I told Walt Page, a friend and poet, that his poem Night Dream Meadow I reposted yesterday reminded me so much of a short story I wrote years ago.
Walt is a poet, and has such a way with words. I don’t have a flair for poetry but I am a writer, so for those who enjoyed yesterday’s poem, here is the story I wrote some time ago. It’s about 1,100 words, so hopefully it won’t take up too much of your time…
He woke up before the crowing of the rooster, something he hadn’t done in a long time. There was only one rooster left now, a strutting white leghorn with tan wings and black spots on his chest. Eddie didn’t feel like waiting for the bird’s morning call, though –he was wide awake. The old man stretched carefully, surprised to find the shooting pains in his legs gone. Remarkable. Last night the pain had been so bad he had to double his medication just to make it to his bed. Now — now his legs felt better than they had in years.
Sitting up in bed, his watery eyes looked out the window towards the coming sunrise. The light sparkled like a million crystal chips, shimmering at the edge of the sky, stretching the morning clouds into ribbons of pink and gold. Someone once told him that the sunrises were brighter these days because of all the pollution in the air, but he didn’t agree. Eddie had witnessed many a sunrise on his farm in Wisconsin, many a sunrise and sunset since his father plowed the land when he was a boy. Maybe they all didn’t sparkle like this one, but they were all unique, all beautiful.
Climbing out of bed and into the bathroom, Eddie noticed that all of his bodily functions were running smoothly. What an enjoyable respite from the dribbling and splashing he had been going through lately. Looking into the mirror, his blue eyes were the clearest he had seen in a while, the age splotches on his face nearly non-existent. His hands didn’t tremble as he shaved, nor did he need his glasses to comb his hair.
Donning his flannel and overalls, Eddie called his hound to come join him on a morning walk. The 84-year-old man had not wandered through his farmland in ages, and his legs felt so great, so strong, he couldn’t resist the urge to revisit fields that had seen better days. Bouncer didn’t come running, though, but merely slept in the puddle of sunlight that fell in front of the living room sofa. Fine, Eddie thought. Sleep the morning away. I have things to do.
The chill of the morning air danced around the old man as he opened the back door, invigorating his senses. The scent of hay and grass filled his nostrils, along with the earthy sweat of horses and cows. He looked down at his legs and worried for a moment they wouldn’t carry him across the porch and down the stairs to the old barn. He hadn’t been able to make that trek in quite some time, his legs having grown more useless as the years passed. But this morning — this morning was different. There wasn’t a cloud hanging over his thoughts anymore. No depression, no drugs to slow him down.
Eddie cautiously moved down the stairs and followed the dirt path that led to the empty red barn. Vivid memories of his father and mother and brothers bombarded him as he neared the dilapidated structure. His parents had moved to Wisconsin from Poland, hoping to find freedom and a new life in the rural countryside that looked so much like their native land. His father tended 25 cows in his day; Eddie almost 40 during his middle years. Adding chickens and a couple of bulls to the mix, Eddie made a decent living, enough to support a wife and three children in the heyday of the 50’s.
But the kids grew up and moved to the big city, and his wife took on a bout of cancer about ten years back and never recovered, leaving the farm and livestock to run wild with abandonment. Eddie finally allowed the neighbor to plant corn in his empty fields, providing a small but decent return that, combined with his small pension, afforded him a comfortable retirement.
The past was the past, and now all Eddie could visualize was the barn full of cows and the chickens raising a ruckus in their pen somewhere behind the milk cans and the 1952 Ford pickup truck that was down a quart of oil. His footsteps were lighter than air, quick and sure, walking the path they had carved into the earth for the past 80 years. Eddie noticed horses in the pasture and hay bales stacked up in the loft and kids playing baseball in the front yard. Yes, that was how it was supposed to be.
Past the farm equipment, through the barn and out the double doors on the other side, Eddie spotted his wife sitting on the picnic table under the huge oak tree at the bottom of the hill, laughing and talking to his mother and father.
Eddie spotted his father sitting in the wooden chair that used to sit by the fireplace and his mother on a blanket near the base of the tree. They looked so young and fresh, just as they did the day they bought the farm five miles outside of town. The kids squealed in the background, the dogs barked and the crows threatened from their perches atop the trees.
It was incredible how good it felt to be alive, to feel the earth and the farm under his feet, the sunshine on his weathered face, to hear his children laugh and scream and chase the dogs around the front yard. Eddie fleetingly wondered about his newfound energy, the firmness of his limbs, the accuracy of his eyesight. There were no more bouts with arthritis and pneumonia; there were no more regrets about the past or thoughts of suicide. It was as if he had always been this way. His wife Margaret seemed to take on a subtle glow as she beckoned him to join her under the overgrown tree.
Eddie hesitated for a moment, as a thought, a rationalization, tried to take form in his head. But it was gone as quickly as it appeared, for the world was full of enchanting sounds and sights, and no rationalization could take that away.
Just as the sun crested above the distant pines the rooster finally crowed, cracking the morning with its triumphant sound. At that moment Eddie thought he heard a jumbling of sounds: a phone ringing, a dog howling, voices and noises and the shattering of glass. But it must have been the wind playing tricks, carrying nonsense through the open fields from the farms down the way. He turned, and, smiling, went into the arms of his beautiful wife.
The reunion had begun. Eddie was home. Home on the farm.