by G. L. Eikenberry
A young, (late twenties) university educated urban refugee.
A farm wife of more than forty years. She's had a rich life, but now things are slipping away from her. She used to manage the finances and almost everything else about the farm, but now she can't even remember why she came back or why she went down to the basement.
Damp, shadowy basement of old farm house.
Pastoral theme fading into ominous then discordant, continuing to fade out under the following sound cue.
Sound of a woman in pain breathing heavily and trying, awkwardly, to pull herself up to the basement window, tipping shelves, knocking over and breaking jars from last fall's canning in the process.
Basement window being broken with a broom handle followed by thud of a portable cassette recorder landing on dry, scruffy grass outside.
Outside the same farm house.
Pastoral theme comes up under next sound cue and then fades out.
A car that speaks of money drives up the farm lane and purrs to a stop. Doors open and close as Anna and Peter get out and survey their new "homestead."
ANNA (Enthusiastic—but not quite gushing)
I still can't believe how peaceful it is out here, Peter. This is going to be so perfect. I can't imagine a better place to raise kids. What took us so long to realize that this is where we belong?
PETER (More than just a hint of cynicism moderates his enthusiasm)
Yeah, well, maybe the jobs in town that are paying for all this had something to do with it. And let's not forget that the place needs work — a lot of work.
If you're still worried about the money I don't have to give up my job for a while.
That's not it. It doesn't make sense for both of us to commute. Besides, you're right. This place is worth it. A couple of years out here and we'll be another Ma and Pa Kettle. But we've got work to do before the movers arrive. I need to see what I can do to clean up some storage space out in the barn.
I suppose I'd better open up the house to air it out and find the breakers or fuses or whatever to get the power back on. Give me a shout if you need a hand.
She walks up the wooden steps and puts an old skeleton-type key in lock, but stops before opening the door.
What's that? Oh, great — somebody's smashed the basement window. The place hasn't been vacant more than a week and it's already been vandalized.
She walks back down the steps and picks up the cassette recorder.
What the—an old cassette recorder. There's still a tape in it.
The click and whir as she tries the recorder.
I can't believe it actually works.
RUTH (On the tape—her voice strained, confused—almost brittle)
I think this was Danny's, but he's been gone so long — I can't remember. He was at college, and then he went to Winnipeg or Whitehorse or somewheres —there was that girl—Sylvia or Stephanie or something, I don't know. Why can't I remember? It doesn't matter—he's not coming back, Danny....
...I still don't know what's happened to George. Why ever did he leave me. I can't think what I must have done to upset him....
Tape fast forwarding.
I found this thing down here in the basement. I was going for the pickled beets. I can't leave my canning. Maybe that's why I came back. It used to be Danny's, I think—the tape machine. I think George was using it. He was on that "inventory" kick of his. It was the tape machine. We found it cleaning out Danny's room—after—after what? George said it would be perfect for an inventory. We didn't need no inventory, but once he had the machine he just had to do it. He said it was for the insurance.
Insurance. She said there was insurance—that woman. I don't even know who she is. I suppose she'll be worried. She didn't seem to want me to leave. Actually she said I mustn't leave.
...Leave. I don't know why George left me. I just don't know.
This farm has been in his family for three generations. Why would he leave it? I just don't know.
Hiss of static on tape and Ruth's laboured, shallow breathing—continues under:
Oh, God—that poor old woman. I thought the real estate agent said her husband had died. I thought that was why she had to sell. Of course he's dead. She's just—
RUTH (Just barely holding back the sobs)
I'm doing this for George. I know you'll come back too, George. I had to leave—leave something so you'll know. I'll leave the tape. I'll leave it for you.
I didn't want to do it, George. They made me sell the place. I don't even know who those people are. I love you, George. I love your farm. They made me do it.
Oh dear, I don't know—oh dear. I don't even know what happened, George. Forgive me, George.
The click of the recorder as Anna turns it off.
That poor woman was obviously disturbed when she recorded this. Disturbed and confused — Alzheimer's or something. She seemed fine when she was there for the closing. She kept referring to us as "that nice young couple," talking to the real estate agent like we weren't even there. God, I can't listen to any more of this. Not now. I've got work to do. I haven't even been inside the house.
A very brief pause is followed by Anna's deep sigh, the click of the recorder and then the sound of fast forwarding and another click before we hear:
RUTH (Her voice is even more strained than before. She is now in physical as well as emotional pain.)
Oh, Lord. I think I've broken my hip trying to get back up those blasted stairs. You were supposed to fix those stairs, George. You promised you'd do it before you went into town—before—
(The tears finally burst forth.)
Oh Lord. Oh Lord, Lord—you're not coming back, George. Oh, Lord— Why, George, why? Why did you leave me? Why?
The click of the recorder being shut off cuts off her weeping.
She fell down the stairs. She couldn't still be—oh, God—
Anna running back up the wooden steps, fumbling frantically with the door.
Anna running across the kitchen linoleum and down the basement steps, kicking aside the broken glass and moving the tumbled shelves to get at Ruth.
Oh, God. No, wait, there's still a pulse.
Anna running back up the stairs to the still open door.
In Anna's and Peter's car driving back out to the farm.
... Shock and dehydration, mostly. The hip was badly bruised, but not broken, although at her age—
Basically, she's had a rough time of it, but she's going to make it. She's damned lucky we showed up when we did.
That's not the point, Peter, you didn't hear that tape.
Look, obviously the stress of her husband's death and then having to sell the farm took their toll. You've already saved her life. I don't see that there's much more we can do about it.
The thing is, Anna, these country places all have a history. When a place like this passes from one family to another it's rarely a cause for celebration for both families.
Pastoral theme begins very low in background, coming up very gradually into foreground and out following Anna.
It's just that real estate agents and lawyers usually insulate the buyers from the sellers and their troubles.
In fact, maybe we're the lucky ones—lucky to have a little direct contact with the history of our new place in the country—lucky to be able to do something, no matter how small, for someone who is a part of that history.
ANNA (With a hint of doubt—a hint of stress on the second "maybe")
Maybe you're right. Maybe we are.
|G. L. Eikenberry works as a freelance information systems and communications consultant and teaches HupKwonDo, a modern, non-competitive martial art. He's been writing fiction as well as other forms for more than twenty years. He says, "Writing is important to me not just as communication, but for its role in keeping my imagination and my perceptions sharp much like martial arts help keep my body sharp—and rooted in the real world on all its levels." His work has been published in a wide variety of hard copy publications as well as electronic media.