Chapter 4.1 - Pamela

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At 6:14 am the upper edge of the sun burst over the horizon with the abrupt ferocity of a volcanic eruption. Pamela pressed one knee against the steering wheel and fished for the sunglasses she'd discarded the day before. Her hand brushed against the hard plastic frames of the oversized tortoiseshell glasses Emma Nicole gave her last summer. She only ever wore them in the tractor, where no one else would see. To her, they seemed as beautiful and ostentatious as something one of those enormously wealthy reality TV stars would wear. She'd said as much in the store, which is why the kid forked over the $14.95 plus tax to pay for them.

"You deserve to feel like a movie star, mom," she'd said at the time.

How do you refuse a gift like that?

How do you justify movie star sunglasses in Kilbyford when you're a middle-aged farmer wearing men's jeans you bought off the clearance rack at Tractor Supply Company?

So she accepted them, but never wore them in public.

Shielded from the sun, her eyes focused once more on the vast expanse of earth before her. The enormous John Deere tractor dragged the long, wide plow along behind it like some monstrous, diesel-powered robot bride slowly marching down the aisle with the rattling metallic train of her dress spread out behind her. To the left stretched the satisfying sight of thirty-seven acres of loamy dirt, turned up and exposed to the sky. Big black crows, their glossy ebony feathers reflecting the rising sun, feasted upon the fresh buffet of grubs and earthworms. A little less than three acres to go and the south forty would be done, thanks be to God in Heaven above! She'd bounced and rattled over the bumpy soil for so many hours during the past week every joint in her body throbbed, bruised and swollen.

Normally, her hired hand, Ethan, would have been the one traveling the long miles up and down the length of the fields, but as though part of a vast conspiracy to wear down the spirit of the old matron farmer, the heifers decided to start calving at precisely the moment she needed to get the fields turned. All of them. Even the ones who weren't due yet. They lowed mournfully in the big barn behind the house, one after another.

Both jobs required stamina, but there was a brute strength often needed in birthing a baby cow that Pamela simply didn't possess, no matter how great her grit and determination.

So, Ethan and his new bride spent both days and nights in the barn with the cows while Pamela bounced along in the tractor.

A thousand years earlier, when she'd been young and energy flowed through her in infinite abundance, fueled by optimism and a steady diet of cheap, sugary treats she, too, had spent many nights in the barn with her husband. Having saved herself for her wedding night, she was delighted to learn that making love was worth the wait. Given a taste of marital passion, she found nothing satisfied but only increased her hunger. Everything he did turned her on. Watching him shovel manure, shirtless, the rippling muscles of his back and arms glossy with sweat, she'd burned with need for him, had distracted him by taking off her own shirt, and been richly rewarded when he pressed her bare back against the rough splintery wooden wall. Even after so many years without him, the memory sent heat flowing like slow-moving lava rolling through her veins.

Aware of the ways of young love, she never approached the barn without making an absurd ruckus--slamming truck doors and dragging her feet in the gravel drive to give ample warning before stepping into the shadows of that vast, earthy space. Only once had she found them breathless and blushing, standing further apart than common sense would dictate. She pretended not to notice, of course. Later, though, standing in the kitchen of a sink full of iridescent soap suds she had unaccountably burst into tears--not the soft mournful weeping she often experienced watching a sad movie or listening to a beautiful piece of music. These sobs tore free from her chest with sharp, cruel claws until she sank to the floor with her back against the cabinet door and her forehead pressed to her knees.

Thank God no one came through the door! How could she ever explain that, at that moment, she'd been seized in a feverish, hateful envy so powerful it had filled the hollow loneliness she'd grown accustomed to with a murderous rage? Never before in her life, not even when she'd clung to her young husband's crushed and dying body, had she been so utterly overwhelmed by emotion. Certainly never by an emotion so dark and unmentionable.

It passed as suddenly as it came. She staggered to her feet and washed her face with a soft cloth soaked in cool mineral-scented water pumped from the well to the bathroom sink. She stared at her reflection. Strands of dark brown hair, threaded with silver, stuck to her damp forehead. Her wide bloodshot eyes gazed at her through puffy lids. For all that, though, she didn't think she'd aged so badly. Her figure was full but strong and feminine. The fine lines around her mouth and eyes had yet to degenerate into the saggy age-spotted skin of an elderly woman. "I'm lonely," she admitted out loud for the first time in more than twenty years. The tears didn't come again. Whatever demon possessed her in the kitchen had been exercised by the extremity of her outburst. She only wondered that the admission hadn't come earlier.

She'd always been a people person. Others, like Lisa, could thrive on long days alone with only books and a laptop computer as company. Pamela craved a flesh and blood loved one sitting across the table from her at dinner, a hand to hold while walking, the sound of another human sharing living space.

Then again, she'd always had someone. After Kenny's death, her mother had stayed for months. Emma-Nicole took up every bit of her attention for years. Only recently had she been rattling around the old farmhouse like a haunting spirit, unable to settle down to any one spot and find rest because every corner rang with silence.

In the days following the epic meltdown, her mind grasped at the idea of finding a companion. Even now, bouncing along in the big tractor, she considered the one option that had floated to the surface like cream on a pail of warm milk--rich and tempting. Could it really be as easy as those quick commercials made it look?

Wouldn't it be better to meet someone organically? Maybe join a gardening club or something?

She considered squeezing garden club meetings into her schedule.

She thought of the kind of man she was likely to meet there.

No. Garden club was not the answer.

With thoughts thus occupied, she finished off the forty acre plot and parked the tractor behind the barn. She gave love to the wobbly-legged baby steer who'd made his entrance while she'd been plowing and told Ethan she'd be gone for the rest of the day. No way she'd be on time, but if she hurried she could get to Craft Club before lunch.

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I don't know about you, but I always get a little nervous when a woman doesn't know how to be her own best company. Where do you think Pamela's thoughts are going to take her? 

I'd love to hear your ideas and reactions to the story so far. It's still a very early draft so I'm totally open to constructive input!


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