Friday, July 29, 2005

This is Wisconsin

It’s nearly dusk and the sand makes it difficult to walk. You don’t know where you are. The mosquitoes swarm and you slap at them blindly, little spatters of blood on your neck and arms. But the horseflies are worse. In the distance you hear an ATV, a dog, and the crack of a rifle. A woman appears farther up the trail. She is thin, with long, black hair, and her cotton dress flutters in the cool breeze. She stops and turns her wan face toward you. You raise your hand in greeting, hoping that she can provide you with some direction, but she steps off the trail and into the brush. By the time you reach the overgrown deer trail she’d been following there will be no trace of her.

You continue, looking for landmarks; a twisted pine tree in the distance, a shallow lake off to the side. “That must be Blue Lake,” you mutter. Then, farther on, “No, THAT must be Blue Lake.” A man approaches, big and barrel-chested, a flannel jacket over soiled coveralls. A rifle rests against his right shoulder. You slow and begin to speak, but the man shakes his head and gestures vaguely toward his ear with all three of the fingers on his left hand. You form a word, but suddenly realize the futility: He is deaf. Fear settles into your shoulders, making them ache. But this does not seem to be the fear of wandering further into the darkening wilderness. You have been lost in the north woods before, in more remote places than this, in worse weather, and with much more at stake. This fear is different, somehow more dangerous because you cannot identify it.

By the time you get back to the trailer it’s almost midnight. The full moon provided barely enough light to travel by, but the tangles of vegetation finally gave way to wider, more familiar trails. Your arms, hands, neck, and face itch terribly, small welts rising on your skin. You open the door to the musty trailer, top-of-the-line in 1955, and light the kerosene lantern. A few insects immediately begin to work their way through holes in the window screen. The door is warped and swings open with a gust of wind. You stand up and pull it shut, hard, then slide a screwdriver through two strips of metal that used to hold a sliding bolt. You sit on the bed and stare at the backs of your red, swollen hands. How long have you been out here now? Three weeks? A month? All night the fear has been building, growing stronger, more personal, more insistent. You turn off the lantern, lie back on the moldy foam pad and pull the ragged sleeping bag across your chest.

You wake sweating in the night, traces of a nightmare like wisps of dark smoke on the horizon. You sit up and look out the window at the yellow moon; in a few minutes it will sink behind the pines. In the distance, a loon. A coyote. A gunshot. You get up, light the lamp, and pull a suitcase out from under the bed. You remove three thick stacks of twenty dollar bills from the others and weigh them for a moment in your palm. You pick up a pen and two crumpled manila envelopes from the cracked formica table. The addressee on the first: Mrs. Anna Lund. The addressee on the second: Mr. Bill Nichols. One stack of bills goes in each envelope. You take a few bills off the third stack and stuff them in your pocket, then throw the remainder back in the case and kick it under the bed. You’ve just turned off the lamp when you hear a wet snuffling from below the window, followed by grunts, and a series of bumps against the side of the trailer. You freeze until the noise fades into the distance and there, in what remains of the moonlight, you laugh grimly. One problem solved, another created. As you lay your head back on the damp pillow, eyes following the willowy shadows on the ceiling, you decide to wait for dawn. This is fear. This, then, is Wisconsin.


Anonymous said...

Nice story. I like this series on rural decay.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing you're not applying for a position with the Wisconsin tourist board then?

Greetings from London - Patrick & Aimee

Anonymous said...

I would have guessed West Virginia. Great story, as gritty as the accompanying photos. Your artwork, writing and photos, are working well together.