A cold morning in Harmony--temperature hovering below zero, woodstove clicking and groaning, white cat plastered on a red hearth rug. In the middle of town, furnace breath hangs above the school, the gas station, the store. School buses creak to a halt.
The cold creeps under doors and around window frames. On Saturday our road commissioner, a 26-year-old kid, was killed while repairing a town truck. I didn't know him at all, other than as the guy in charge of plowing, but I still feel the jolt of loss. He was a well-loved son, the father of a little girl; his wife is pregnant with their second child. Picture a moment's misstep: how many lives beyond your own would go terribly awry?
Downstairs I hear Tom's footsteps, back and forth, back and forth, across the hard kitchen floor. When I was small, I listened to many tales of men killed by tractors . . . neighbors of my parents or grandparents. A farmer would try to drive a tractor up a hill or go too quickly around a curve, and it would flip and crush him. The man who owned the feed store had lost all the fingers of one hand, caught in farm machinery. As my sister and I waited for our granddad to load sacks of grain into the trunk of the Impala, we stole looks at the finger stumps--neat, useless, innocently round.
A square of sunlight illuminates the music book on my stand: Bach, Six Sonatas for Violin Solo. I remember the shiver of imagining my own hand without fingers. I don't remember imagining the families of the men beneath those tractors.
Over your body the clouds go
High, high and icily
And a little flat, as if they
Floated on a glass that was invisible.
[Sylvia Plath, "Gulliver"]