Debra Di Blasi
One night, coming home late and careless, I forgot to close the gap. The gap between.
Between upper and lower acres, Father moved his black Angus from pasture to pasture, season to season. He sorted: steers from cows from bulls from heifers . . . numbered ear tags shuffled in a meticulous scheme that to me was all rigmarole.
The gap was not a serious gate.
Not like the rickety wooden gate that shut strangers out of our property and lives, shut us in. That gate finally hung so far off its hinges it wouldn’t close properly, and my father replaced it with a fine aluminum gate that swung smoothly to and fro. No cursing required. No sweat.
The gap, instead, was makeshift and difficult. Barbed wire strung tight between three posts made from smallish tree branches. Rudimentary gate to be drawn taut and secured with two wire loops around a big fencepost, top and bottom. The weakest of us could not close or open it: The thick wire fought back and the barbs caught. I was not weakest but neither was I strongest. Not then. Not that day.
Not that I even bothered. My head filled with birds at dusk, wind cooling hay fields sinking into the darkest shades of green, moonrise and dew point. Future perfect elsewhere at a distance impossible to grasp.
[I thought I would never look back. I’ve turned to salt. Tears and regret. But no. No interest in revision. Except as a measure of forgetting.]
That night, that one time I forgot to close the gap, Father came home late in the dark, tired from the fields. Angry. As usual. As necessary, perhaps, for I refused to appreciate the mechanisms of farm life I then considered purgatory, bleak penance for having been born. I thought it all unimportant, subordinate to my encroaching desire for platform shoes, real perfume, foreign cars and beautiful boys.
It was all between that summer, wasn’t it. Between pubescence and adolescence, nymph and imago, tomboy and menarche. Between loving the farm and trying to escape it. The long wide swim between simplicity and complexity, and flailing, flopping, trying not to drown.
Father let the screen door slam and stood there, just inside the living room crowded with the cursed lot of us. He glowered. Said, “Who left the goddamn gap open?”
I sank. Literally. Tried to make myself small, invisible, safe and disappeared.
The five of us siblings, like chicks pushing the weakest out of the nest, accused each other with facts and falsehoods until I was caught in the tangled truth: “I did it,” I confessed, hair prickling, knees knocking on the gallows of my fretful mind.
“Get up and close it,” he said.
Although I was by then nearly as tall as my father, he loomed. He filled the house with a wrath dense as that up the road, beyond the floodlight and around the bend of corrals, past the gas pump and pig lots, The Red Shed and silo, past the bull pasture and rusting Model-T, on a pink road, dust dried to cloddy mud. A quarter-mile of blind terror. Night shadows of black cattle and rooting hogs, corn rats and nighthawks, raccoons and rustling scrubs insisting I had no nocturnal instincts.
Didn’t think I could do it. Paused at the intersection of floodlight and darkness, between known and unknown. And, my god, that walk to the gap seemed miles, hours, time and space stretching before me, receding, it seemed, from where I was, which was not near enough. And even arriving at the goddamned tangled gap, I wrestled too long the weight and wire, hands shaking, huffing and moaning, near tears. And when finally the wire loop slid down and held on the fencepost, I turned and fled. Ran the length of that dark dirt road in seconds. Really. Raced into the warm fluttering light of house and home and family.
[A good story now. Cocktail chatter. Frivolous family tale. Yes?]
That gap came to signify the end of one life and the beginning of another — better, we thought; but not, we learned. The old house and sheds falling down north, the new house and barn rising up south. The past contained in a self-contained family that walked up a dirt road into a fractured future and then walked away.
Except for Father, who stayed. Until he was taken away.
He must have, one last night, stepped out into the grassy timbered darkness to face our demons he came to suspect were his own.
He was wrong. They were ours.
I’m sorry I left the gap open. If I close it now will we then love each other better?
About the Author: Debra Di Blasi is an award-winning author of seven books, including Prayers of An Accidental Nature (Coffee House Press), The Jirí Chronicles (University of Alabama Press/FC2), and Drought (New Directions), recipient of the Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award. Her fiction is published widely in notable journals and anthologies of innovative writing and has been adapted to film, radio, theatre, and audio in the U.S. and abroad. She is a former publisher, educator, and art critic.