Stew and Pulleys (A short story)

Arthur Miller had walked all day. Step by step along the gritty highway, he covered miles. Far from the bustle of the city Arthur let his thoughts wander with the sun as it lazily arced through the blue sky. The crunch of the gravel and smell of the surrounding fields reminded him of his job on a dairy farm as a youth. The farmer, Wilfred, came from Canada to start his own operation in the states due to lower taxes. Author smiled as he remembered spinning the skidsteer in the muck as he cleared the isles. He visibly grimaced thinking of the time a cow with a cold had coughed and sent a splatter of shit onto his shirt. Wilfred was a good however stern boss who expected much of Arthur. Arthur lost the job when he mixed the feed to antibiotics ratio incorrectly and some of the cattle died. He remembered Wilfred’s strong ruddy hand on his shoulder and sad eyes set in his weathered face as he handed Arthur is final paycheck. Arthur was fired from his very first job.

It matter little. It mattered a little.

A car shook Arthur from his memories as it blasted past him. A small teal sedan. He had a car like it in high school. He remembered parking with a raven haired girl in park during a snowstorm. After what felt like hours of talking he had finally worked up the courage to kiss her. Emily was her name. She wasn’t Arthur’s first kiss, but it was the first time he had parked, and he was elated, so much so when he backed out of the park he went clear across the road and into the steep ditch. The weather was bad and getting worse. Arthur walked Emily to a near by farm house, the owners of which had noticed the car parked and quickly assessed what had happened. To make things worse the couple baby-sat Emily when she was young. Clearly her parents were going to hear about this. The farmer got his milk truck out and pulled the little sedan from the ditch. To Arthur’s dismay the exhaust had been rammed forward and hung in a tangled mess beneath the car. The farmer said he had a powered hacksaw Arthur could use as long as he didn’t sue the farmer later. Arthur gave his word, although a little confused on why anyone would sue someone who had just helped them out. Arthur had never used an electric hacksaw before and struggled pathetically with it underneath the car until the impatient farmer wrestled it away from him and cut the pipe himself despite his legal misgivings. Arthur let a little shiver go down his spine as he thought of the drive back to Emily’s. They had to keep the windows down so the exhaust didn’t fill the car. Emily never called him again.

It mattered little. It mattered a little.

Arthur adjusted the straps of his pack on his slim but strong shoulders. After a long day on the road the pack felt heavier from when he started. He thought of how heavy his bag was in college and how the books dug into his back as he ran through campus. He envied students today with their laptops and wordprocessing. He had thrown himself into his studies wholeheartedly forsaking friends and girls. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in less than four years with honors. He thought of his parent’s faces as he crossed the graduation stage. How happy and proud they were, although they did have some choice words for him after he saluted the audience while gnawing on his ceremonial rose. There were no pictures that day. When Arthur suggested they had a party to celebrate his father said, “Why? Only stupid people don’t graduate.” His father was dead now and his mother was in a home deteriorating from dementia. He loved them dearly, but Dad was gone and Mom wouldn’t know Arthur from the spider plant wilting in the corner of her small room.

It mattered little. It mattered a little.

The mechanical hum of a thresher to Arthur’s right drowned out the songs of birds. Arthur pictured the gears and levers whirring away inside the machine. After college he got a job at respected engineering firm. Starting at the bottom he approached it with the same tenacity as his studies in college. Working long hours and picking up his co-workers slack, management quickly took notice and in matter of a few years he catapulted to the head of the department. Between his large salary and lack of social life Arthur saved more than enough to take care of his ailing mother until her rapidly approaching end. The home where she stayed was paid automatically every month, and handsomely at that. Arthur was the first to arrive and last to leave the office. It wasn’t unusual to find him there on the weekends. He brilliantly innovated and improved every project he worked on. Inspite of this his underlings thought little of him calling him “the beige boss”, “captain cubicle”, and “capable of making accountants seem exciting”. Arthur knew this. He knew they thought he was a stick in mud, but he knew he was good at his job and fair boss, so he shrugged off their sophomoric wordplay. Much to the dismay and confusion of upper management Arthur had left that job a few days earlier simply saying “I need time to myself.” He could hear his staff murmuring and chortling about who would replace the most boring man in the world. There was no good-bye cake or banners as Arthur walked the hall with his office for the last time; items and knick-knacks piled in an old box that once held paper. A few people wished him well and patted him on the back. Most busied themselves with work and averting their gaze.

It mattered little. It mattered a little.

The Sun was coming to end of it’s journey across the sky so Arthur stepped of the road and made his way through a wheat field to a large grove of deciduous trees in the center. Making his way through the tangled underbrush he came upon a large clearing. He surveyed his surrounds and after deciding there was adequate cover from prying eyes, he set his pack down and began meticulously emptying its contents. The pack held a large blue tarp, a goodly length of rope, various pulleys and stakes, a hefty tupperware containing stew, a dented metal cook pot and medium sized metal spoon, a small green camp stove and propane, a small electric lantern, a folding camp shovel, and a small black rectangular case. He laid the items out neatly in a line, stepped back assessing them as if to make a plan. He looked for a moment and then confidently strode to the camp stove. Scooping it up he moved away from the rest of the gear, clearing away sticks and leaves from a patch of earth, he steadied the little stove and lit it with a bic lighter from his pocket. His knees cracked as he stood, a familiar reminder of his track days in high school. He walked back to the line of gear and grabbed the stew, pot, and spoon. He carefully emptied the contents of the tupperware into the pot, placed it on the little green stove, and turned the heat to low. He had made the stew yesterday based on a favorite crockpot recipe his mother made in his boyhood. He went back to gear grabbing the tarp, rope, stakes, and pulleys next. He staked one side of the tarp very securely in the soft soil. Attaching the rope to the other side and stringing it through the pulleys he arced a knotted end of the rope over a stout branch. After pulling the tarp to a slouching angle and staking the knotted end of the rope securely to the ground he returned to the queue of equipment and grabbing the shovel. With the small spade in hand he swung past the stew to check its progress and stir if need be. Dropping to one knee shovel in one hand and metal spoon in the other Arthur peered at the stew. The surface was still but he stirred it anyway. He made his way back to the tarp and surveyed the land once again. Satisfied on a plan of action he walked beneath the center of the tarp and drove the little shovel in with his foot. He labored until he dug out a space about a foot deep and nearly large enough for a man to lay prone in. He stepped out from under the tarp and inspected the hole. It was a start. He began shoveling the pile of loose soil onto the tarp, loosening tension as he went so the dirt would stay in the slinged tarp. After the loose soil was all put up he checked the stew, stirred it and went back to digging. Eventually he was forced to use the small lantern to aid him in his work. He repeated this process of digging, heaving the dirt on the tarp, and stirring until he had a good-sized hole about five feet deep and the stew was simmering thoroughly. He wiped his dirty hands on his thighs, removed the dented pot from the cook stove, and turned it off. He blew on the stew spoonful by spoonful relishing every bite. The savory smell and taste took him back to wintry nights at the table with his parents. They were younger, spry, and happy. He let the memories envelop him as he sat in grove as the moon appeared in the sky. He removed a pack of Lucky Strikes from his pocket still wrapped in cellophane. He had quit smoking years ago but the pack had caught his eye as he walked past a smoke shop in the city. He adeptly packed the smokes and removed the plastic. Ripping the foil he tapped a filterless white stick out, put it between his wetted lips, lit, and inhaled. The smoke was harsh but the soothing effect of nicotine quickly took hold of him. He laid back in the damp leaves and smoked it deeply until the cigarette was spent. He stood and flicked the butt into the hole. He carefully placed everything, save the rectangular case, back in his pack and threw it into the hole after the butt. Putting the case under his arm he walked over to the staked end of the rope and tested his ability to hold the weight of the dirt filled tarp with one arm. Thanks to the pulleys he could do it with little effort. With rope in one hand and the case in the other he dropped into the hole and sat down on the rope holding the dirt suspended above him. He undid the latches of the little black case and slowly opened it exhaling deeply as he did. The moonlight dimly illuminated its contents. A silver short barreled .357 revolver and five shells stared back at Arthur. Exhaling again he removed the gun and flipped the cylinder open. He loaded it, closed the cylinder, and turning it on its side he regarded it as one would a high interest loan the moment before they sign it. Taking hold of the rope he climbed to feet, knees cracking. With the gun in right hand and the rope in his left he craned his neck to see out of the hole, past the tarp, through the trees, and beyond some lazy clouds to the man on the moon. Arthur smiled and said aloud to luminescent face staring back high above him, “At least I’m not alone. What a beautiful night.” put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. His body crumpled and the rope loosed from his hand and flew up and over the branch. The tarp and its contents cascaded into the hole covering all its still occupants. The clearing was as Arthur had found it, save the patch of tilled up soil and the fading echo of a gunshot. No one would notice Arthur’s disappearance, except maybe the bank when house payments stopped coming. There was no note, no grave marker, no one to mourn his death. He had insured he would never be found. As far as anyone was concerned Author Miller may well have never existed.

It mattered little. It mattered a little.

Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading

-Dan

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