By Sara Siegel
She is the yellow grass for me. The trees, too, low and drooping,
brushing against the soft ground with their willowy branches. She is
the fields, at all hours of the day. Bluish grey when the sun hasn't
risen, but has cast its first light across the land. Golden yellow in
the afternoons, the wheat blowing in the occasional forgiving breeze.
Darkening red when the sun finally sets, and midnight blue when the
stars take over.
Susannah is the sky for me, too. The clouds on stormy days; the moon,
whether it's just a slim outline or proudly bears its silver light.
The sunflowers, the lavender, the smell of milk, fresh from our cows;
of eggs, freed finally from her hens. She's become the beach for me
now, too. The ocean, long and low, vast and deep. Blue farther than
our eyes could see. Stretching out longer than even the Fords' large
fields. The sand soft, rounded pebbles, sticking to our wet,
bare feet. And the mountains, large and looming in the distance. Purpling
on the edges, grey in the middle, and snow topped, quiet and white,
at the tips.
I've known Susannah all my life, so I can't remember the moment we
met, or the first time I interlocked my fingers with hers, or recognized
her scent sweet, like the ripening peaches before catching
a glimpse of her. I don't know what the sun looks like when it's not
sloping down her straw-colored hair, by now, tenth grade, all the way
down to her waist. I don't know what I look like even, without my arm
through hers. We've been Ben and Susannah, from the moment we laid eyes
on each other, our lives wound around each other like ivy.
When I think of family, I can't separate out hers from mine. As a child,
I was not an uncommon sight in the James' doorway, muddy and wet, hopping
on one leg before switching to the other, begging for Suse to come out
and play in the fields. She was just as common a sight at my home, running
past Hank or Rosaline, who my father had hired to help around the farm
and house, until she stood in my bedroom, beaming, her hair matted in
knots, holding out enclosed hands to me until I took her offering
a small and slimy toad into my own.
I was lonely on the farm when I was young. I'd entertain myself by
making up stories, some fantasies about dragons and princesses in far
away lands, but mostly about the men and women in town. The schoolteachers,
the doctor and his nurses, the three lawyers and the crew at the diner.
I'd pretend that my father hired the revolving door of men and women
for the fields and kitchen because he felt sorry for me, since I had
no brothers or sisters. I'd tell myself he knew I was lonely, that he
wanted to play with me was dying to play with me but couldn't
break away from the fields, almost our only source of income.
He'd teach me how to milk the cows early in the morning, and through
his stern and deep voice I'd imagine his love pouring out to me. I'd
pretend he taught me so I could understand how he spent part of his
days, pretend that he wanted to let me in on some generations-old family
Some days, when I was old enough to milk the cows by myself
but he still came around the barn to make sure they were warm enough
he showed me how to squirt excess milk from their swollen udders
directly into the mouths of the four or five waiting cats hanging around
the barn. The cats would pop up, stretch open their mouths, and gracefully
glide wherever we aimed the long sprays of warm milk. Mornings like
that, I told myself, I couldn't be imagining his love.