BY MICHAEL DONNELLY
The promise was easy. If they go to City, they write and make it. If they do make
it, they live in City. If they don't make it, they live in Country, raise
potatoes and chickens.
There they stand, a porch, a plain, before forty acres of
Country -- someone's American promise deferred (not theirs), reparations deferred.
President says the mule is "in the mail," sealed envelope, ballot, et cetera. Here
are Elwyn and Katherine White, unintentionally white like two sheets of bleached
writing paper, but white still. They never went, wrote, not even tried to make
it. They chose an easier promise, went to the bank for a loan on good faith. When
leaving, Deed in tow, bank manager slapped Elwyn on the back for good measure. He
doesn't get it, the slap. Katherine asks him why such small acreage? He replies
be grateful, the bank didn't loan nothing to that Other man!
She holds his bicep,
humble muscle. He looks down toward her and she toward him into the difficult
brown of his eyes; he says do we have everything now? She says the barn is
stocked with chickens, the tractor rests in the field, the combine sleeps in the
storage, the seed and the feed wait in the barn too, one month has passed, and
the sun will rise soon. I need to go look beneath the chickens; p.s. the gas
company came today; please go fill the tractor; please go out today and till the
field. He coughs into his fist, pats his heart twice, and rubs his hands. He
watches her walk away, her blond hair undone upon her shoulders, golden in the
dawn. His eyes dilate, chest rises and exhales, drops his shoulders as he walks
into the field.
* * * *
The tractor muffles as it slowly turns up the earth. The sun settles lower and
lower beneath an expanding sky of deep rouge. The damp sweetness of spring and
life waft in on the breeze through the open door and the open windows. On the
porch, she removes her boots to clap out the sod. She enters through the open
door. Didn't ask for much, she says, don't have much acreage to till. He crumples
what he had been writing, tosses it onto others, and walks to the door. They
stand there, before a porch, a plain. He puts his arm around her waist and she
looks up toward him, says we can have everything now; I was out in the field
today; may not be easy, but we can raise it. He looks out past the field, past
country, the miles, toward city: never dared went. He looks down toward her into
the vast ocean of her eyes; she stares into his eyes, brown as any earth yet to
be tilled. He grabs her and presses her into him; his lips upon hers, his lips
talking more by not talking than all he can think. They move onto the couch, his
lips upon her neck, her fingers mussing his hair, and proceed like a fever.
She wakes up at midnight, sits down at the desk under a small light, looks into the
filled wastebasket, filled with his crumpled writings. She unfolds each one he's
put there, the one on top she reads:
One month has passed. I have a barn, chickens, a tractor, a combine, too much
seed and the feed, all useful things. This is hopeless. We are not farmers. I
need to go out today and till the field. I need to go out today and walk past the
field. I need to write, make it, live in City.
She places the papers into a box inside the closet. Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, she
thinks, maybe tomorrow he will go out into the field and see; we can raise it.
Maybe tomorrow he will step into the barn and find the eggs have waited for him
beneath the chickens. Maybe tomorrow the promise will make sense. He wakes, hears
the tractor tilling the field. He sits down at the desk. He reaches into the
wastebasket, again filled, but not by him, uncrumples her papers and, before he
puts her papers into the box, the one on top he reads:
This is where we are. A
porch, a plain, before forty acres we never really wanted, a loan on strange good
faith. We must make good on it, as if misplaced residents, stand-ins for the real
McCoys. Maybe we make it, maybe we don't. Maybe tomorrow my soul will burn under
the setting sun into the enlarging sky. Maybe tomorrow my soul will set out past
my body, this tractor, the field, the miles, past Country.