by Mary Daurio
Frightened by the West Nile Virus that’s invading our little corner of Ontario, John's out shooting crows. How a mosquito could land on a crow to bite it is beyond me. I guess they do. He found a dead crow two days back. The damn thing was in the water trough. The coroner’s report, death by drowning. Not West Nile.
There is no coroner, but yours truly. Still, he carries on. I wouldn’t mind as much, but he’s been drinking. Not soggy, he can load the gun, and he has one crow to his credit. It’s just he is aiming in the direction of the chicken coop. If he hits my rooster or hens, it won’t be West Nile he needs to fear.
I take him bug spray.
‘Get that out of here. It’s all chemical,’ John hollers.
Never mind, he’s probably about eighty proof. That's an exaggeration, but still, he’ll never notice the bites. Poetic justice, him getting bit by mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile. Or is that ironic? Whatever there is no talking to him while he’s in this state. I go back inside to finish making supper.
Dusk settles, and in he stomps plunking the gun in the corner of the room.
‘It’s not loaded, is it?’ I ask.
He raises his eyebrows in a bushing expression saying all he has to. It was those talking eyes that first drew me to him way back then in the heat of passion, before children and grandchildren, a lifetime ago. Sometimes even now, I look at him and get a pain in my side of love, and anguish.
‘What’s for supper?’ John asks. Really, with the smell of corned beef in the air.
‘I was afraid it might be rooster.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous! I was miles from the coop.’
That’s not what I saw, but I keep my own counsel. Some things are easier let go, especially on a night like tonight. The local newspaper had a story about a crow testing positive for West Nile a few counties over from our farm. That's all it took to trip one of his dark moods. Best to just let it go. I decide to overlook the gun, in the corner and get the table ready for supper. Silence fills the air, that thick electric feeling just before a thunderstorm. It’s been tipping tough these days with cattle prices down, and the seeding costing more- well, just about everything costing more.
‘I have pie.’
‘That would be nice.’
That’s what we have between us. Once a roaring romance settles for polite passivity. Is this what happens to people who live together and share their lives? Does it all have to be eaten away?
Oh, John, what a dancer he was! People would stare. We haven’t been to a dance in twenty years. What would all those girls who wished they were me say if they could see us now? Anna Marie, especially. She would cut in on John and me back then. I’d smile and back away as he was going home with me, after all. To the best of my knowledge, he’s been faithful. The farm, that’s his other love, and I can’t say I’ve not been jealous a time or two.
‘I’m going with Joe to an auction tomorrow.’
He brings me out of my reverie, and I startle a little at his voice.
‘Don't need anything. Just want to see how the cattle and machinery go. Home for supper.’
‘Ask Joe in for the meal, if you like.’ Joe's farm is across the way. Widowed five years, and we have him over often. The men help each other back and forth when they have tough jobs to do.
‘Yes, that would be a thought. Nice pie.’
‘Thanks,’ I say.
We ignore the tension between us and concentrate on the mundane little threads that twine us together. The safety net of the day to day that we often land in without any conscious thought.
He leaves the table and heads outside again to tinker with this machine or that. Haying season is just about here. He has a lot more to do than shoot crows. The gun stands a silent vigil in the corner. I’m not touching it, that’s for damn sure. Stand on guard the rest of the week for all I care.
Instead of saying what is really bothering him, he sinks into the farm and all she needs. What about me? I want to scream. Is that selfish, or just self-preservation? I don’t know, but somehow, I feel dwindled. Diminished, but not discarded. He spends more time maintaining his machinery than the time of day he gives me. I often wonder if he would notice if I served supper in the nude. I won’t try it. What if he didn’t notice?
He’s up early today, and with the chores done, off with Joe. The day stretches ahead of me, and I have new energy. After every thunderstorm, the air clears and sparkles. It wasn’t much of a storm between us last night, but enough to send me tossing and turning, finally going to sleep in the spare room. John says nothing about that this morning. Sad, but he is all business and auction. Where did your wife sleep last night, John? You who counts every cattle head. Well, at least I know where I stand. The air, while not exactly sparkling, is clear. We didn’t have a thunderstorm, more like my own tumultuous sheet lightning.
I need to keep busy, so I make a couple more pies. Joe can take some home. I miss Joe’s, Sarah. We had a friendship, close and consoling. I think of her when I offer Joe a meal or send him a pie.
Moulding all that dough, and flattening it with the rolling pin, is a type of therapy for me. With the children gone, John and I don’t need much pie, so it’s good to give some of that labour away. For the fowl supper at the church, I make ten pies. Just like that. Anyone who knows anything will say its sublimation. Oh, I read the kids' textbooks.
Things were different before they left for school and then started lives afterward. John is disappointed that none of the boys wanted to farm. When they were all home, life revolved around them and their needs. Ours went on the back burner. The same happens to a lot of folks. You lose your essence, the part that gives you your reason to be. John is finding his in the land and the farm he loves.
I can’t compete.
He’s got about two hundred acres. All five foot four of me, laid out flat, wouldn’t be one-hundredth of an acre. Talk about a lightweight. I must be going crazy. He might be too.
I worried about him last winter when there was less to do, and he moped around, but spring has his engine running. He spends each waking hour working his fingers to the bone. He drinks on occasion, but nothing that has sent any alarms off yet, except for the crows.
The men return from the sale, and the meal is ready. The conversation is contained and stilted.
‘Thanks, for a nice dinner, Alice,’ Joe says.
‘How was the auction?’ I ask.
‘The cattle went cheap, and the machinery followed suit. Can’t make anything farming, and can’t make anything getting out. Eh, John?’
Up go John’s eyebrows. He has been unusually quiet this evening. Oh, he answers questions, but he doesn’t initiate anything. I wonder how he was at the sale with Joe. They have known each other most of their lives. Joe can usually get him out of the deep dark blue. No easy feat.
Joe takes his pie and thanks me.
I say, ‘We’ll have to do this again soon, never mind waiting for an auction.’
‘That would be nice. Thanks again, Alice. Bye, John.’
A silent wave from John, the screen door catches, and we are alone again. I thought he would come home in good humour from the sale. Joe is always pleasant company and even with things how they are farming, they commiserate and often share a joke.
I start to clear the dishes, and he leaves. My feet ache, so I throw my shoes off one at a time into the corner. I take another look, at the empty corner.
The gun is gone!
I hear a shot and a crunching noise.
Oh, Lord, no!
Running out, I see him aiming at the barnyard where all the cattle are milling around.
‘John, stop! For God’s sake, quit it.’
He’s ready to fire again but stops and turns to me like he’s seen me for the first time.
His eyes look directly at me and his mouth grimaces. ‘Alice, what am I doing?’
‘I’m not sure. Did you hit one?’
‘No, I was aiming at the weather vane, the bullet hit the barn.’
His hands tremble a little as he lays the gun on the grass. I take him in my arms. John holds me close and then takes a few steps. I realize we are dancing under the flickering illumination of the yard light, the moon and stars a canopy above us. The soft grass is a carpet beneath my bare feet, and those sweet tender steps of old send chills down my spine and bring tears to my eyes.
He holds me close and whispers in my ear.
‘Alice, we need to go dancing more.’
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