By Eric Bauer
She was all I ever wanted.
She was seventeen and I was one year behind her and in the autumn of my junior year, we went driving one Friday night over the hills above our small Ohio hamlet because the boyfriend she’d dated all through high school had dumped her the moment he got to college. I only knew she was crying because the tears she wept up in the bleachers dripped down on me where I sat below the stands, sneaking a cigarette where the band leader and the rest of the teachers wouldn’t see me. Her friends were whooping and hollering, oblivious to her tears, or at least that’s what she told me when she came down following the smell from my Kamel Red Lights, the same brand her boyfriend had smoked, thinking maybe he’d come back to apologize and finding only me instead. Until then I’d never spoken a word to her and that night below the bleachers my voice came out all hoarse and raspy so that the first thing she asked me was if I had ever smoked before. I lied and said I hadn’t even though I could catch the flame of a match after just one strike even with the cold autumn wind blowing around us making her move closer to me so that I could cup her cigarette and smell the faint scent of her rose petal hair as she inhaled that first charge of smoke. Soon she was coughing and spitting up tarry phlegm and I was holding my hand at her back saying are you okay are you okay and her squeezing tears between eyes that were squeezed tight, these ones not from Walt the boyfriend but from embarrassment. It was her first time smoking, a nasty habit that she always told Walt to quit, her saying to me just then, do you think that’s why he dumped me, which brought on a fresh round of tears, so much crying that I thought she would have cried out all the tears in the world.
The next day in school, she smiled at me. I thought it’d be just that one time and then we’d never speak of it again, like some other girls I’d had things with because I think they wanted to try me out because I was brown and different and one night with them would be fine with just the two of us kissing, or groping, in dark rooms behind closed doors, but when the light was on the next day and they had to see me, or see how they’d be seen with me, it’d be over. But she was different. And even that night when we’d gone driving up over the hills that ringed our little village away from the football games and the bonfires and the bands, I had a feeling, something I was too afraid to hope for, that this would last.
There was a little plateau that looked out over the village and that night, escaping from the ruckus, we sat in dead silence for just a while, staring at the lights that lit up that tiny burg of red meat and potatoes, of church on Sundays and sports on Fridays, for it was a Friday that day and there was the whole weekend in front of us, neither of us really knowing what it would bring. She spoke of Walt and the way they’d met and how she felt when he’d left for school and how they knew, both of them, that they would always be together. I told her then that nothing lasts forever and she said that she supposed that was true.
The fall turned into winter and all the football games came to an end and there were no more bleachers to sneak below, no more cigarettes to smoke outside, and by that time it didn’t matter because we’d spend most of our time together, picking her up on afternoons from the big farm house and driving away from that little town through the back roads and woods until the ground below us was gravel then dirt with no clear destination in mind, just happy to be together. We’d come across these hidden places, secrets in the world known only to us, like the little antique store that was set back over two wooden bridges, my car creaking and groaning across the plank board, our reflection shimmery and pale in the midnight water. Just one single bulb burned in that ramshackle building with a small stone chimney and shingles dotting the roof like they were painted there by a brush that could paint roofs or skies or clouds and when I stopped and got out of the car she said she didn’t know but I said what choice do we have. She said you always have a choice.
The man opened the door like he’d been expecting us and maybe he had because there wasn’t anything else around, not for miles, and I wondered if he’d maybe heard my car driving up or seen my lights because it was pitch black outside and cold and the fire in his little store felt good even when we were just on the porch. I asked him the way to get back, if we’d have to turn around or if there was some other road and he said to come in, he had tea and coffee and little cakes, if we wanted, and I could tell she didn’t want to but I looked at her again like what choice did we have.
She fell in love with one foot through the door. Little knickknacks lined all the shelves, some on thin, crinkly paper that crunched when you touched it and others on doilies and some just sat on the bare wood looking stately and austere. There were figurines of angels and glass bulbs of every color and there were unicorns that sparkled in the low light from the dim overhead bulbs and boxes that were unopened and some boxes that were opened and everywhere it seemed a panoply of some time long past. She fingered every one, picking them up and turning them over in her hands and staring at them like maybe they held some secret. One oval bowl had an assortment of rings and necklaces and bracelets and some earrings and there were little prices tied to them in a twine that was just about to break so that every time she took one out or put it back again, she had to handle it like some fine ornate jewel which maybe to her they were.
The man saw her holding one, a pair of earrings in the shape of a scythe. I thought they were ghastly but she seemed absolutely taken with them and held them against the light, turning them over in her hands and watching the smooth silver twist and dance. The man told her they were for the reaping and when she said she didn’t know what that was he told her about the breakfast fields out back and she said what are the breakfast fields and he explained that it was what they called them, a long time ago, the rows upon rows of corn and wheat and barley and oats that stretched far behind the little cottage for miles and miles until you thought the whole world was made of those fields. People made the food from them and the food made them strong and everybody helped plant them and harvest them and everyone had scythes like what you’re holding there in your hand. What happened to them, she said, and he told her that the world grew up and now they weren’t done by hand, they were done by machines, and those machines were far away and there was no more need now for the breakfast fields. He looked like he might cry and as I watched him I felt something in my heart go still.
She wore those earrings nearly every day for the rest of that year and people said a lot of things to her and she just ignored it all, she didn’t care, and soon people just got used to seeing her with them. We went driving more that year as the winter turned into spring and the spring approached summer and we never once tried to find that little shack again though I doubt we could have if we’d wanted. It was in April when her dad got a job down in Kansas. He was the minister of their local church and the church itself was expanding and now they needed a leader and he was the man they chose. There was a college that the church was a part of and she said that she could go for free and even though I never thought she would, she said she was considering it.
A week later she decided to go. She came down out of her house that night in a dress that looked like midnight with stars twinkling as bright as her eyes. We drove up to that same plateau and looked out over the village to all the places that were known to us. There was the school, there was the football field. There were the roads that took us out of town. I told her all the things I’d wanted to tell her but hadn’t and she said that she loved me too but that she still had to go, she had no choice. I said you always have a choice. I said I thought this was forever. She said she guessed it wasn’t true.
“The Breakfast Fields”
A prose piece by Eric Bauer.
Published in 2016 by the Citrus Arts Collective. All rights reserved.