April 4, 2015

KEN LELAND: "SHE AND I"

The author’s first novel was published by Fireship Press in the spring of 2013, entitled 1812 The Land Between Flowing Waters. The author has published two short stories with Inwood Indiana and a third is forthcoming in 2015. The author grew up in Marshall County, Indiana, and as a young man, attended Indiana University.

 She and I, previously published by Inwood Indiana Press in their 2013 summer anthology entitled, Salem Cemetery.

 www.kenlelandauthor.com
  




She and I




“There he is. Three rows down, over by the wall.”
“Which one?” she asked.
“The big redhead with glasses, next to the threshing machine.”


That autumn morning, years ago, scores of university students filed into Hobson Auditorium.
Prodigious murals decorated the lecture hall. On the walls around us, Industry swept from floor
to ceiling. On the right, farmers harvested wheat fields, behind us sturdy laborers tended
assembly lines, and to our left, hydroelectric dams subdued mighty rivers.
She and I waited for the semester’s first lecture in Economics 101 to begin.


She peered at him. “That’s your new roommate?”
“Kevin’s from The Region,” I told her.


I knew The Region. In the mid-1960s, its steel mills belched red clouds, its refineries flamed at night. A friend from first year told me of his summer job in a mill, cleaning slag from a
furnace. He entered too soon, before it cooled in July’s heat, and had to be dragged out head first.
Still, it was good money, he said.
On Kevin’s first day at university, he told his own Region story. That summer, he fell from a
refinery scaffold. Immediately, he left for church in a cab, cradling a broken arm. As a Christian
Scientist, he believed wholeheartedly in the Goodness of Man, and of God. A prayer group
gathered to heal his bleeding, compound fracture.
It mended instantaneously.
Kevin pulled up a shirt sleeve, a few inches above his wrist, to show the scar. Restored by
God’s Grace, he assured me, and not a day lost from work.


Kevin and I, all of us living on scholarships, were dirt poor. In my case, the dirt was real – a
farmer’s son, an only child, raised by my father and grandmother in a decaying farmhouse.
Our scholarships required we work for bed and board in dormitory kitchens, earning a dollar an hour. This was during Capitalism’s death match with Communism, when the Soviet Union led
the West in Space and in Technology. Even America’s impoverished youth were called to serve,
either in the halls of academe or the jungles of Southeast Asia. But if successful as scholars,
young men garnered precious deferments from war.


As we waited for Economics to begin, she watched Kevin intently then asked, “Who’s
the girl next to him?”
“That’s Ann,” I said. “They’re engaged.”
“Good God! You’re kidding.”
I kept my peace.


Eight months earlier in January, my father and I stood at Inwood’s bus stop. Together we
leaned against his rusting Plymouth. Dad wore winter overalls and a red, sweat-stained cap.
When the Greyhound arrived, he patted my back and slid my suitcase into the luggage
compartment. I climbed the steps, then the coach pulled away. Shifting into second gear, the bus
wallowed over uneven railroad tracks west of town. I staggered and clutched the upper storage
rack, hoping not to fall into a stranger’s lap. All seats were filled except for a few towards the
back.
A petite blonde with long eyelashes turned from her window. Doubtless she had seen my
father and me. Perhaps she learned something about us in those few moments, or maybe she
remembered a leave-taking of her own. Whatever her thoughts, as I approached she motioned to clear away a non-existent something from the empty seat beside her.  And so I asked, “Would it be OK . . .?”
I didn’t speak after sitting down. I always carried a book. But a mile or two later, she found an
opening. It was an artless question about something beside the road.
“It’s a culvert,” I said. “You’ve never seen a culvert?”
A city girl.
We began to talk and realized we were both in first year at the state university. Later she
admitted being on a full ride, an all-expenses paid scholarship without work requirements. She,
too, was an only child, but of post-war, European refugees.  
Eagerly, playfully, over the next few hours, we shared our lives and hopes. We spoke as if
dear friends reunited after many years.  
It was evening when we arrived. Campus dining halls were already closed, and reluctant to part, we walked into town for supper. Afterwards, wrapped in winter coats, we strolled unmindful of the cold.
Our conversation slowed, and then came to an end.
Now there were lingering silences that did not frighten, moments of calm and trust. Finally,
we stood facing each other in the night.
She touched my coat sleeve and said, “I’m not like these others – women wanting to fall in love, to find a great catch. Better you run from me.”
She was right of course.


At semester’s end, I argued with her, suffering deeply from unrequited devotion. Forlorn, I returned to my father’s farm, she to a summer job in the city.
But early September brought another school year and for me, a new roommate; the previous having lost his military deferment to failing grades.
Kevin, the red-headed, bespectacled newcomer overtopped me by a head. He was a smiling, earnest mountain. He showed me his miraculously-healed, compound fracture, and introduced his fiancée.
Her name was Ann. She was a tiny washboard of a girl with brown hair that plunged to her waist, straight and unadorned. With tenderness, Ann ruled Kevin absolutely. Companions in high school, both secured work scholarships so they might attend university together. Their parents, Kevin confessed, were against a marriage, that union remaining more a promise between them than an impending reality. Ann wore no engagement ring.
As we ate lunch, they sat side by side, oblivious of all but each other. When I left them, I wandered through the campus, filled with misgivings. Their entanglement tempted Fate to destroy dreams of a better life . . . and yet, when plain, timid Ann looked at Kevin, there was such affection. Truly, I would give my soul to a woman who thought of me that way.


Later, when I returned to the room we shared, Kevin said, “Someone called while you were out.”
“Someone?”
“She wouldn’t leave her name. Said you’d know who she was.”
Kevin was unaccustomed to such reticence but indeed, I knew.
“What did she say?” I asked.
“She’ll be in Dunn Meadow under the sycamores. You know where that is?”
“Yes.”
“Three o’clock if you want to meet her.”


That afternoon beside a shaded creek, we made a pact, she and I.
She spoke. I listened. Until finally, I said what she needed to hear.
It was that or she would end it between us.
And so I lied when I told her, “No. I don’t love you anymore.”


Surely, the Econ Prof had lost his way. Around us, students were restive.
As we waited, she leaned against my shoulder, staring across the room at Kevin and Ann.
“He’s you,” she decided. “You have yourself for a roommate!”
She laughed and shook her head.
I said nothing.
She turned to me. “Is that what you wanted? For me to be your infatuated pet?”


In the months that followed, Kevin and Ann sometimes registered at a motel. In those years, lovers would be expelled if such behavior came to light, and because of eternal war, the risks for Kevin were high. They dared all for a few nights in each other’s arms.
Just before Christmas, a time came when they could no longer live apart. Kevin announced they must leave at term’s end. He would go back to the refinery and beg deferment as a conscientious objector. Ann would do what she could until the baby came.


When they left for The Region, I loaned Kevin what I could, enough perhaps to buy a wedding band.


When I told her, she looked into my face. “Your money’s gone you know.”
“Does it matter?”
“I suppose not,” she said.
She pressed her open palm against my chest. “I’ll buy supper then. All right?”

~KEN LELAND

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