square patched on slick cement. The street was long and old, cracking in places. In the day, it was dusty and you could watch empty beer cans tumble through the gutter and broken glass shimmer in the evanescent rays of the sun.

All the houses in this part of town were tired, crippled things and the one moaning behind me was no exception. The place came with a whole list of repairs—things that needed fixing, needed building, needed something to run. I grimaced when I thought of the backyard. Really there was no backyard at all: it was just a patch of dirt that melded with the gravel alleyway behind the place. All scattered behind there were hungry eyes and smoked doobies. More glass. There was glass everywhere in this part of town.

This was not the place I’d imagined for my children. This wasn’t the place I’d imagined being happy, or growing old with my lovely wife. When I came from the country, from my home place, my head created exaggerated swirls of suburbia. My wallet didn’t have that kind of cash.

I wished for a big house, nice rich neighbors, a beautiful backyard with an oak tree and a swing rope like the one I had on the acreage. In my dreams, when I looked out onto the street I saw children laughing and playing kick ball in the cul-de-sac, kites flying freely and lazily on some far off breeze. I never expected to smell the thick oil of train tracks as they rattled just a few blocks away. I never expected to look out my window and see shady young adults slumping through the shadows of each sickly tree.

But it was a compromise I made for a better life.

When I was still farming, still turning to gold in the autumn sun as I brought in the harvest, I was happy. Most certainly I was happy. But there’s not much cash out there for small independent farmers any more. So I sold my home place to a big cash crop corporation and started dreaming something new.

I heard the front door swing noisily open behind me, delicate steps, and felt a slender body slink down beside me. Even under her petite frame, the steps cried out again in anguish. She had long, golden lengths of straw for hair. Currently it was all pulled into a messy bun.

“It’s awfully late; won’t you come to bed?” She asked me, her hand touched my arm gently, earnestly. “You have to wake up so early.”

All the factory workers did.

I took another long, deep drag on my smoke and then flicked it away. I smiled at her, tried to make it look easy, lazy.

“I will soon, honey.” I said. “I was jus’ thinkin’, that’s all.”

And I was. I was thinking of endless fields of golden wheat that swayed back and forth with the kiss of the wind. I was thinking of the smell of clean, deep earth. I was thinking about how nice it would be to plow the land one more time. And I was thinking about how there was no money in all that anymore.

“What you thinkin’ of?” She asked. Her voice still had that sweet southern drawl, so well hidden with the sprawl of urban life. Sometimes she could shut it off completely, become a complete and utter city slicker.

“Jus’…” I struggled to find the right words. How could I tell her, make her understand that this was not the life I’d planned for her? This was not what I wanted for Danny, and certainly not for my little angel Sally.

I wanted them to grow up strong and healthy, their backs and faces brown from long days in the sun. I wanted them to smell clean country air and I wanted them to love it as much as I did. I wanted to go back to our home place, where the roads and the fields went on for miles, where the only sounds you ever heard was the chatter of chickadees in the day and the chirp and croak of crickets and frogs in the evening.

“We should ‘a never left.” I said finally, leaning back to view a blurry, starless sky. I wondered if there were ever stars in the city. I closed my eyes and strained to hear the sounds of night I missed so ravenously. I heard the dull rush of cars on a busy highway. Far away a siren roared. City sounds.

She put her hand on my back comfortingly, rubbing in sleepy but understanding swirls. I think sometimes she missed it too, though she never out on airs of it. She took everything with a bright smile, made the best of what we had and made plans for what we would have. She was a strong soldier—I wished I was stronger.

“Come to bed soon.” She said softly—she left a delicate imprint of her lips on my cheek. And just like that, she had disappeared into the creaking house.

My eyebrows furrowed with frustration at our situation and also at my own guilt for leaving her in an empty bed.

I took another look at the street laid out before me, hoping by some act of God, we would be back there. We would be back home.

“I should never have left.” I repeated.

I stood up and followed my wife into the house, shutting the door behind me.


  1. This reminds me of some of Robert Frost's story-essays. You write characters quite well for someone your age (or any age, for that matter) - nicely done.

  2. really good JB. You have a keen eye and make great observations of people. That's a skill to be honed. I like how you write from a man's perspective. Maybe a burly, yet reflective, farmer in another life?

  3. Your prose is so thorough for such a short passage! I feel like I've seen this man and shaken his hand before, it is all so breathtakingly real. It's truly art, just as poignant and vivid as a painting, if not more so.


"Write with our backs to the wind and our faces to the hard, bleaching sun."