Fiction | December 01, 1995
“Get me a witness,” he yells from downstairs.
I’m lying on top of the covers because Molly, god, she’s an oven. She sleeps so hot it makes her look unhappy to sleep, pouty, with her skin puffy and red, mouth folded open against the pillow. “Go put him to bed,” she says. “Lock his window. It’s cool out.” Cool, I think. It’s July. Her eyes are closed. Her lips move against the pillow. Then she’s quiet all over. I’ve a few more minutes till she’s roused again. I stare at the ceiling, at the roof, and listen to the clamor of a hot South Dakota night beneath me. I don’t like to see him at night. He gets confused at night. I listen to him rumble around, hear the floorboards under his feet and the soft thuds as he bumps into things. Something crashes below. Mol kicks me through the sheets. “Jim,” she mumbles and pauses. Her hair sticks to her damp cheek. I think she’s done, but then she adds, “go talk to him.” But she’s not really awake.
“He’s not doing it again,” I say. “He’s just having a bad dream.”
I look to see if she’ll answer but she just moans some, from the heat. I get up and cross the warm floor to the window and hear her roll up into the free covers on instinct. I look out. My face is in that layer of air that hangs just off the glass and I think it should be cool, I imagine I can see my breath in the pane. It looks like mist out there, looming above the fields, glowing in all the lights. But it’s not. It’s the dust of topsoil, earth once washed into the Missouri River valley, silt, loam, now leaving us, moving on in a light breeze. We need rain.
I stare into the bean fields and find myself almost looking for her, almost wondering what my father sees, a woman running the plow rows in a blue paper dress. I follow this corridor of dark green as it leads south to the Watertables State Mental Health Facility. It’s bigger at night, too big, with the lights always on, shining through the tall hedge that hides the high fence. There’s no one out there. She’s not out there. I know it.
When I get downstairs I see a racquetball rolled up against the front door. He’s yelling in his room, “She’s here. She’s here.” Then I hear him whispering. The hall closet door is open and the light is on. My gear is lying on the floor, racquets, gloves, balls. He sticks his head into the hall. “She’s back,” he says. “She came back.” And he’s gone again, whispering.
In his room, I walk to his bedpost and feel for the string that’s run to the overhead light. I rigged it that way so he won’t have to get out of bed in the dark, so he won’t fall. I chink on the light and we stand there squinting, me and my dad in our underwear. The bedcovers are on the floor. He has dreamed himself out of bed again and he is worked up. He walks to the open window saying, “See.” His white hair is standing up straight, unsure of its once-worn part. I pull up his sagging briefs and then shut the window. “Dad, where’s the sports bag?”
“I give it to her,” he says pointing out the window, looking through the glass to the lights of Watertables across the field. “She said she needed it to carry her stuff. She’s running away.”
“Stop it, Dad,” I say. “There’s no lady. We’ve talked about this. You had a dream. You sleepwalked again. Just show me where the bag is and let’s go to bed.” Last week it was the silverware. I heard a jangle in the night and in the morning all the forks were gone. “The bag,” I say. He looks around the room with me, like he forgot he claims to have given it away. His shorts are slipping down again. I latch the window and try not to look into the dark, try not to encourage him. He thinks maybe I saw her and smiles. “We had a deal,” I say. “You agreed to stop doing this. Now where did you hide my bag?”
“She come out of the beanfield,” he says talking fast. His lips are pasty from sleep and they stick together as he talks. I bend to look under the bed. “She says they put her in there after her husband died. It’s awful in there.” He points again out the window.
He must have been looking for something in his sleep. He got confused maybe. He dumped the bag out and then couldn’t get everything back in. So he hid the bag. It’s hidden here somewhere. I turn to look in the hall again. My useless things are spread all over the floor, bright in hall lights. There are no racquetball courts in South Dakota. I start shuffling the remnants back into the closet with my foot. “Get back into bed, Dad,” I yell toward his bedroom. “She’s just a dream.”
“Her name is Margaret,” he says. I stop. I walk into his room. I walk right up to him. “What?”
“She said her name is Margaret.”
“There’s no Margaret, Dad. There’s no ghosts and no escapees and no lady in the beans and she doesn’t have a name.” I try to slow myself but I’m scaring him. “Tell me she doesn’t have a name. Tell me you’re making it up___ Say it!” But it’s night. He gets confused at night.
They’re both up before me. I come downstairs to Molly listening to the crop reports and drinking coffee with two hands. She’s mad again. Her eyes look swollen, like she’s been exercising, sweating, in the sun. She feigns interest in July hogs. The AM radio is one thing Dad wouldn’t sacrifice for new tenants. It’s on all day. She sets the cup down and begins eating eggs with a spoon. That’s all we have now, knives and spoons. “You wore that tie yesterday,” she says and twists open a jar of instant.
I take the kettle from the kitchen and fill our cups. We all drink instant now. “You two had quite a night,” she says, blowing on her coffee. “He doesn’t deserve that, you know.” See, she’s mad. Molly watches him during the day. She makes glossaries for schoolbooks on the computer. But he’s fine during the day. It happens at night, when it’s my turn.
I undo my tie; it’s reversible, brown and blue, and I look around the room for him. It’s not good to talk about this around him.
“He walked to the road for the paper.”
“He’s doing this on purpose,” I say sharply. “He’s making it up. When we make him understand he’s not going in there, this will all stop.” I don’t like talking to her this way, but she doesn’t see this like I do. She says she’s practical. I think she wants to believe. The first night he saw this woman, after Molly and I had just moved in, we were desperate. Mol walked the property looking for footprints with a flashlight. She said maybe we could draw a picture of her from his description. I called Watertables from the dark of the kitchen. I told them their mental patients were crossing the field and terrorizing my father. They said no way.
I decided he would sleep upstairs; Dad climbs stairs just fine. I said if he slept upstairs he couldn’t claim this woman came to his window. Mol wouldn’t budge. What if he should slip? What if he fell? Jim, she told me, your grandfather went and now your father is going. Deal with it.
I sip my coffee. It tastes salty. The well water always tastes salty during a dry spell. The announcer is running off lists of numbers, soy and pork bellies, steer futures. The prices seem low, though I am unsure. It’s my job to know the cost of things. I remember back when I lived here as a boy, what Dad got a bushel then, which makes the numbers seem high. “He’s just scared,” I say. “That’s all. He thinks we might put him in there.”
She looks at me. “I talked to Litner,” she says.
“No doctors, Mol. I’m serious.” My father needs me, and that’s okay. But I didn’t come here for him. I came here for us. Mol says we have time, but we don’t. We don’t have any time for this.
Dad’s up the landing with his head in the door. He’s slumped in overalls and wearing the cap I gave him: Farmers Do It In The Dirt. “Paper’s here,” he says.
“Look like rain?” I ask. He looks at me like I’m foolish to have to ask someone else.
“Eggs?” Molly asks.
“Eggs are for birds,” he says and walks out into the yard to read. Every morning she says eggs and he says birds. They have this together, her and him, these little jokes. It’s quiet after he’s gone, just the radio. Out the window, I see him sit on a bucket under the tree. Near him, the rose leaves are coming in red, and past those are summer beans running downhill to the shade trees of No Show Creek. The beans look waxy. “Look,” I say. “When I was a kid, there was only one rule: Don’t go near the Watertables. Dale and I could jump off the barn, run the reaper, shoot the Damascus, anything. But stay clear of Watertables. He’s always been afraid of it. Always.”
“I’m just saying someone for him to talk to. It’s not getting any better. What if it gets worse? What if you don’t figure this out?”
“No doctors, Mol. He’s never going in there. He’s going to get old and read his paper and tell his stories and then he’s going to die. Grandpa Jim dropped dead picking apples from that tree.” I point out the window, but she won’t look, especially with Dad sitting there. I don’t want to argue. The coffee is getting cold. I drink my salty coffee and watch through the window the wind clipping his hair, his cuffs. It tries to take the paper from his hands. “Grandpa Jim started going when we were young. He told stories that didn’t make sense. He always gave Dale bad advice and showed me how to do things wrong. But Dad helped us understand, made it okay, made us see it was just part of the deal.”
“But that’s not what you’re doing, Jim,” she says earnestly, softly. “You were yelling at him last night.”
It’s quiet again. Paul Harvey comes on the radio to tell us exactly how the world works. Mole-A-Way can rid our garden of pesky rodents through the use of undetectable sound waves, he tells us. Our turnips will be protected by modern technology. It worked for a woman in Lincoln he says. I trust Paul Harvey and I really want to believe he’s right about a simple box saving my garden, about mysterious waves fixing my problems.
We both jump as Dad knocks on the window. It scares Molly for a second, him looking in like that, waving the newspaper.
I unlatch and open the window. “Je-sus,” he says, handing me the article. “He paid his friend to cut his foot off to fool the insurance. Anybody ever try that on you?”
I look at the article. “No, Dad. I sell crop insurance. Remember?”
“Go ahead. Read it,” he says returning to his bucket. “They ought to take those crazy birds out in the middle of nowhere and push ‘em off a hill.”
Molly laughs. She leans forward and whispers with her diluted Boston accent, “Where do you suppose he thinks the middle of nowhere is?” I miss her laugh. She has an honest laugh and it fades too soon.
I have been preaching pestilence for a full year and now it’s all coming true. I’ve been talking men into banking on doom while I bet against it. But honestly I don’t know the first thing about the weather. So I’m reading the almanac when Gene Allen comes into my office. He’s wearing a short-sleeved, collared shirt with jeans and dirty penny loafers and seeing him in July means he’s on his last leg.
The meteorologists in Omaha tell me forecasting’s an art, at best. But my father could smell a cloud a week in coming. He’d step out into the blue sky, open white shirt and black boots laced with leather tails, jeans half buttoned, a bachelor eating a drumstick and squinting in the line-to-line arcing blue. He’d toss that bone and stand licking his fingers before buttoning his pants, squinting in the morning sun, a man about measuring. Then he’d tarp the hay. He’d shed the tractor and put up Grandpa’s old mules, Miggs and Jenny. And Dale and I would leave our bicycles in the dirt approach, wheels spinning, to enter the fields and wait under a blue sun for a rain that must be coming.
That’s how I remember him now as Gene takes a seat, my father seen from the broad-leafed beans below, a man on his property deciding, while I waited in the rows next to my brother for the first big drops to come out of nowhere to bend the dusty plants. Dad would say it was coming; Grandpa Jim could still tell you how much. Grandpa Jim got to where he couldn’t figure out his shoes, but he’d clod onto the porch and say seven-tenths. Me, I’m betting. I lick my fingers and stare at the sky and see nothing. I see a crop-beating sun and dust. I hurry the book into a drawer; it’s not something for me to be seen reading, not what I should be subscribing to.
Farmers today are like Gene, like me, guessing. Gene knows I’m from the big city. He thinks I have technology at my beck and call. Farmers want to know what satellites see and computers tell, but they’re leery, too. They want me to be someone like them, someone they can trust. And, at the same time, they want me to be a distant expert with a clipboard and a phone link to Skylab. So I wear blue jeans and a cheap tie across a crisp white shirt. I drive a brand-new Chevy, but always with a bale or a barrel in back, sometimes planking. I sit in a rolled leather chair and watch Gene track dirt onto my carpet and I decide I’ll leave that dirt there for a week, or longer, as a sign of that certain mix of hard work and prosperity that people want to believe in. We shake hands. He sets a bag of dirt on my desk. I test their soil in Dad’s basement for free. I read a library book on how to do it, but my answer is always the same: fertilize, nitrates nitratesnitrates. Anything to ensure a yield.
“I got browntops all across and I can’t keep the dirt on the ground for all this wind,” he says and points toward my wall, toward the wind we both know is out there. “They say we’re going to come up low on water this season, Jim. They say the rains aren’t coming.”
“A well’s always the best bet,” I say and I start my monologue: the cost of drilling and irrigation, numbers and statistics, fast mathematics and calculations, and I’m losing him, dazzling him into a slight stupor, which I want. I turn the computer screen to him and start running charts and graphs in the iridescent green. He holds his chair arms and watches my hands move. His father’s land is his now. His father, who never once sought help and never took it, who Gene probably never once saw fearful of the future, of something that couldn’t be helped, and now Gene’s in my office pricing an easy way out, pricing safety. I add wind and hail and flood and tornadoes, my hands swirling above the desk. I talk of Chinese Moths and Cotton Weevils. There’s blight and black root and hydrosemitis and I’m talking as if there are too many dangers to list when Molly calls. She tries to sound sincere as she asks me if fifth graders would know what magma was.
“Molly, Tm working on a policy here. I don’t have time.”
“I talked with Litner,” she says. “Go see him today, he wants to speak with you about your father.”
I don’t say anything. I watch Gene read an article I cut out of the paper and taped to the wall. It’s about the plains drought; the headline reads, “Farmers Lose Everything.”
“I made an appointment for you.”
I still don’t say anything.
“Jim?” she says. Then she gets this talking-to-herself tone. “I’m trying to be understanding here. I’m trying to be wife-like about this.”
“No way, Mol. You know how I feel. We talked about it. We’re not seeing him. Dad’s going to live with us and then he’s going to teach his future grandkids how to whittle wrong and they’re going to cut their fingers off, okay. One big happy thumbless family. No doctors.”
Now she’s quiet. Gene has turned from the article and is looking at me. In his pale eyes he seems lost and confused, like me. He doesn’t want insurance but he’s reached a point where he’s prepared to pay. He eyes the headline again and I understand him for a moment, someone gotten to a place he doesn’t know. I don’t want to sell him a policy. I want to talk him out of it, to tell him to go home, to quit praying for rain. Quit praying, I think.
“Look,” I say to her. “I can’t see anyone today. After lunch I have to drive to Omaha to pick up the new trends. I have to have this month’s rates out Monday.”
“Come home for lunch.”
I’m quiet. I tap my pencil on the desk so she can hear. Gene wants to leave so I mouth at him to sit.
“I’m working too. Just come home and we’ll talk.”
“Okay,” I say, quieter. “You’re right.”
I can hear them talking on the other end. “Your father wants you to get him a beer on the way home. Any kind,” she says. “No, ifs a Coors now.”
Gene, I realize, has my father’s difficult eyes. They are grey and set in with lowering lids, searching eyes that roam the room for guidance. Troubled eyes lighten with age. Dad’s are almost white. Gene shifts some and then stands, looking at his bag of dry dirt on my desk, looking for a sign telling him whether he should take his dust with him or not and I can only think that someday soon I will have those eyes.
“Did you look for the bag?”
“Yeah,” she says. “I looked.”
“Look again, okay?”
“It’s not the bag,” she says, and I tell her eleven and hang up.
Inside the No Show Tavern, I order three tenderloins, slaw, a six of Coors and a draft. Willert’s youngest, Winston, sets the beer before me and I suck the cool foam.
I rent Dad’s land to Willert for a third of the futures and Winston rolls up once in a while in a million-dollar Steiger to watch game shows in a climate-controlled cab as he cultivates the rows. He has walked into the cooler and I can see him looking out into the bar through frosted glass. I put a handful of plastic forks in my shirt pocket and I can see him stare at me through rows of brown bottles. He wipes the white from the glass with his hand, to see what else I may take. Sweat drips from my nose onto the bar. Even the beer tastes salty in this heat.
I set to thinking in the hot room. The windows are painted black. Fans turn fast and out of balance. On the wall is a picture of a penguin pointing to blue icicles dangling from the words Air Conditioning. I don’t think about all the policies I’ll have to pay, or the underwriter or Gene, a customer I was probably lucky to lose. I think about Molly, the way she’s trying to humor Dad, like he was one of those kids in her textbooks. There’s no humor in this. I know my Dad. He’s just got to be shown there’s nothing to fear. He sees that and this whole thing stops. I show him and it’s over.
I call for another draft and Winston comes out of the cooler. His hair is frosted and his lips are pale, but he’s still sweating. The tavern doors open as two, three, five men enter, a full crew dressed in brown with tan nametags, all with large key rings hooked in cracked belts. I look at my watch. Ten thirty. It’s the third shift getting off from Watertables.
The end one has to take the stool next to me, which he doesn’t seem to like, and he bumps me as he hunkers down. With his round face and his buzzed hair under a brown baseball cap, he’s a guy I might have gone to school with. But then I see his boots; they’re steel toed with the leather roughed at the tips, the metal showing. Winston starts pouring beers, lots of them, as they pass the dice cup in turn, shaking and spilling them onto the bar to see who’ll pay. The end one begins clanking his steel toe against the brass rail like he’s comforted by the sound. He turns to look at me. His nametag reads Shick, and Shick takes his time looking at my tie, the folders of papers on the bar, the bundle of plastic forks in my pocket. He catches me looking at those steel toes, clanking away at the rail. He scratches the scruff on his neck until he’s taken things in and turns to talk Dakotadome football with the guy next to him. “… but the main problem with astro—”
“You work out there?”
Shick slowly rolls his head to me, mouth open. “Yeah,” he says and swings back to the other guy, “—turf is that there’s too much traction.”
“You guys guards?”
Shick stops again. The guy on the other side of him shakes the dice cup and watches in the dark heat of the bar. His nametag says Lem, and he has a deep grooved face, like a poorly ironed shirt, which seems to crease and uncrease as he considers my question. His boots are similar except they’re pointed.
“We’re monitors,” Shick says in the direction of Lem.
“Monitors make sure things go smooth.”
I want to let all of this go, but I can’t. “Then why the boots? They look all—”
“Oh that,” he says and smiles. “That comes from kicking old people in the head.” Then there’s a quiet as he shakes the captain’s cup and spills dice on the bar.
Lem laughs. The grooves loose then bind. “Tell him to piss off,” he says to me. “Shick’s just being an asshole. We use our boots to slow the tires on the wheelchairs. Like brakes. You know, it rubs the leather.”
I smile a little easier now, relax some. I sip my beer and feel the joke, the way you want to trust a man who can put you off. I drink deeper than I normally would, a true gulp. “You got a woman in there named Margaret?” I ask Lem.
Shick has rolled triple twos. His big face studies the dice on the bar. Lem has to pay he decides and Shick calls out for another round.
“I don’t know names,” Lem says in a voice that you wouldn’t know from his face. “Go to Divisions desk. There’s a form you fill out.”
“She’s probably older, with longer hair maybe.”
Suddenly Shick turns to me, as if he’s noticed me for the first time. He eyes the forks in my pocket. “Look, you got someone in there or not?”
I pause. I can feel the fans whirring overhead. I open my mouth but everything I can think to say feels unfamiliar. My eye catches Winston in the cooler again, looking scared and angry through yellow glass the way my father did last night. “No. No I guess I don’t.”
“Then what the hell do you care?”
The bar is quiet and I want my food, I want to leave now. Three empty beer glasses sit on the bar before us. The dice are still. Then Shick shakes his head and starts to laugh, at first a low snorting sound through his nose. Lem smiles too and soon they’re both laughing. Shick turns and laughs right at me, but it’s as if he’s saying none of this counts, and I start to smile. “I can’t take it,” he says. “That’s a good one. Slows the wheelchairs. You kill me with that, Lem.” I laugh with them for a moment until different punch lines begin to surface.
“Kick ‘em in the head,” Lem says and soon they are laughing so hard they forget where they are, babies, just the two of them, laughing and laughing.
I’m tired on the way home. Driving past the Watertables I feel the cool mist through the windows of their sprinklers running that long green lawn, bright water running in the middle of the day. I don’t care about Omaha or the trends or my rates. Every policy I sell now is doom, and I know it. I just want to lie down and turn on the air conditioner. Up the approach my fenders rumble. One of the empty barrels bounces out, but I drive on, faster. Coming up the way, I see that the windows are open, the curtains blowing in from the screens. A big white house in a hot wind against a green field and blue sky. I don’t want to fight.
When I park, I see Molly doing something I’ve never seen before. I grab the food from the seat and walk over. She is picking apples from Grandpa Jim’s tree. She’s set up a sort of picnic, a card table and chairs and iced tea in the shade of the tree. Mol has on sandals and a white cotton dress. She is using the front of her skirt to catch the fruit, and I sit and watch as she shows me the backs of her legs when she reaches. I pour a glass of iced tea and enjoy looking at her. I haven’t looked at her this way in a while.
“The picnic looks nice,” I say. “It was a nice idea.”
She turns and says thanks and continues picking. “I think I’ll make a pie. I’ve never made an apple pie before.”
She comes over and lets the apples roll from her skirt onto the table. They make a pleasant sound, like bare feet on old floors. I lean back in the chair and decide I won’t tell her they’re crabapples. I decide right now I’ll eat that pie. I pour her some tea. “Look, Molly. I know I’ve been a pain lately. I haven’t been myself. The insurance, this thing with Dad. Maybe it’s the weather. You know me. I get an idea in my head and it builds and builds. I just want to say this is a nice thing you did for us. I want to ….” I stop and count. “Who’s the fourth chair for?”
Molly’s quiet. She pulls her hair back, exhales and shakes her head. “It’s just a social call, Jim.”
“Who’s the chair for?” I’m standing now.
“He’s doing us a favor. He’s just coming by to___ “
“Jesus Christ, Molly.”
“There’ll be no office or bill. He just wants to come by and see you two.”
“Jesus.” I shake my head. “I can’t believe this.”
“You’re down there every other night, yelling. It’s driving me crazy.”
“It’s driving you crazy?” I say, trying to lower my voice.
“Why not let him hear? You think he likes being yelled at less than whispered about?”
“He doesn’t even know what’s going on.”
She turns her head and looks at something far off. “You really believe that?”
“No doctors, Molly. That’s final.” I point across the field. “It’s just that place.”
“No it’s not, Jim,” she says, slowly, looking at me. “It’s you. He’s fine with me all day. Something is happening with you two.”
“There she is!” I hear him yell and I spin toward the house looking for my father. “I got her!” he says and suddenly I see his boots dangling off the roof. I see his hand lifted toward the Watertables.
I open the attic window and find him in the sun that is reflecting off the shakes. He is sitting on the edge of the roof, looking at Watertables with his long field glasses. A light film of dust has settled over him. I step out into the light. The shingles are shrinking, drying up, becoming loose. They shift and crack under me. A cornice of dust runs over the gable and turns at my feet.
“Dad,” I say, trying to speak calmly, trying not to frighten him. “You need to come off the roof.”
He turns, his white hair flips in the wind. “Call your old dad a liar will you? You’ll see.”
I step toward him. The silt is slick on the roof and I leave long footprints. His skin is pink. He has stopped sweating. “How long have you been up here?”
“As long as it takes.” He lifts the binoculars again. I can see that he’s got them all out of focus. “You bring the beer?”
“Yeah. It’s downstairs. Let’s go have a beer, okay?” I sit on the eaves next to him. “Come down with me.”
“She’s coming. You’ll see.”
“Dad, you can’t do this to me.” My eyes are hot and I rub them until they throb. My collar pops up. “Not in the daytime. You can’t do this to me during the day.”
“This.” I put my hands out. “This.”
He shrugs. “My roof.”
No matter what, I decide, I’m not going to get mad. No matter what.
“I think they’re dancing,” he says and passes the glasses to me. He puts them in my hands and explains, pointing, “See how they got them gardens set? Don’t have that damn hedge in the way. That’s where they’ve got ‘em. In circles, dancing around. It’s crazy, isn’t it? You wouldn’t catch me dancing with those birds. Go on, look.”
I don’t even want to touch the glasses. I force them back into his determined fingers.
“Are they dancing?” he says, looking at the binoculars. “Tell me if they’re dancing.”
“No. We’re going to get off the roof. It’s not safe up here.”
“Oh no. No way.” He loops the binocular strap around my neck and they fall against my stomach.
I kick at the edge of the roof and a shingle falls and turns in the wind to snap on the rider mower. “See Dad, they’re so dry they’re falling out. There isn’t any rain.”
“Gonna rain tomorrow.”
I wave my hand at the sky above us. I’m so frustrated I can’t even seem to shake words out.
“I know,” he says.
“No you don’t know, Dad!” I yell. “You don’t know.”
“You read the barometer? Mostly I use that,” he says and I want to just pick him up and carry him in. The barometer hasn’t changed in weeks. “See them heifers over at the fence, eyeing that alfalfa?” he says pointing. “Those are Willert’s cows. Ain’t seen them in a couple of weeks have you? They’re four miles from the tank. It’s a good sign. You check your gauge. It’ll change.”
“That’s it, that’s your answer? You watch the cows?”
“Your Grandpa Jim did. Like I said, I prefer the barometer.”
“This isn’t cows, Dad. This is serious. I mean this is really serious.” I look up at the sky, the encompassing blue. Not a cloud. Below I see Molly gazing up with me, her hand shading her eyes.
“Boy she’s hot,” he says and for a minute I think he means Molly, who I’m thinking of. Molly, who I’m watching back slowly into the bean field to get a better view of us, and I think god if he sees her out there it’s over.
Dad wipes the dirt from his forehead and I motion with my hand to flag her out of the field. She waves back, a small movement at her waist, as if she were afraid of being seen as encouraging, and suddenly I am afraid of her. But he won’t let up. “You look in those glasses and tell me what you see. You look and we’ll go·”
I lift the rims to my brow but I can’t look.
“Are they dancing?”
“Yeah,” I tell him, my eyes closed. “It looks like they’re dancing.”
Dad squints at me in disbelief. “You’re lying, aren’t you?”
He opens his mouth. “You, you did it again, didn’t you?”
This is funny to him. He gets the craziest look on his face. His pale eyes widen with surprise. No, I say but he’s laughing now, I mean, he’s really funny. I start to smile. I almost can’t help it because I haven’t seen him smile in so long, but I look into his failing eyes and it is not funny.
“You did. You lied,” he says, shaking his head, shifting his hip to stand. “Three times.” And before I know it, he’s walking toward the window with his head listing, laughing softly in the wind and I feel, as I look from my father to my wife in the rustling green, that some unseen force holds me just beyond them.
I help him across the pitch and guide his unsteady foot over the sill. I stop at the window, though. There is a glimmer in the beans which catches my eye, a quick flash, and I start to lift the glasses. I don’t know anymore. The scary thing is I truly don’t know what I’ll see. It could be my forks in a bean row or Litner dusting up my drive. It could be rainclouds on the horizon. I stand on the roof gripping those black frames and I honestly can’t tell you if I’m searching for a woman in blue paper dancing with my gym bag or for a boy crouched in the beans, a boy who’s been told the future and still believes.
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