The path to the barn was uneven and pools of last night’s rain collected in the ditches. At first Brianna tried to avoid them all; she hopped over some, side-stepped others, in the hopes of keeping her feet dry since she had worn sandals despite the raw, cool air. But even when she stepped on level ground the damp earth somehow crept into her soles, chilling her bare skin, and she decided that all she needed to avoid was her reflection staring up at her from the occasional clear pool of water. When she did catch a glimpse of herself, it would startle her, and she would stop and look back toward the house and the driveway where she could see two cars: her own, and a ’67 Pontiac up on blocks.
As she approached the barn, she noticed the old place was different than how she remembered it. The building was set on a small hill, making the structure appear timeless and even majestic if you were in a nostalgic frame of mind. To her eye the foundation looked all right, about the same as she remembered, but everything else had changed: the red paint was all gone, the wood looked rotten, spider webs and dirt streaked the windows, making it impossible to see inside, and the roof had a big hole, almost big enough for a grown man to fall through. She had expected to feel something upon seeing this place after so many years, longing maybe, or attachment. But her mind stayed blank. This barn looked just like all the other ruined buildings in the county and across the Midwest, places you could buy for a song, as her mother liked to say.
Once she reached the top of the hill she looked out over all the land that made up the Cavanaugh farm. A field of clover sloped down from the barn and stretched all the way to a forest of beech and pines on one side and the orchard on the other. Even beyond the orchard she could see more of the Cavanaugh’s land; fields where, in years past, they used to grow wheat, corn, and soy. She felt small when she tried to take it all in; even smaller when she remembered what her father had said to her years back: This all could have been yours.
The barn door was open and Brianna heard music coming from inside. The song was a popular Gospel tune and, along with the choir, she heard Griff’s voice, loud and gravelly, singing with the radio. She listened for a moment, shook her head, and went inside. At first she couldn’t see much – only the door and the hole in the roof let in light. She mainly could see bales of hay in the center and horse stalls along one of the long walls. The smells were familiar – hay, horses, sweat, and pot – and spoke of the days of her youth.
When her eyes finally adjusted, she still couldn’t spot the radio or Griff. She called out his name and, in response, the radio hissed out static and the singers, when you could hear them at all, sounded like they were choking. She heard a grunt and then she saw him: all at once rising to his feet and stumbling out of one of the stalls as he cursed the radio. He moved toward her, stepping into the patch of light made by the hole in the roof. He squinted at her for a while then moved even closer, close enough that he could have touched her shoulder.
“Bri,” he said. “It’s been a while.”
His voice was softer now than when he was singing.
“No it hasn’t,” she said. “We just played a gig last week.”
“I meant since you been out this way.”
He looked right at her face as he spoke except it seemed like he was looking past her.
“I can’t believe you live out here in the barn,” she said. “That’s what I heard but I had some trouble believing it.”
The static cleared and the singers burst forth with a high note like the sun parting the clouds. They held the note for longer than what seemed possible, and then the song ended.
“What are you doing out here, Bri?”
She thought about all the reasons she could say, giving more consideration than she should’ve to the truth; Because you’ve been a wreck ever since your dad died. And I’m worried about you. She turned away from him, noticing for the first time a horse, an Appaloosa with matted fur and glazed over eyes, laying down in one of the stalls.
“That’s Little Darling, right?” she said. “I didn’t know she was still alive.”
The horse turned its head and nickered once. Griff nodded.
“She still ride?”
He smiled and scratched at his sideburns, first one side, then the other.
“That’s up to her.”
The radio station had gone to a commercial, and Griff walked over to it and turned the dial until Creedence Clearwater Revival was singing, ‘Midnight Special’. He picked up the radio and came toward her again, this time keeping on until he was standing in the doorway, squinting into the now bright sun. He stood this way a moment before turning to face her.
“Does Ken know you’re out here?”
She smiled in a way that she hoped didn’t answer the question. He nodded, and it seemed like he was keeping time with the music except he was biting his lip too. She moved closer to him, put her hand on his arm, and said his name. Although she couldn’t feel his pulse exactly, she was pretty sure it had sped up. For a long while he looked at her hand where it was touching his arm. Then he broke away without looking her in the eye.
“There’s a saddle over there,” he said, pointing to the corner. “Go ahead and ride if you want.”
She went up to him again, this time putting her fingers under his chin so he had to look at her.
“That’s all you have to say to me?”
They stared at each other, neither one of them blinking. She kept this up until she was mad enough to hit him, or maybe do something else. Then she let her fingers drop away. He shook his head, tucked the radio under his arm, and walked down the hill. She listened to the fading music for as long as she could, until all she heard was ragged breathing that she took to be her own at first, but after a spell realized was just the horse.
About the Author:
John Abbott is a writer, musician, and English instructor who lives with his wife and daughter in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Potomac Review, Georgetown Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Arcadia, Atticus Review, upstreet, Underground Voices, Fast Forward: A Collection of Flash Fiction, and many others. His poetry chapbook “There Should Be Signs Here” is forthcoming from Wormwood Chapbooks. For more information about his writing, please visit www.johnabbottauthor.com