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Authors: Robin Hathaway


BOOK: Scarecrow
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To my brother, Jack—with love
It was one of those freakish October days when the mercury shoots up to the nineties, catching everyone off guard. It caught the Potter boys off guard. They'd taken the day off from their jobs at the tomato cannery to go hunting—all togged out in their bright orange down vests. They look like three pumpkins, thought their mother fondly, as she watched them heading down the road.
But by ten o'clock, they were stripped to the waist and spending more time sweating than shooting.
“Aw, let's get some beer,” Jake said.
“I ain't fired a shot yet!” whined Willard.
“Take some shots at them crows,” Oscar suggested.
Willard obliged.
. The bird landed at his feet. Grinning, he stepped delicately over it.
“Let's shake up Farmer Perkins's scarecrow.” Jake was not about to be outdone by his younger brother. Taking aim, he fired.
! Its hat flew off.
“Holy moley!” Oscar cried.
“Perkins'll have your hide for that,” Willard mumbled.
Sure enough, a man was heading into the field, brandishing something.
Jake ran as fast as his beer belly would let him, to the base of
the scarecrow. He bent to retrieve the hat. But to his brothers' astonishment, he didn't pick it up. He just stayed there, bent over. The brothers looked at each other. Farmer Perkins was gaining ground. And now they could see what he was carrying. A horse whip.
The boys ran to their brother's aid.
“What the hell?” Willard puffed, as he came up.
Oscar fixed Jake with his
you asshole!
Wordlessly, Jake pointed to the scarecrow's left pant leg.
A bare foot protruded from it.
When I hit the Jersey Turnpike, I went into autopilot and the windshield fogged up with scenes I'd just as well forget.
The door to my office opened without a warning knock. I glanced up from the
article I was reading. “What is it, Sue?”
My secretary hesitated, then blurted, “Sophie Miller … that little red-haired girl …”
“She's … gone.”
“What?” I sat upright.
“That viral infection … it was spinal meningitis.”
My heart contracted and my mouth went dry as my body registered the news.
“The nurse just called. They want you to come over to the hospital and talk to the parents.”
“Can I do anything?” Sue stayed in the doorway.
I shook my head.
The door closed.
I placed my face in my hands
I swerved, narrowly missing the red sports car that dove in front of me. I concentrated on the stream of trucks and cars ahead.
“So that's why you're leaving … .” Ken's lower lip protruded from
his beard, a sure sign he was beginning one of his famous sulks.
I continued throwing things in my backpack.
“It wasn't your fault!” he shouted.
“I should have been sharper,” I said in a dull tone.
“You can't win 'em all.”
“You didn't see those parents.”
“It was your first time,” he said. “You'll get used to it.”
I looked at him.
He lowered his eyes.
Turning, I went back to my packing.
“Hey, I know it was tough.” He came up behind me and tried to give me a hug.
I shrugged him off.
“I'm going for a walk,” he said in an injured tone.
I zipped toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant into an outside pocket.
The door closed.
“When you get back,” I muttered to the empty room, “I'll be outta here.”
The deep nasal blast of a horn caused me to glance in the rearview mirror. A tractor trailer—huge, bloodthirsty beast—was bearing down on me. In fact, the road behind me was jam-packed with bloodthirsty beasts—wild boars, rhinos, wolves, jackals—all riding my tail. All out to get me. I pressed the accelerator of my Budget Rent-a-Car.
“I'll only be gone a few days.” I pulled on the phone wire, watching it stretch and recurl.
“You and Ken have a blowup?”
“None of your business.”
“Sorry, Dad. I'm on edge. I'll call you when I get there.”
“And where, may I ask, is ‘there'?”
He only spoke formally when he was angry—or hurt.
Suddenly I realized I had planned everything except my destination. “I'll let you know when I get there. Bye, Dad.”
The gang behind me had thinned out. I automatically reached
in the side pocket for a CD. Empty.
. In my rush to get out of the apartment, I'd left my CDs behind.
I turned on the radio. Talk show on capital punishment. Should we or shouldn't we?
. Sinatra crooning fifties love songs.
Fire and brimstone from a Bible Belt preacher.
“Ninety degree temperatures break record for October”—followed by a heated discussion on global warming.
. Back to capital punishment. The emcee—against it. His caller—for it: “The obvious answer to prison overcrowding.”
We interrupt this program to bring you an important news bulletin: An unidentified body was found this morning in Bayfield, New Jersey. At ten-thirty A.M., Jake Potter was walking with his brothers in a cornfield when he stumbled on the body. Disguised as a scarecrow, it was hanging from a crossbeam in the middle of the field. Jake would have walked right by if he hadn't stooped to pick up something and caught sight of a bare foot dangling from the pant leg. “Scared the bejeesus outta me,” Jake said—
I punched OFF and concentrated on the road. It took more than a single dead body to hold the attention of a Manhattanite. The rhythm of the traffic combined with the monotony of the scenery had a soporific effect. Twice I caught myself about to doze off. Coffee time. I looked for the next service plaza.
With some caffeine inside me and some more in a cup next to me, I felt better. Sharper. Able to tackle anything. Well, at least to decide where I was going to spend the night.
A sign warned of an approaching toll: LAST EXIT BEFORE BRIDGE. What bridge? DELAWARE MEMORIAL BRIDGE, snapped the next sign.
I didn't want to go to Delaware. I wanted to go to the shore. To the sea. The happiest times of my life had been spent at the seashore. My dad had always rented a cottage for the two of us on
our summer vacations. Of course, October wasn't the best time for the shore. Or was it? No swimming, but no crowds either. I swerved onto the exit ramp in the nick of time.
“Thank you, ma'am.” He dropped the change into my hand and smiled.
? Where had he been? Or, rather, where the hell was I?
The soap-opera scenes of my life petered out along with the Turnpike. When I tried to resurrect them, they flickered and died like an old film. The windshield was clear and what I saw through it made me sit up and take notice. Golden fields topped by a band of indigo sky. The serene line of the horizon broken only by an occasional lone tree or scarecrow.
I slowed down. What a beautiful specimen! The first one I'd ever seen outside of
the Wizard of Oz
. And my rearview mirror was empty. That pack of jungle beasts must have opted for Delaware. In fact, I was the only car on the road. As I drove, the sky blushed crimson, turning the fields blood red. Fields and sky. Sky and fields. I don't know how long I drove. When the sky cooled to lavender and the fields to deep purple, I turned on my headlights. The beams picked out signs of civilization. (If that's what you call it.) A used-car lot, Harry's Bar and Grill, and a motel with an orange neon sign—OAKVIEW MOTOR LODGE. And below it: LO R TES. It was the customer's job to fill in the blanks. If I hadn't been exhausted, I would have driven on to look for more upscale lodgings. (None of my colleagues would have been caught dead in this fleabag.) But not long ago I had been a lowly intern, up to my ears in debt, and I had often stayed in such places—when I could afford to travel at all. Besides, it gave me a kick to stay where my pretentious colleagues wouldn't be caught dead. I turned into the parking lot and was faced with the movie set for
It Happened One Night.
Three wooden cabins all in a row, each with two windows and a door with a number fixed to its center: 1, 2, and 3. I looked around expectantly for Clark Gable. No such luck.
It Happened One Night
had been my two mainstays when I was a medical
student. I couldn't afford much recreation, but I did have a VCR and a few videos. I played those movies over and over. If anyone deserved credit for getting me through medical school (besides Dad) it was Gable and Bogie. And it was a toss-up which one I owed the most.
Cabin number “one” had a light over the door and a small orange neon sign below. OFFICE, it read. For some reason, that little cabin with its warm glowing sign was a comfort—like a bowl of hot broth when you had a bad cold.
I turned off the ignition and went in to register.
BOOK: Scarecrow
2.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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