Something Safe Something Free
by Janice Daugharty
Copyright 2010 Janice Daugharty
First published in the Chattahoochee Review
A scooched owl in the live oaks swoops low over the lane. Willie slows his pickup and turns left off the highway. Yellow lights blinker on the white mailbox, on rags of Spanish moss where katydids stash their summer shrieks. A tired country song on the radio loads the dusk, textured of winter's nothingness hum. Sounds borrowed from yesterday, on loan from tomorrow.
First of March, and cold. So cold that the white frame house at the end of the lane looks shrunken. Dark house, dark windows, the one over the porch known for framing a pretty woman making supper--Before Winter, Before Divorce. The old tin equipment shed, south of the house, is now home to the dwindling family of baby farm tractor and daddy D8. All backlit by a butchered sun bleeding into the pine line and spilling forth on the open fields of toasted weeds.
Stopping his pickup under the huge live oak on the south side of the house, Willie moves easy to keep from jarring his aloneness, to keep it on the surface where he can just barely manage it. Any abrupt move will shatter the molten light and stillness like the ashen gauze glow-wick in the dead gas lamp at the end of the front walk. A single noise of his own making will trip his propped-up ease.
So far, he is doing fine. The packed gray dirt from the truck to the side door of the house receives his leather boot soles without either fanfare or complaint. And even the door to the kitchen opens with little more than a whisper. But the floor of the dark room creaks beneath his feet. The reek of bad bananas is more sound than smell and seems stronger before the flush of light on white tiles with foot prints left by the pedestal oak table--Gail wanted it; on the heavy Ben Franklin stove with its cold soot smell--Gail couldn't move it.