Excerpt from my book, More Than Everything
A year goes by. A year of life in the fast lane with lots of money, and we finally move out of the rent house in town. Shane’s paranoia has maxed out. He is now convinced we are being watched and is sure the cops are listening to our calls, so he finds and leases some property out in the country. Ten secluded acres in Wise County. There is an old run-down trailer house, a big barn, a chicken coop, and a huge garden plot. There is no phone line and Shane likes it that way. Shane decides that it is secluded enough that we can live there and he can cook his speed there too every few months when we need to make more money. He and his buddies buy a big, prefabricated barn and put it out there next to the trailer. We store all of our furniture and boxed belongings in the barn for the time being and live in the old, furnished trailer with the ratty gold shag carpet, a gold crushed-velvet sofa and a heavy, Mexican-style wood coffee table in the living room. In the kitchen there is a yellow Formica table and two matching chairs that is the spitting image of the one my parents had when I was growing up. The one that mama would sit at, smoking cigarettes and talking on the phone while she swatted me away like a fly. One bare light bulb hangs over the center of the table. One bedroom is empty and in the other one, we throw a double-size mattress on the floor and use a cardboard box for a nightstand. We stack other cardboard boxes on their sides, so the openings face outward, forming a series of cubby holes, and use them as a dresser for our clothes.
It is great being out in the country, far away from the junkies. Our dog, a black lab named Dino loves running wild. A friend brings his dog out there too, also a black lab, and Dino is in heaven. Those dogs play, run, swim, hunt and have the time of their lives. For several months it is bliss; just me, Shane and the dogs living quietly, taking long walks in the woods and going fishing. Shane and I have never spent so much quality time together. It is nice. We are relaxed out here away from the city. Shane actually talks to me and hardly ever yells. He tells me things I’ve never known about him and I fall in love all over again. We sit in lawn chairs under the stars and listen to the crickets and the hoot of an owl. We sleep soundly and make love loudly and shower together every day. Shane finds an old tiller in the barn and after a day of tinkering on it, has it running like a top. He tills up the huge half acre garden plot for days and the earth is rich and fragrant; I sit in the big middle of the loose dirt grabbing handfuls and letting it sift through my fingers like all-purpose flour. We plant every kind of vegetable you can think of and revel at each tiny, green shoot that sprouts from the ground. We buy rolls of chicken wire and patch up the pens and fill them with chickens, turkeys and geese. We spend the spring mending fence, planting flowers, and sprucing up the place.
One day I am the only one home and I’m mowing the front lawn barefooted. I decide to go inside and put on some shoes before I try to mow the backyard where the grass is six inches high. I turn off the mower, run inside, grab a pair of socks out of the sock cubbyhole, and my tennis shoes from the closet and sit on the edge of the bed to put them on. As I’m tying the last lace, a large plastic thermos suddenly tumbles down from a shelf in the closet and lands at my feet. I jump up and look into the closet to see why the thermos would have fallen and I’m eye to eye with a huge chicken snake, as big around as a can of Coke, coiled and stacked on the shelf like a garden hose. I run into the living room, grab the .22 that stands in the corner by the door, and run back into the bedroom. But the snake is gone. I can’t find him anywhere. Still holding the small rifle, I poke the tip of the barrel into each cubbyhole over and over, making a mess of the clothes in each box. I shake the bed covers and even turn the mattress upside down searching for him. I search the adjoining bathroom, the shower and the cabinets, all to no avail. After a while, I give up and go back outside to finish the lawn. A few days later, out in the yard, Shane takes his .45 and shoots a chicken snake matching the same description. This one has a duck egg in its mouth and egg splatters everywhere.
Shane rigs up a shop in the old barn and we pull the engine out of the Blazer and take it apart. Shane wants to rebuild it so it will have more horsepower. I marvel at how he knows what each piece is and where it goes and it is great fun being there with him, handing him a 3/16s or whatever other tool he asks for. I’ve gotten real good at identifying car parts and tools since I’ve been with Shane and he praises me when I give him the right one. Sometimes we make love on a blanket right there in the barn with the car parts and the tools and the smell of grease and gasoline all around us.
And then it is time to cook the speed and the magic is gone.
I’m not comfortable being there so I take off for a few days each time the chemicals, Bunsen burners, glass tubing and all the other necessary lab paraphernalia shows up. One of Shane’s associates keeps it all buried in the ground somewhere that neither one of us knows. I spend lots of time visiting family, driving through the countryside, staying in motels; just being alone. It is a lonely, miserable life and I would trade it in an instant for a quiet, normal life with an empty wallet.
Spring gives way to the heat of the summer and by June our garden is bursting with ripe tomatoes, okra, corn, radishes, onions, carrots, beets, cabbage, three kinds of lettuce, five varieties of peppers, cantaloupe and watermelon. Our large goose squawks and hisses, nipping at my ankles as I walk to the garden to fill up my basket each morning. We eat wonderful, fresh meals for weeks just from our garden, and I can and freeze as much of the produce as I can. One day I fill it quickly and decide the rows need a little working, so I grab the hand-tool hanging on a nail on the side of the chicken coop and start on one of the five rows of tomatoes. I move down the row, lifting up the fragrant branches so I can loosen and work the dirt around the base of each plant. I’m on the last row of tomatoes closest to the fence, moving methodically, enjoying the morning, the exercise and the fresh air. I lift the branches of the next plant and see a pile of straw. Without thinking, I lift the straw and toss it to the side, revealing a bowl-shaped depression in the ground that is full of hairless, newborn rabbits. Their eyes are still closed, but there’s no mistaking those ears. Quickly, I replace the pile of straw and let the branches fall gently back into place. When I check on them the next day they are gone, and I’m filled with a sense of doom.
After the baby rabbits disappear, I lose interest in the garden. I can’t let myself be responsible for disturbing any more delicate lives, disrupting mother nature’s plan, so I don’t pick any more tomatoes, I ignore the corn and okra, let the carrots rot in the ground. Soon the weeds take over and I don’t even look in that direction. The grass in the yard dries and turns brown, the flowers wilt; the magic of our country oasis is gone like the baby rabbits are gone and nothing but oppressive, heavy heat fills the days and nights. I feel weighed down by the emptiness of my life; I yearn for direction and purpose. Summer has taken the promise of springtime and smothered the life from all that surrounds me. Shane goes off and stays gone for days; I have no idea where he is or what he’s doing. When we do see each other, it’s a brief, sweaty encounter all prickly and hot and uncomfortable. Shane is yelling at me again; it’s my fault it’s so damn hot and everything is dying. Neither one of us can breathe so we drive off in separate directions; Shane in the Blazer and me in the Vette, both vehicles black and hot and doomed.