Brenda Ray

Mark From Iowa

 

Maybe six months after her husband died, my sister Cassidy met a stranger in a bar. The guy offered to fly her to Iowa and she said yes because what really did she have to lose? For two weeks they played house: shooting guns, making dinner, falling asleep in each other’s arms.

I guess one night the stranger came home from work and said, “I have a surprise for you.” And because all the curiosity had already filtered out of her bones she  said, “Okay” and followed him to the truck.

They drove through sweeping fields of corn, neither one of them saying much to the other. I imagine being a widow is much like being swept in with the tide, you cling weakly to a rock, knowing that the sea has been so cruel to you and now suddenly it’s being kind.

Cassidy says she bounced along, watching the cornfields yawn before her like gentle waves of undulating light. They were getting further and further from town. There were times after her husband died when Cass was content to feel okay. As if we couldn’t possibly know this contentment until we’ve lost something. We are spoiled, I think, to want happiness, all the time, to want heaven. Maybe heaven is just a drive through a cornfield where nothing hurts anymore.

 

Soon the stranger pulled to the shoulder near an opening in a field. Not knowing what lay ahead, my sister climbed out but when the stranger rounded the far side of the car, she saw that he held in his hands, a baseball bat.

How well do I really know this guy? she asked herself.

He took her by the hand, and led her into the field. Cassidy did not protest, and like a lamb, wove through the stalks behind him.

They walked a few paces, far enough from the road to not make a sound. All the better to kill me, she figured, and for the briefest of moments, she hoped that he would. The stalks parted into thin wisps of bending stem and there in the center was a single desktop computer.

“For you,” he said, handing her the baseball bat and turning and walking out of sight. About the fact that he did not kill her, Cassidy felt neither shock nor relief, just the calm steady nothingness that accompanies the depths of grief. Sometimes I think that’s when life keeps you alive, when you are most indifferent to it.

Cassidy waited for his footsteps to disappear into silence. And when she was certain that she was alone, when she was certain that she stood with the sky and the field and God as her witness, she wound the baseball bat over her shoulder, and swung hard.

 

I don’t know how long she was in that field. I don’t know how many swings it takes to un-do all the stories inside you. I try to imagine the motion of it, the momentum of bat against metal, the violence in the swing. I imagine myself screaming. I  imagine howling and sobbing and wheezing, my blood and slobber all over the pieces. I picture a voice I don’t recognize, which is my voice, which is a primal, guttural noise coming from some place inside me, the sound of cattle being herded, or the mass carnage of tearing flesh. I think of God, and my past, of loving, and losing, and being born.  

When Cassidy finished, she dropped the baseball bat, and turned and wandered out to the road. It was sunset and she kicked rocks under her feet, tears stinging and drying in the glow.  

 

She was walking for some time and along the way her face slackened and drained. When the sun slid behind the stalks, she heard car wheels behind her and she did not have to turn around to know that it was him. Without a word Cassidy stepped to the side and let the truck pull in front of her. She reached for the passenger door and slid in.

Driving back to town, she and the stranger said nothing to one another. But Cassidy says she looked over her shoulder and caught bits of computer and debris bouncing in the backseat. This is my favorite part of the story. He had gone back to collect the pieces. He had waited some place far away, knowing what my sister was doing,  knowing she needed to be alone to do it.

I like to imagine him coming back to the scene, the abandoned bits of plastic, blood, and slobber, scattered through the grass. I see his gentle hands gathering each of the pieces, one by one, cradling them into his arms,  carrying them back to his truck. “Mark from Iowa” my sisters and I call him.

I see him driving down the road and finding my sister walking alone, her gentle back fragile in the sun. He pulls over and she climbs in and he says nothing. He’s the sort of person who knows that speaking is a form of giving, and he doesn’t ask her to give anything at all. So they drive home, and when they get to the house he makes her dinner, and together they wash the dishes, and climb upstairs, and fall asleep in each other’s arms.

 


Brenda Ray is an MFA student and professor of writing at The New School University where she studies with John Freeman and Brenda Wineapple. Previous publications include Brooklyn Magazine, Four Chambers Press, and SoFar Sounds New York.