A Man and
The man looked wistful, helpless. Having never been offered a choice in anything he ever did, even choosing a wife, the one he had being four months pregnant when they married, after having had a single encounter after a church supper when he was sixteen and didnt even know how to do the thing with any respect or affection or thought. Again, now, he didn't know what to do and knew there was nowhere to go for advice.
"She's out there right now, picking beans in the garden."
"Sylvan. My first girl. She's got my heart, that girl."
"And what's that heart worth to her now, you reckon? How old is she?"
The man paused, ruffled his fingers. "Sixteen. I think. No, seventeen."
"What use is a girl on a farm? What good is she to you now? You want her grabbed up by some trash? Maybe she has been already. She's seventeen. I dont pay top dollar for used goods. Maybe I should reconsider."
"Sylvan is a good girl. She's special. Not just to me. Ain't nobody been near her, that's for sure. I've been careful. Real careful."
"Can she read?"
"Course she can read."
"Some. Not division. But she's bright. Listens to all them shows on the radio."
"Good. A good girl. A little older than I hoped, but she'll do."
"You're the one that's asking, mister. If you don't want her, and I ain't saying this is a done deal, you don't want her, just walk away."
"I'm offering you, say, three thousand dollars, a new tractor, and a better life for both you and your family and the girl Sylvan."
"And I hear you and I'll think about it. Now, with all due respect, I want you to leave my house."
"There's one condition," Boaty said as he stood.
"Figured," said the father.
"If she runs off on me, you lose the farm. I take it back, and you have nowhere to go. Understand?"
There was a long pause. "What if she dies or something else?"
Boaty hadn't thought that far. "There is no something else," he said. "No divorce. No running off. But I guess if she dies, you stay put. As long as she dies my wife. So it's kind of 'for richer or poorer' for you, too. You got that?
"When she's gone, she's gone. She won't be coming back, and you won't be seeing her. Not at Christmas, not at Easter. You'll never see your grandchildren, at least not by her."
"That's pretty hard."
"Life is hard, isnt it?"
The man looked out the window at his oldest daughter, straining in the hot sun to find every last bean on the vine. The white shirt was soaked with sweat, and her hair clung in tendrils to her neck. Boaty thought she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
"I got to consider her. Whether she'd like it. Don't even know I could convince her. She got ideas, like I said."
"When can I come back?"
There was a long pause. Two men in a kitchen, the woodstove, always hot, the flypaper hanging down, encrusted, the whiskey clear and still in the jar, the girl in the garden, the boys bawling for lunch and the baby for the teat. For three whole minutes he sat and waited.
"We understand each other? You get what I'm saying?"
"I ain't stupid, sir. I heard every word. I'll think on it."
"That's what I said."
"I'll bring cash money."
"I asked you to leave. I'd like you to do that now."
They shook hands, like two men at a funeral. Boaty was careful not to wipe his hands on his pants until after he had gotten in the car and driven awey, the girl standing in the garden, basket full, staring after his Cadillac until the dust had settled back on the road and the drone of the cicadas could be heard again, the wind rushing through the corn, replacing the swish of the car's wheels, the dust from the dirt road blowing into the girl's eyes.
When he went back in two weeks' time, the girl was standing on the porch, wearing an old dress that was clean and smelled of sun and fresh night air. Beside her was a suitcase that Boaty gently explained to her she wouldn't be needing. Her whole family was gathered around her, except the father, silent, dressed as though for Sunday church.
Inside, the big blond man sat at the kitchen table. He looked drunk, the Mason jar empty in front of him on the greasy flowered linoleum. He looked like he'd been crying, but it was hard to tell. Boaty put a document in front of him, a piece of paper that gave Harrison Boatwright Glass the right to marry the girl, and ownership of the farm. The man didn't even ask what the paper was. He just signed his name carefully and in full.
Boaty got out the cash and then hesitated. "You made it clear to the girl that this is forever? No running off?"
"She understands that."
"It says so in the contract you just signed. So you better be sure."
"I'm sure. She knows the deal. She's yours, mister."
Then, after Boaty had put the cash money on the table, without counting it the father handed over her birth certificate, yellowed and stained, and all he said was, "When do I get my tractor?"--- From Heading Out to Wonderful
©2012 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill