Margaret went outside and shot the chickens through the fence.
“That was the last of our summer home,” she sighed, slinging the hot shotgun over her shoulder. She turned from the silent coop and walked dusty across the sparse front lawn. Dooban sat on the steps of the porch, leaning back on his elbows with his knees wide open.
“Id’a done it if I could hit the barn side of a broad,” he offered. Not weakly, not reproachfully, just offered.
She stopped and stood before him, strong like sepia, red-eyed and covered in filth from fighting and working for her land. Had Dooban been the affectionate type, he would have taken his backcountry woman into his arms, laid the gun down, and let her hot tears soak stains dark and deep into his shirt. Instead he let her know he’d be waiting in the truck while she drove the For Sale sign into the earth, one hit of the butt at a time.
It was summer on the farm and the fields were thick with the air, which was sweet and poured over the tongue like honey. Margaret swam lazy in the shaded pond, clothes cast aside on the dock atop the sun-bleached pages of Steinbeck. She floated as a part of the surface with only her face, knees, and toes exposed, and there in limbo, beneath a muted world, she contemplated a life of Junius Maltby. And it was bliss.
Dooban first came to her on the night of July 26. It was late, enough for the summer sun to have set, and Margaret was only just about to tuck in with tea and Hemingway. He was unshaven but lively on her porch, a red rusted truck in the drive with what looked like two pale lumps of snow in the back. He apologized for getting her out of bed at this hour, but was near out of gas, food and direction, and if she wouldn’t mind letting him sleep a while in the barn he would be much appreciative. She offered him the last of her bread and honey, which they both ate on the porch and washed down with the tea she’d made (Hemmingway lay opened and face down on the mattress upstairs). She asked him where he was headed or where he’d come from. He smiled crooked and said,
“Hell if I know.”
And she liked him. She didn’t know why, especially so soon, but she did and it was simple. A woman who’s lived alone for nearing seven years just knows. As the conversation ebbed, Dooban stood and dusted off the seat of his pants while Margaret collected the sticky knives.
“I don’t want to be rude, Margaret, but I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep right here if I don’t find somewhere to lay down.” She nodded and shook her head at the same time, understanding how tired he must be and being ashamed of her insolence all at once. She lead him to the barn and up to the hay loft with a quilt, watching him as he made his bed, his eyes tired but content. She asked if he needed anything from his truck, or if she could bring him more comforts from the house.
“You’ve done enough for me,” he said politely, “and all I got in that ol’ bucket is a couple of dead sows.” With that he bid her good night.
The first night in the apartment they lay on top of the covers; t-shirts off, underwear on, three whirring fans aimed straight at their sticky bodies. Dooban refused to open the window, convinced the passing of traffic throughout the night would keep him awake and leave him tired for work in the morning. So instead it was the whirring whirring whirring of the fans that filled the silence.
Dooban lay asleep on his side, Margaret lay still on her back with her eyes open, wake-dreaming the nights spent on floors, in the hayloft, in the field; t-shirts off, underwear off, laughing as they waited for the cool summer breeze to dry the sweat on their foreheads, necks and backs. She watched the unfolding of their summer love in that summer house, half her brain consumed with the reverie while the other conscious of the body that lay beside her; the dead weight.
She wanted him to say her name, to whisper it full: “Margaret” breathed heavy into the night. She wanted it so bad she thought she heard it. Or maybe she could at least stir it from him with the press of her body against his, so she rolled, rolled right into his weight. Dooban inhaled sharply at the touch of her body and writhed beside her. “Margaret.” He sort of slurred it in his stupor, but she didn’t mind; he’d said it, he’d spoken. He was alive and awake with her. She slipped her leg between his firm calves and kissed his naked and protruding shoulder blade. “Margaret.” He spoke again, firmer this time, almost hard. The night became still, and the fans whirred louder, and she withdrew from this stranger to the other side of the bed where she lay, unmoving, for the rest of the night.