Homecoming


I packed my bags and left the farmhouse in the middle of the night. The table was set with the only dishes I’d ever owned, chipped and faded thrift store bargains that sparkled like new in the moonlight shining through the kitchen window. A forgotten candle had melted away, sealing it and its holder to the table. 

He didn’t come back — my neighbor with the scuffed-up cowboy boots, tan and lean from years of farming. He’d been looking for extra work after the soybean crops went bad. He built the chicken coop out back for me, took the beer I’d offered him, then took me when I offered that too. I liked the way his cowboy hat sat cocked to the left just a little, suppressing a head full of unruly black curls underneath.

But just like all things, it wasn’t meant to be. He said he’d come back, but I wondered if he was on to me. That he’d discovered that I’d robbed a dozen or so banks and was trying to stay hidden.

“You’ve got too many chickens for this one coop,” he said. He lifted his hat to wipe the dirt from his forehead. Beads of sweat raced down his neck. “Gonna need another soon.”

I nodded and looked out across the endless rows of corn grown to full height, some six feet or taller, surrounding the property. This was the good life. My only problem now was too many chickens.

“Where you from?” he asked.

“Ohio,” I lied. “Cleveland.”

“You don’t seem like a city girl.” He watched a couple chickens that had wandered toward the porch. “Seems like you know what you’re doing out here. Seems like you’re okay.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. I suppose he was used to women who needed men to do everything for them. I had enough money stockpiled from the robberies, so I offered to pay him generously for his work and then said he could see his way down the road and not come back if it bothered him.

“Not bothered.” He surveyed the house. “I can fix that window for you too,” he said, nodding toward the upstairs bedroom.

He fixed the broken window and then started to mend my property fence. I can do all these things, I’ve learned to make my own way, but he offered, and I was tired. I wanted to sit on the porch and drink beer and watch the sun set instead.

I watched him from the kitchen window drive the new fence posts into the ground, the muscles in his back rippling and relaxing under his sweat-soaked shirt. Chickens ran roughshod all over the place, but he gently moved them out of the way when they got underfoot. He stood under the oak tree at the back of the property when the sun became too much, drinking water from a metal canteen and staring at something toward the west. I’m not sure what. Maybe he was daydreaming.

When he finished the fence, I offered him a beer, and we sat on the porch together. Rain was moving in. The air was balmy, and that familiar eerie silence of an approaching Midwest storm took up residence. He didn’t say much. He removed his hat and set it alongside his chair. His hands were golden-tan and calloused. His curls stuck to the sweat on his neck.

“Storm’s gonna be a strong one,” he said.

I nodded. “I like storms out here. They remind me of when I was a kid.”

He eyed me funny just then. I had forgotten I told him I was from the city. No city kid has experienced the beauty of a storm rolling over the open plains: the anticipation, the fierceness of the wind with nothing to block it, the momentary feeling of disappointment when it was over. 

“My grandparents lived in the country,” I said. He nodded and went back to drinking his beer.

He didn’t leave that night. I didn’t really invite him to stay, but I didn’t tell him to leave when he followed me into the house. The beer was a silent invite. I was glad he picked up on it. I wasn’t good with words. They got caught in my throat: jagged pieces, cutting everything on the way out. I think he probably figured out right away I wasn’t much for conversation. He wasn’t either, so the silence wasn’t awkward. It was welcomed.

In the morning, I made coffee, and we returned to our chairs on the porch. The sun was out, and the humidity was returning. The storm was only a temporary break from the heat that summer. It was hotter than it had ever been according to everyone in town.

“I’ll be back later to finish the fence. Careful if you walk out there,” he said, eyeing my bare feet. “Old nails in the dirt.”

He worked until dark. When I heard his heavy boots come up the porch steps, I turned out the light and took his hand. We laid side by side in bed listening to the loud chorus of crickets and katydids calling for each other, trying to find a tiny space in between the millions of others where only their song could be heard.

I woke up to gravel crunching under truck tires. I had slept deeply, more deeply than I was accustomed to or comfortable with. He had left a note: “Be back at sunset.”

While he was away, I went about counting the money from the robberies again to make sure I had enough to keep me for a while. I kept it all in the bedroom closet. I’d found a deep suitcase at a yard sale with a removable lining, and the money was taped inside, hidden by the lining and a bunch of old sweaters I never intended to wear. I took a couple stacks out. I would pay him regardless of his scent still lingering on my sheets, on my skin.

I set the table that night, but when the sun was gone and he still hadn’t shown, I began packing. No sense in taking any risks. There were plenty of abandoned farmhouses around, plenty of open land, plenty of chickens and sunsets and Midwest storms. If he was on to me, the police would be roaring down my stretch of road any minute. The insects had started their chorus back up. The headlights caught them leaping from one side of the road to the other, trying to get closer to a call they recognized. It faded when I reached the main highway. I turned on my radio and listened to the news for my name.

 

Robin Littell holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University. Her stories can be found in Tin House, Two Hawks Quarterly, Literary Mama, Mud Season Review, Found Polaroids, Adanna, and others. More work is forthcoming in Fiction Southeast. She is also a winner of the 2018 Vella Chapbook Contest. Robin lives and writes in Yellow Springs, Ohio. 

FictionPeatsmoke Robin Littell