Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

In Country
Chloe N. Clark

Something happened that we don’t talk about. Then we moved to the country. I had never lived in the country, always a city girl for all of my life. It was an old farmhouse surrounded by cornfields. Jason loved it at first sight. Three stories and filled with beckoning windows, the kind of house you might see in very old pictures from a time before everything had to match up. It was about ten miles away from a little town. I didn’t think I would be able to a find job there and Jason said that he would commute back and forth from the house and the city where he taught law. The city was only forty-five minutes away but that seemed like an impossible distance. I had been so used to going out to get a hot cup of tea at my favorite café or to go out to see a film or just being able to walk out my door and actually see an endlessly hopeful stream of people. It all had seemed so full of life before.

My sister helped us move in. She loved the house as soon as she saw it. She had always loved old houses; she said that she had dreams of retiring to a place just like ours. I stared at her when she said it. I wanted to say something biting, some bitter remark because she had the city still and all I had were endless fields. But I didn’t. I held my tongue between my teeth until I tasted the coppery salt of my blood. She said we should get some chickens or maybe a goat. I hoped she was joking. I hoped Jason didn’t take her up on it. I’ve never been good with animals. Although, we do have the dog, Liam. He’s really Jason’s dog. Jason got him as a protector for me. But, now, I was the one walking him.

A guard dog to keep me safe when we lived in the city. Safe from what, I had asked. And now I wondered that question even more: what had the dog really kept me safe from?

Jason decided not to go back to work for a few days. He wanted us to settle in first. Jason worked on the campus in a building made of glass. His office had always been one of my favorite places all filled with light. I used to visit him, bring him his lunch, and talk to his secretary. Her name was Elsa and she always smiled at me as if seeing me was the best part of her day. He took three days off. Three days. His boss was very understanding and said that this was A-Okay. A-OK.

The floors creaked in the house at night when no one was on them. Jason said all old houses do this, that they settle down at night. I didn’t like listening to them. Jason said I shouldn’t look for work right away. I told him that a job would be good for me; it would take my mind onto other things. But he said I should wait and settle in. I wondered about all that settling in; it was unsettling to me.

Jason went back to work and I was all alone in the house with only the dog and the floorboards to keep me company. I tried not to listen to the sounds that surrounded me. All that quiet seemed so unreal. I was used to the hum of cars and the distinctly beautiful wails of sirens; they were always on their way to rescue someone somewhere.

The first day, my friend Celia came to drop off a housewarming gift. It was a plant, yet another thing that I was expected to take care of. Hadn’t anyone learned that I wasn’t good at taking care of things? Celia talked about her business. She ran a flower shop and business was slow. Apparently no one was falling in love (and I remembered how Jason would always get me flowers when we went out for the entire first year that we were dating. Then it was flowers on special occasions. Then it was never flowers.) or getting married (Celia had been my Maid of Honor and she wore a yellow dress. I joked that she looked like a ray of sunshine and we had laughed. I had been so giddy that day that everything seemed like the funniest thing in the world) or having babies (those tiny hands and feet). She didn’t say that no one was dying although that is always another reason for flowers. Celia took her tea with milk but no sugar. That is the way that she always takes it. She stirred it nervously with her spoon. Counter-clockwise.

Jason was home by seven and we ate pasta. He wound the noodles around the tines of his fork so slowly. It had never irritated me before but it seemed like he was always eating in slow motion. He didn’t talk about work, client confidentiality and all that. He always said this just like he picked it up from TV law shows. I never said, but you only teach law. That night the screaming woke me up. It was a yell halfway between a shriek and laughter.

Jason said that it was just coyotes hunting down prey. I had never heard such a sound. In the city there were no wild animals. But this was the country and there are coyotes in the country.

In the morning Jason went back to work. He left before I woke up and there wasn’t even a note like the ones he used to write me (no I love you no I’ll miss you). I took Liam for a walk. Liam is a silly name for a dog— it’s a person’s name—but Jason named him. We walked along the edge of the cornfield. The corn leaves swayed slightly like they were trembling. It was almost imperceptible, but I knew that it was there. I don’t think that I dropped the leash, I must have loosened my grip, and Liam must have pulled away. I couldn’t see him. I called out. I called out for him. No one answered. He must have run into the cornfield. I thought that I should follow him, but I didn’t want to follow him. I didn’t want to go in there after him. Stand still and it makes you a target, but I’ve never known when to run.

I was about to call out again and then Liam burst out of all those endless rows of corn. He was wagging his tail and in his mouth was a bone. A big bone with bits of flesh still on it hanging off in tattered strips like ripped cloth. I thought that it must have been from a deer. It must. I grabbed his leash, grabbed it, and pulled him towards home, hoping that he would just drop that thing. Finally he did. But there was still a line of red around his lips. A trace of what had happened. It was like a scar really, some hint of something terrible from the past.

I didn’t walk him again, not until Jason got home and I made him bury that bone. He said it was just a deer bone and dogs will be dogs. I shouldn’t make such a big deal out of something so little. That’s what he told me. That’s what he always told me. I had even expected him to say it when it happened. But all he said was we’ll be okay. A-Okay. A-OK.

The coyotes were out again that night. I couldn’t sleep between the creaking and the shrieking. Jason slept like a log. He never stirred.

Jason said I should plant a garden. He said it will be fun. He said we would go into town and get gardening supplies on his first day off. I said it was okay. I said that I wouldn’t be a good gardener. He said that I was being silly. I would be a great gardener.

He went to work and I was left all alone in that house, again. I was going to make a stew. I chopped the vegetables and the clicking of the knife against the cutting board was rhythmic and soothing. I stared out the kitchen window at the cornfield. At the stalks moving in the breeze. She seemed to come out of nowhere.

A woman in a red sundress. She had long black hair and she was turned away from me. She walked into the cornfield. I ran out and yelled to her. What was she doing here? I saw a flash of red in the field. I should have followed her. I know that’s what she wanted. But, I couldn’t go in there.

I told Jason about her. He said she must be one of our neighbors. Maybe the daughter of the man who farms the fields.

The coyotes screamed louder that night and the floor wouldn’t stop settling.

Jason left in the morning and said that he wouldn’t be home until later. He said that he had to work late. There were all of these students asking questions and all of these things that he just had to do. So he wouldn’t be back until late. He had been going to stay late that day, too. I had packed him a lunch. I went to campus. I was going to surprise him. Surprise, I was surprised. He wouldn’t be home until late, he repeated to me, slowly as if I didn’t get it. I got it, not until after dark. He told me that I should call my sister if I needed anything.

I spent the day inside except for Liam’s walks. I held his leash so tight that my hands began to ache.

She came again at dusk. I saw her and this time she waited at the cornfield. I came outside. I yelled hello. I wanted her to turn and face me. I so needed to see her face in that moment. She didn’t turn. She just stepped into the field. I went into the field after her. I wanted to know her name. What has been named can’t frighten. What has been named can’t make me want to scream. Names can be carved so easily into stone alongside numbers and when you do the math all you can say is: how can that be? It’s so short. She was just ahead of me and then she was gone, but I saw the red flashing. It reminded me of something: of flashing red lights blinking out signals I could never comprehend. I began to run. The corn was scratching at me. I felt it cut my skin and the blood leave my body in a trickle. I don’t know where I was. It all looked the same. Then she was in front of me. She was kneeling on the ground with her hair draped around her face. In front of her was the body of a deer. It was so small. Just a baby really. Maybe almost a yearling. It was bloody and dead. Oh. She turned to face me, finally. Her eyes were green and her face was so long, and her snout was covered in blood and she began to grin with those sharp, sharp teeth. The better to have eaten me up with. And I was running. And the corn stalks were ripping at me. The cuts were deeper. The blood flowed faster.

I got to the house and I locked the door. I was in the kitchen with the knife and on the floor curled up against the wall. I thought that she mustn’t find a way in. She mustn’t.

The coyotes began to howl. Each voice rising up to join the next. Please I thought please. This wasn’t the first time I thought such things. That tiny hand I held and pleaded with.

Liam began to join in with his barking and shrieking. Then I heard it: the door knob was rattling. I kept thinking that no, she mustn’t. No.  The door opened. I crouched down. They can’t see you when you can’t see them. That’s what my mother told me when I was scared of monsters as a child. Just shut your eyes and I shut them. But my mother lied. I felt it getting closer. I had the knife at least. She came towards me. Her long claws clicking on the tile and I stabbed out. She shrieked and snarled and screamed. Claws and teeth. But I kept stabbing until she was just a bloody mess in my arms. Liam ran into the room and he was barking and growling at me. But it was okay, A-OK, I kept us safe. I protected us. This time I saved us both.

I moved again. I moved to a nice house with no windows. My sister comes to visit me but doesn’t speak. They say that Jason won’t be visiting me. It’s okay that he stays in the house. He loved that house at first sight. But, I prefer the city to the country. There are no fields here and everything is quiet in my room.

Chloe N. Clark is a current MFA candidate in Creative Writing & Environment. She loves magicians, corgis, and also cookies. Her work has appeared in such places as Fogged Clarity, Prick of the Spindle, and Rosebud. Follow her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes