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Chapter 48- Homecoming

    Gaunt armed, skeleton trees guarded the borders of the winter
fields. Ravens danced amidst the road kill. Along the ribbon narrowmiles of graveled road, death’s shadows pranced upon the
snow. Sprawled, flat and stark, broken corn stalks stubbled the line between earth and sky.
    Uniform, white-washed farm yards were factory stark. Utilitarian buildings, ragged, peeling paint, sun, wind and neglect- naked
flanks posed against the cold blue winter sky. It wasn’t gracious. It
was the rubbed raw of too much work and too little time. It was desperate, dawn to dark. It was relentless summer sun. It was too
little money and too many bills. It was too short a life to do what it
took to make it. It was too few moments to take it all in.
    There was never enough time on the porch, away from the flies,
to sip lemonade and plan those little jobs that would make it all look
so pretty and so well maintained. Never enough time to enjoy the flowers in the field and the sunsets, to sit in the cool darkness and
listen to the locusts stir the night. It was a life running desperate,
down the tracks.
    I ran from that pain filled, seemingly inescapable future long ago- before I was Robert king. What I saw coming drove me out to the highway with my thumb out. Robert King swept me away like dust
in the wind.
    All those years.
    I returned to try to make some sense of what I became, hidden
behind dark glasses and smoked, armored glass I stared out
at memories, cold and impenetrable as the black, iron earth.
    The lonely house where I was raised stood derilict. Memories
drifted the ditches full and stirred the unique shapes of snow flakes beyond the smoked glass of the limo.
    Two miles away we stopped in front of the old one room school house where, along with the other farm kids in the 8 grades
contained therein I learned my early childhood lessons.Ravens
settled in the stark, bare branches of the hickory trees.
    “Joseph I’ll be back in a while.”
    He nodded his head and turned on the television.
    In the crisp cold glare of the afternoon sun the reflection of a
stranger with eyes like hard, glittering crystals stared back at me
from the closing window.
    I hardly recognized myself.
    Snow stuck to my shoes. Each step was a struggle. I pushed
forward into the school yard. I stared at the tree where I carved
B K + S A that bright Autumn day Fritz Leihe paid me back for
my seduction of his little blond 10 year old lover.
    Memories: a bed of leaves in the lean-to, behind the school
house. Memories: flint sharp shards of sunlight- his silver capped
smile- blood splattered across my white shirt front.
    The outline of the carving was still there.
    I wonder what happened to her?
    “SATISFACTION. How can I help you, King?”
    “I’m in Iowa. Find Sharon Appletree. Father, Max, mother,
Myrtle.”
    “Got it. How’s the weather?"
    “Cold and depressing.”
    “Taking a walk down memory lane?”
    “Too many memories.” I muttered.
    “Good luck. Call you back. Wait a minute. Change the number.
I don't want Dominique to find me."
    "Got it."
    I looked over my shoulder.
    Behind me, white clouds, car exhaust, the glossy sheen of the
limo, etched against of the snow. In a huge field, skeleton arms
pierced the overwhelming whiteness, reaching toward heaven.
    I turned back to the school yard. All that remained of the one
room building was a barren shell. Acres of dark, barren hickory
trees loomed beyond the fence.

    The phone rang.
    “What?”
    “Found her King. Her name is Sharon Archer. She still lives in Burkesburg. She’s divorced, lives alone, has two kids that live out
of state, works at the local Co-op. Her phone number is 236-0606. Address, #711 Memory Lane. Do you want me to fax a current picture?”
    “No, I want to be surprised.”
    “Anything else?”
    “How old is she?.”
    “She’s...42.”
    “Oh.”
    “Anything else?”
    “Just a minute.”
    I stared at the field.
    “Yah, find out how much farm land in this area sells for- one
large section. I want to know where it is, who controls it,
everything.”
    “Any size or price cap?”
    “No, I don’t care. ... Oh I don’t know... a million acres?”
    She laughed.
    “What’s the matter?”
    “Planning on going into farming in a big way, King?”
    “No.”
    “Call you back.”
    So, now I have a purpose.
    Inside the limo, I poured myself a drink.
    “Joseph, follow this road until the main cross road. Then turn
left and straight into town. The address is #1 Memory Lane.”
    He nodded his head.
    What would I do with a million acres? How big is a million
acres anyway?
    “SATISFACTION, how can I help you King?”
    “How big is a million acres?”
    “Just a minute...it’s approximately 40 miles square.”
    “Oh.”
    Many of the farms we passed look worn out, as if prosperity
had packed its bags and moved on, leaving hopelessness and
defeat to tenant the abandoned dreams. Occasionally we passed homesteads that seemed almost like picture postcard visions of what farming could be: massive, classic, well cared for houses, barns and buildings, all in excellent repair. The paint, fresh and bright. The
yards filled with gleaming, expensive machinery. The silos and
elevators bursting. Vast herds of cattle, pigs, sheep- and horses, consumed what fodder remained on acre upon acre of rich black
dirt uncovered by the wind. Fronting the road before many of the
houses, mailboxes and Farm Bureau signs on the gates read Lehie.
    The limo slowed as it rounded the last curve just outside
Burkesburg. Twenty five years had not changed much. There
were a few new buildings, new signs on some of the businesses,
late model cars. On the sidewalks, rough hewed heavy men in
overalls, bulky coats and tractor caps turned to stare at the car with curious, open mouthed suspicion.
    Memory lane was a broad, comfortable street. Ancient trees
shaded spacious houses, set back from the curb amidst ample
lawns, presented a respectable front of cautious, almost desperate
conformity. There were no bushes, no curtains in the front
windows, nothing to warn or guard.
    The car stopped.
    The phone rang.
    “What?”
    “Good land sells for two thousand dollars an acre. The Lehie
family owns 60 percent of the available land in the county. Fritz
Lehie owns the biggest block, consisting of 31 %, it includes 17
farms. He also owns the Co-op.”
    “Do we have a center here?”
    “Just a minute...there’s a PSYCHENETICS councilor in
Burkesburg. Her name is Marilyn Wendt. Currently she has 7
enrollees. The nearest Church of GLORY is in Waterville- 247 members. There are 5,700 members in North East Iowa.”
    “O.K. Tell Joseph the details.”
    “Got it.”
    I Rolled the window down. Bright assaulted my eyes. I smelled
pine, fermented silage and manure.
    The house where my past lived was tall and stately. A wide,
spacious front porch flanked enormous entry doors. Muscular black trees glistened bare armed in the chill light. A late model American gunboat parked in the driveway.
    I took a deep breath. The air burned my lungs. I opened the
door and stepped out carefully into the slush and dirt.
    I climbed the ice slicked steps and stood in front of the door for
a long moment before I pressed the button. The chime tolled.
    Faint footsteps rustled behind the door. It opened on fresh baked bread, warm flesh, faint, mysterious perfume. A quizzical
expression turned up the corners of her mouth in a faint smile. She
was tall and slender; an early middle aged honey blonde in an
Autumn plaid flannel shirt and faded jeans.
    “Yes?” Her smile was soft. She had a warm, musical voice.
    “Sharon Archer?”
    “Yes?”
    I shuffled from foot to foot, suddenly uncomfortable and out of
place- not in control.
    “Can I help you?”
    “Ah...hi.” I said. "My name is Robert King. We knew each other when we were kids.”
    Puzzled, she clasped her graceful, long fingered hands. On her
right hand, a small diamond set in a delicate gold band gleamed.
    “I lived up the road from you- the black shetland pony. We went
to Hickory park school together.”
    “Robert? Robert Follarer?”
    “Yah.” I grinned. “I changed my name. At least I didn’t change
it to Flower, or Moon.”
    “It’s been so long.”
    “nearly 30 years.”
    “Bobby Follarer. Your family moved away.”
    I nodded, suddenly uncomfortable.
    “Waterville- they got divorced.”
    “Are you all right?”
    “What?”
    Her eyes were filled with questions.
    “I’m sorry, a lot of memories. What did you say?”
    “Do you you still live in Iowa?”
    “No. I haven’t lived here since I was 16.”
    “Where do you live now?”
    “Mexico... I live in Mexico. I mean it used to be Mexico.”
    She looked confused.
    I shivered, involuntarily. "Never mind."
    “You’re cold! I’m sorry! Would you like to come in?”
    “Thanks.”
    She stood back from the door. The warm, cozy hallway,
sheened with immaculate paint, golden polished maple, and a
colorful rag rug, Just inside the door I wiped my feet.
    “Can I take your coat?”
    “Thanks.”
    I took off my heavy black topcoat. I handed it to her.
    “This certainly must keep you warm.” She laughed as she hefted
the coat and turned toward the door. She gazed out at the street.
Her eyebrows furrowed with delicate webs around her wide eyes.
She asked and nodded toward the limo. “Is that your car?”
    “Yes, it is.”
    “Would your driver like to come in?”
    “No, he’s fine where he is.”
    She bit her lips.
    “We don’t see many limousines here.”
    She closed the door. Her shoulder brushed my arm as she passed.
My body trembled.
    “Are you OK?”
    “Yah, shock.”
    “Why? Am I so horrible?" She teased. She pushed a loose
strand of hair back from her cheek. She hung my coat on a
wooden coat rack next to the door.
    “No, it’s not that.”
    She turned.
    “What is it then?”
    "It's been a long time."
    "It certainly has."
    I followed her down the hall, into a spacious kitchen. Glossy
cabinets of honey stained oak lined its walls. Neat stacks of china,
cups, gleaming crystal glasses, and old Fiesta Ware, sparkled
behind spotless glass doors. The room was painted a rich, lustrous, honey yellow semi- gloss enamel. Deeply polished wood work
surfaces reflected the luscious light. Overhead, a collection of
shining copper cook pots hung from black iron racks. It was a comfortable, well used room.
    “Would you like some coffee?”
    “Yes, please.”
    I sit on a maple kitchen chair. The woven wicker seat crackled beneath me. Each grace filled motion of her body was economical
and precise as a dancer.
    “Bobbie Follarer, I mean Robert King, sorry.”
    “Call me King.”
    She turned with a penetrating glance.
    “I don’t call anybody King but the lord.”
    She smiled, unapologetically and turned toward the coffee pot.
    “This is so unexpected. It’s the first time someone from my
childhood has come back to me like this. What made you do it?”
She asked as she handed me a fragile porcelain cup. She sat down across the table from me and took a careful, tentative sip.
    “Be careful, it’s very hot.” She said as she blew on the coffee.
    I took a sip.
    “I’d like some cream.”
    “I’m sorry. Where is my mind today?” She walked to the white, double door refrigerator, got a heavy white China pitcher of cream
and walked back to the table.
    “Thanks.”
    “So...what prompted you to look me up after all these years?”
    “I don’t know. I was driving around, revisiting old memories. I stopped at the old Hickory Park school site and found a carving I
did in a tree trunk. I remembered getting my nose broken by Fritz
Lehie and that you scratched his face. I found out where you were
and here I am.”
    “A carving on a tree trunk?”
    “BF+SA.”
    She smiled.
    “I remember that.”
    She paused.
    "Fritz broke your nose?"
    She frowned.
    “Oh god! I remember! I remember! Fritz was so angry!” Her
eyes sparkled. “You bled all over my dress. Mom nearly passed out
when she picked us up.”
    We shared a moment of commonality.
    “Well, that’s why I'm here. I’m taking a walk down Memory
Lane.”
    She laughed again. She held the fragile porcelain like a fan
before her bright eyes. She took a sip and carefully set the cup on
her
saucer. She brought her hands together on the table top and
studied her fingers. A curl fell across her face. She brushed it back slowly and raised her face to look at me. Her white, even teeth
glistened invitingly.
    She smiled mysteriously.
    “It’s a nice street.”
    She crossed her arms, leaned back and closed her eyes.
    “I haven’t thought about you for a long time. I had no idea what happened to you. It’s been forever.” She said.
    “I know.”
    “Why did you want to see me?”
    “That’s simple. You were my first love. I’m searching for my
roots.”
    She smiled.
    "That's sweet. Gosh, that was a life time ago. We were just kids.”
    Her fingertip drew circles on the table top.
    I reached out and laid my hand over hers.
    She looked up. Her eyes were filled with tears.
    “What do you want from me?”
    Her eyes searched mine, trying to make sense.
    “Nothing. I just wanted to see you again.”
    “But why now?”
    “What do you mean?”
    She stood up and walked to the window. Snow was falling
again. She took a deep, sighing breath and turned to me. Her hands gripped the polished wood countertop. Her knuckles were white.
She shook her head. Her hair fell loose, across her face.
    “It’s hard to explain. I don’t even know you. I mean...it was so
long ago...I don’t even know you.” She whispered.
    “People don’t change, not that much.”
    “We were only kids. It was so long ago.” She searched my face.
I took a deep breath.
    “What’s bothering you?”
    “Did you know that I married Fritz?”
    “What happened?”
    “We had two kids. A girl and a boy. They’re gone now. Melissa
is married and Matthew goes to The University of Iowa. He’s
studying to be a computer programmer. They’re great kids. Fritz
and I got divorced 4 years ago. I work at the Co-op.
    "It isn’t so bad, working for him.” Her lips twisted. “It’s better
than being married was. He always hated you. Did you know
that?”
    “No. I don’t know anything about you either.”
    “Why are you here?”
    “You.”
    “We were just kids.” She whispered. “What did you do with
your life? Where do you work?”
    “You mean you don’t know.”
    “Know what?”
    “Who I am. What I do?”
    “No. I don’t know anything about you.”
    “So you’ve never heard of Robert King?”
    Her blank stare gave way to confusion.
    “No...you’re not...I mean...no, you couldn’t be.” She stood up,
turned from me and then turned toward me. She shook her head.
“This is crazy.” She walked over to a shelf and took down a book.
It was the PSYCHENETICS MANUAL. She stared at my picture
on the dust jacket. "It's you."
    She shook her head
    “The one and only.” I nodded with a sardonic smile.
    She set the book down. “Oh God! I can’t believe this.”
    “Why?”
    “What do you want with me? I know who you are. Heavens, everybody knows who you are. My best friend never stops talking
about you, I mean about PSYCHENETICS. She keeps trying to convince me to come with her to a meeting. It’s like an obsession
with her.”
    “She’s not alone.”
    “But this is ridiculous. Why didn’t I make the connection?”
    “Why should you. Like you said, we were only kids. You never expect somebody you know to turn into a god.”
    She frowned. “Don’t talk like that.”
    “Why not? It’s true. That’s what the people in the CHURCH OF GLORY think of me as. Anyway, if Fritz can end up owning half
the county why can’t I end up being a god?”
    I laughed.
    She searched my eyes for a long moment and then she laughed
until her face turned red.
    “Oh gosh, I needed that. It’s been a long time since I’ve had
anything to laugh about.” She gasped. Finally she calmed herself.
She looked at me and giggled as she tried to suppress the laughter
that threatened to boil over again. She stood up and walked to the window.
    “It hurts!” She said. She sat down and struggled to compose
herself. She pressed her finger tips together.
    “God I'm glad to see you again.” She said after a long, silent
pause.
    “I’m glad. I didn’t know what to expect. Like you said. We
were just kids.”
    She nodded.

Homecoming