Creative Nonfiction by Susan Fuchtman
I took Andy and walked to some friends’ homes, just a morning out, so we weren’t there when the UPS man dropped off the package, his last stop. On his drive home, on the curve approaching the grain elevator in Page City, a gust of wind blew over his extra-tall UPS minivan and he died.
The wind blows all the time in western Kansas. Weskan, our town of 140 people, doesn’t do much to stop it, just a few houses, the school, and squat grain bins here and there. Dust finds its way into any little crack. Mice, too, the fields surrounding the town are full of them, their little movements below the straw must look as if the earth itself is squirming.
We heard music in the middle of the night. It sounded like a music box, but we were both in bed and Andy was in his bed, besides he couldn’t possibly reach the music box on the shelf. Wait, we didn’t hear music, first I heard music, then nudged Tim, then he heard music. He slept naked then, got up, naked, and crept into the living room to—what, nakedly attack the intruder? A few minutes later we found a mouse going around and around in the trash can that we kept inside the narrow kitchen closet. The story we tell ourselves is the mouse ran along the shelf behind the music boxes and accidentally moved one of the levers to turn on the music. Clever mouse.
We met at our house every week for Bible Study so we could put Andy to bed. Everyone else was single and most of them were teachers like Tim, but Wayne was a farmer. One time we had a water fight outside and one of the college kids who was home for the summer and joined us was so small she could hide in the narrow kitchen closet. We found her later, dry. Wayne would lie on the floor because his back hurt. When Trudi moved to town from Minnesota to teach 2nd grade, she joined us, and later married Wayne. One time we caught a mouse in a cardboard box. Cyndi stood on a chair just like in cartoons. That summer when I said, “I don’t know why we’re friends” but meant “We’re so different but I’m glad you’re my friend,” she stopped being my friend. We were young.
The farmers teased that they’d have to take me to the hospital in a tractor because Mark was due in February and in Western Kansas there were blizzards that closed school for days because once a school bus in a neighboring town got stranded and children had to be rescued. I didn’t want to ride in a tractor when I was in labor, it sounded horrible. When the time came, sure enough there was snow, but not much, we drove 45 miles to the hospital just fine. Now I think of it, all of my three children were born in snow, one a few years later at Christmas, and this one, Mark, in February. Andy was born in the mountains, and even though it was summertime, there was snow on the peaks that surrounded us, and if you went for a walk you always took a sweater in case the sun went behind a cloud.
We put out poison—nobody live-trapped mice, what would you do with them? Usually they’d crawl away somewhere to die, but one didn’t make it out and died in our basement, and Mark picked it up and rubbed it on his face—“Soft,” he said, and I turned around from putting clothes in the dryer, screamed, he dropped the mouse, I picked him up, ran upstairs.
I kept the label, it’s in a box somewhere. Our UPS address was “White House South of School.” The UPS driver’s name was Fred. Some say it was fate, but I can’t stop thinking about how, if I’d stayed home with Andy like I usually did, and chatted with Fred when he dropped off my package, that gust of wind would have missed his van entirely.