Jeb Christenson woke up on the makeshift bed of a leather couch in the farmhouse old enough to claim stone in its build beneath the eves folded in prayer. He had been unable to make it to the bedroom up the wooden stairs, couldn’t even drag himself by the varnished wooden railing to the top. The shadows in the room had been darker than the day before, and the clouds that hung above the living room picture window promised a dreary day. They called themselves to vomit the clearer and cleaner substance of rain. He felt sick and depressed. He had blacked out and poisoned himself with whiskey and Coke the night before, and the drink had done its damage. He told himself that is was celebration for bringing in the last of the hay the day before and storing it in the ancient stone barn with rafters, home to owls and the rusted disks and machinery of previous generations. The old green tractor attested to it, a beast lowering in the dark of an old corrugated aluminum shed across the farmyard. He told himself that the fun he had the night before and the mental cleft between himself and the harvest was worth the suffering that he was experiencing. He stood, making his way to the hall off the living room, and followed it to the kitchen, wiping the sleep out of his eyes. Would he want to stop in the evening? Time seemed to slow and unaware of himself, he looked into the clear space of the kitchen. He gulped in the clear air of the room, his being becoming greater and his thoughts opening, seeing a greater and freer range of options. He came to stand in front of a wooden chopping block counter and loaded a coffee filter with that same grainy substance. He dropped the filter into a black plastic basket that stood above the glass bulb of the coffee pot. Time slowed as coffee percolated and soaked through the filter and fell in the pot below. The bulb of coffee filled halfway without his attendance. He filled a coffee mug and sat in one of four wooden chairs at a wooden table, sipping the liquid.
As he drank the coffee, he adjusted the gold circular wire rim glasses on his face, pawing distractedly at his long curly hair and then at his beard beneath his mustache. He shifted in the chair, straightening his short if muscular frame. Having absentmindedly groomed himself, he finished the coffee and stood, making for a sink across the room from the chopping block, where he ran the the stainless hoop of a faucet, cleaning out the coffee cup and then setting it in a dish rack to dry, a second object to follow the preening of his bearded features and to face a morning clean up. He ambled to the coffee pot, leaving the hot plate switch beneath it lit, and pulled the filter from the basket. Making a cross-room return journey, He slapped open a lower cupboard door beneath the sink, and dropping the wet paper and grounds into a trash can, disposed of the view and slapped the door shut again, a third non task in the unimportant morning count. He finished the addition of tasks leaving the neater sum of them complete, and making for the living room once again.
Finding his workboots, definite articles, on the floor next to the stone fireplace, he laced them, spelling them on, made snug like words in the beginning of a sentence. Jeb made for the front door dragging up a verb to close the heavy rectangle with a thud, and stepped to the low and wooden front porch. He followed it to the side of the house and stepped down onto the ground with an adverb of care so that he kept his footing. Putting the nouns of his knuckles on his hips, he stared at the woodland that stood at the back of his house, a steep forested valley that with a creek, led to a river that cleft his farmland almost in two. He had dragged several dead trees out of the woods and windbreak with the tractor and had fired up the chain saw to cut them into fire place sizes. He walked the thirty uninteresting pronoun paces to the wood shed opposite the house, and rolled out a splitting block, balancing one of the cuts on it. He picked up a cast iron splitting wedge and its relative, an iron sledge hammer, and pounded the wedge into the top of the log to balance, giving it purchase so that it could stand on its own. Heaving a verb of gravity, he swung the brick bat in an arc above his head and split the log in half. He found himself enjoying the motion, slamming through the monotony of the season’s work, he balanced another log on the tree trunk splitting platform, and heaved the hammer again, leaving a second log halved and the heavy splitting wedge an adjective on the wooden circle. He continued to work, and half a dozen splits later, having also split the hour in two, he swung the hammer, dividing a last log. Jeb hit it hard enough to leave the wedge standing, sunk in the platform. It was the end of the sentence and provided an exclamation point, a sign of finished work.
He loaded the half logs into his arms and made for the low porch. Barely keeping his balance, he stepped up to the wooden floor, a picture of straining muscles become victors in the act. He traveled across the weathered floating light gray deck slats, and used his back, a battering ram to win open the heavy door. He stepped into the living room, crossing it and unceremoniously dumping the logs in a log rack next to the fireplace, a drum roll of marchers through the day, they brought down their collective might on the same rack. He brushed off the splinters from the firewood on his flannel shirt, letting them fall on the stone hearth of the fireplace, and then returned to the couch, conquering the tasks to plan his day. He remembered again the adventure of the night before. The slowing time and the clear space in the kitchen which he had stared into repeated itself as he once again stared through the window and a ghost of thought told him there was more than the heavy stuff out there. He decided he would buy some wine instead, when he went into town to shop for groceries. The day lightened to cloudy and dry and built in him various quantities of blank space and light.
Jeb reached for an end table next to the couch, catching a ring of keys in his hand, and stood, making for the front door, opening it to the wide world outside. The garage door, on the other hand, opened easily admitting daylight and exposing the cavernous space to a new earth and the potential of gravity come to light. Stepping into the garage, he sidled a midnight blue and rusty El Camino. Sitting in the driver’s seat, he pulled on the door which thudded behind him. Throwing the vehicle in reverse, he backed into the mindful and clarity-gray world. The vehicle continued to reverse in a semi-circle and then made for the lane that met the asphalt a quarter mile away. Halfway along its length the track dived into forest land leaving the world open eyed and lightened.
Hunting the asphalt, he bore down on the pavement and turned the car onto it, a hound scrambling for a rabbit. The car plunged into a second steep valley shaded in trees and shrubbery, and then climbed toward a plane of farmland temporarily capturing the daylight again. It then was swallowed by another valley that seemed too deep for the creek that split it. He throttled the engine as the El Camino climbed a last hill and then descended toward the floodplain of a large river, a deer in the cross hairs, the church spires and ground clutter of a small town could be seen in the distance, buildings which grew in size as he drew closer. Speed limit signs cautioned the car and he was soon stalking the town, a lion stalking its prey. Making for the opposite end, he rolled into town, crossing its main street. A strip mall came into view, the town’s attempt at modernity, and he turned into the parking lot slowed, the grocery store, finally having caught the quarry.
Jeb climbed from the El Camino and walking across the lined parking lot, swung a steel cage small wheel shopping cart in front of him, a desperate sinkable craft on the currents of the store floor. He floated the easygoing machine into the produce aisle of the store. He loaded the cart with fruits and vegetables and then continued around the corner, searching a plastic bag of brown rice. He pulled a box of wine from the shelf, wondering if he wasn’t trying to escape his world with the celebration. He continued through the store, collecting staples and pantry and cans. The cashier was a woman he had possibly known in highschool. She looked aged for the light in her eyes and he skin looked tired on lengths of muscle stretched over her brighter spirit. She was one of many poorer townfolk who knew a hard life, especially after the economic downturn. For several moments she scanned the items he had piled in the basket, and then her eyes lit with recognition.
“Jeb?” She said. “Jeb Christensen?” She seemed a little humbled by Jeb. He did the work of farming, but had left town at an early age, acquiring a distance from the townfolk and had attended a state university. Therefore his thoughts were complicated with post secondary joys and despairs, the purchase of the property and the rennovation of the house, an older oddity in the midwest.
“That’s me,” He said. “let me guess,” eyes deeping in thought. “High school?”
“Christy Evanson. I was a year behind you,” she smiled pride. “let me help you with those.” She reached toward the belt and started scanning items, working through the pantry and bakery items, “I didn’t know you still lived here in town.”
“Yeah, I came back after four years at State.” In response, her eyes lightened in surprise,
“I didn’t know that.” She pulled the bag of brown rice through the scanner, “I met my husband senior year. “Times were tough so I got a job.”
“I bought the old Hansen place and pretty much rebuilt it when I came back into town.” Christy finished checking the grocery and smiled to him.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” Jeb stood and thought for several moments. He wondered about Christy romantically, as any person might wonder of another. He wondered whether there was some phenomena more valuable to pursue in the human dimension. A thought niggled at him that was a repetition and promise from that morning at the coffee machine and the time on the couch as daylight seeped in the windows. Sometimes he wondered if he really had faith. Time slowed and the day seemed to balance precariously on a make or break moment. His voice might have slowed with it. They stood uncomfortably at the register, as he pretended to think it over, and their eyes almost caught at each others’.
“No.” The romantic moment vanished.
He wheeled the steel cage of the shopping cart in a question mark around the car, settling the groceries on the passenger side floor. The clear space in the kitchen that morning held on to him, and suggested more, so that curiosity drove his thoughts. He shoved the heavy door shut with a thud, and retraced his steps to the driver’s side. He turned the key in the ignition, the twist of hand a plus sign combining with the throttle of the engine to create an equal sign. He passed old, Victorian houses and a small park with a gazebo, and then was freed to the road and greater speed. His curiosity lightened and made anything possible. Pistons pounded like the thousands times slower sledge hammer he had split wood with that morning, powering the car as the wood had been split, horse power expressed in participles and gerunds with no closing punctuation mark. The El Camino tore up and down hills, a beast after an unknown prey. Jeb slowed the car at the entrance to the farm, the answer to a travel of questions, though the beginning of the day’s quest.
Having lugged the groceries and the wine box to the front door, he set the box on the porch floor and dug in his jeans pocket for his keys. He unlocked the door and lifted the wine box, the day’s odd cross, at the end of his arm. While refrigerating the weight and balance of his groceries, he put the box on the counter, contemplating it for a couple of moments. Then he made his way back to the living room and sat on the couch and made a mental list of the chores for the day, settling the thoughts like a yoke on his back. Climbing the stairs to a wide bedroom at their top, he dressed himself in over-alls and work boots and made his way to the front door, leaving it unlocked, and trudged across the farmyard. The clear space in the car, like the kitchen and coffee lightened his mood so that the wine box was partly left behind, only lighter spirits found in its place. He stepped into the shed alongside the green tractor, and pulled a heavy pail of thick gray grease from its corner, preparing to lather up the machine for the long winter ahead. After that he stepped across the farmyard to the garage and pulled up on the weighty hood of the El Camino. He decided to change the oil on the car, since the fall was coming on. He didn’t have an oil pan, so he used a roller sized paint tray and lay down on a cart, scooting under the massive engine. He loosened the oil valve and let the thick heavy liquid run. After that, he rolled back out and stood pulling one of several full oil cans from a shelf and started to empty the quart can into the engine. He suspected it would get cold in the next couple of days so he pulled a battery warmer from the same shelf that ran alongside the car and settled it on that square electrochemical block. Time had slid by with the chores so he went back in and changed out of the over alls. Feet flipped down the stairs, and soon he was sitting on the couch taking off a load so that the weight his feet carried became lighter, the chores ended.
Jeb reached for the tv remote on the end table next to the couch and flipped the flat screen television to glowing life, turning the channel to the public station and the news. Halfway through, he went to the kitchen and opened the wine box, pouring a coffee mug of the spirit. He went to the living room and sat as the programming continued, sipping at the portion. The liquid started to warm a spot behind his ears. The ghost in the glass lightened his mood and changed his breath, the air of some pagan god of alcohol. He had several more and his thoughts began to blur.
He woke the next morning in his bed, remembering much of the evening. He descended the stairs stepping carefully, in a minor fog. He went to the kitchen and started the coffee. He poured a cup and made for the living room. Spirits all, he had once again smashed through the wall of drudgery farm work with the booze, which he slow as a cro magnon, realized worked as had the brick bat. He was finished until the next harvest. Once again he would save the alcohol until he needed that particular sledge hammer again. Alcohol or greater things, he had relearned them, spirits all. The brain fog started to clear. The day was starting and the sunlight was direct so that the window betrayed clean and clear light. His soul was layed open again, as it had by the coffee machine and the couch the day before, but shone clearer than the previous day from unclouded light, laid wider than he could have expected. He felt his thoughts lightening, so that unexplained grace settled in his being, a crown of victory. He collected all of them, from the more tribal wine to daylight in the room, spirits all.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, SigurdWrite a Review