Clark and Bruce

by Matthew Brent Jackson

It was ridiculous driving all the way to Kansas City. There were any number of farmers markets along the way, but he chose to drive farther. He had a reason though he did not like to think about it. To come in on I-70 he would see those tall buildings. It was no skyline like the City, or even Chicago, but it was the closest city of any size to him. He liked to look at them, remember his past and then forget again. Every building he saw he wanted to jump over even though it was impossible. He still liked to look.

He didn’t sell all his tomatoes, and the ones in the back of the truck would probably get soft by the time he got home. He didn’t mind this either. He had taken to dumping all his rotting tomatoes in one empty patch. He heard that with heirlooms they could eventually seed themselves. He thought it would be something if he turned his tomatoes into perennials. It might take a while, but in a few years he’d have a self-propagating tomato patch. It would be something he could leave behind. He finally would have done something that mattered, that added up. Whoever got the place next would find tomato plants coming up in the spring with no effort. It was one of the few thoughts that gave him any pleasure.

He was a so-called organic farmer, but driving the extra distance eliminated any actual contribution he was making. This didn’t matter either. He had given up on trying to save the world a while ago. For now he was happy to think that he wasn’t a harm to anybody, and that when he was gone, his absence would cause no special notice. The thought that he would disappear completely gave him some comfort. He was looking forward to it.

By the time he got back to the farm the sun was near setting. He made a sandwich and black coffee and walked down to the edge of the pond. He made a fire and sat on a cut stump as a stool. He drank his coffee, ate his sandwich and read by the light of a kerosene lamp. He had a large copy of the collected works of Shakespeare. After all his years as a journalist, he couldn’t pick up a newspaper, and he had no television. He just read Shakespeare now, often slowly and out loud. He wanted to read good writing. He believed he didn’t have time for anything else.

When it got too dark, he put the Shakespeare down and studied the stars. They too gave some comfort. He thought he could maybe see something out there, that some distant light from a long dead star might be reaching him. No way to tell though.

He went to sleep soon after in his twin bed with white cotton sheets. Each day he felt the effect of his medicine more. Each day he thought he was getting closer. He thought he could see the end. It didn’t make him happy exactly, but it didn’t make him sad either.

Around 1:30 in the morning he heard a banging on his door. He had no memory of anybody but the mailman ever knocking- no one after dark. He pretended not to hear but the knocking persisted. He went downstairs. When he turned on the lights and looked out the window he saw a man his age in an expensive suit. A foreign car was parked at an accidental angle. It was Bruce.

“Not Bruce,” he mumbled audibly. The other man stared and was still knocking. He opened the door a crack.

“What do you want Bruce?” he asked wearily. ”It’s almost 2:00 in the morning.”

“May I come in Clark?” the other man asked.

He wanted to say no, but he figured it would be wrong to do so. He opened the door. The man came in and sat in a chair. He was shaking.

“I’ve quit Clark. I’m not doing it anymore.”

“Why are you telling me Bruce? I retired a while ago.”

“I need a place to stay.”

“You have a mansion.”

“It burned down,” he answered sheepishly.

“Hasn’t that happened before? You’re rich, Bruce. Build a new one.”

“I’m not doing this again. I’m done.”

He didn’t know what to say. “Well, Bruce what am I supposed to do? I sell organic tomatoes. I don’t have any answers for you.”

“ I need a place to stay Clark.”

“It’s a small house Bruce.”

“I won’t be any trouble.”

“You already are. The spare bedroom is over here,” he said pointing his finger, and he went upstairs and went to sleep.

Categories: Fiction