The knock on the door came, and though I’d expected it, it was like the tolling of a funeral bell, reverberating with shame and despair. It was the end, or very close to it.
Bearing the news of my humiliation was Leland Pomeroy, my best pal from school and godfather to my daughter. Like a brother he’d been, and now he stood on the porch like a stranger, hair oiled back, ink staining his cuffs, dust powdering his shoes. Hired by the bank, to deliver grim tidings and oversee the shattering of lives.
“It all has to go,” Leland said without expression, as if he were speaking of Thanksgiving leftovers. “I’m sorry, Elmer.”
“Keep it, Leland.” In that moment, the throbbing, suffocating pain of losing Leland’s friendship outweighed the loss of my home, my farm.
“Sale date is September 10. Unless you come up with the money before then. Somehow,” he added.
“I had to look out for my family, Elmer. It’s the only job I could find.” He was nearly whimpering. “It’s not my fault.”
“I said thank you, Leland. I’d invite you in, but I don’t think Myrna would appreciate it, and frankly, I couldn’t stomach it.”
Leland backed down the step, and to his credit, guilt flashed across his face, briefly, like a light flickering on and off. His Studebaker roared away in a billow of dust.
If it hadn’t been for the crash, I thought, or if it hadn’t been for the dusters spinning across the country, pulling up soil and sifting it through cracks around doors and windows. If it hadn’t been for floundering wheat prices. Or the drought.
If it hadn’t been for the note on the tractor coming due--easy payments, they said--and truly, there was never a fuss, the bank so thoughtful and obliging, whenever I scraped together the cash.
Even the cow dried up, and we ate the scrawny thing.
The farm was worth less than what I owed, the outstanding balance an impossible summit to scale, but the bank was determined to squeeze every last drop of blood from the stone they’d crushed.
We were being forced to sell everything we owned.
I couldn’t bear to look at Myrna, knowing she searched my face, hoping I’d design a plan that would reverse everything, and we’d awaken to a green world instead of the swirling dust that had buried the garden, the pigpen, and even the fence posts.
The day of the sellout was another colourless day of seething soil. Folks came by buggy, on foot, in Model T’s: thin, barefoot children, haggard women in faded dresses, men with drawn faces. Yet, there was a festive air; it was an event, bringing together strangers and acquaintances, but I couldn’t help feeling like they were descending vultures, picking at a carcass.
Indeed, they handled our belongings like they were examining tempting morsels, turning a teacup this way and that, checking the stitching on pillowcases or the edge on a hoe.
Crowing and clucking, they carried away their treasures, and I felt the shyest tremor of satisfaction that our misfortune was giving joy to people who had a few more pennies to jingle than we did. Soberly nodding to each other, the men bought my father’s harness, my tools, and two skinny mules. Away went the dishes, the bed frame, the washboard, the bucksaw, even the dented enamel chamber pot. Remnants of hopeful dreams that hadn’t been fulfilled, like the phantom rain that had never fallen.
And Leland, loyal and trusted friend, scurried back and forth, clipboard in hand, writing bills of sale, looking less and less like someone I knew. He held up items, emotionless, as if he didn’t quite remember the baby’s christening bonnet, the coffeepot from which we’d shared many cups, the doily his Dorothy had crocheted for Myrna.
Soon, everything was gone, plucked away as if by devouring hordes of grasshoppers. Leland, sweat ringing his sleeves, jotted and tallied and frowned.
Then, we were on the road, with nothing but a small bundle containing Myrna’s mother’s Bible, our wedding photo, and a crust for the baby. We didn’t look back, keeping our eyes steadfastly ahead, not willing to see the dust already drifted across the steps of the weather-beaten house.
Mostly, with my heart as empty as the house, I didn’t want to see Leland. Maybe someday, if the leafless trees grow green again, forgiveness for both of us will find a way to bloom.
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