“I know where I’m going,” he yelled back over his shoulder at the hay barn.
He crossed in front of the lake and then the house he tried to sell Bibles to the day before, and paused to wave at the old lady. She sat on the porch in her red kimono, with her hair tied around her head in rags again. He smiled big, knowing that Olga wouldn’t be able to catch up to him before he got to where he was going.
He just kept walking. Laughing as he tossed his light brown hat in the air repeatedly.
He thought back to her in the hay barn, as she looked up at him with such hope and trust. Her in her faded slacks and a dirty white shirt, draping over an ill-used, fattened body, surrounded by the slowly decomposing hay. She lay where the straw was just beginning to brown, as if that would protect her. As he kissed her, his nose was overcome by the smell of Vapex, but he didn’t let that dissuade him.
He’d won her over by giving her the lines that sells his ‘Bibles:’ “I’m sick too.” Pulling it off because her mother thought he was just “good country people” like them. Once they think you’re in the same boat as them, they give you whatever you want. She was just trying to make sure that her daughter had a chance with him, but no one has a chance besides his Madeline.
Stopping by the side of the road to finally pull up his socks, he patted his suitcase. He just had to make it home and then his darling Madeline would have a leg and an eye. He’d bragged to Olga about getting the glass eye from a lady the same way he’d just bagged her leg.
Laughing again, he knew he had a few days travel before he reached home. He had to walk the back roads and the local farms to return because all the surrounding towns had his face plastered on “wanted” signs. As close as they could get to his face anyway, they could never get the nose right.
He heard that four or five towns over from his Madeline, there was a woman who’d crafted a fake nose out of plaster and some soft, tan-like material, almost like leather. He wondered if she was lonely and needed someone to distract her from her loneliness. Then, he might have a nose to add for his Madeline.
At home, he stopped at his front gate. He guessed his wife was inside sleeping, again. She’d sleep so much ever since the fire. Looking at his front door, the wood was splintered and blackened, he sighed. He needed to repair the house that they’d built together, before the accident.
She would laugh and smile, trying to hold up the boards that he specifically picked out from the piles of lumber he brought home from others’ farms. She was always so clumsy, always tripping over the nails she’d have trouble hammering into the floorboards. He should have made sure to hammer each nail she couldn’t. But he loved the look of her mark on their porch.
It was all his fault.
He’d gone out to make a picnic for her. Picking her favorite, blackberries from Mr. Smith’s farm, two clicks down the road. He took the time to inspect every berry for perfection that day.
He ran back when he saw the smoke. By the time he’d reached their front gate, she was already on the front lawn, burned.
He should have just stayed in with her that morning. Or at least, asked her to join him on his walk for the berries. Then, she wouldn’t have been left alone to burn.
Stopping in front of the front step, he took ahold of the cracked bannister she painted herself, the wood splintered by his gentle touch. He ripped it from it’s place and flung it across the yard.
“ ‘Lo?” He heard his sweet Madeline say from inside.
On the porch, he leaned his forehead against the door frame and it cracked from the gentle weight he applied. Looking down, he saw flakes of wood fall at his feet. Every crumb a reminder of what he’d created.
“ ‘Enry?” She asked for him specifically.
He took a deep breath and stepped inside.
She was sitting on the bed, her arm by her side, and her eye straining to see him. Her face was splotches of red and white; the scars just barely coming together around lesioned skin. The half of her mouth she could use, and was still intact, raised slightly in what he’d come to know as her smile.
She was glad he was home.
He thought back to when she would be waiting for him on their front porch; the dimples she once had deepening as she looked up from her painting the outside of their home. White whisps of paint would coat the once well-rounded face she carried from wiping the sweat off her brow, from the shingles he took from three towns away. He thought that she would love to wake up each morning to beautiful shingles that were just thrown away.
He would never throw away his Madeline though. Even when the doctor had told him that she wouldn’t make it, he waited each day by her, changing out the bandages and dripped well-water into her mouth by hand.
Her beautiful, bloodshot blue eye searched his face as he lowered himself to her constant bedside. He remembered when he used to play with her long, brunette hair as they lay in bed together, and reached toward her. Now, her balding head had only thin pieces of hair straining to stay on.
She recoiled at his touch on her too warm skin. He patted her one good hand and went to the sink, pumping some water up from the well. He came back to her with a wet rag, and gently wiped the oozing skin on her forehead.
“I have something for you,” he said, as he wiped her forehead a couple more times, then sat the rag by her side. He knew that he couldn’t leave it on, else it would peel the skin he’d worked so hard to knit together.
He pulled his suitcase closer to him and then opened it. The two Bibles he used as decoys moving as he pushed the top up higher. Looking down at the leg that was larger than he remembered, he gingerly pulled it out from his long-worn case and raised it to her like a relic.
What little of her face she had control of, softened. “I ‘ove ew,” she said, reaching for him with her one good hand.
“I love you too, my sweet Madeline.”