I’ve shared an excerpt from chapter one of a story I’m tinkering with. I’m editing and finishing up chapter three. I’ld like to continue to post parts here and there as I move forward.
Lumps of sandstone sprouted up like half buried skulls. The high noon reflection off the dirt road gave the white farmhouse a rust colored hue. His car was safely parked a half mile away before the turnoff to an empty logging road about 100 yards past a great pine with a no trespassing sign nailed to it.
This wasn’t the first time he’d seen the house, nor the second. He’d been watching the house for three days. Lonely, isolated about eleven miles off Highway 10 just outside of Fordoche, Louisiana.
The silver buckle on the black leather medical satchel he carried in his right hand glistened. He held it out from his body as he stepped over the gaps in the cattle guard. By the time he made it to the mailbox, he was already damp with sweat. Two cowbirds stood like statues in the field looking past one another. Too hot to move; too stupid to fly some place else. The dog, a bulldog mix, lay in a ditch it had dug beneath the white oak. It sat with its tongue out dripping a wet puddle beneath its panting head. It gave a distressed whine and rolled its short ears back but made little effort to inspect him. It was too hot. The oak’s sprawling and ancient roots showed here and there, arching up before snaking back into the earth like great sand worms. Past the corner of the house, near the satellite dish, sat a lawnmower still as a tombstone surrounded by knee high Bahia grass.
He stepped up on the porch, waved a fly from his face and tapped on the screen door. She came from some place beyond the living room. The subfloor creaked with each step. Figurines on the shelves next to the door jingled faintly. She became visible in the doorway of the living room and smiled at him through the screen.
“Hello, can I help you?” she said politely through the screen. Her neck was exposed, her arms too. The dress and apron covered everything else. Visibly embarrassed by his unannounced visit, she patted her forehead and brushed her hair behind her ears. The side of her neck pulsed lightly from anxiety. She blushed. The sight of blood under her skin excited him. Before his eyes could give away the flashes of violence envisioned, he went straight to his pitch.
He told her he worked for a discount sales and packaging firm headquartered out of Denver. It had offices all over the country. A person could order straight from the firm’s catalog and save as much as thirty percent on household items. They even had childcare products: diapers, formula, toys and furniture. In so many words, all the things that should be affordable but aren’t to working families. The way he saw it there shouldn’t be a demand for his job. But here he was like a saint dispatched straight out of the burning sun.
The family was fine at the moment, she admitted. He’d walked seven miles this morning. He figured he could walk another seven more before dark. Wondered how far the nearest neighbor was. Well, she’d have none of that. She would at least allow him to do his job. “C’mon on in and let’s have a look at your brochure. I can’t promise anything other than a glass of water and some lunch if you’re hungry.” The spring slammed the screen door behind them.
The glass was already sweating, condensation forming a perfect ring on the newspaper. He took sips as the fan in the corner circled rotating back and forth spraying them with warm air. The black medical satchel sat on the floor between his feet. He removed his hat. She sat in a chair on the other side of the coffee table. His name was Lloyd. She knew a Lloyd, two in fact. One from church the other one was a friend of her husband. The two went to high school together. He worked in the oilfield and the two still went hunting when they could.
“I guess I should thank you for coming out here. I don’t know if I can be of any help to you though. My husband has to approve of any spending round here. He counts it out to the cent when I go grocery shopping. It’s the way he was raised, I guess. He works for the power line company, Red Fern. Ever heard of ’em? They got great benefits. Hurt his back last summer. They paid for the doctor and gave him eighty hours pay before they moved him to workman’s comp. After that, Dale said he wouldn’t work for no one else. He worked years before that for his daddy hauling timber and cutting firewood. Never made no more than two hundred a week. Cash. They had a real falling out a few years back. Dale broke his arm with an axe handle. That was before I knew him though. He don’t like to talk about that much. His daddy was a hard man, I gather.”
His head began to hurt and his mind raced. The sound of her words caused so much pressure to his ears he feared they would rupture. Great flashes of light stabbed through his eyes and into his brain. He grew sick. Terribly disturbed and panicked, he wondered if he had lost track of time. He glanced at his watch. Only a few minutes had passed since he sat down. Time had already stopped for her, though. He was the only one moving forward. He resolved himself from that fact. He sipped more water.
Then the baby started crying in the next room. “Excuse me, she’s up from her nap.”
He gripped the satchel’s handle tightly and raised it just inches off the floor before setting it back down. He did this again and again. Each drop matched each throb of the migraine in his brain. His skull felt fractured. He touched his forehead expecting to find a depression running across. He clenched his teeth.
He looked around the room as he held the glass to his temple. There on the wall, above the television, was a picture of her and Dale before the baby. Tiny angel figurines lined a shelf next to it. Further down the wall was Dale again holding a buck’s head upright by its antlers. The animals tongue hung down a foot. Its dead eyes gave a green shine. Dale smiled into the camera.
She came back with the baby on her hip. Its hair was matted from sweat. Its cheeks were red from heat. “You said you got some baby items in your brochure?”
She waited but the salesman did not speak. “I said, you mentioned earlier that you had baby items in your brochure.”
He raised the glass to his mouth before speaking. “Yes.”