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by N.J. Campbell

“I know,” he said, as it began to rain in the half-light of the late August afternoon.

“Know what,” she said, as she leaned back against the last gravestone overlooking the wheat fields on the edge of town.

“What you’re thinkin’.”

“I wasn’t thinkin’ ’bout anythin’.”

“You were thinkin’ the same thing you always think.”

“I don’t know what I always think,” she said and watched the light rain press against the stalks as they bobbed up and down.

“Well, I do.”

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“You were thinkin’ you want to see creatures unlike any that roam these fields, strange rivers in the middle of the desert, and snow in midsummer.”

She shook her head. “No, I don’t think I was thinkin’ any of that.”

“You were thinkin’ you want to meet people who’ve never been to the flat lands you were born in, never seen wheat in every season, never been to a county fair.”

“I don’t think about all that.”

“Well, you should.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because if you don’t, you’re never not gonna be unhappy.”

“Stop it,” she said and looked at her shoes in the grass.

“You won’t miss the cicadas in late fall or the thick heat in summer or the endless rows of wheat stretching for miles in every direction in spring or the dead, holy silence in winter.”

“You sound like the preacher on Sunday. You makin’ a sermon with all this talk?”

“I guess I am, kinda.”

“Well, you ain’t savin’ me.”

“Darlin’, your mother wouldn’t want you to have stayed.”

“How do you know?”

“Same way I know when the deer are ready to calve or the wind is gonna change … I just do.”

“You know some preacher talk and some huntin’ feelin’s. You don’t know what she wanted.”

He ran his hand over the cold, smooth granite of the grave and sighed.

“Yeah, I do,” he said, pulled out a letter from his pocket and gave it to her.

 

Dear John,

These are my last wishes, the ones you wouldn’t hear, so I’m writing them down for you to read. Don’t worry, it’s a short list. Two things, really. If Charlotte’s here a year after I’m gone, talk pretty like you talk to me sometimes and make sure she leaves. Make sure she knows it ain’t healthy to stay in a place with such bad memories. Then when she’s gone, John, I want you to leave. I don’t ever want you to come back. I want you to find a new wife or get forgetful, hard work or find some other new way without me. I want you both to be happy and free.

Love always,

Madeline

 

Charlotte watched the clouds darken and the rain begin to fall harder. “You think you’ll ever leave this place?”

John stood up, picked up his cigarettes, soaked from sitting on the ledge of the grave, and pushed them into his pocket.

“No,” he said, “… there’s nothin’ out there for me.”


N.J. Campbell lives and writes in the rural Midwest. His work has appeared in venues including Drafthorse, Drunk Monkeys and Maudlin House. He blogs at njcampbell.tumblr.com.

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