These wheat fields go on and on.
“Day twelve,” Jimmy says, breathing harder. “I can do this.” As if to convince himself, he slips his leather knapsack onto one shoulder. Bending to one knee he studies the ground until he finds a rock suitable to add to his collection. He chooses a partially buried walnut-sized gray stone, scraping it out from the ground with his fingernails until it pops into his hand. After putting the stone into the knapsack, he continues on, leaning forward slightly to counter-balance the weight. In the field to his right, far in the distance, a bright red combine harvests wheat. Ka-chunga-ka-chunga-ka-chunga.
Jimmy and his knapsack left home twelve days ago; his girlfriend Nadia leaning out the upstairs window all the while. He didn’t flinch as the TV remote whizzed by his head and smashed onto the street.
“Good arm, Nadia,”he shouted.
“Where are you going, Jimmy?” she said, suddenly with a great degree of affection.
Jimmy reminded her that she’d just told him that their relationship didn’t have legs.
“But I’ll miss you,” she said.
Jimmy told her to go and put some clothes on, proud of himself for not faltering. It was time to start over. As Nadia slammed the window shut Jimmy closed his eyes and let the hot sun burn his face.
To ready himself for the long walk, he went directly to Mason’s Shoes in the center of town, and bought new boots. They’re the kind of boots that workmen wear on construction sites: steel tipped with extra long laces that need to be wrapped around the ankles several times before tying. And they’re designed to last. Jimmy checks the soles every few hours for wear and tear. He does this again now. Nothing. They may last forever.
He used his VISA card to pay for the boots. Then he asked the girl behind the counter for a pair of scissors. She was sixteen, cute, wearing a hot pink store uniform that didn’t fit her right. Made her look thinner than she was, like the thing was still hanging in a closet on a wire hanger. He used the scissors to slice the card in half, and then handed the scissors and the two halves of the VISA card to the girl. He thanked her for everything, especially for the boots which he’d already put on.
“I have to walk her out of me,” he said.
The girl smiled as if she understood. Jimmy thought her presumptuous.
With each stride now Jimmy breathes deep, alternating inhales and exhales with lefts and rights. He is fluid, rhythmic; like a metronome, he thinks. If only Nadia could see this. She’d be impressed by the level of sheer determination.
The road is asphalt and straight. A bus zooms past, kicking up dust and dirt from the roadside. The dust cloud surrounds him, entering his mouth as he breathes, and leaving a thin layer of itself on his curly brown hair and sunburnt cheeks. His knapsack, once filled with an assortment of sandwiches, is heavy with rocks and pebbles collected along the way. He wears sunglasses, tortoise shell framed with golden screws and one cracked lens.
The road pitches slightly upward. Over the rise a car, its engine stuttering, is stopped on the shoulder. The sun reflects off its dusty rear window, blinding his approach with brilliant white light. He holds his arms out in front of him, interlocking his fingers, so he can see the car and its driver better. Then he stops.
The car, a blue Cadillac with four doors and a silver-dollar-sized hood ornament, is old, from the ‘60’s. Its color is not turquoise or cobalt, although it may once have been. It is more the fading blue seen late on a fall day, just before the sun sets. Rust has eaten away at the sheet metal. One large hole, in the shape of a comet and its tail, has formed on the trunk.
After stopping the engine Nadia swings open the door.
“I've been looking for you," she says, wearing a smile like she would a full length coat. Nadia is more beautiful than he remembered. He thinks the heat must be playing tricks on him. After only twelve days she’s changed: her hair is softer, blonder and shoulder length; and her eyes, the greenish gray color of a mako, don’t have any hurt left in them.
“You have to sleep now,” she says. “You can’t go on like this.” With a suntanned arm she leans on the car’s rooftop. The arm is covered with rows of golden hair, glistening with sweat.
“You said we were through,” Jimmy says. “I’ve almost walked you off.”
Her brow is furrowed as she seems to consider her words very carefully. Then she says, finally, “Twelve days, Jimmy. Let’s be realistic.”
“I can go twelve more,” Jimmy says without hesitation. “Check this out.” And he shows her the sole on his left boot.
“Don’t get surly with me,” Nadia says. “I’ve come all this way to get you back. Besides, it’s almost too late. Listen.”
Ka-chunga-ka-chunga-ka-chunga. The combine is closer. A slight breeze crosses the field forming ripples, like sheets on a just used bed. The combine sucks stalks of wheat up through the blades, out its chute and onto the ground in tidy rows.
As Jimmy lets the knapsack drop to the ground with a thump, he stops beside the car close enough to smell her. His lower back and legs begin to ache. “Of course,” he says, “you’re right. But I hate to give up.” He says the last part in a dry whisper. Even without the weight of the rock-filled knapsack he feels heavy, as if the earth’s gravity has suddenly increased fourfold.
“I promise to try to love you better, Jimmy.”
“So you say, Nadia.”
“Let me show you,”she says. “Get in.”
With that same smile Nadia opens the rear door for him, and he lays down. The warm vinyl seat soothes his back.
“Use this for a pillow,” she says, handing him the knapsack.
She closes the door behind him; then she bends her long body until she is headfirst halfway inside the open window. Jimmy thinks she must be on the tips of her toes. Her head tilts to one side, reminding him of the way she once looked at him. He is going to tell her this, but she turns away, toward the combine. Ka-chunga-ka-chunga-ka-chunga. Jimmy says nothing as she hurriedly removes each of his new boots. First the left one, off and onto the ground. Then the right.
Jimmy used to believe that love lasted forever. Then he believed that you could pour it out of you, like water from a pitcher. He and Nadia never seemed to be in sync on such issues.
“Watch this,” she shouts over the sound of the combine. She steps away from the car with a boot in her hand. “Just like in football—fingertips along the laces.”
One at a time, she throws the boots far, deep, professionally. Perfect spirals. They streak across the blue sky, laces trailing behind, each landing in the path of the combine. She never even glances at the soles.