The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Don’t Mind the Rest, pt.2

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…continued from yesterday…

It had been five weeks since Aunt Joan died.  Life looked a heckuva lot different than it had before her passing, and Uncle Slim’s passing last year.  This is what Slim meant when he had told him that things rarely work the way you plan them, but you have to deal with them anyways.  Tim understood now what it meant to be on his own.  Like it or not, he was his own man, beholden to nothing and no one.  There was no saying that he had to get on that train, or see Esther before he did, or even sell the farm to Mr. Giles.  He could have held his ground and kept that land like a postage stamp in the corner of Giles’ tracts until Kingdom come.

Inheriting the farm, though, meant recognizing it was going to collapse sooner rather than later, which Mr. Giles knew but waited to remind Timmy until a week after Aunt Joan had gone to the Hereafter.  Giles knocked late Sunday afternoon and requested a conversation.  He was dressed in a dingy white shirt and faded overalls, which passed for formal enough for a late Sunday talk with a neighbor.  His face was ruddy and sun-beaten.  He had wet his hair and combed it back.  Karl the banker stood behind him and peeked over his shoulder as Giles blocked the width of the doorway.

Mr. Giles sat at the kitchen table with his elbows on his thighs.  His enormous gut sagged between his knees.  He laid his notebook open on the table in front of him and poked with a crooked index finger at each point he had written down when he read it aloud:  “Your farm is too big for one man to handle.  It’s also too small to generate money to hire help.  You and Slim could hardly handle it as he was getting on in years.  It’s hard, hard work, and it put Joan…”  Mr. Giles stopped and looked at Tim.  When he seemed confident that he had his whole attention, he told him, “Timmy, you’re young, and as strong as any man in these parts.  But you’re not always going to be like that.  You think about the last year.  You’ve been lucky to get the crops in and keep things up.  Your whole life has been on these acres.  This place is going to wear you down.  You’ll be old before your time.”

Tim sipped his coffee and nodded.  His hand slipped into his pocket and felt for the piece of folded pink stationery he had been holding onto for the past week.  His fingers rested on it as he thought about Mr. Giles’ words.  They were the naked and unperfumed truth, and weren’t unlike thoughts Tim had in the last year but had pushed out of his mind.  Joan had seemed to want to broach the topic since Slim’s death, but admittedly couldn’t say the words for fear they’d become the truth.  Instead, they carried on their duties both for each other and out of respect to Slim’s legacy.  Things remained that way up until ten days prior when the rooster didn’t wake Joan and Tim found her cold in her bed.

Mr. Giles continued, “The tractor needs overhauled.  Anybody who’s heard it can tell you that.  And that truck isn’t going to last.  This is to say nothing of the regular repairs to this house.”  His eyes left Tim and darted around the walls and ceiling, surveying who knew what future repairs.  He reached into the breast pocket of the dingy white shirt he wore beneath his overalls and pulled out a thick stack of bills.  He set it on the table and pushed it to the middle.  “This will be my only offer.”

He referred back to the list, again with the crooked finger.  “It beats a broken back.  Empty pockets.  The bank at the door.  No place to go.  This way, you got cash in your hand and you can do what you wish.  What kind of man wouldn’t take that?”

Giles looked to Karl, who looked to Tim and spoke softly. “He’s right, Timmy.”  Karl managed a weak smile.  He fidgeted with his string tie.  “I know this isn’t a good way for things to end, but think of it like a beginning.  You can make yourself a whole new future.  It’s the practical thing to do.  I think Slim and Joan would have told you the same.”

Tim hitched his thumbs into the bib straps of his overalls.  Slim had told him he could trust Karl, and don’t be fooled if it seems he’s going against you.  Karl knows the angles, and you gotta believe that he has things figured so they can work for you.  He’s an honest man.  He helped keep the family on the farm in some of the lean years.

Karl’s eyes darted to Mr. Giles, and then rested back on Tim.  “Timmy, you ought to know that I talked to Slim a couple of times about the best way to provide for you and Joan when the unthinkable happened.  He knew it was going to.  A man carries a wound like that, he knows it’s going to take him eventually.  Thank God he hung on like he did.  He told me that when the time comes, you’d know the right thing to do.  I think this is what he meant.”

Giles closed the notebook and stood up from the table.  He pushed his sleeves up his forearms, and then stuffed the notebook into a back pocket.  He turned to face Tim, pointing his gut directly at him.  He produced a bandana and wiped perspiration from his forehead.  Finally, he spoke.  “Son, I’m going to leave here in one flat minute.  You will never again see me on this property so long as I don’t own it.”

Tim rose and looked directly into Giles’ eyes, surprising even himself at how tall he was.  He was one of the few men in the county who could stand so tall as to look directly in Giles’ eyes.  It occurred to him that with Giles’ bloated body next to his tall, slender self, they looked like the number ten debating itself.  He stifled the thought.  He spoke.  “Mr. Giles, I’ll take your money.  But I have conditions.”

“Conditions?”  Giles snorted.  He looked to Karl.  “Do you believe this?  He might as well be Slim’s own true blood.”

Tim stood still, his thumbs still hooked in his bib straps. “If you have even a shred of respect for Slim and Joan and all they did, you’ll listen.”

Giles gave him a stern look up and down.  When his sagging jowls relaxed, Tim knew for the first time that Giles, or anybody for that matter, was measuring him as a full man.  Giles stuffed his handkerchief into a pocket and crossed his arms over his chest.  “Go ahead.”

It took less than a minute for them to settle that Tim would accept the reasonable compensation for his inheritance.  The money also bought him one month to remain on the farm and the promise of silence about the deal so he could tend to his affairs without being bothered.  They shook on the agreement, the power in the grip of Mr. Giles’ clammy hand matched by the young hardness of Tim’s.

Tim studied the beaming face across from him.  The stoutness of it and the shallow widow’s peak high on the forehead didn’t match at all with Esther’s slender cheeks and small chin.  There didn’t seem to be an identifiable through line from Mr. Giles to his brother Pa Giles to his niece Esther.  All Esther had must have come from her mother’s side.  She was lucky not to be shaded so directly to her father, whose face Tim had last seen a year ago.  At that time, it was as red as Indian corn.  Beads of sweat blotched the bulbous nose, and his mouth spewed chaw as he yelled, “My daughter ain’t marryin’ no goddamn dirt farmer!”

He had barged into the moment when Tim and Esther stood in his back yard and kissed for the first time, hands-in-hands, facing each other, staring into the other’s eyes.  It was almost ten o’clock.  He came stumbling out the house with a double-barrel Winchester broken open in the crook of one arm and pointing menacingly at Tim with the index finger of his free hand.  You’d think that nobody had seen young people in love.  What did they think was going to happen at a dance?

Everything happened so fast that evening, like a dirt devil sprung up in a barren field before a storm.  He had never been to a dance and there he was at his very first, the graduation dance.  She had approached him, the quiet girl from the back of the room in literature class.  Maybe she had smiled at him once or said hello.

She was smiling and biting her lower lip.  She said, “I’d like to dance, Tim.”  She grasped his hand and took him onto the dance floor.  How could feet that were steady and reliable in the fields and barn be so clumsy on the hard wood of the gymnasium floor?  An hour later and he felt what must have been intoxication from the floral scent of her perfume and the softness of her lightly starched cotton dress.

He offered to walk her home to buy more minutes of her company.  Their silhouettes moved between houses whose front rooms glowed by candle light or whose front porches were lit by lanterns.  The soft lights radiated off Esther’s skin.  Had his feet even touched the ground between the school and the four blocks to her house?

The kiss had been a desperate ploy because he could not find the words to express the unexpected feelings.  He was stuck in the wake of unexpected romance even after Pa Giles chased from the back yard.  He was sure he wanted to live with his lips pressed to hers.

Slim and Joan picked him up in front of the school ten minutes later.  By the time the truck rattled and lurched back up the driveway on the farm, he had found the words and laid the whole story out to them. The cab of the truck glowed in a strange light that must have come from the grins on the faces of his aunt and uncle.  Slim switched the engine off, and the three of them sat in silence.  Finally, Joan asked, “He said ‘goddamn dirt farmer?’  That’s just not right.  He doesn’t feel that way about his own brother, does he?  I’m tempted to march right to their house the next time we’re in town and ask him.”

Slim patted her thigh.  “It’s been an eventful night, but my hip is certainly screaming.  Let’s sleep on things and see what the morning brings.”

They walked to the end of the driveway at first light.  Slim more leaned on Tim than walked with him.  “Pa Giles gets some funny notions,” he said as they ran a chain around the end post of the fence and through the frame of the gate.  “Same as Mr. Giles sometimes.  It don’t help that their cousin is the sheriff.”

They clicked a padlock on the ends of the chain.  Tim backed away and admired the effectiveness of their simple task.  He couldn’t stifle a grimace.

“Enjoy these days, son,” Slim told him.  He, too, was smiling again.  The grin was so wide across his face that it was falling off the edges.  “You ain’t done nothing wrong, and no sheriff is gonna make a deal about it.”

Tim ran his hand through his hair and shook his head.  “Thanks, Uncle Slim.”

“You’re welcome.  Don’t ever let no man intimidate you, Timmy.  Always deal fair with ‘em, but don’t back down when you know you’re right.  That’ll take care of most of your problems.”

They walked back to the house together, Slim with his arm around Tim.  He was still plenty strong enough to walk with a little help.

They sat on the front porch and waited for breakfast.  Aunt Joan brought out scrambled eggs with ham, biscuits with apple butter, hash browns, and whole milk.  The thick scent of coffee hung on the porch even after they had finished the meal and were sitting quietly, surveying the front lawn and the barn and letting the day’s chores wait for a bit longer.  It was quiet for a long time, until Aunt Joan spoke.  “You know you’re right for her.  She knows it, too.  Don’t mind the rest.”  She repeated the last part in a cadence.  “Don’t mind the rest.”  She paused, and then said again, “Don’t mind the rest.”

Slim nodded and pointed toward the road at an angle far to the left, where the sheriff’s truck was rolling towards the driveway.  Dust billowed in its wake.  Once he reached the intersection, the sheriff parked the truck and got out.  He walked to the gate and leaned his forearms on it.  He waved and yelled out, “Can you come out to the gate, Slim?  We need to talk.  Bring the boy.”

What followed was the longest walk Tim ever remembered taking to the road.  Sure Slim’s hip was bothering him, but it felt more like he was taking a walk to nowhere in particular and enjoying the scenery along the way.  He paced himself slow and easy, like the front porch swing of an evening when he’d sit there with Joan.  Was Slim chuckling as they walked?

The sheriff sighed heavily when they finally stood before him.  He tipped his hat and propped his boot on a gate rail.  “Pa Giles said Tim was disturbing his property last night after the dance.  Said he took liberties with his daughter.  This true?”

Slim unhooked his arm from around Tim’s shoulder and stood on his own.  “The way I heard it was that Tim here walked Esther home.  Looks like the two of them favor each other.  Did Pa Giles tell you the part about bringing his double-barrel into the yard and making threats?”

The sheriff took his hat off and wiped his arm across his forehead.  He grasped his Sam Browne belt on both sides of his hips, and gave Slim a long look.

Slim continued, “When a man tips a bottle and carries on like that, that’s your disturbance.”  He didn’t move, only stood there next to Tim and returned the sheriff’s look.

The sheriff stared into Slim’s eyes.  Finding no weaknesses after what felt like a full minute, he spoke.  “Pa Giles says for Tim to keep off his property and away from his daughter.  Let’s make this the last we speak of it.”

He turned to walk back to his truck, but Slim froze him in his tracks.  “We respect the limits of the law, sheriff.  We expect you to do the same.”  The sheriff half-turned as if to reply, but changed his mind.  He climbed in his truck and went back the way he came, dust again billowing behind him.

The walk back to the porch was significantly shorter than the walk to the road, and it seemed like Slim’s hip felt so good that it was like it had never bothered him in the first place.  He never said a word about it again.  Two weeks later, Tim found him slumped on the ground by the chicken coop.  He lay atop of bucketful of seed that had spilled when he collapsed.  The leg that extended from his bad hip was curled beneath him in what looked like one final attempt to protect his vulnerability.

Tim would see Esther over the course of the next year if by chance he passed on his way to the hardware store or the post office or wherever an errand might take him.  If he happened to pass the Giles’ house he might see her staring out the front window, looking for something.  Maybe she was sitting on the front porch stroking the cat on her lap.  She’d wave and manage enough of a smile to warm him inside.  They’d see each other at Sunday services, and if they were situated just right they could sneak a sideways glance or a smile.  There was always the hope they could talk in the courtyard after service as the congregation filed out and exchanged pleasantries, but without fail Pa Giles would clutch Esther’s elbow and walk her home without a backward glance.

She hadn’t been at the funerals.  Not even death and the showing of one’s respects trumped the importance of keeping the girl away from the dirt farmer.  She had been able to get him a note, though, which Mrs. Gunderson gave to him at the luncheon the church had put together after Joan’s funeral.

Esther had used a piece of pink stationery and had folded it in thirds with clean, exact creases.  She wrote with purple ink in neat, precise cursive that could have been a model for a penmanship primer:

Dearest Timmy:  I’m sorry about your Aunt Joan, and even sorrier I can’t be there.  My parents forbade me, the same as they did with your Uncle Slim’s funeral.  They can’t forbid my thoughts, though they would try if they knew how often you are in them.  Love, Esther

Tim folded the note in half across the width of the tri-fold and kept it in his pocket.  He had found himself holding it at times over the past month or running his hand in his pocket to assure it was still on his person.  He finally laid it between the pages of the leather-bound journal to keep it safe from the rigors of the move.

continued…

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Written by seeker70

February 13, 2015 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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