, , , , , , , , , ,

by Bill Baber

In the moments before sunrise a man in faded work clothes with a tattered duffel bag slung over his shoulder stood under a sky streaked with salmon and ocher. Calloused hands were jammed deep in his pants pockets in an attempt to ward off the early morning chill, his steamy breath hanging in the air like shards of broken glass before drifting away.

He looked to the north toward a far range of mountains silhouetted against the coming day. Long ago — as a younger man — he had ventured to the other side of them. He recalled the country as being fine, with rolling green hills covered in oak and pine trees and in the bottom of the steep canyons there were small, secretive streams teeming with trout.

There had been a woman with hair colored like summer wheat and eyes the same shade of blue as a June sky. Sometimes he dreamed of the woman and the place, remembering the small bright house they shared. He could hear her singing softly, could smell coffee and frying bacon and when he awoke, sadness washed over him like waves breaking on a lonely beach.

They talked of children, of building a future together. Before that could happen the work gave out. For work only done by a man’s hands, the pay had been quite good but there was nothing else there he could do; nothing he felt she deserved. So he drifted south following the only kind of work he knew. He made a solemn promise to return but never did. For a while there were letters back and forth, becoming more infrequent as time passed. He missed the woman and the fine country although deep down he was always afraid of disappointing her. He followed the work he did to different places and from time to time there were other women although he never dreamed of them.

Now the work was gone everywhere. The last of it had been here. He didn’t know what he would do. It was all he had ever done, all he knew. He made the decision to go north telling himself it was to see the country again, thinking it would be good to lie under an oak tree in the tall summer grass, to fish in the cool blue stillness of the canyons.

But mostly, he admitted to himself as he walked toward the lonely highway stretching toward those distant mountains like a long silver ribbon, he wanted to return to see if she was still there. And to see if perhaps she still remembered. Or if she ever dreamed about the time they shared.

The sun peaked above the eastern horizon as he reached the highway. Far to the south he saw a semi coming his way. With any luck, by this time tomorrow he would know.

Bill Baber’s crime fiction and poetry have appeared widely online and in numerous anthologies. His writing has earned Derringer Prize and Best of the Net consideration. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.