Monday, June 29, 2009

For One Night of Love

SHORT STORY MONDAY

Part one of a never ending story. A work of fiction in the classic style.

For One Night of Love

Helmsboro, Minnesota, is a town undergoing change... rural, yet slowly being transfigured by the spread of housing developments and zoning regulations. The farming has always been difficult in these parts, due to the short growing season and the hardscrabble land, hence after scratching out a living for as long as sensible most of the area's farmers have sold out, subdividing their properties and encouraging their sons and daughters to pursue more promising careers in other fields. Many have migrated to the Twin Cities, though others have stayed behind, uncertain what to make of the changes taking place all around them. Because of its low crime and good schools, the area has developed a good reputation, attracting many new families into the community.

Jeremy Tanner lived in a farmhouse on the right-hand side of the Helmsboro Road, often called Old County Two, an old asphalt road that sweeps up and away from the city below. Situated on forty acres, nearly all of it once cleared, his grandfather built the house shortly after the Great War, saying, "First you build the cage, then you catch the bird." His father grew up on the site and imagined that Jeremy would raise a family of his own here one day as well. Since his father's death nine years ago the land has remained neglected, for Jeremy never took an interest in gardening, nor in any other kind of farm labor for that matter.

In the old days, Jeremy's great-grandfather harvested hay for hops for a local brewery. The160 acres the Tanners then owned were some of the best in Helmsboro. His grandparents met at the farmer's market, as did his parents. But it was hard work, and the Tanners were hard on their women.

Jeremy's mother hanged herself in the barn when he was too young to remember so that it has been more than thirty years since the house enjoyed the attentive care of a woman's touch. After his father passed away, Jeremy found employment as a pot washer and kitchen help at the Northview Country Club. The house and land were paid for so that his modest wages suited him fine. He had no career ambitions, preferring instead the cloistered solitude with which he surrounded himself at home.

Jeremy had not been been a bad looking youth and became what some would consider a modestly handsome man. What hindered him socially, and disturbed him deeply, was a nervous condition over which he had virtually no control and which made him quite self-conscious and socially reserved to an extreme. He was plagued with muscle twitches and tics that manifest themselves in a variety of ways that included eye blinking, head jerking and facial grimaces. They had first appeared in his early teens, and no matter how he tried, he could never entirely control them. First it would be a tightness in his shoulder blades and he would roll the blade, and then do it again and, like a persistent itch, would continue the motion until it became a strange elastic jerking movement which took all of his concentration to restrain. Once successful overcoming that tic, the discomfort would show up in his neck, and for several weeks he would jerk his head, or roll his eyes, or make a sniffing noise or clear his throat. The variations on this theme were maddening and made him a victim of cruel jokes in school so that he could hardly bear having to return each day to the ridicule and insults of his peers. Feeling himself a freak, he learned to find comfort in solitude.

Over time the severity of these multiple tics diminished and often he showed no unusual signs at all. However, whenever he experienced stress, the tics would return. They were especially troublesome in his relations with the opposite sex, to an extent that he was embarrassed by them. The facial twitches and grimaces especially shamed him so that he even considered taking his life because of his inability to control them in the presence of a girl whom he wanted to please. Many times he wept bitterly because of his condition until at last, having come to believe that no girl would ever love him as he was, he resigned himself to living alone for the rest of his life. When his father died, it relieved him of the burden of having to find a wife to please his father. He could travel his solitary road in peace.

At thirty-one, he had settled into a routine which more than satisfied him. Life was no longer a burden for him. In fact, he was quite contented with the life he now lived, a life of routines and small pleasures. Though his workday began at noon, he liked to rise early, usually before dawn, to take long walks, weather permitting, and then to return to his home to draw. He spent hours walking, observing the evolving countryside, and even more hours in his room making pictures. Other than his employment, and the few mundane tasks which all single people must attend -- sleeping, bathing, washing clothes, paying bills, etc. -- this was the whole of his life.

On the other hand, he never read the papers, nor listened to the radio, nor did he own a television. (He took his father's TV to the Goodwill two weeks after the funeral.) He never went out to restaurants, shows or bars, and only went to the store when it was an absolute necessity. He was neighborly to his neighbors, but mostly kept to himself and they, knowing well his preference for solitude, left him to himself, an unspoken contract.

But for his walking, the hours he spent with pen and paper were the hours he lived for. So absorbed by his picture making was he that he would set an alarm clock to alert him that it was time to get ready for work. Otherwise he might easily spend an entire day making tiny, hatch markings for a shaded background and forget to report to his job altogether. What might seem boring and tedious to others, Jeremy found relaxing and even stimulating. He was amazed by his own pictures and by the wondrous spatial illusions that could be created by the stroke of a pen.

Jeremy did have other distractions. He enjoyed a good book now and then. And he liked to play a harmonica, especially in the late evening after dusk. Sometimes he would go out behind the barn and sit on some old crates playing lonesome sounding melodies that slid away into the vastness of the night. At one time, too, Jeremy had a dog of which he had been fond, but the dog had been hit by a car and killed and Jeremy could not bring himself to replace her.

CONTINUED

No comments: