Return to Pine Island

January 16, 2018
By Anonymous

Clouds congregated ahead of me, creating a darker shade of gray than the usual tone of the overcast skies of Pine Island. The decade-old asphalt had succumbed to the usual symptoms of neglect; cracks from the Minnesota ice branched out in patches along the entire 20 miles and the jet black from my childhood had faded to a slate gray. The colors of the sky and the road nearly matched and had I not felt my blistered heels thud against the pavement, I could have sworn that it was a dream. 


Every August, we used to drive to Pine Island and stay for a couple of weeks at Uncle Willie’s farmhouse. Our father never liked to listen to the radio, insisting that my brother Richie and I should read our novels instead. Mother would usually add on, telling us how seldom it was that we didn’t have to hear the bustle of city commotion and that it was truly something to savor. She wasn’t wrong. The sunlight would pierce the sparsely clouded skies and bounce around through the endless wheat fields. The breeze would tickle my hairless arm, hanging off the side of our cherry red Ford. As much as my father smoked, I never got quite used to the smell of his cigarettes, certainly never thinking that I’d be smoking them myself one day.


I was hoping that the trucker I was hitching off of would at least drop me off within 10 miles of the house, but I was more glad that anything, that he didn’t turn on that radio. The chances of him making the connection between the subject of the police announcement and his passenger were unlikely, but it was better to not have to go through that buzz of anxiety. If my soles weren’t torn through, or if this February could have been unusually warm, the walk might have been somewhat bearable. I finally reached the familiar pair of elm trees, marking the entrance to the farm. I stumbled to the door of the house, immediately looking under the mat for the key. I inserted it into the rusted lock, but before I could turn it, the door had snapped open.


There were few remains of the beige, diamond patterned wallpapers that once brightly covered the living room walls. Most of the furniture had been taken out and given to the beneficiaries. I’m sure a great portion went to Richie, Uncle always liked him. The rooms were not lit, leaving the only source of light to be whatever was coming through the small windows. In my peripheral, I spotted a futon that was still there. It was from the Piano we used to play on. I sat on it which turned into laying on it. The corduroy lining was stained and dusty but wasn’t uncomfortable. My whole body was sore and I felt an immense sense of relief as soon as I lied down. My eyelids got heavier until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.


Willie was a strange man. His smile was plastered on his face even when he was visibly upset. He was the quintessential definition of a hospitable host. When we’d arrive, my brother and I would run out to the farm seconds after dropping our bags on the hardwood floor. He didn’t have many animals, but he had some cows and chickens, as well as a couple horse stables. The whole thing was encased by beautiful pines that made his farm smell like Christmas all year round. After running around for a bit, we’d head to the little stream behind the house and stick our feet in.


I woke up not even a half an hour later, my body feeling sorer than before. I didn’t know how long I had before they would find me but I wasn’t really worried about it because they definitely would, and something about that absolute certainty gave me comfort. I pulled my pack out from my tattered denim jacket. After going through around 5 cigarettes, I’d put my lighter in the box itself. I’m glad I did, otherwise, I would have certainly lost it on the way over here. Despite the box being bent up, most of my cigarettes were intact, so I lit one up. In my loneliest times, I was always extremely appreciative of the constants in my life.


As I coughed from the first inhale, I realized that I hadn’t had anything to drink in hours. I walked outside to find the stream and I realized that the sun was already setting. The western pine trees glistened from the light bouncing off the water droplets that had accumulated on this cloudy day. The stream was gone; where it once stood was a deep ravine. Suddenly I saw the hammock. Of all the animals Willie let us pet, farm tools he let us touch, and mud he let us play in, he never let us come remotely near the hammock. I was absolutely shocked that it was still hanging. I put some pressure on it with my foot, unsure that it would still be able to hold even a child’s body weight. Strangely enough, it held firm. I lied down in the hammock.


I was at peace when the police shot me down. Perhaps had I not pulled out a firearm, I could have instead died in jail 50 years later. I vanished from the farm as soon as I came, but I hope dearly that like the river that dried out or the chickens that no longer roamed the farm, the liveliness and happiness that dinner’s brought to our family, that someone’s memory of me would not fade. I am the farm, I was always the farm.


The author's comments:

Inspired by Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota By James Wright


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