The Barn Incident

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The Barn Incident

I got Catrina’s letter yesterday. Less than a week after my father and I got back from Los Angeles. It was addressed to Wilmington, Delaware. We had moved twice since then. People move around so much nowadays. It’s funny how those crossed off addresses and change of address stickers can look like accusations.

The letter was rumpled and smudged, one of the corners dog-eared from handling. I read what was in it and the next thing I knew I was standing in the living room with the phone in my hand getting ready to call Dad. I put the phone down with something like horror. He was and old man and had suffered two heart attacks. Was I going to call him and tell him and tell him about Catrina, so soon after we had been to L.A? To do that might very well kill him. So I didn’t call, and had no one I could tell. A thing like that letter, it’s too personal to tell anyone except a wife or a very close friend. I haven’t made many friends in the last year and my wife, Helen, and I divorced in 1981. What we exchange now are Christmas cards. How are you? How’s the job? Have a Happy New Year. I was awake all night with that letter. She could have put it on a postcard. It was only a single sentence below the ‘Dear Larry,’ but a sentence can mean enough.

Last time I spoke to my father there was a heavy sadness in his voice that made me uncomfortable, I couldn’t understand it. I understood it better after I got Catrina’s letter.

We grew up fifty miles west of Ohio in a town called Hemingford, me, my dad, mum and sister Kitty. That’s what her friends called her. She was a beautiful child, even at the age of eight. You could see that her corn-silk hair was never going to darken and that those eyes would always be a dark blue. A look in those eyes and a man would be gone.

Nowadays, I’m one of the best independent corporation lawyers in America, or so they tell me. I wear expensive suits and my shoe leather is the best. But in those days I walked down a dirt road to a one-roomed school with my books tied in a belt over my shoulder. Later on my mother died. We were at high school in Columbia at the time. Two years after that my dad lost the place and went to work selling tractors and farming. It was the end of the family, although that didn’t seem so bad then. My dad got a managerial position in a big firm. I got a football scholarship at the University of Omaha and learnt something other than how to run the ball out of a slot–right formation. And Catrina? Well, it’s her I want to talk to you about. The barn incident happened on a Saturday morning in early November. The fog seemed to get thicker everyday. Mum was at a bake fair in Columbia City and my dad had gone over to help our nearest neighbour fix a hay rake and, well, that was seven miles away. There was supposed to be a hired man on the place but he had never shown up and my dad fired him not a month later. Dad left Kitty and I a list of chores to do and told us not to get playing until they were all done. That wasn’t long. It was November and by that time the make or break time had passed. We made it this year. We wouldn’t always.

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I remember that day clearly. The sky was covered by fog, the fields were bare and the animals appeared sluggish. On a day like that the only pleasant place to be is the barn. It was warm with the sweet aroma of hay and fur and dung. If you cricked your neck up you could see light coming through the chinks in the roof and tried to spell your name.

There was a ladder nailed to a crossbeam high up in the third loft. The ladder went straight down to the barn floor. We were forbidden from climbing on it ...

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