A fern, thirsty for water, hung in languid green vulnerability from a porch. It knew not of time, only of need of sustenance in the form of water and filtered light. Time, to the fern was simply a measure of wait between the two.
Donna, owner of the fern came out her home and onto the porch. A screened door clapped shut behind her; its sound warped and wooden. Worry contorted the fine features of her sun burnt face. Her blue eyes, faded with age, looked down the dirt road that led from the highway to her home. A black sedan sped forward leaving a rooster tail of red dust in its wake.
Five miles away, Ricky, a migrant worker, sat in a tavern. He was alone, celebrating the end of one growing season and an eager move northward to the next. It was 2 in the afternoon and his festive soliloquy had been on going since 10 that morning.
Three miles east of the tavern and just south of the small town of Mersey, lay an intersection before a bridge that led directly into the town’s main street. That the intersection’s shape was that of a cross was notable in that many lives had been claimed at its crossing. Charon, boatman on the river Styx, was rumored to moor his ferry below the bridge.
The woman driving the sedan jumped out her door in a billow of dust. “Donna,” she cried, running up the steps to comfort her neighbor. “Get your things; I’ll take you to the hospital right away.”
Donna's voice broke in frantic gasps, “He’d just gone to the feed store, Ida. That’s all. He goes there every Saturday…to pick up feed for the livestock.”
Ida put her arms around Donna’s shoulders, trembling even in the July heat. “When did the hospital call?”
“Right before I called you. They said it was his heart.” Clouds crossed her face, bringing tears. “He’s never had a bad heart. He collapsed right in the store. I…I’m sorry I had to call you, but we’ve only got the one truck…I hate depending on others…” she wrung her hands. “I’ve always been strong…”
“Don’t you worry about a thing; you did right by calling me. That’s what neighbors are for.” She glanced through the screened door. “Where’s your purse, honey? You stay right here and I’ll get it so you can be with John.”
They left the house within minutes, speeding west, into Mersey. They did not bother closing up the house; such things were reserved for those who lived in the big cities where neighbors couldn’t be trusted. Nor did they think about the livestock or the languid fern suspended between watering and filtered light. They would be back; it was impossible to think otherwise. Blindly focused, they flew down the road.
A piebald cat, curled in the seat of a porch rocker lazily watched them leave. He glanced at the fern as it rocked gently in the summer air. One spring a robin had made its nest in its fronds. Babies had hatched in its sheltered cove; he remembered their chirps and one falling to the ground. Patience had taught him to wait.
The call of nature combined with the fact he needed to be in Kansas City by 6 that evening caused Ricky to move off his bar stool. Clumsily, he took care of his business, got into his car and headed out onto the road, racing north. The day was clear, and he could see the junction to Route 66 just a mile past the intersection into Mersey, he goosed his car even faster.
Time, it is said, is necessary to keep everything from happening at once.
Seven days of unread newspapers lay on the davenport where Ida had retrieved Donna’s purse a week ago. Neighbors had placed them there with the mail from the mailbox; they’d also taken care of the livestock – it was the natural way of good neighbors.
The fern, however, swayed unattended; dying in unfended suspension. One of its fronds broke off in a puff of dry wind. It fell to the ground. The piebald cat pounced upon the brown, brittle leaf in anticipation - his patience rewarded in disappointment.
He heard movement in the house, and watched a stranger come out and lock the door. On the screen, he pinned a black cloth, shaped like a bow. The stranger picked him up and quietly carried him down the stairs to a new home.
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