Too warm. Started late. The smell of fresh-cut cemetery grass. Cattle grazing nearby. Old country school-church. Needs paint. Itchy flannel shirt. Mower mowing. Hard seat.
Davey thinks. Works his mind in the present and the past. Thoughts of ancestors and old dreams. Stoic settlers. Dead kin. A lover. His old empty heart. A survivor’s heart, God willing.
The past was creeping. Always creeping from behind. Waiting no longer, finally springing, elbowing, and wedging itself between what is and what could have been. Been: a hard place to get back to. Only in memory. Only if it really happened. Davey knew and knows the truth. Only he and she knew and know. She ran away. Not with someone else. Just away. He knew and knows the truth. Thinks he does, anyway.
The mower whirs as it glides passed a row of headstones, its driver lost way back when, when he was young, timid and just. Not scared and stupid. Still thinks of her more than anything. Always has. Misses what he missed. Misses not making her his “Mrs”.
Passing a familiar headstone. A brother. Davey sees his face for the millionth time during the millionth mowing. Young forever, dead at a young age. Hanged himself. Davey remembers because it scared him. It was a woman and another man. They broke his brother’s heart. Scared his brother, he guesses and guesses and guesses. To be loved and then to not be loved. Scared him, for sure, he guesses.
Now he sees her, the young school teacher, for the millionth time, as she wraps her shawl tightly around her shoulders. He remembers beneath the lamp post, she was shivering. The weather, he figured then. His distance, he realized later.
“Chances?” she had asked.
“I can’t take chances right now.” he had told her.
“I’m not a chance,” she had said, soft and stern.
“Time’s not right.”
“You’re still thinking…’bout your brother. We don’t all break hearts.”
“They need help on the farm.”
“That’s noble…but would you really rather stay here?”
“It’s a lot of responsibility.”
“Yes, it is. And the longer you stay, the more likely you’ll never leave.”
“I’m needed here.”
“Leaving home takes growing up.”
“Teach your students,” he had snapped back. “Not me.”
He had heard her sigh but had not looked for her tears.
“I love you, David. There. One of us said it. And that can’t be taught.”
It’s for the best, he had thought to himself, as she walked away, as tall and slender as his chilled heart was rigid.
Still mowing. He passes the plot of folks from Meadows Corner, the plot where most of that clan rest. They lost two in WWII. Thinks of his own clan, just as big and with its own triumphs and tragedies, and his own life, falling somewhere in between, in limbo, almost like a non-starter.
Still thinking. Whenever he’s in town for groceries or machine parts or feed, they all still call him Davey. Even after his recovery from a mild stroke. Long time to be Davey, to have never become “David” and to have never become whatever it was he left behind. All those years ago. He mows. He cuts grass. Not because anyone – out there or dead in here – asks him to. Cuts it because it’s time and there’s time.