It was seven o’clock in the morning, and already the two of them had been in the Volvo for almost 50 minutes. The drive would take the better part of an hour, their destination being where it was: out in the rolling countryside amidst silos and barns and waterlogged rolls of hay.
Rain had been falling for weeks in thick silver sheets, and although it was unusually bright on this morning, the land was dotted with the blemishes of ragged puddles that served as a reminder of one of the wettest springs on record. They were off the main highway now, driver and passenger, darting alongside barbed-wire fences that protected family farms that spanned four, five, six generations. Hand-painted signs advertised brown eggs, Chambersburg peaches, and split cherry firewood by the cord.
Barton rolled his neck, felt his stomach roll. Without warning, rural odors began streaming through the car vents and into his face, darting up his nostrils like liquid. The piercing smell of cow manure, diesel fuel, cracked corn, pesticides. Barton held his breath tight inside his lungs. Jesus Christ. He closed the vents and cranked up the fan. He shifted in his seat, stole another look at his passenger. Barton could feel himself sweating, salt water on the beach that was his flesh.
The gravel driveway appeared on the left, spilling onto the road like a tired creek bed. It was muddy in places, marked by chocolate puddles as perfectly round as coins. The driveway snaked between two walls of ill-tended pear trees, their bare branches reaching overhead like long, arthritic fingers. Barton started up the drive slowly, steering clear of the puddles that had no bottoms. The boy slowly emerged from his sleep.
The farmhouse appeared suddenly, bursting through the sad-looking trees in a rush of white clapboards and deep green shutters. The windows were squares of blue sky. Barton noticed the gutters almost immediately: once copper, but long since stained patina. A weather vane shaped like a horse pranced to the east atop the slate roof, and dirty white tube socks hung over the railing of the wraparound porch. Two enormous rhododendrons stood guard on either side of the white painted steps, their huge purple flowers like fists of rebellion held high toward the sky.