By A.B. Hill
clomped across the kitchen linoleum, soupy mud and snow globs dropping
free from his five buckle over-boots. Gloves were removed finger by
finger, leather stiff with cold and greasy with afterbirth. Plopping
his stained Stetson on a wooden peg, Chuck unzipped his brown-duck chore
“Kate!” Chuck dragged a chair away from the table. Sitting heavily with
a grunt of exhaustion he leaned forward to unclip the over-boots.
Two-thirds of the calving was done; one still-born, but no vet bills.
Chuck’s bones ached. “Kate!” he bellowed again.
wife didn’t answer. Over-boots pulled free and tossed in a corner,
Chuck finished removing his worn over-coat. Chapped cheeks puffed with
effort, Chuck heaved the stained, smelly canvas atop his boots.
it, Kate! Where the hell are you?” Chuck hollered. “What’s a man got
to do to get a cup a joe?” The winter calving season took more out of
him each year. Sleep deprivation from checking the herd every two hours
for eight weeks, the wet, cold and daily injury were grinding him
downwards, contorting his joints into permanent flexion. Using the
scarred kitchen table as leverage, he hoisted himself up.
was when he stood upright that he saw the box centered on the table.
His brain delayed the message his eyes sent him. That was his box. The
one he’d put in the barn years before, hiding it and forgetting it once
and for all. What else could a man do with that kind of thing?
Coffee forgotten, though the dryness in his mouth was acute, he reached
out and slid the box to himself. Knees bending, he dropped back onto a
chair marred by years neglect and overuse.
cigar box, scratched paint revealing the shiny base metal, faced him.
The edges were dented, misshapen as the fingers holding it. “How . . .
what the . . . Oh, my God!” he groaned.
Kate’s silence made a sick sense. She wasn’t answering because she
wasn’t there. “Oh, Jesus. . . how did she find this?”
“Kate?” he called gently. He hoped without hope that she was laying
still and quiet on her bed behind the door she closed against him every
night; the one that hadn’t opened to his touch for years.
and guilt had crippled them more than brutal farm life ever could. Her
suspicions were unproven but solid as the door that kept him out. His
conscience, hardened by her silent damnation, closed his heart and
throat. Silence was routine.
days passed with grim determination to get them done and over. No hope,
no joy, no future; just everyday’s grinding work to pull them from their
Finding the box was the proof Kate never had; until now. All the
blackness of that time was contained in this stupid, stupid box.
imagined the hollow sound of wind in the empty barn as she reached to
pull something shiny from the rafters. He saw the fear in her pinched
face. He felt her dread in knowing this was not a child’s treasure
hidden in secret delight; her disgust pooling heavy and sour in her gut
when the box was opened.
Sitting in this kitchen where he’d spent his youth, his short time
trying to be a loving husband and now this bitter old age, he felt as
though facades were lifting off, layer by layer to reveal his true
self. He knew himself for what he was.
Chuck’s forehead sunk to rest on the box’s cool metal surface. His eyes
rolled beneath closed lids. Tears leaked from the corners and slid into
weathered creases. He welcomed the salt burn.
a long time, the practiced bulwark of justification raised itself into
place. Chuck raised his head and gripped the box as though to crush it.
“Well, damn it, nothing’s changed. She’d always known and she’d
stayed. Why didn’t she dump me years ago? Why did that woman work by
my side all this time, knowing what I am and hating me for it?”
a shove, he stood again and tossed the box into the trash. “Nothing but
despair in a box,” he thought. “Good riddance!”
reached for the coffee pot and ran water into its clear carafe. Unaware
that he felt his burden lessened, his mouth relaxed as his mind returned
to the calving season so far; two-thirds done and no vet bills.
A CLEAR CARAFE
Copyright © A.B. Hill 2008