From the road she can look south and west across the fields to the shoulders of the bluffs rising above the Missouri River near Rocheport. She loves this view in both the winter and summer. It is the broadest vista around. In the winter she watches blizzards rolling in over the bluffs, snow and wind climbing from the bottomlands and western flats heading from Kansas City some 110 miles away. The weather comes up and over the bluffs in dancing swirls of serpentine silver carried by spinning white and gray winds, curtains of time locked and bent on covering everything in the distance. Sometimes she has hours, sometimes only minutes before a storm hits. From the bluffs it’s a distance of over three miles.
She has always been intrigued when these storms come before the winds, when a shroud of freezing rain slowly takes out the distance and the horizon simply moves closer. Sometimes this will transpire over several hours and she’ll become so lost in waiting that she feels the clouds are no longer moving and that she’s being transported to them. On good days, she can hold this feeling until the rain strikes her face and the wind picks up and the world stretches back to its normal dimensions. But it is summer Coral loves the most. Storms scramble and howl across the distance like swirling dark animals consuming everything in their path. Claws of lightning lash at anything tall. Winds sometimes knock trees over and blow down fences and barns, even flatten young crops. She loves the violence and how the storms serve to humble the life her family leads out in the open. She loves, too, the way the clouds turn yellow and black and gray and foam up over hills and smell of ozone and earth.
Summers also bring heat ghosts with them, ripples of evaporative waves shaking and shimmering in the distance – no wind, just cicada and grasshopper sounds and humid white sunlight. She knows it’s an optical illusion, but she feels a closeness to this weather effect even more profoundly than what she feels for the storms and wind that rip across the shallow valley.
In the pulsing, heat-filled days and the dense moist air, her skin crawls with sweat. She thinks often how wonderful it would be to walk around the farm naked, fully exposed to the bright sunlight, watching the heat ghosts off in the distance. She wonders what it would be like to lie against a bale of hay with her shirt under her naked back beneath the sun and the full empty pale-blue sky, a small pool of warm salty water filling her navel, while the open air humps all around her.
On this particular day she stands on the edge of a field several hundred yards from the house, gazing across the valley, feeling the long yellow grasses of the summer brush against her calves. The air is thick, and she wonders whether there is a relationship between its density and the heat ghosts. Her hair is the same color as the grasses–a burned, starchy blonde. Sweat soaked, it sticks to her cheeks and the back of her neck. Saltwater rolls in trickles down her chest. Across the valley she watches the grasses tremble beneath slight breezes. In the distance the hazy sky makes the grass liquid. She feels these lazy motions move through her mouth then roll down the back of her throat. She sticks her tongue into the air and moves slowly, wading through the tall grass up to the road and then across the hot concrete to the embankment on the other side. The heat ghosts are shining and glowing, sparkling. She wonders if she is the only one who sees these mirages this way. Trembles run through her starting with her eyes and forehead, working their way down her spine and through her tummy, between her legs, and then down to her bare feet.
She has waited a long time. Tonight is the perfect night. Everyone has gone to town. She’s by herself until around 11:00 when Mother needs to be home so that she can get her sleep. Coral wonders if he will come. If he does, they will have nearly five hours together before he has to sneak away.
She moves back across the road and through the dogwood, crosses the sloping field, and heads down the path to the houses. She knows who he is, or seems to be, and knows, too, that it’s a near impossibility that he would be interested in her. Sometimes she wonders if she’s losing her mind or just dreaming a very heavy, realistic dream.
It has been going on for some time now – nearly two years. He is much older than she is. He usually leaves in the middle of the night after she falls asleep. This is why the idea of it all being a dream occurs to her. She also wonders how real this is because she has not yet fallen in love with him. She knows, in fact, she never will, though she finds that her desire for him can consume her if he stays away too long or if there isn’t enough time for him to satisfy her. But she doesn’t love him.
He says little about what he does with himself, where he lives, who he is. He knows Lucas Fancher, though. And he knew her name when he first showed up. He knew he could step out of the woods that evening two summers ago as she turned to walk back to her truck and simply smile at her and she would trust him. He asks her questions about what she thinks, what it’s like for her to be lonely, tells her she is beautiful, shows her how to skip stones across the pond. They built a dam once on the tiny creek out of rocks and twigs and mud. They met there two more times in the early fall before finally making love.
After that, he would show up at the farm when she was by herself in the evening. He has a strange sense of when to appear. But then, he has to. If she isn’t crazy and isn’t dreaming, he is, somehow, some way, Elvis Presley.
His hair is long and gray, the sideburns are gone, he looks to be in his early sixties, but could be as young as forty or as old as eighty. He wears black jeans and flannel shirts covering pocket T-shirts. The body is a bit different than it appears on the VCR. The hands and arms are more delicate, he seems a bit shorter than she would have thought, his eyes smaller and closer together. But it is him. It has to be. Either that or she is consumed by something she has no control over. She thinks a great deal about insanity when he is not with her. Not that she’s worried about her mental state; she is just curious. Do people know they’re delusional when they’re crazy, or is that why they’re crazy – that they don’t know they are confronting illusion and tricks?
Occasionally, he says nothing to her the whole time they are together. They walk or sit by the creek or stand in empty fields looking at the night sky. Sometimes they don’t make love and he simply holds her and buries his face in her hair. Sometimes he cries. She feels his quiet sobbing, but says nothing. She wants to ask him who he is, wants him to tell her what is going on, but she’s afraid that it will ruin everything. So she just waits for him and fights the idea that she is crazy.
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