by Elizabeth Esse Kahrs
Elizabeth Esse Kahrs has been a freelance journalist and columnist for Parent and Kids/Boston for the past six years. An excerpt from her novel, The Trouble in my Mirror, appeared in The Huffington Post, and her short story, "Sylvie Has Gone to the Deli," was featured on Lit 103.3's Fiction For The Ears. You can find more of her work in The Boston Globe, Baby Journal, Static Movement, and Shine. Elizabeth graduated from Lafayette College with a Bachelors degree in Psychology. A native of suburban New York, she lives with her husband and two children on Boston's South Shore. The Trouble in My Mirror is her first novel.
The boy stands on the dirt road above the culvert, motorcycle by his side. It's hot for September. Dust and bugs kick up from the cornfield; there's haze in the air. The boy wears a white T-shirt and jeans. He's skinny and young. It's quiet. Sunday morning.
Spencer Tewksbury watches from the window of his farmhouse. An hour the boy has been out there, leaning against that wall, staring up the long, flat road. It's a curious thing; he has not taken off that helmet. Is he out of gas? It's not Spencer's business. Not his business to go out there and ask. And wouldn't the boy have come to his door if he needed help? Or maybe some water? Spencer's pickup is parked in the driveway. His front door is open. His screen door bangs in the breeze.
Not much traffic on this road, save for the trucks hauling grain. The boy stares off in the distance as if waiting for something. Is he waiting for someone? Jaw set. Lips tight. A visor covers his eyes.
Spencer leaves the window and goes back to reading his paper. But his mind is with the boy. The boy appears to be thinking about something and thinking hard. He might be from the town or from the college. An exam he flunked? A girl? To be young and have such problems, to be able to think such things again.
Spencer goes to the kitchen and pours himself an iced tea. He glances again at the boy through the window. Jaw set. Lips tight. Brooding on a dirt road by a cornfield. Oh the freedom in that! Spencer sips his tea and tries to summon those feelings again, buried beneath the dirt. Years and years piled on top of him. Only a few more shovelfuls and he'll be dead and gone.
He takes his drink to the window and peers out at the sinewy boy. Toned biceps, strong forearms, a narrow torso. Wide shoulders, flat stomach, broad chest. His jeans hang from bony hipbones. That boy. He probably drinks thick malteds and Cokes. Eats candies, cookies, and cakes. Spencer was like this once, his body a machine.
And the sex. The boy must have great sex--fleshy girls rubbing up against his leanness. He should be lying naked in a field, a soft-smelling girl by his side. But he is brooding on a dirt road by a cornfield. He is not thinking that he will become an old man.
Spencer shakes his head. The boy does not understand what is coming for him. He should tell him while there is still time, before it becomes commonplace to brood in such a way. He should tell the boy about the window, how it closes all too quickly and how not to hurry it along.
In the distance, the rumble of a truck approaching.
Spencer pushes the screen door open and walks onto the porch. The boy does not see him. He's looking down the road. The boy straddles the bike and turns on the engine.
Down the porch stairs Spencer goes, as fast as he can, which is not so fast--he's an old man with balance problems; there is fear in each step. He heads toward the corner of his property, hoping to get in the boy's sight line. The boy guns the engine, loud and angry. Spencer must tell him about the window.
The boy's eyes are focused straight ahead; he does not see Spencer making his way toward the corner of the property. Spencer is waving to him now, in fact he is yelling, trying to get the boy's attention. But the engine guns loud and angry and the boy cannot hear him. The boy reaches for his helmet, unbuckles it, and removes it from his head. Brown wavy hair. Nose, sharp and long. He tosses the helmet into a ditch.
The tail of the bike wags in the dirt. The boy takes off down the road, T-shirt flapping in the wind. Spencer watches from the corner of his property. The boy must be going, fifty, sixty miles an hour. To be young and travel at high speed again.
The boy's hair stands at attention; the bike winds high and shrill. He is going too fast, he weaves back and forth between lanes; he is leaning too low.
The truck approaches in the distance.
There is a quarter mile between them now. The boy remains in his lane, sitting tall, traveling at high speed. The wind blows through his hair and Spencer watches him lift his arms and pump his fists in the air. The boy leans forward. He crouches into a tuck. He rests his head on his hands.
He swerves into the oncoming lane.
The squeal of brakes. An explosion. Burning rubber, grinding sparks, the truck tipping on its side. Shell corn covering the road.
Days later, Spencer sits on his porch sipping iced tea, watching the corn wave in the breeze.
He had wanted to tell the boy about the window.