By Susanne Davis
That morning, I intended between morning and afternoon chores to walk the boundaries of the farm, to see what fences needed to be mended before we could put the cows to pasture. But the night before I had spent too much time and lost too much money at the casino and as I reached the southern most boundary of my old man’s farm, I could not will my body back to chores but only forward, toward the horizon. I passed the old dump, the housing project, and the baseball field where I spent the hours of my childhood that weren’t delegated to work. And, then I kept going further still. Past the old market, that had since become a Chinese market to accommodate the needs of the Chinese immigrants who worked at the casinos for next to nothing and lived like sardines in rickety houses along the city bus line. I kept going and going further still to the state road that ran to the casino, only I didn’t go in that direction. I ran from it like a man being chased by demons. I crossed the highway and hitched a ride with the first trucker who stopped.
“Heading to New Jersey if you want to go that far,” the trucker called across to where I stood on the road.
“Only to Windsor,” I said, stepping closer. “Or as close as you go by there.”
“No problem. Windsor, eh?” he asked.
I hopped up into the tall seat. I could hitch a ride there and back, and be back before afternoon chores. The cab was neat and tidy, smelled like apple tobacco and pine air freshener. The driver was a big fellow, over six feet. I could tell by the way his head grazed the roof above, with a build like a lumber jack. He stuck out his enormous hand.
“George.” Medium brown hair was combed flat against his head and his face was square like the rest of him.
“Will,” I said, taking his hand and giving it a quick shake.
“Did your car break down?” he asked.
I shook my head, but offered no further explanation of why I was hitching a ride to Windsor. But George glanced at me sideways. I could smell the manure on the cuffs of my jeans and the sweet smell of silage crusted around the hem as well. I could see he wanted to ask but being someone who spent long hours alone knew the importance of silence to a man who needed it. Still, when I saw how much he understood, it made me want to talk a little.
“You from these parts?” I asked.
George shook his head. “Louisiana, but I travel all over—East of the Mississippi mostly.”
He raised an eyebrow. “So what’s in Windsor?”
“I want to go check out a monument. It used to be here, in Uncasville. But then the Indians made a stink about it and it got moved to Windsor.”
“Monument of what?” George asked. He reached forward and turned the radio off. It wasn’t playing too loud, but loud enough to hear the faint melody of Johnny Cash sharing hard times and cold truths. I was glad he turned it off.
“Monument to whom,” I answered. “John Mason.”
“One of the first English settlers to this area.” I don’t know why it made me feel better that he didn’t know the name. But it did.
“It was a bloody time, wasn’t it?” he said. “But still, not too different from now. Things don’t change much do they?”
“He was responsible for the slaughter of the Pequot Indians.”
He flips down his visor. “Those were different times,” he said. “The way we thought about the Indians.”
“That’s why they moved his statue to Windsor. The Indians didn’t think it was right to have him there on their sacred burial ground.”
He was glancing in his side mirror, switching lanes but he was listening and I appreciated that. It seemed to me that perhaps no one had listened to me for a long time.
Before I knew it he was leaning over to his glove compartment. He pulled out a bag of weed and some rolling papers.
“You smoke?” he asked.
“It’s been a while,” I said. It had been more than just a while. I was never much for drugs; I saw he kept a flask there as well, but he didn’t offer it and before he flipped the compartment shut I spied the pistol lying beside the flask.
“You remember how to roll?” he asked, so that was how I found myself rolling a fat blunt and getting high early that cold April morning with George. I tried not to think about how much money I had lost the night before. I didn’t let myself indulge too much because paranoia loomed at my shoulder and I wanted to keep my wits, what few I had left, about me.
We listened to George’s music selection. He had a souped up stereo system, but the music was being streamed from his phone to his Bose Mini. Willie Nelson’s voice filled the cab.
“Precious memories, unseen angels. Sent from somewhere to my soul….”
“Willie Nelson? And that was Johnny Cash earlier. You like the old timers.”
“Willy Nelson’s the man,” George said. You know what he’s done for farmers like you?”
“…sacred past unfold.”
I wasn’t a farmer though I came from a family of farmers. I wondered how George knew I was a farmer, but then I saw him staring at the cuff of my jeans. I had helped with chores just that morning because the farm hand hadn’t shown up that day and my newspaper stories had been filed at the Bulletin the night before and I had the time free to help my old man milk, so I did. Now, I leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes, hoping George would just let the music be enough. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew we were parked facing a green square and the statue of John Mason straight ahead.
I expected to feel something, some connection, but looking at the bronze statue of John Mason, his sword tilted down to the earth, I thought how lonely he looked, this guy who was doing the thing that he had been commanded to do, that seemed like the honorable thing at the time, slaughtering the Pequots and changing the course of American history, but history turned around so that the very sight of him was a scourge and an embarrassment.
I opened the truck door preparing to thank George, but to my surprise he opened his door too.
“Brought you this far,” he said as though we had traveled half the country. “Might as well go with you to get a look at him. If you don‘t mind.”
I said I didn’t.
So we crossed the street and made our way over to the green. I pulled out my phone.
“So why do you want to see this guy?” George said.
I hesitated. “He’s my ancestor.”
“You want your picture taken with him?” George asked.
Who would want to make that kind of connection more memorable? “No, thanks.”
“Go on. You got nothing to be ashamed of.” He pushed me in front of the statue and I raised my hand over my brow to shield out the sun.
“You’re not going to smile?” he asked.
So he took the photo and started fiddling with the cell phone to send the picture to his cell phone.
We heard some noise and looked up to see a few kids circling George’s truck. The passenger door was open and one of the kids leaned into the glove compartment.
“Get away from my truck, you little bastards!” George yelled. One of them was holding the Bose mini. “You drop it now or I’ll shoot you fuckers!”
The kid with his head in the glove compartment popped up with the gun in his hand, waved it in the air, and released a shot.
The teenagers laughed and scattered like cockroaches, leaving us with the echo of George’s gun ringing out on Main Street.
“Get in,” he shouted. We have to get that gun.”
A siren rang out in the distance.
“What? Are you crazy?” I was shaking my head trying to understand, but I got in the truck.
“Let’s report them and let the cops get it back. It’s them who should be running. They were stealing from you.”
“The gun’s not registered,” George said, popping the truck into second gear. “Rather not get into it with the law.” He reached under the seat and pulled up a semi-automatic.
“Holy Fuckin’ shit,” I said. “Is that one registered?”
He gave me a crooked grin. “You’re pretty funny. Now roll down your window.”
I did as he said and suddenly I wondered if his truck might just be full of guns.
“How’s your aim?”
I hesitated and he shrugged. “No matter, you don’t need to worry about accuracy with this.” He tried handing me the semi. “We’re going hunting.”
The awareness of what he was saying spread slowly through my brain, like an oil spill. But I got it. Those teenagers were all dark skinned.
“This is no different than your ancestor,” he said. “You got the legacy of your bloodline. And besides, they stole from me.”
He gripped the wheel with one hand and the semi-automatic with another. When he had restarted the truck, Willie Nelson had restarted too and Unseen Angels was playing again now. George had to slow down just a bit to take the turn and I opened the door and leapt from the truck, dropping into a ball on my side as I hit the sidewalk. There was a storefront, I didn’t even know to what, but I scooted into the entry. I needn’t have worried because George didn’t stop, didn’t even slow down. He sped up. That’s when I saw the confederate flag on his back bumper. Somehow I had missed it when I had jumped into his truck. I slipped into the store—it was an appliance store—just as the police cruiser came around the corner, lights flashing. They were on to George and I figured they’d get him before he got the teenagers, averting a tragic news story I wouldn’t have to write.
I thought I’d steer clear of hitchhiking for a while, so I called a cab and as I sat in the back seat, we circled back around to the green, where John Mason’s statue looked out and I thought then, maybe the natives had a point about removing symbols.
A Note About the Author:
Susanne Davis’s short stories have been published in many journals including American Short Fiction, Notre Dame Review, descant, Feminist Studies, St. Petersburg Review, and Zone 3. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches creative writing at Trinity College and the University of CT. She has also completed a novel called Gravity Hill.