The truck came down the road and turned into the driveway and slowly approached the house. A man in a deputy uniform recognized him and motioned him up the gravel road.
Hey Mike, the deputy said.
Curtis. What do we have?
Mr. Parsons hung himself from the barn rafters. Nobody’s up there yet. I got here and talked to his wife then drove up there to see for myself. I wasn’t about to stay though.
Mike shook his head in disbelief. I heard the call over the radio and I was already in my truck before I realized it was on my road. The rest of the boys should be here soon. Do they want us to go ahead and cut him down? We’ve never done anything like this before.
I reckon. We called the paramedics just to call it. Adam’s the one responding so he should be here directly. If you want to drive up to the barn and wait I’m going to get some more information from his wife and I’ll come along. There ain’t no road so just drive through the tall grass where I took my car.
He pointed a finger and Mike followed it to a field of rolling brown grass that had been flattened briefly and was already struggling to regain the land. He gave a little wave and put his truck into drive and started out towards the barn.
It was dilapidated and weathered with time. Several boards were missing and if it had ever been the traditional red there was no way to decipher that now. Farming equipment sat abandoned and unsecured like a skeletal junkyard and little planks of wood, rusted washers and broken bits of nails lay cast in the dirt as if by storm or apathy.
He parked off to the side of the barn to give the fire truck ample room when they arrived. He wasn’t sure what tools they would need for this job. The ladder might be easiest if they could get the truck inside. If not someone may have to climb and cut him free. Knowing how close the station was he was certain they would be there soon but some darker calling compelled him to look. To know this specter first. As a firefighter he always wanted to survey the area and have as much information to share and convey as possible but this went further than that. He hoped for some deeper understanding or profundity. What would make a man do this? What would it look like if he did?
He stepped from the shadow of the barn into the inner dark of the giant doorway. At the far end was another identically open rectangle of light and there square in the middle like an aesthetic decoration swung something thick and heavy. In the dark and at this distance it looked like stored meat or a baggage of camping supplies idly placed and ready to fall. It listed in the summer breeze. A bird pecked, flew, pecked again.
Curtis came up the path heavy footed but Mike didn’t or couldn’t bring himself to hear him. When he placed his hand on his shoulder a cold shudder wrenched up his spine and came out of his mouth as the word Lord.
Ain’t it the damnest thing?
His name was Mike too. Saying this out loud gave him a sense of further dread.
I know. Only met him a few times myself. Say you knew him?
He lived on my road. I’ve talked to him a few times over the years. Bought some hay off him a few summers ago. Helped him install a well when they first bought the property.
From what I gather he seemed like a good ol boy.
So why this?
He wasn’t asking this directly to Curtis but the deputy gave a reply anyway.
His wife said he had been in a lot of pain lately. She thinks it may have been cancer coming on but he never would go to the doctor. Said their finances weren’t doing too good either. Guess he decided to give in.
You’d think he would have called someone. Asked for help.
I don’t think that’s something men like us do. I’m not sure I could admit to something like that.
Ain’t no shame in it.
The fire truck and the ambulance were coming up the path now. Knowing the situation neither were running their sirens and so they hadn’t heard them coming in the distance. Another cop car was at the house and the officer was consoling the wife.
Some of the firefighters came into the barn in plain clothes having come from work or dinner and knowing fire gear wasn’t required. They looked up at the swinging apparatus and stopped dead in their tracks as though the land encircling out from the body to where they stood was diseased. None spoke. A strong wind came up off the plains and turned the high grass like a flock of birds and shuttled hard down the barn with the force of a passing subway. They were downwind of that gale and happy for that but the body suddenly lifted and began to sway and twist like a child’s string toy refusing to come to rest. It created circles and figure eights in the air with each passing, growing smaller in radius but never faltering entirely.
Mike walked to the fire truck and pulled a hook from the storage container and returned to the body. It was a long stick with a metal pick on the end and he pressed it against the body to subside the motion. Soon it was like a boat gently rocking against a dock and then it stopped entirely as though the boat had been tied tight.
This was the closest any of them had been to the body and in the moving light from the holes in the barn he could see this figure clearly, a ghoulish caricature of the man he once knew. He had been missing since morning and the blood had pooled in his extremities making huge hams of his fists and adding to the pendulum weight in his feet which moved him in death. His eyes had bulged and were edging at the sockets like pool balls ill fit into drain holes. His tongue had swollen and turned a bruised fuchsia tentacle threatening to climb up and out of his throat, lividity rising. He looked like the construction of a doll out of mismatched parts.
Voices spoke. Discussions began. Will the truck fit in here? If we cut him down from that height he’s liable to burst when he hits the ground. Well I ain’t holding him. This is something awful.
They moved some crates and machinery and bales of hay until there was a clear path to drive the truck inside. They extended the ladder and Mike volunteered to climb and hold the body while Adam cut him down. They prepared for this like men dared to jump from a cliff. They assured each other and attempted to psych themselves into this ghastly deed and then finally they did climb. When they reached the body they stared briefly. Birds waited at bay in the rafters. They didn’t suppose there was any need to check the pulse. Mike put his arms around the body. It was like containing a cold and swollen inflatable. Adam worked fast on the rope with his knife. Suddenly the weight released and the rafter of the barn was realligned with a loud settling all through the boards. The body fell with such force that it took both men reaching out to grab it and hold fast the ladder to steady themselves. Even the fire truck shook with the sudden change of riders.
They lowered the ladder and passed the body down to outstretched hands, many gloved, who took it like an unwanted offering. They held it at a distance and placed it with little care upon the gurney. Two men wheeled it outside. The others took to wiping their hands on their clothes or passing around a towel and one boy thrust his fists into a bale of hay and pulled out two mighty handfuls and rubbed them together until every grain and every stalk had dissipated to the earth around his feet and he was left rubbing his palms together in a fervor that threatened to leave welts upon his palms.
When the ambulance carrying the body had left a few boys piled into the fire truck or returned to their cars and drove on somberly. An officer walked the bereaved wife inside, her eyes never leaving the vehicle that would ferry her husband for the last time.
Mike, Curtis and Adam sat on the lowered tailgate of Mike’s truck. Adam passed cigarettes around and each man took one though only Adam smoked. It seemed a thing to do. A firefighter, an officer and a paramedic. They sat there like avatars against the chaos of the world. Order, savior, grace. Yet none could account for or explain what they had seen this day.
Boys, began Adam, I’ve seen a lot of messed up things. Seen a man thrown from a car so far he actually crossed state lines. We had to call in another dispatch to make it all legal. His whole left side was just shorn of flesh and I walked down the road picking up long strands of it like taffy.
Mike chimed in. We had that house fire last year. Didn’t know anyone was home and fought for 3 hours to put it out. Afterwards walking through we found the family huddled in the closet. All charred together in one big ashen mound.
Them was all accidents, said Curtis. Horrible things but something like this a man chooses to do. I just can’t understand that. I don’t expect I’ll ever forget a thing like this.
How do you think I feel, Mike responded. I have to drive past this barn every day for the rest of my life.
They talked further on the matter and then tried other subjects but they just couldn’t shake the feeling the day had brought. With the sun setting over the fields and the barn looming larger over them like a secret taken shape they said their goodbyes and drove off in different directions. Mike returned down the road to his house. He hugged his wife and told her the basest details of the call. Some things he would not repeat. He went to his sons room and hugged him close with no excuse given and then he sat quietly in the living room paying little attention to the programs that passed on the television. Just before bed he went into the bathroom and stared long into the mirror.
What desires a man such finality, he thought? Am I beyond such things? Is anyone? What family has no suicide in their past? No swimmer given themselves willingly to the sea, no leaper embracing the rushing ground? He shook the thought and ran some water over his face. He spoke softly and silently to himself.
I understand life enough to live it. Not explain it.
He turned off the light and found that he was looking forward to the next day. And the next.
About the author
Author of "Drinking With Others: Poetry by the Pint" available at https://redhawkpublications.company.site/Drinking-With-Others-Poetry-by-the-Pint-p470423761
Avid traveler, reader, artist, athlete, moviegoer.