This is a prelude to a more complete work I am doing. Dialogue is a weak point in my writing, and in addition to introducing the lead character, it will give me some much-needed practice in dialogue. I am not sharing this on facebook or my writing page.
Joe rolled out of his sleeping bag and went into the kitchen to start the coffee like he had at least a thousand mornings before in the years he had lived on the commune. But it was a long way from a real commune now. Only five of the many original commune dwellers were left. Most left the first couple of years because they had somewhere to return to, just leaving those who had nowhere else to go to carry on with the vision.
There wasn’t much of a vision left. The hard work of a subsistence farm had worked most of the idealism out of them. But Joe had persisted in upgrading the communes infrastructure, and had mostly done it on his own. Not that the others were unwilling, but they were city folk, hardly suited to the self-discipline it required.
The other two men were musicians, and were able to supplement the farms cash box from time to time, but it was hardly a consistent income. Joe had his veterans benefits and disability pay, and handled most of the commune’s financial dealings. A few weeks back he made the last payment on the mortgage, and held a quiet mortgage burning ceremony in the firepit out back. The others never even knew there was a mortgage, and were not even curious as to how they had a place to live all these years.
But it didn’t matter to Joe. He financed the spread, bought, repaired and sold the cars, mended fences, watered gardens and tended the goats without complaining. He was reasonably happy, and the others needed his rigid sense of responsibility.
But it was time to go. He hadn’t talked about it to the others, but the revelation came to him six months ago after both the announced their pregnancy at the same time. But they weren’t impregnated by Joe. They were Alex’s and Paul’s. Where before they had practiced free love, the sex now became exclusive, though it wasn’t deliberate on the women’s part. They just didn’t go out of their way to comfort Joe.
Joe accepted that at face value. They weren’t his babies. There would be no passing along his heritage to the children. They wouldn’t be taught the sacred name. They would not be taught about their grandpa or great grandpa. Their heritage would be whatever Alex and Paul shared with them. It was no longer the five of them, it was now two families, and one odd ball named Joe.
Still, Joe wanted to complete the vision they originally had of a same home to raise children in. The house was a well-built log house with three equal sized bedrooms, and a large kitchen/dining/living area. Joe had quietly been modernizing it, and now it had heat, lights, water and sewer, though what was now his bedroom was in the process of becoming a bathroom. In fact, he had made the final connections to the drains a few days ago, and covered up the trenches. Last night was his last night of sleeping in it. He had cleaned up the mess, put flowers on the vanity and towels in the towel racks. He wanted to surprise the women this morning before he made the announcement that he was leaving.
The coffee maker gave up one last wheeze, signifying that the coffee was ready. Pouring himself a cup, Joe went back to his former bedroom, rolled up the sleeping bag, and quietly removed the plywood panels that covered the bathtub, and carried them outside to the lumber pile. He had hidden the tub, and everyone just thought it was his bed.
When he returned, Cindy had just come out of her and Alex’s bedroom, and was pouring her coffee. He figured Pam would be close behind. They were both morning people. Alex and Paul had a gig last night and didn’t get home until 4am, so Joe didn’t expect to see them until noon.
“Your sleeping bag is by the door.” Cindy remarked.
“Yeah, I needed to get it out of the bathroom.” Joe replied, keeping any hints out of his voice.
Pam came padding out of her bedroom and went straight to the coffee pot, mumbling a good morning as she passed by Cindy and Joe. They mumbled “morning” back at her, and waited until she got her coffee and sat down.
“You should look in the bathroom when you get a moment” Joe suggested to the two of them.
They both rose with their coffee cups in hand and went to the bathroom door.
“Joe! It’s beautiful!” Cindy exclaimed.
“No more outhouse!” Pam added.
“I didn’t even know there was a tub in here! I thought it was just your bed!” Cindy went on.
They wandered around the bathroom opening cabinets and turning on the faucets. It was a bit large for a bathroom. Joe had intended to build storage closets in some of the extra space, but that would now have to wait for someone else. Joe was finished.
“Where you going to sleep?” Pam asked.
Cindy suddenly stopped, and looked levelly at Joe, the realization suddenly coming to her. Joe wasn’t often driven by whims. When Joe put his hand to something, he had purpose, and she had seen the firming of his features when she announced that she was pregnant. But he seemed to throw himself into his projects, and it was too easy for Cindy to spend her time cuddled with Alex. She knew in the back of her mind that she was neglecting Joe, but thought in time it would work out.
Joe pretended that he didn’t notice her look, turned and walked back to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, leaving Cindy in the middle of the new bathroom to sort out the sudden flood of emotions that were washing over her.
“No more outhouse!” Pam said again, and followed Joe out to help with breakfast.
Cindy hardly remembered following them out, nor putting a table cloth out, nor setting the table. He was a steadfast rock to her, and she couldn’t imagine life on the little farm without him attending to all the little details.
Pam and Joe happily bantered back and forth during breakfast, but all Cindy could see was Joe’s huge military duffle and sleeping bag laying by the door. Ever so often, Joe would look at her silently, but made no effort to draw her out.
They silently finished the meal, and working together, had things put away in quick order. Usually everyone went their own way after breakfast, but today, Joe said, “we got to talk”.
The women sat back down at the table, and Joe went over to his duffle bag and picked out a large thick manila envelope sitting at the top, and sat down at the table.
“It is time for me to go”.
“When are you leaving?”
“I am going into town tonight so that I can get the bus out in the morning.”
“So soon? Can’t you stay long enough for us to say goodbye?
“You know me. I am not for drawing things out. I have some things you need to know, though. In this envelope is the deed to the farm. It was in my name almost from the day we moved in here. The mortgage was paid off a couple of months back. I signed it in front of Rose Vigil, and she notarized my signature. That makes the deed a bearer deed. I want you and Pam to sign the deed in front of Rose, and transfer the property to you. I would prefer that neither Alex or Paul are on the deed. They don’t have to know, and I don’t see them getting curious about it anyway. Rose will tell you how to get the deed recorded.”
“We can still be a family, Joe.” Pam said. “Maybe you could just visit whoever you are going to see, and then come back home.”
Joe smiled at Pam, but didn’t reply. He loved her simplicity. She had no capacity for navel gazing, and she wouldn’t be aware of the subtle change in their relationship.
“I just thought that I would let you do what you wanted, you lost interest in me”
“Cindy. Let’s not go there, OK. You didn’t ‘let’ me do anything. In fact, I doubt that you thought of me at all. But honestly, that’s OK. I saw it coming and was prepared for it. In fact, I believe it is the natural consequence of things.”
“When we first started, there was about fifteen or sixteen of us, remember? But that first winter was the pits, and those who had somewhere to go, went there. Then there were ten or so. Then five. And finally, two couples and one spare male. I have finished what I started. The ranch is now a safe place for the women to have babies. I am not needed here, and it is time to go.”
Pam got up and started putting her goat milking gear together, moving in short jerky fits that showed her agitation.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know. I have a ticket for Austin, but I doubt that it is my sort of town. Maybe I’ll move on down to Mexico. I haven’t thought really that far ahead, though.”
“Will you write?”
“Probably not. I’ve never been much of one to carry mementos or visit old haunts.”
Pam gathered up her gear and went outside, but her hands were to full to close the door, and she didn’t even try in her frustration. She just didn’t want to deal with this, and like Joe, she found solace in simple labor. Joe got up and closed the door behind her.
“We could have a child later.”
Joe hadn’t thought it out that far, but he dismissed the idea almost as soon as Cindy mentioned it. Cindy had made a choice before conception, and there was always something going on that kept them physically apart. Joe doubted that she had any physical desire for him, and their free love mantra fell along with quite a few other utopian ideals that they drew up in their campus years. Cindy had chosen despite her polyandrous convictions, and Pam chose because … well, Pam chose.
“Do you honestly believe that would work?” asked Joe.
“It could. Let’s discuss it with Alex and Paul. They are as fond of you as I am. We really should work this out.” she replied.
The suggestion irritated Joe, but he kept the irritation to himself. He didn’t expect much in the way of opposition from Alex and Paul. While they did pitch in for harvest and heavy work, they had little concern for the day to day operation of the farm, and wouldn’t think his absence changed thinks much. They were wrong, of course, and would very quickly miss the continual maintenance chores Joe spent his days on.
“I need to put up the rest of the pears today.”
Joe got up and began sorting things in the duffle bag. He still had too much in the way of memorabilia and he needed to cut that back. Near the top was the pictures he had of the commune family in happier times, but he decided to remove the pictures from the frames to save space.
He was still smarting from the suggestion that she would be willing to have his child after Alex’s child was born. She might as well have told him she would mercy fuck him just to keep him happy. It wasn’t about the baby. It was about the pairing off. The choosing. And the carelessness with his feelings. No, he was done here. It was time to move on.
He removed other items from the duffle bag, and giving each thing the flinty eye, he separated out more items. He didn’t need six changes of underwear. He wouldn’t need heavy wool sox nor earmuffs. One pair of leather gloves was sufficient. No obvious weapons. The tire-billy had to go.
Buy the time he had sorted through everything and repacked the duffle, Alex and Paul were up, and Cindy was setting out lunch for them. Leftover beans from last night, rewarmed cornbread, and pickled beets.
“Do you want lunch?” Cindy asked.
“Joe is leaving us tonight.” she went on.
“Huh? What’s wrong, Joe?” Alex asked.
“There is nothing wrong. Just that my feet are itching, and it is time to go.”
“Well, this is always home for you.” Paul said.
“Thanks. I do appreciate that.”
Cindy was hoping that Alex would talk Joe out of leaving, and was really irked with him not even trying. She explained how I planned on leaving this evening to be in town early for the bus, then got up from the table taking her uneaten dinner with her to put in the slop pail, and began tidying up. Pam hurriedly finished her bowl and got up to help Cindy.
“Cindy is really pissed at you! Not so sure but what you even managed to piss off Pam!” Paul said.
“Yeah. I can tell.” I replied
“Why don’t we just drive you to the bus station tomorrow?” Alex asked.
“It has been a long time since I was on the road. I just want to spend a little time working up to things. I’ll be OK, and it isn’t all that far.”
Joe decided that there wasn’t much point in hanging around longer, so he changed into his hiking boots and traveling hat, and started making his goodbyes. There were lots of tears, some more suggestions that this didn’t need to be permanent, some long hugs, and finally he set out down the road leaving his family behind. He had forgotten how free he felt going down the long road alone and picked up the stride, before making the obligatory final wave toward the house at the mailbox. He kept on until the house was out of sight.
There was a railroad track that paralleled the highway some distance off, and Joe cut across a field to walk along it. He didn’t want anyone offering him a ride, and he didn’t want the women to follow him in the car. The fall afternoon quickly faded to evening, and Joe moved off the tracks toward a copse of trees, and set up a simple camp for the night. Kindling a small fire, he heated a handful of parched corn to munch on before taking out his old briar pipe that he had stuffed with weed, and lit it.
The faces of Cindy, Pam, Alex and Paul appeared wraithlike several times in the reverie of the smoke, and Joe thought they called his name. But it was time to go, and when the cool of the fall evening broke the spell, He put my pipe in the small fire, and watched it burn. One does not travel with dope in their bags.
He was heartsick, but free …