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OtterSummer 8.09-MoonRise

I’d been anticipating all day. By the appointed hour, we were tucking into a buffet supper at the American Legion hall. I excused myself and stepped outside only to find the Eastern horizon cloud-banked. I shuffled back inside to sit with The Muse, who was catching up with her high school graduating class members. I was more interested in what was unfolding outside.

A short time later I excused myself a second time to find that full moon, escaped from the clouds, hanging over the grain silos on the edge of this tiny prairie town. I ducked back inside, asking The Muse to slip outside for a moment. She came, trailing two classmates, and we stood on the sidewalk marveling at that moon.

Last night the past converged with the present. People came from their assimilated homes back to their native stream, dragging their stories behind them. Some clearly successful, others certainly not. Some remarkably well-preserved, others aged far beyond their years. They’d all been kids together. Some had already retired while others were starting over. A couple were humping for the finish line, exhausted but not yet finished. One was suffering from a cancer that had stolen half his body mass so far. Too many had spent altogether too much time in the sun and could benefit from a few moonlit nights.

The Muse remembered what a sport she’d been at school. No, not a jock, but an odd sprout off the mother rose. Like almost every student in the history of high school, she felt alien, alone, aloof. Her classmates remember her as being very smart. They each claim to have known she would amount to something special. The Muse kinda wishes someone would have shared that little secret with her at the time, but over time, she’s figured it out.

Now, as the class of 1973 nears sixty, their conversations focus less on the future than on the past. Less on themselves than on kids, grandkids, and aging parents. Many have stayed close, inheriting the family farm, still living on the land they were born on. I asked the folks at one table whether they thought attending a small rural school had given them any competitive advantages out in the real world. The question fell flat as most had remained in the rural economy they were born into.

Their kids don’t want to become farmers and have moved to The Cities or Rapid or someplace even further afield to work for banks or telecommunications behemoths. Farmland sells at historically astronomical prices now, and every year every farmer needs to find even more land at ever higher prices to reach the requisite economy of scale. Grains trade at unsustainable prices. The Muse’s brother predicted a great bubble burst twenty years ago, but the bubble continues to expand. The Midwest’s most active export isn’t grain, but offspring.

Later, the stories started repeating themselves. The supper went cold as the mood rose higher. The Muse asked if we could drive up by the lake, her lake, on the way back to her brother’s place. The lake occupies one side of her family spread, and she claimed to have always felt most like herself there. It’s dark in spite of the glowing moon, and the bug-spattered windshield encourages me to creep down the washboarded access road. A few campers huddle around blazing bonfires, and we find a place to park in the near pitch dark as the thunderheads overtake that moon.

She’s reciting from memory the story I’ve heard so many times before, rediscovering the foundation from which so much has been built. The reunion seems to have reconnected some forgotten threads. The wind keeps down the mosquitos which should have eaten us alive to leave no trace of our presence by then.

Back to the house, the moon’s gone dark. The roads, straight as compass lines, take us back past so much of The Muse’s past until her brother’s brand new house comes into view. Inside, everyone’s gone to bed and we head up to the guest room, pensive. I, to read a detective novel, she to re-read a piece I wrote years ago about her hometown. She comes to bed wiping away a tear while lightening starts flashing in earnest along the Southern horizon. Soon, the whole sky fills with flashing light. Shortly thereafter, the sky opens with a drenching downpour.

I sleep little. I lay on the floor next to the sliding glass door to watch the sky show until the rain and hail turn my window into a mirror. Imagine what I see staring back at me. I know that big old moon’s still up there, illuminating boiling cloud tops. At ground level, I’d never know. The thunder humbles and excites me, and I will not sleep until the downpour muffles into a reassuring drizzle and the sunrise starts peeking into the festivities.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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