Below is another chapter of '50 Stories in 50 States.' Enjoy!
Karen Johanson stood at the mailbox and sorted through the letters. "Bill, bill, bill, advertising, bill. Great." Don't know how we'll pay them." She looked up and down the paved road that ran straight as a corn furrow to each horizon. Nothing. No car, pickup, truck or tractor on the road. She slammed the mailbox door and headed back to the farmhouse.
For some reason she vowed she would walk the one mile round trip to the mail every day at noon, and for the last eight months she endured rain, wind, ice and snow-and sometimes more than one at a time. But today, the sun burned into her scalp, with heat radiating off the dusty road.
Don't look to either side. Right. Like trying to ignore a car wreck, or someone telling you not to look behind the curtain, she glanced to her right. Yellow corn stalks lined the drive, over a foot higher than her five foot seven inch height. The yellow actually turned bright as the corn died deeper into the field. She walked to the edge. Stepped into the corn. It fell and crunched under her feet. She pulled a stalk that broke off. Turned to the drive. Folded it in half and it cracked with splinters of dead leaf and stalk fluttering to the ground. And not a cob to be found. She dropped the shattered corn to the driveway and headed back to the house.
Inside the house a white fan arced back and forth, moving the hot air. She pulled her shirt away from her chest, the sweat causing it to stick to her skin. Her shorts, shirt, and even flip flops plastered against her wet skin. No air conditioner repairman until tomorrow. The curtains hung limply at the open windows. She stood in front of the oscillating fan. It didn't cool much. Just moved the heat from the living room to the kitchen. She padded to the refrigerator and got another beer, rubbing the cool glass against her forehead and cheeks.
Eight months. Mike really sold her on the farm. This would change their life.
Their lives changed all right. When the realtor showed them the place, Mike danced around in the driveway. "We could be real farmers," he said. The realtor picked up on it with, "In late July, you can hear the corn grow. Nothing like it." They bought the ninety year old farmhouse and a section and a half of land with her inheritance from her aunt. And a mortgage, too. Yep. They would hit the ground running, Mike and Karen, farmers.
In the springtime, Mike had tilled and furrowed the brown and rich soil, both of them excited as expectant parents must feel. Then the corn appeared and grew like the peach fuzz on a teenager's face. By May, the rows achieved definition and in a month later she could drive by and the rows, straight and true, looked like shuffling cards. But then the days passed with relentless sun, few clouds and no rain. Occasionally a few drops fell, but only enough to delay the death of the crop
for a few hours.
Karen sat at the table. Molly Monroe told her not to plant the corn. She stopped by with a casserole and a housewarming present, a sign that read, 'The only difference between a pigeon and a farmer is that a pigeon can still make a deposit on a John Deere tractor', and they became close friends. She was third generation Iowan, and knew her farming. And she got these premonitions. Other women confirmed her amazing ability to predict snowstorms, tornadoes and farming. "I just got a bad feeling, darlin'." She said. "You plant corn and it'll be the death of you."
She finished the beer, tossed it in the trash and sat again. Nothing to do but watch the corn die. Too hot.
Mike's pickup approached, she recognized the rattle of the diesel engine and his reckless speed. He sped by and the dust cloud lazed over and through the window.
The door slammed and he walked into the room.
"Hey baby. Hot, ain't it?" He reached for her for a kiss and she put up a hand.
"Please. Don't. Too hot."
He shrugged and headed to the fridge and got two beers, opened them both and handed one to her as he sat.
"Hundred and four today." He pulled out a handkerchief from his overalls and wiped his forehead. Yep, Mike had the farmer look. Yet Karen couldn't remember anyone wearing overalls. People probably laughed at them.
"Don't I know. A/C out here. Feels like a hundred ten."
He pulled out his phone. "Got an app. Let me see." He tapped the screen a few times and set it on the table. "Wow, you're right. Buck ten. You always right?"
"Mostly." She stared at the desolation outside. "It's all dead, ain't it?"
"No. I talked to Russ in town and he said if we get rain-good rain, like three days' worth-we'll save a lot of it."
Karen hung her head and looked at the chips in the formica table. "It isn't going to rain. And if it did, it wouldn't for three days, perfect like you prescribed, and the corn is all dead."
"Don't 'baby' me." She stood her hands on her hips. "It's all dead, we got almost no money, and this place is an oven and-"
"Bab- I mean darlin', it's going to be okay. We'll have to combine the corn and-"
"Honey we can't leave it. We got to combine it, get the fields ready for another crop."
She shook her head, incredulous. "What's that going to cost?"
"Well, I talked to Jim Ledbe-"
"How are we going to afford that?"
He took a deep breath. "If you would let me speak, I will tell you. I talked to Jim Ledbetter. He said we can sell it for silage."
"That won't even cover our costs, will it?"
"Baby, uh Karen, we'll get some cash, we'll plant again and next time we'll make bank."
"I told you not to plant corn. Soybeans. You seen the fields? They are still green. More drought resistant."
"Darlin' the money's in corn."
"The money? The money?" She pulled the curtain back in dramatic fashion. "This is the money. Molly Monroe said not to plant corn. And I told you."
"What's Molly Monroe supposed to know?"
"Her family's been farming since the civil war. And she gets these feelings."
"Right. Premonitions." She stood in front of the fan. "Once Beth was going to go to town. Molly got this premonition. Told her not to go. Remember the wreck, Bart Mayfield and the eighteen wheeler?"
Karen nodded. "She would have been in it."
"Oh, come on, Karen. The timing would have to have been perfect. If she was ten seconds earlier or later, she would have missed that wreck. That ain't no premonition. That doesn't prove Molly knows anything. What's she know about the future of corn, anyway?"
"A whole lot more than you. Look at that." She pointed to the desecration.
"Imagine all green soybeans."
"Sure the plants are green, but the beans aren't growing. No money in soybeans."
She crossed her arms. "I told you."
Mike walked up to her and pointed to her face. "Everybody. And I mean everybody, told me to plant corn. This farm, this soil, this year, corn. It ain't my fault we're in a drought."
She pushed his finger away. "Molly said corn would be the death of us. And here we are." She sat at the table and finished her beer, setting it down with a clunk. "Where you been anyway?"
"Talking to Cliff and Tom."
"You were at the bar, weren't you? Mid-afternoon?"
"Yeah, I was at the bar." He finished his beer, picked up both bottles and dumped them in the trash. He stopped and peered into the garbage. "Looks like you been drinking your share."
"So I should be... what? Spraying the crops with insecticide? They're dead. There's nothing to do."
She tapped her fingers on the table. "Always something to do on a farm. I was talking to Moll-"
"Molly Molly Molly. The 'expert'" he put up his finger in quotes, "on farming. Next you'll be telling me what your daddy thinks."
She stood with her hand on the table and pointed to him. "Don't you go there. Daddy never liked you. Dads do that for their only daughters."
"Well, maybe you need to go back to your daddy."
"What? What's this, you want to split up?"
"I want peace."
"Oh," she nodded, "you want peace. Well, go walk the cornrows and you'll have peace. Rest in peace. Molly said the corn'd be the death of us."
He grabbed her by both arms. "Will you stop with the Molly stuff?"
"Molly Molly Molly Molly Mol-"
He slapped her and she fell to the floor, elbows and knees clunking on the vinyl. "You cruel man," she cried.
"You deserved it. I demand some respect."
Karen held her hand to her face, then wiped away the tears. "And you'll get
respect by slapping your wife? I'll show you respect." She struggled to stand then used the table leg to get to her feet. "You'll get your respect." She strode out of the room. In a moment she returned with his pistol and pointed it at him. "Here's your respect." She pulled the trigger. Click.
He held up a hand "Honey, stop."
She pulled it again. Click.
She turned the gun and looked down the barrel. Pulled the trigger.
Lieutenant David Grady sat in the cruiser, his prisoner in the back behind the screen. The air conditioner could not keep up. He turned it down. It had been oven hot in that house. This'll sweat the truth out of this guy. "So you didn't shoot your wife."
He shook his head. "I told you, she had the gun. I keep two rounds out of it, just in case someone who shouldn't be, shoots it. Or if an intruder comes into the house, I click it a couple times, the guy gets closer and bam."
"But she shot herself. Right through the eye." It's always the husband.
"Yes. I told you. That's the truth." He struggled to wipe sweat from his face with his shoulder, his hands manacled behind him. "I wouldn't have shot her. Ever. I would never hurt my wife."
"And you didn't call the police. 911."
"The refrigeration guy showed up. He called. I would have."
"Right. I saw the broken blood vessels on her cheek. You beat her up then shot her. Staged the suicide."
Mike sat back and looked at the ceiling. "I uh, I did slap her."
"You said you'd never hurt her."
"We had a fight."
"So you slapped her, she hit you, you shot her."
"She shot herself. It was an accident."
"We'll see about that."
This one's going to be easy. He eased the car out the driveway, past the refrigeration truck, another police car and the coroner's van. The police car ran down the driveway between the fields of yellow and a cloud of dust erupted behind it. The car ran over a broken corn stalk that shattered and mixed with the dust.
Molly Monroe scooped cookie dough onto the sheet and slid the last batch into the oven. The sound of the television changed from the soap opera. "And now a special report of murder in Ames." She trotted to the living room and watched the images. Two EMTs rolled a gurney with a white sheet over a body. They got to the back of the Coroner's van and slid it into the back. Molly sat at the edge of the couch.
"...Karen Johanson was apparently shot and killed today and her husband Mike Johanson is being held for questioning." The camera now shot Mike being shoved into the back of a police car. Molly stared at the television with her eyes fixed on the images. She held her hand to her cheek and shook her head. So Mike Johanson killed his wife. Poor, poor Karen.
"I told her corn would be the death of her."