Daniel’s bowler hat lay atop the oak table beside his glass of whiskey, no ice. A man who drinks whiskey never drinks with ice. This, Daniel would often comment, was because ice is used only to destroy the flavor. He propped his legs up on the table, threw his head back and finished the last of the whiskey in his glass.
The homestead was built by hand in 1878 by Daniel’s father and little more than broken boards were all Daniel could claim to be his own in the house. A black soot had settled into the thin cracks that ran along the veins of the wood until it deposited in the knots.
The room was little more than a wicker basket, holding only the essentials of the cabin. The couch, with yellow padding bursting through broken seams, was set below the only window. It framed a bumbling summer-jaunt photograph that would surely find its way into future Libraries of Congress. Astride the couch was the bed, wooly and fully downed for the pressing fall.
The sole chair in the cabin, with chipped feet, would tear into the floorboards as its occupant would stare through the window out into the wild. Daniel would long sit in this chair, wearing thin the heels of his boots writhing about to determine a sustainable level of comfort. His eyes would never stray from the hole in the wall, as it howled great winds that jeered his domesticity. He would often hear the cries of his father, passing lightly on tip toes through the walks of the wind. Daniel refused to board the window, even during fall’s cold night.
Through the ash black window, poorly painted with chips of wood ever peeling back from the sill, Daniel noticed someone approaching with haste. He snatched his hat and made for the door.
“Can I help you boy-o?” said Daniel, reaching the front steps of the porch before the young man. Daniel held in his hands a .22 caliper rifle that was stored next to the door.
“Is this Daniel Evergreen’s house?” the boy wearily inquired. He couldn’t have been more than twelve years old, but the gun in Daniel’s hand shot the fear of God into the boy long before a bullet could ever be fired. He fanned his face for want of breath and to push aside the gathering flies.
“Now, I suspect a lot of things out here in these woods. I suspect that any man dressed nicer than myself ain’t from around these parts. I suspect that the scarcity of rodents around here to be a direct result of this .22 in my hands. I suspect a man who reached first to be disrespecting anything I might offer him. What I don’t suspect, boy-o, is someone your size to give me any trouble. That right square?”
“Right, of course, sir.”
“Good, cause I am the man you’re looking for and this better be worth me leaving my chair.”
“I only bring news from the Dudley household.”
“Yes, that may be family, albeit from my wife’s side. Continue.”
“Right, of course, well, they are concerned as to why they have not received any letters from their daughter in the past nine months and have filed a missing persons report with the sheriff. He has sent me here to call you to town when you have a moment.”
“Did I hear you wrong when you said you only bring news from the Dudley household?”
“Right, sorry, I meant word from the sheriff that he got from the Dudley family.”
Daniel raised the barrel of the .22 to the boy’s eyes. “You’d be best to run, boy-o. Ain’t no room for a liar in this homestead of mine.” The boy double-clutched and nearly fell from his exertion towards whence he came. Daniel hollered, “And tell your sheriff if he has something to ask me he’d be wise to get off his ass, grab that copper badge of his and come ask me himself.”
Daniel kicked the patch of dirt lying beneath the entryway, dipped the top of his cap and spit onto the browned leaves caught in the slowly dying grass. The roots had taken hold years ago and, as with each spring, would return to a crisp green. Daniel gained confidence from the neglect of turning to watch the boy run.
The sun hung low in the sky, sinking lower with every second. After only a few weeks, Daniel had noticed the sky would blot a dark purple and orange blaze as the sun would streak to its nightly resting place. The moon would always follow, carrying with it its haunting blue and grey apparitions.
He passed through the kitchen, resting the .22 back against the side of the door. Repetition and organization were traits of a successful man, his father once told him. When living in such confined quarters, every item had its place. The matches were stored on the bottom shelf of the kitchen counter, beside the rusted traps and deck of cards. Dry goods were stored at eye level, in anticipation of scurrying grey mice to be caught with greater ease. Pots were hung above the sink, in descending order of size and depth. No space was wasted, everything given purpose.
He entered into the dim-lit bed corner of the cabin. The tall white stacks of candles would never throw enough light across the cabin to reach the bed. This, too, had reason. Daniel could lay waste to his liver at night, watching the wild from his chair while his wife slept soundly only feet away. He would scribe furiously into small notepads themes of emptiness, regiment and fear. These words were forever hidden from she that slept nearby.
Daniel knelt down bedside, his knees stiff in their joints. Nancy Evergreen sat softly upon the floor, back perched against the center beam. Her mouth agape and eyes clouded over. He removed his bowler hat and hung it on the nail he had driven through his wife’s forehead.
“Looks like they’re playing our song, love. Do you remember the outro or are you still stuck at the crescendo?” He danced wild dreams in his head, holding the hand of his wife who floated gracefully above the floor.
M. R. Brown, born 1987, is a writer from Massachusetts.