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  • Writer's pictureTodd Stevens

The Trail, scene twenty nine

They walked through the gray, straight down rain all morning, at the top of each rise they could see the big river they’d seen the night before, and it never seemed to get any closer. Vehicles passed by irregularly, their sides splattered in dripping orange/brown road mud, almost all of them slowing and staring at the backpack carrying, and plastic wrapped pair with curious eyes, like they were trying to ascertain if they were looking at men or martians. The lack of sleep, and the physical wear and tear of walking up and down hills in the rainy conditions had them both exhausted and looking for any bit of shelter where they could eat a bite of food and rest for a few minutes out of the steady pressure of the rain. Roads that led to farms and ranches cut off from the road every half mile or so, each entrance marked with a gray, galvanized mailbox, and an archway made of rough, gray, hand peeled and notched logs, fitted perfectly together. Some of the archways had black iron bars twisted into symbols and fixed to the top and middle of the archway. The symbols meant something, they signified the brand of that particular ranch,, or, Rocking..Z, and many more. The rain had fallen long and hard enough that in certain low areas it collected into little streams, and those tiny streams grew, making lightning bolt cuts through the soil, and forming tiny rivers that gnawed away at the road bed and eroded big hunks here and there. Tom looked at one such stream genesis, and thought, that’s probably how the Grand Canyon started. In the early afternoon, when they were at the very end of what they could do either physically or mentally, they crested a small hill, mowed flat of its straw. Beyond the butter colored field was a ditch that was lined with thick green brush that crowded over and around the ditch as though it was guarding it. The shed was half obscured by tall green brush, with only a few chunks of its rough cut, black wood peeking through brush. They were looking at the back of a loafing shed, its corrugated tin rough angled higher towards the front of the building than the back. They stopped and stared at the building, their legs unsure and rocking with the sudden lack of motion. They were quiet, and wondered if they were really seeing it, or if it was just a mirage the bushes perpetrated on weary travelers. Cat laughed. “I say we go for it, I’m totally gassed.” Tom nodded in agreement. They climbed down the bank and hopped over a newly formed stream of brown froth that poured down the borrow pit, then held the fence for each other as they ducked through. They were too tired to hurry, but they looked left and right over their shoulders the whole way to see if they’d been seen.

The inside of the shed was dry, but here and there water worked its way through holes in the roof and formed wiggling drops that grew for a moment and then dropped to the straw bedding, only to have another drop immediately begin to form in the same spot. In the northeastern corner of the building the straw was piled higher, and there were no leaks. They took the plastic ponchos off and laid them on top of the hay and sat with their backs against the wall. The rain hammered steadily against the roof like a million fingers tapping all at once. They dug through their food supply and opened two cans of kippered snacks and ate them quickly. Cat produced a dozen broken soda crackers and they split them, then ate the last of the instant oatmeal, cold, and thinned down enough to drink. “I’m glad I grabbed a few things at the grocery store when you were healing up in the motel.” Cat said. He sparked the lighter in the gloom of the shed and lit a cigarette. Tom noticed his forehead was almost back to normal. “Looks like the forehead is getting better, how’s it feeling?” Cat reached up with his thumb cocked in a hitchhiker position and used his thumbnail to scratch the sting site. “It feels better, but itches like crazy…how are your ribs?” Tom looked up from where he was unrolling his sleeping bag onto the chunk of plastic, he gave a slight frown and shook his head negatively, “They’re a little tender if I bump them, but that’s it.” After Cat finished his cigarette, he poked it through a knot hole in the side of the building and held it there until the rain had extinguished it, then dropped it to the ground. They laid side by side in their beds, and in less than a minute they were sleeping.

It was dark when Tom woke, his sleep had been dreamless, and because of the lack of dreams, he felt like he’d closed his eyes for a minute, and then opened them the next. The smell of the loafing shed was thick in the air, straw, mildew, and rain, mixed in equal portions. Cat was still sleeping next to him, but something had changed. It took him a few moments to realize that it was the absence of the drumming rain on the tin roof. He sat up as quietly as possible, making his best effort not to crinkle the sheet of plastic he laid on. He pulled his shoes on and found his extra long sleeve shirt, then pulled the hooded sweatshirt back on over everything. The ground was silent to walk on as he rounded the corner of the shed and walked back out into the mowed field. Behind him he could hear water slipping from one leaf to another, then to the ground, the rain was over, but its remnants were still settling. The night was perfectly still, and the clouds were gone, leaving the sheet of black sky and sharp pointed white stars, unhindered by even the thinnest cloud or vapor. It was as if every microscopic mote of dust had been pulled to earth in raindrops, leaving the vivid, sharp edged sky for him to gaze up at. It was cold, it felt more like an early fall night than a summer one. Something crossed his mind, maybe it is early fall? He suddenly realized that he had no idea what day of the week it was, let alone what part of the month. He did some internal rudimentary math, tapping his fingers on his legs and counting the days backwards, before giving up. Fuck it…it doesn’t matter anyway. He refocused on the sky, one star seemed to be signaling him, and for some unknown reason, she popped into his mind. He replayed all the little clues of her infidelity that were obvious now, but so hard to see at the time. Then he did something he hadn’t done in months, with his eyes still open, and concentrating on the winking star, he prayed. At first it was a rambling, empty prayer, one he could say on repeat without thinking, like a little recording. Then he stopped, and he thought about what he was saying, and he thanked God, not for anything in particular, but his thanks was genuine and deep, and he really felt gratitude. Then he stood there in that cold, still, dead field and he looked up at infinity, and something moved over him, a desire for something that he couldn’t pinpoint. It was like a vague yearning for some food he couldn’t put his finger on. He quieted his thoughts by picturing a lone, snow covered peak, and he concentrated on that image, and what came to him was a shock. He clasped his fingers in an interlaced manner and brought his hands, locked together in that manner up under his chin as he stared into the heavens, and he said words quietly, but out loud, that he thought would take years, if ever, to say. “Lord, I forgive her…” In that fleeting moment he realized that it was he who benefitted from saying them. It felt like handcuffs had been removed. He stood there and repeated that prayer for twenty minutes, his body wracked with shivers from the cold air by the time he heard a lighter strike behind him, then a little spot of yellow appeared through the knothole. He turned and walked back toward the shed, everything suddenly different.

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