Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By Thomas M. McDade

I thought I’d regret skipping a goodbye visit to the Windburn Barn so better safe than sorry I drove there. I figured a bunch of college kids would have rented it by now but there were no cars in the parking spots. I stuck my hands in my jean pockets thinking that would make me look like an off-the-beaten-path stroller and not a thief or arsonist. Moving closer I saw that the door was slightly ajar. I pushed with my foot. The hinges yawned. I heard a rhythmic creaking that sometimes lulled me to sleep during Heidi’s drug recovery. I remembered the first time I saw her in Freshman English and how happy she was leaving for Texas to ride thoroughbred racehorses. That armless rocker I’d logged so many miles on was facing the sad bay window and occupied. I cleared my throat. The chair scrunched around. A Zippo flamed. Despite boy-short hair and swollen face I recognized Heidi. It was a ghostly scene, ear studs sparkling like attendant fireflies. Locks partially hiding the one eye that was black would have helped. Sometimes she wore it like that in class. She’d told me the Zippo was a good luck charm, belonged to her grandfather. “Heidi, what happened? What are you doing here?” “Just a coincidence,” she said frantically like someone trying to pull an excuse from the air. “The hay truck I hid in to escape stopped down the street. I’m like the scarecrow. I need brains too.” She pulled a piece from behind an ear, stuck it in her mouth and lit it like a cigarette before dropping it on the floor and extinguishing with her foot. She wore what I took to be jockey boots. “Do you remember Carolyn singing?” she asked. “Yes, especially “Scarlet Ribbons,” I hummed. There was also the sorrowful “Green Fields.” I reasoned adding that one would not be welcome.

“I sang it to myself over and over while in the straw, my baby in a manger. I thought of rolls in the hay and the bad they’ve done me.”

“Carolyn disappeared and so did Spence.”

“They were a mysterious couple, nympho and druggie but good roommates and employers.”

 “I hope no harm came to them. I wonder if they still do landscaping.” The name of their company was Best Land Plans.

 “Remember scattering hay for new lawns?” Heidi asked.

“Yes, the grackles watching and waiting for the seed.” Why would hay be hauled from Texas to Denver? Maybe she hitched first and that was her last ride. I’d leave it at that. I was starting to feel like a DA. Was hay the same as straw?

“You’ve bounced back before.”

“I’m helpless, broken.”

“I’m leaving town,” I said. “My car isn’t much but more comfortable than your last ride. Come with me. We’ll go to Seattle, wave to the people leaving on cruises like in the Thousand Clowns movie. It’s a trek all right. From there we could catch a ferry to Alaska, get work on the Pipeline.”

“May we sort of return to some reality for a moment, Tom.”

“I know that line but it was “Murray.”

“Webb beat me up after I told him I was pregnant. When I was unconscious, he cut off my hair. I burned down his barn. Nothing alive in it, just tack, oats, hay and the dope he used on horses. He won’t involve me. I know too much. The greedy bastard will be happy with the insurance money. I thought about igniting this place too. Eliminate another chunk of my past. I dream faces, laughing and smirking, our class, gamblers who’d curse at you because they’d bet the horse that tossed you. So what if you broke a leg, or your spine. High school yearbook pages and movie mug shots haunt me but not you.”

“Your nightmares were just fate biding time to get to now.”

“I like that,” she said. “This is all I own, Tom, ratty, smelly clothes.” The chambray shirt with a ripped pocket reminded me of Navy issue. She flicked the Zippo, moved it around for me to see and she was right. I I lightly kissed her lips and face. Her breath was fresh. Maybe a tube of toothpaste left behind in one of the bathrooms or a Life Saver in my room, case closed.

“I think we should send Zippo white water rafting in Boulder Creek. It’s run out of luck and could be used as evidence. Let’s scram, find a place to eat. After a couple of hundred miles we’ll get a room and rest up for our journey.” I considered bringing the rocker with us but I had no rope to tie it down on top of the Plymouth. What a ridiculous idea anyway. I made a quick trip to the car and back. I gave her my hooded sweatshirt.” “Good thinking,” she said and not the Pithy Pines Motel type.” She nearly laughed, must have hurt. She’d lived there before Windburn. “Never,” I said with conviction. “Wait a minute. You must be dehydrated. I’ve got some a six-pack of Sprite Sodas in a cooler. I brought back two and she chugged them and they were colder than I thought. She hugged herself and said “brrr” a few times. I rescued her from falls twice walking to the car. Her damaged face stood out more in the daylight. When I got her into the passenger seat, I ran back to shut the barn door. Before I started the car, she pulled up the hoodie and shirt sleeves to show her tattoo: “Nothing good gets away.” The “good” was bruised yellow. John Steinbeck’s initials were under it. She’d talked to me about a literary tattoo taking a break from planting a Japanese garden. She reached over and squeezed my thigh. “The “good” is you, Tom.”

“I say you.” Sweatshirt hood snug on her head, she said in an elderly voice. “I’m Sister Mary Heidi.”

“Bless us and save us!”

At Boulder Creek she side armed the Zippo like a major league pitcher. I helped her take off her jockey boots. “Best way this,’ she said, stripping to her bra and panties. She nearly toppled. There were more bruises on her legs and back. I got a half used bar of Irish Spring, an unclean towel, jeans, socks and a flannel shirt from my seabag. She did her laundry, included her underwear. She stood in shallow water and gave herself a good soaping. I saw no sign of pregnancy and I wasn’t about to ask. She dove, stood on her hands. As she emerged, I looked at the ground. A passing kayak nearly tipped. “Look at me, Tom. I’m yours for the taking.” Her breasts were unscathed and firm, nipples as dark as raisins and the size of some super capsules Spence had in his drug arsenal. He’d offered me one but I’d chickened out. She slowly put on my clothes. I ran back to the car for a belt. No way that my jeans would work. She rolled up the shirtsleeves. She tugged her jockey boots on. “Ever ride a horse, Tom?”

“Does a merry-go-round, count?”

 “Nope, we’ve got to get your feet in irons sometime, galloping beside me.” Thoughts of shackles and chains while being led to court swept over me.

 “How about just putting a donkey under me? I am a Democrat.” This was Lourdes all right. She put a foot on her knee and joined her hands over her head.

 “Hee-haw,” she yelled through a hearty laugh. She wrapped her clothes in the towel and put them on the backseat floor. On the road again, we were silent five minutes or so. I timed it by the dashboard clock. Heidi kick started us. “I feel great Tom. That was a baptism.”

“Miraculous and Amen,” I said.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this? Nothing’s ever been easy for me. I don’t want to jinx you.”

“We’ll take it easy and easier.” I said. I felt my words were awkward and escaped by suggesting that she open the glove compartment and take out the paper folded in half, my poem that I thought was the best I’d ever written. She read it aloud, slowly. I didn’t tell that it was about an aquarium in a one night stand named Madeline’s apartment and the “second string” placed her beneath Carolyn’s mattress pompom action.


The fish an inch at best

Wear stripes of neon blue

Running gill to fin

As if in league with eels

Promoting electricity

Darting household tanks

As though famed embers

From a storybook blaze

They spark in and out

Of ceramic castles

Like dreamy arsonists

 As guppies blessed

With spectrum tails

Loll and wave in

Flimsy praise like

Squads of second

String cheerleaders

“Perfect, I love it.” She kissed me on the cheek. “Arson, arson everywhere and a trout likely ate my Zippo.” I felt guilty that it wasn’t a poem about our landscaping days. “The idea came from a short Faulkner story from class about burning down barns.”

“You sure can link things, Tom.” Then she exclaimed,

“That truck ride cost me my baby.”

 “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to be.

“I want to be, honestly.” Just the bottom word of her tattoo was showing, “Away.” A big shame on me for letting, “awry” slip into my mind. She pulled my shirt out of my jeans and shot her hand up to my heart.

“I believe,” she said. She took a nipple rubbed it between two fingers for a moment like one might a lucky charm or a combination knob on a safe. She made a cross with a finger before exiting. “I’m gonna make your heart shake, Tom.” I recalled Carolyn’s stolen line, “You backlight my dreams.”

“Do it in a gentle, gentle, way.” Was Carolyn her romance consultant?

“Of course, I’m going to poem you.”

The car ran beautifully, just one loud blowout. I almost swerved into a guardrail. “I thought we were being shot at,” said Heidi. When we got out, she squatted to look at the expired tire. “Yup, flat as a pancake,” she said, her face in a parody of a grin. She’d described herself that way when she caught me looking down her shirt when she was pushing a wheelbarrow full of gravel. Before she stood up, I ran my hand across her breasts. “You got a memory on you,” she remarked. I fetched the spare, scissor jack, and four-way out of the trunk. Heidi stood back, hands on hips. We took turns with the wrench but no lug budged. Were they welded on? Finally, I had to hold the wrench level and Heidi stood on an end. The creaking was like a horror movie door – on a barn. The spare had some nice threads and we stopped at a K-Mart to buy some up textile traction for Heidi.

“I’ll pay you back, Tom.”

“You already have,” I said. She picked up a pink travel bag and dropped in make-up for her eye, three colorful blouses, a skirt and a pair of black jeans and some sexy underwear two bandanas and $3.99 pearl ear studs.

 “I need a break from the silver. You might be calling me lettuce ears when these toys turn mossy,” she warned.

“I like bunny better,” I said. My mother gave me a defective pearl tie tack from a costume jewelry factory where she worked for a year. I straightened the crooked pin with pliers. What would she think of Heidi?

“Ha, I’m a centerfold!”

 “Of the year,” I said. She spun her eyes. In the parking lot of the Double Suds she skillfully fashioned the red bandana so that it covered her head, secured it in the back. “I got tossed out of the convent.” She disguised her eye perfectly but none of the red marks on her face. “Welcome home.” I filled a couple of pillow cases. I took a pair of clean jeans and a t-shirt. Heidi carried in the new black jeans and blouse. I wore a pair of PF Flyers, Heidi my shower shoes. We wanted to be complete, down to our socks. Heidi asked if I was sure I locked my side of the car. “I wouldn’t to lose my jockey boots.” “What a dummy I am! I wore those work boots landscaping, full of valuable us memories.” There was a unisex rest room. We took turns and exited wearing what we’d with carried in, fatter pillowcases. While we were quizzing each other from a Reader’s Digest “Word Power” section a couple of kids approached. The girl was maybe five or six. She had Carolyn’s hair. Her dress was a blue polka dot.

“I’m Jane, this is my brother Mark.” He wore or all things a fireman’s helmet that was too big so I couldn’t look for any Spence similarities. He carried a very small dump truck. His khaki pants were high waters. “We’re pleased to meet you,” said Heidi.” This fellow’s Tom.

“Did a bunch of bees sting your face?” asked Jane. Mark made buzzing sounds. “That’s exactly what happened. You are very smart. Maybe you’ll be a doctor.”

 “I’d fix your face in a jiffy. I do have a toy kit, stethoscope and all.”

“I want to be a fireman,” said Mark. Jane tapped on his helmet

“You guys ever hear of Pooh Bear?” “Not yet,” said Jane. “Here you go.” She was great. I thought she’d break up thinking of her lost child. The woman who’d been folding clothes was finished. She came over.

“I hope they were no bother.” “They were a delight,” said Heidi. Jane and Mark waved goodbyes all the way to the door “Someday I’ll entertain our own like that.” I nodded and touched her bee stings with the back of my fingers. An old lady read the riot act to her husband. She held up a dollar bill she’d found in the clothes she’d just taken out of the washer. “Literal money laundering,” said Heidi, smiling.

“Efficacious,” I said taking up where we’d left off.

We had lasagna at Joe’s Venetian. Heidi loved the pepperoncini in the salad. At her request I over tipped the waitress whose shoes were in bad shape. She spoke broken English. There was a black ribbon pinned to her uniform next to her name tag that read Philomena. Heidi wondered if she’d lost a child and hugged her. Leaving the parking lot a ’49 or ’50 Ford sped by. Its paint was grey primer. There were flames painted on the front door and the hood. “Like a bat out of hell,” I observed.

“Like us, Tom.” We passed barns with Mail Pouch Tobacco advertising painted on them. “Did you ever chew or is it chaw?” asked Heidi. “The second one best but no, but guys on the Ramply who worked in places you couldn’t smoke did. They spit the overflow into Dixie Cups. There was this one guy. No, it’s too gross to tell.” “

Did someone drink a combine cocktail on a bet?”

 “Yes, indeed.”

“Yes, gross is the word. Did any of those guy throw their Zippos into the ocean?”

“More likely they were gifts to night ladies.”

“Tips for tits,” she said, giggling and cupping hers.

At the Road Crest Motel Heidi waited outside while I took in our gear. She insisted I carry her over the threshold. What would she have said or done if I’d divulged I’d done the same with Carolyn at the Pithy? She insisted we shower alone but we toweled each other off. She put on her new clothes. “Do I look cheap, Tom?”

“You know I’m thinking of the tired old ‘million dollar’ response.”

 “That’s not green and wrinkled, is it?”

“It’s fresh government issue. Hell, let’s leave it at spectacular!”

She bent forward, palm up, then dropping it slowly. I took my English Leather from my seabag and pointed out the saddle.” “Wow, I never noticed that before,” she said. We scented each other as she put it before slowly undressing each other. Heidi matched Carolyn’s cheerleading themed eroticism with her racehorse riding moves. When she’d tuckered me out, she got out of bed. “Here I am at Boulder Creek.”

“Ah yes!” She called her stance a yoga tree. Falling back into bed, her opened arms welcomed me. Raised up on my elbows, she locked me in her eyes and read a poem off the top of her head. I’d never seen her write anything down.

Charm Tom

Naked I stood

On my hands

In the creek

Where the lighter

I’d hurled after

You swore

Its lucky charm

Duty was done.

But no not so

Bolt upright

It lurked on

A fire red rock

And as I reached

A trout saw.

I was kin

All my bruises aping

Her prism scales

Gobbled it up

Like a glitzy lure.

And flashed off

 Leaping once

Out of

The kayak

Rippled waters


I yearned

To land

Under you

“I said I’d poem you.”

Damned if I didn’t get tearful.

“Close your eyes,” she said. She licked them. She said that a journal containing the poems she’d write about his night would be housed in plain brown wrappers to confound the censors.

I went out for grub early the next morning. Before going into Coffee Plus, I fiddled with the radio. I found a rusty screwdriver and pliers in the trunk. I managed to remove the unit from the dashboard. Two tubes were loose. All back in place, I hit the radio face with the heel of my hand a few times but nothing interrupted the static. It wouldn’t turn off. “What’s going on here?” asked a cop wearing mirror sunglasses.

“I’m trying to get the damn radio working.”

“They are tricky,” he said. I showed him my license and registration and that was it. “Enjoy the finest scenery in the nation, young man,” he said after tapping the hood for some reason. I bought a couple of cheese and egg sandwiches, large coffees and cheese Danishes. The waitress had fingernails polished the color of coffee with a shot of cream. She gave me a card and punched out two cups, eight more and a freebee.

I kept checking the rearview mirror to make sure the cop wasn’t following me. I had a hunch Heidi would require mucho explaining. Check out time was ten. We took out time eating while watching an episode of Bewitched. We showered together and made love. I took out bags to the car. Heidi was standing inside. “How about lugging me over threshold again for good luck?”

I hit a bump in Idaho and it fixed the radio. A news show reported an unsolved bank robbery. Boulder truckers were protesting road conditions. A 67-year-old trucker died of a heart attack after a pothole hit knocked bales of hay off his truck and he tried to put them back. Heidi covered her mouth and chin with a hand before digging both hands into the hoodie pouch. “That radio’s lying but doesn’t know any better.”

 “Okay, but we’ll probably hear it again, can’t turn the radio off or change the station. It would be dangerous to put my fingers in my ears.”

“I have to be honest with you, Tom.”

“Whatever you’ve done is water over the Hoover and under the Tappan Zee.”

“We’ll see. While I was hitchhiking I saw the hay truck parked at a rest stop. I climbed on and found a gap between bales. I don’t know if it was a pothole or a deer in the middle of the road but he slammed on the brakes and nearly went off the road. I was thrown off with the three bales that cushioned and saved me. He got out of the truck cussing away. I was sitting up. “A scare-boy gift,” he shouted. He grabbed for my crotch. I got up and ran into the woods. He followed until he collapsed. “Tom, he thought I was a boy!” She punched the palm of her left palm and gritted her teeth.

The static stopped. “I know I’m acting like some preppy college girl. I’m half-sorry the guy died but he would have raped me or killed me after he found out I was a woman. I think he scared the baby out of me. It happened in the woods with the planet Venus and a piece of moon as witnesses.”

“You’ve failed again to run me off. You’re all woman. I sure know that. That trucker’s number was probably due to come up soon. Someday you’ll write poems about that night and become famous. I’m saying I’m sorry for the last time.”

There’s one more verse, Tom. Earlier, the truck pulled into a closed gas station where a car was waiting. There was an exchange. After the trucker death, I had enough wits to check his cab. I found the package under the seat that contained three inches of hundred dollar bills.” “What would Pooh do?” I asked thinking of the dripping Laundromat buck. “Tom, Spence gave the driver the money. Carolyn was sitting on the hood of the car. “Best Land Plans,” I said.

“There you go connecting again and here’s my plan. We’ve got to stick with the ink. We’ve got to do a lot of good with the cash.”

We bought a VW van at Five Star Phil’s Hardly Used. Phil’s eyes tried to leave his head when he saw the bills. We took the van to The Mechanic Maven to get any lemon seeds removed. The bent mechanic was a sad looking fellow but perked up when Heidi flashed some green. He turbo smiled and straightened up like a marine at attention. He explained all the repairs in detail. We gave him three hundred. A hundred over the two he’d quoted. As we were leaving he took down the defeated sign. We distributed money in church poor boxes and gave them to people running shelters and soup kitchens. If there were nuns, Heidi asked if they knew of a Sister Mary Heidi. There was never a match. “Sister Mary Unique,” she’d joke when leaving. We ended up at Wyoming Downs. Heidi was back in the saddle. I was learning the business from the ground up, mucking stalls. Heidi’s first Wyoming winner was a filly named Zip Away.


Thomas M. McDade resides in Fredericksburg, VA. He is a graduate of Fairfield University. McDade is twice a U.S. Navy Veteran serving ashore at the Fleet Anti-Air Warfare Training Center, Dam Neck Virginia Beach, VA and at sea aboard the USS Mullinnix (DD-944) and USS Miller (DE / FF-1091).

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