“When we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.”
Tom lived in a small home on the edge of a meadow. His children were gone and his house had cracks around the windows and doors where the wind came in like a rude guest. Yet Tom was a fairly blithe guy and he spent a lot of time in his meadow talking to butterflies and toads. Once Tom fell asleep lying on his side conversing with a centipede and woke up the next morning with dew on his skin like a fine cosmetic. Sometimes he missed his children and wished they would pay a call but mostly he contented himself with the idea that his place in the world was a peaceful one and that his past friendships had not worked out very well anyway. One day a young woman happened by Tom’s meadow. She was the color of cowslips and Tom figured her age at about thirty years younger than him. Tom came out of the house in the early morning and she was just standing there as pretty as a sunflower. She smiled as Tom fixed his gaze upon her so Tom moved forward. As he got closer he could see the light brown spray of freckles across her nose. She continued smiling so Tom continued closing the gap between them. I’m Gretchen she said before Tom could speak. Tom he of course replied. Is this your house? It is. Tom was suddenly proud of his house and meadow because Gretchen seemed to approve of them. I’m very thirsty Gretchen said. I have ginger ale. I love ginger ale Gretchen said. They went inside Tom’s modest home and Gretchen looked around as if she’d never seen the inside of a house before. This is a lovely place to live. Tom thanked her and poured ginger ale over ice in a clear glass tumbler and set it on the table. Gretchen sat and Tom sat near her. She was so pretty Tom could not think straight. Where did you come from? Gretchen smiled and said probably the same place everyone comes from. Tom smiled at this and Gretchen drank some more ginger ale. I’m happy you’re here Tom eventually said. I am also Gretchen said. After finishing the ginger ale Gretchen asked if she could see Tom’s bed. Tom was nonplussed and he could not find the words he needed so he gestured toward his bedroom door. Gretchen moved quietly toward the doorway and then stood there and gazed at the bed. That is very beautiful with its pile of mismatched counterpanes. Tom did not think his bed beautiful and he did not know what to say. May I get under the covers? Tom looked at his shoes and when he looked up again Gretchen was under the covers. Her white and yellow dress and small golden shoes and white underthings were on the floor. Gretchen continued to smile the smile that Tom suddenly realized he loved more than anything else in the world. Tom stood for a long-time gazing at Gretchen’s face and her form under the covers. The air in the room was as still as a painting and the sunlight coming in the window was as bright as joy. Tom stood for a long-time gazing at Gretchen and then he moved slowly toward the future with his heart making music that sounded for all the world like the hymns Tom remembered from his childhood.
Jake was a bad man and had been a bad lad. He grew up fast in the big city in its most deplorable places and under its worst influences. He had been in and out of jail as an adult and was now breaking parole in traveling through this part of the country in a car he had borrowed from an old friend who did not cross Jake because he feared him. At a rest stop off the interstate Jake napped on the top of a concrete picnic table. When he woke there was a mosquito on his cheek which he slapped and then Jake sat up. He espied a family about one hundred yards away eating chicken from a bucket and laughing as if they did not have a care in the world. Jake surveyed the scene and thought seriously about doing something terrible to them. The mother was shapely and that was a temptation Jake never could pass up. He approached them and their conversation stopped and the father who was slim and neat turned toward the interloper and fixed him with a cautious eye. Jake smiled but his smile was like the jagged mouth in a rotting jackolantern. That chicken sure looks good he said and his face looked lascivious and the mother put her arm around her daughter. The daughter looked to be about thirteen and Jake shifted his attention to the two females and said that’s not all that looks good. The father spoke and his voice had a catch in it. We’re just about to move on he said. Jake turned back to the father and said low and mean not just yet. The father began to rise and Jake moved quickly and pushed him back down. Wait the father said. Jake now drew out a knife and he asked the man which of his two females he would prefer Jake take into the woods yonder. The daughter began to cry and her father said please. Please. Jake said that he was feeling kind today and would take the older of the females with him. No the father said once and don’t be stupid Jake said to both parents. Jake and the mother moved off to the woods. In the woods when he saw the woman’s body without clothing Jake was moved in a way he hadn’t been in a long time. She looked like a movie star crying but crying. Then he saw the small asterisk of scar beneath her left breast. The scar enraged him. He moved on her honey he said. Dear one he said. When he began unbuttoning his shirt the woman said no no no no. Afterwards he left her in the leaves with her limbs akimbo and only one neat incision. Back in the rest area the family was nowhere to be seen and in the distance Jake heard the sirens on the long white highway. Jake said something nasty and fled the scene in his borrowed car. He found a country road quickly and left the interstate behind. He had no idea where he was and the road was a cracked black macadam and all around him were trees and scrub grass and the cricks and hisses of nature in all its pied beauty. Jake ran like flames devouring timberland.
Gretchen found life with Tom to be as merry as a rose-tree in summer. She brought to Tom a naturalness that he recognized and assimilated. Together they fit like an astronomical chart. Click click. Tom never asked again from where she had come. He learned to accept his good fortune as part of the mysterious beneficence of life. Sometimes one is unaware of an emptiness until someone comes along and fills it. Tom and Gretchen lived simply of course in the small house on the edge of the meadow. They grew their own food and for other necessities Tom made a run to the city which was a few hours drive each way. They never talked about money or other worldly problems and they never had a cross word for each other. Their love was predestined. I think our love was predestined Tom said one day while they were shucking corn in the kitchen and Gretchen smiled her impish smile because she knew it was exactly that. They never talked about the difference in their ages because it did not matter and happiness overrode all such minor considerations. Tom thought Gretchen was witchy and enchanted. Gretchen knew things recondite things. She brought flowers into the house that Tom had never noticed in the meadow and Tom thought he knew the meadow as well as he knew the dimensions of his own imagination. When she put them on the table they seemed to glow with a new life though theirs had been sacrificed for their pleasure. Gretchen called them playsies. In bed Tom and Gretchen found the clearest example of how well they fit together. Intertwined their limbs became one great monkey puzzle tree. Gretchen’s vagina fit around Tom’s penis like a glove engirdling a hand and they were even moved to talk of children though Tom thought he had done enough procreating and was too old to chase a toddler around. Gretchen just smiled like Merlin the smile that Tom still loved more than anything in the extant universe. Once their refrigerator stopped working and Tom could not fix it and he had to leave his common-law bride to take the truck into town for a new one and some other minor household items. In the doorway Gretchen kissed her paramour and touched his cheek with her rounded palm. You are everything to me she said and her eyes grew moist. Tom watched as a grey haze passed through the light blue sky of her eyes. He wrinkled his nose querulously and Gretchen said I love you more than the stars and planets. Tom drove away and as he turned onto the highway there was a lump in his throat. Gretchen decided to make a strawberry pie for Tom’s return and she stripped down to just a loose apron because the kitchen grew hot. She thought the pie would ensure his return. She opened the door so that a breeze could sing through her light attire and so that the small things the toads and chipmunks and rabbits could smell her pie and visit if they were of a mind to. She sang the old songs out loud in a voice like a crystal bell and she never heard Jake enter the house and was not aware of his presence until he spoke. I’ve a powerful two hungers he said in the libidinous voice of the libertine and I’m looking to satisfy them both in this very room. Gretchen shook her blond head as if trying to clear a stopped-up ear.
The man came often and the music of the cicadas and crickets was ofttimes so loud he closed his eyes in a kind of sempiternal pain. Other times it was as quiet as the marching of the planets around the sun. He sat by her grave every day with a heart hollowed out and dry. He did not eat much only small pieces of bread which he shared with the birds. He grew thin as a lath and his gaunt face was darkened by smudges of sorrow. He never again went into town and he never again ate strawberry pie. Months passed like cloud shadow and a year or two was lost in their accumulation. Then one day the man sat by the grave and there were playsies on the grave which he had not put there for I did thinking only of his comfort and on this day I spoke. He thought it was a voice and not just the wind through the cottonwoods. He lay down and stilled his heart. Sometimes he tried to command his heart to stop but this day he was trying to hear the voice. It was a voice it was using words. He had to close his eyes to hear better. The earth is still yours I whistled and whispered. You will abide and you will live until you stop and you who have known pure love will know it again as you reopen your heart to the earth. The man concentrated on the words. Who spoke thus? You will abide and know love again I repeated taking on the voice of the stars and trees and flowers the voice of insects and animals and the wind and the toads. It was my voice that was the man’s and not the man’s my voice inside him. The man sat up and his face was as calm as a mirroring lake and he whispered back to me you are the voice of the meadow. And I said as calmly back it is I it is you.
COREY MESLER has been published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Five Points, Good Poems American Places, and New Stories from the South. He has published 9 novels, 4 short story collections, and 5 full-length poetry collections, and a dozen chapbooks. His novel, Memphis Movie, attracted kind words from Ann Beattie, Peter Coyote, and William Hjorstberg, among others. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart many times, and 3 of his poems were chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. He also wrote the screenplay for We Go On, which won The Memphis Film Prize in 2017. With his wife he runs a 142 year-old bookstore in Memphis. He can be found at https://coreymesler.wordpress.com.