Stories

Time to Dance – Bram Riddlebarger

If you listen while walking in the field, the wind will whisper, like it does, and you will not hear your own footsteps. This thought passes in your mind just as the hawk cries, swooping down through your vision as you stumble on the twisted, foot-high stalks of corn that fill the field in long rows. A line of Canada geese passes a hundred yards off against a boundary of gray fall trees. The world is not talking.

The two dogs run ahead. The puppy tags along behind the old girl, nearly her size already. Lately, you have noticed fresh wild onions in the dirt rows between and around the dead stalks of corn. The roots of the dead stalks fascinate you, and you do not notice the two dogs. There are other things to see.

Several months ago you had fallen off the wagon. The spokes of the wheels, so snug against the hubs, had fascinated you and you are still enthralled. That means you drink a lot of beer. You also drink liquor on the weekends and the occasional glass of wine. So what.

Thinking back over the last several days is disappointing. The world revolves into the last several days which, in turn, will revolve into the last couple of days.

Rising early is strict discipline. Before the wife. Before the dogs. Drink some orange juice and eat a multi-vitamin, jog perhaps. White noise through the trees. This world makes us happy, so we will sing its praises. Won’t you sing along?

The neighborhood dogs bark and yap throughout the morning hours and into the daylight, which continues into the wee hours and then cycles back over again. This is not vital information but the leaves fall just the same. Soon the snow will fall. Soon the farmer will till his field. The old girl will not live to see it. And, if you listen closely, shutting down all the conveniences, the house will talk. The gas heaters say, “ssssksssssksssssskssss.” Over and over again.

When in the morning the dogs do not obey and run hither and tither upon the grounds, you go into the house and put your boots on over cold bare feet. The neighborhood is out for work. You can afford to get along in the world. Outside you grab your pup after several attempts by the scruff of the neck and yell, “Bad,” that awful word. Inside the pup promptly pukes upon the thin carpet beneath the dining table. You make your coffee now. The wife will soon be up. Heed not, want not.

If there were a single cry out there maybe it would not be so bad. Listening. The universal static surrounding the home deflects abnormal thought processes. Oak trees outside the windowpanes. No birdies. A car sailing past. Tentative whispering. It is only your lips that move, trembling words falling off coffee-stained lips. Winter is cold.

Nearby the house is a man-made pond. Almost perfect is its roundness. Long ago it was necessary to put fish into the man-made pond. No one fishes there now. A sign hangs on the orange-grate cattle-fencing that says NO HUNTING TRAPPING FISHING OR TRESPASSING. An old goat eats the grass in this zone. Gathering, presumably, is also a banned activity. Today and the day before. There are hickory nuts on the swatch of treed land serving as boundary to the cornfield and cemetery. You pick some up and bake them into butternut squash bread. Like before.

At times other people visit you. Some call themselves by words you often do not understand. This is typical of the company you keep. Inch by inch snow accumulates outside the porous glass windows you envision the world through. Hard times come and go. A bright red cardinal bird sits in a dead thicket like autonomy. Your visitors leave. One by one. Away their vehicles go in white clouds of winter exhaust.

Once, before the cornfields, trees grew tall and sad. You were not there to comfort them. Your dogs followed another’s scent and the pond was a reflection of the sky. At times like today you believe the number of leaves to be finite and this comforts you as the mailman delivers needless flyers to your silver mailbox. You do not retrieve them. That is for another time.

When the wife companion leaves to collect thoughts like the apples of sin you sit and trust the breath that leaves your lungs. Expelled into the cornfields. The outside biosphere heated. Billions upon billions of hot mouths making no difference. Surrounded by such cold there is little that solitude can burn. You wait and listen. She will be back.

The spiders no longer run eight legs across the thin blue carpet. Where do the spiders go in winter?

At times during the period of night or early dusk the TV box is retrieved from its resting-place inside the closet and turned on. Movies play stories and people move around. You sit still. Pretend. You do not think about the man-pond or the broken corn stalks freezing away in the cold. Your hands are chapped from wintertime air and need rest to perform the proper remote control fingerdancesteps. The dogs sleep. They wait for bedding. They dream dog dreams that you are not in.

Soon there will not be time for observation. There will be no time to dance. You will feel unhappy and there will be no praises that issue from your voice mechanism. The sun will come out. Mythical fish creatures will soar from the man-pond. The world will begin. The dogs will run. They will not heed your commands. “Stop Bad Stooooooop!” As they run away they almost dance. Modified green corn shoots cannot rise to help from the field.

Sacrifice is a lonely concept at dinnertime. The wife companion leaves. That is all. Maybe. Maybe something will come again. The sky is dark.

The morning before the last one opens with birdies twitter-wittering outside the windowpanes. Once upon a sound wind forces stroke the fresh tree leaves next to and beside your square domicile. You think of circles. Shapes often illusory. Your breakfast sits in your stomach this morning like an abstract nuclear power plant generating orange lilies that sway and rock. They smell sweet. Snnnnnnnnnaahhh. Like spring and honeysuckle by the freshly plowed field. Death before re-growth.

The old girl has died.

It is time to dance.

Your gentle footsteps tap tap stop.