On the way home, Caroline and Richard passed a pickup truck coming from the opposite direction, and as it passed, a pig rose up out of nowhere in the passenger seat, stuck its head out the window, looked around and then quickly disappeared.
"Did you see that?" Caroline asked.
"I saw it."
"Was that Edgar in his new truck?"
"I think so."
"I heard he was riding around with that pig," she said, "but I didn't know he was doing it in a new truck."
"Just forget it."
"Lucille told me he'd named the pig Lucille, and I thought, damn, he's getting worse all the time."
"Just stay out of it," he said.
"And then she told me he was going to send her on that diet bus tour, or whatever you call it, and that really got me upset."
"Let him alone."
"She can't help it if she's fat. All the women in her family are fat. He knew that when he married her. He had to have known it. Didn't he?"
"I don't know," he said.
"You don't know. You do so. You're just saying that because you don't want to talk to me. You're still mad at me about yesterday, aren't you?"
"I haven't even thought about it," he said.
"Yes, you have. You're doing it right now."
Caroline had lost her car keys and called Richard at work to bring her his set. This was the second time in two weeks she'd lost a set.
"I know you don't want me to bother you over there," she said, "but I can't help it if I lose things."
"I'm not thinking about it," he said.
"Everybody loses things. Especially when they get older. It's just part of life. The older you get, the more things you've got on your mind, and the more things you've got on your mind, the less you can handle them. Isn't that right?"
"If you say so," he said.
"Oh, I give up. I really do," she said.
"It's not that bad," he said.
"But baby it is," she said. "I'm getting to be such a boring person you don't even want to talk to me anymore."
"That's not it."
"It must be, baby. I know it is. You don't even have to admit it. I'm turning into one of those crazy women approaching forty you read about all the time."
"You're all right," he said.
"I'm not, though. I feel nervous all the time. Everything's changing and I can't keep up with it. You're changing. I'm changing. My body's changing. I've even got hair growing where I never used to."
"Come on, Caroline," he said.
"I do. I'm turning into a man or something. I've read about that. Your hormones start drying up and the masculine ones take over. I swear, I'm just a wreck."
"Just take it easy."
"The other day in the bathroom, I swear to you, I was on the toilet for fifteen minutes."
"That's enough, Caroline."
"I was sitting there and I thought, damn, what's happening? I must have lost ten pounds by the time I got out."
"Do we really have to talk about that?" he asked.
"Well, we have to talk about something. If it was left up to you, we'd never talk at all."
"Some things you want to hear about and some you don't," he said.
"You don't want to hear about anything. I never say the right thing anymore. I just don't, do I? I might as well give up. Nothing I do or say interests you anymore. I can't blame you, I guess. I don't have a very spectacular life. I thought at one time I would, but it's just slipped on by and now what have I got?"
"Don't worry so much all the time," he said.
"I don't worry. It just sounds like it when I talk. Most of the time I'm real happy. It's just that when I start talking all this stuff comes out."
"Don't talk, then."
"I knew you were going to say that. Just as I finished that sentence I thought, he's going to say, don't talk, then, and by golly, you did. You said it. We're turning into Mutt and Jeff or whatever. Who was that?"
"I don't remember."
"I know. It's Dagwood and Blondie. That's what we're turning into."
"I don't get it," he said.
"I don't either," she said. "I guess it doesn't fit, really, when you think about it. Still, they were great."
"Those old comic strips. I used to have this crush on Joe Palooka. Remember the guy with the little house attached to his bicycle. I used to think he was so cute. That's the way things are when you're young. You fall in love with everything. It doesn't work when you get older. You need something else."
"Yeah," he said.
"Yeah what?" she asked.
"You need something else," he said.
"Are you saying you need someone else?"
"No, Caroline. I was not saying that."
"Then why'd you agree with me so fast?"
"You always say that. Forget it. That's your response to everything. That's all right, though. I know you don't mean it. This is just one of my bad days. You know how I get. We've already had a great time. I loved the auction."
They had been to a farm equipment auction and had boughta cultivator. Cultivators were implements that hooked on to tractors and were used to dig up, the same way a person with a hoe might, the weeds between the rows of crops. Some cultivators could do four, eight, or twelve rows at a time. They hung out from the sides of tractors like wings. This one fit behind the tractor and worked one row only, but could do as much work in an hour as a person could do in two or three days.
The vegetable garden was a big part of Richard and Caroline's life, and was, except for their house in the country between the university towns of Durham and Chapel Hill, just about all they had left from what had begun as a back-to-the-land life away from everything. They had real jobs now, went to town a lot, saw other people, had a bank loan, and so forth and so on, but they still planted a big garden and canned and froze as much as they could.
"Did the old guy die or what?" Caroline asked, referring to the person who had been sold out at the auction.
"I wish they had sold the furniture. I looked around the house before they started. I guess the heirs got that."
They pulled into the driveway.
"Can I ask you something?"
"What," he said.
"Can I do the cultivating?"
"If you want to. It's not that easy, though."
"I know. I watched you do it when you borrowed Edgar's."
"The steering's loose on the tractor," he said. "It's hard to keep it straight."
"I'll go slowly," she promised.
He stopped the truck. They got out.
"Still," he said, thinking about it, "maybe I better do it. Or at least get it started."
"Oh, let me. I promise I'll do a good job. You know how I am in the summer when I'm not teaching. I'm just crazy to do things. I love to drive the tractor. Please let me."
"You rest, okay baby," she said. "You've been at that awful job all week and the least a woman can do for her man is let him take it easy on the weekends. Okay, sweetheart?"
"All right. Help me get it out of the truck."
They dragged it out. It supported itself upright on its tines. Caroline got the tractor, which was an old John Deere built like a huge tricycle. She backed it up to the cultivator and Richard hooked it to the lift.
The lift was called a three-point hitch. It had two arms that came out from the hydraulic housing between the back tires, and a third point to hook on to above the two lower arms. Once an implement was hooked at the arms, it could be raised or lowered for work or transport and the depth at which it operated in the ground could be controlled.
"Be sure and don't look backwards," he said.
"What?" she asked.
The tractor was popping and hissing and the clutch pulley whirled around, making a racket like gravel rolling inside a hubcap.
"If you turn around to see how you're doing, you'll go sideways and run over the rows."
He watched her from the porch. He put his feet on the rail. She went up one row and down another. She made clean sharp turns, using her wheel brakes at the end of each row. She pulled on the hydraulic lever just right at the end of each row and the cultivator left the ground and swung into the air at the same time she swung the tractor around. She kept the tractor in first gear and finished the garden in less than an hour.
Well, she surely can drive a tractor, he thought.
"Shall I back it in, or what?" she called from the shed.
"Go in frontwards. That way, if it rains, the engine will stay dry."
The shed wasn't long enough to fit the whole thing, the tractor and the cultivator, all the way in.
"It'll probably never rain again, anyway," she said when she joined him on the porch.
"I don't know."
She put her feet up like his, looking for a moment like a child copying her parent in some exact way. They looked a lot alike, anyway, and could have been mistaken, if not for brother and sister, then at least for cousins. Caroline had long reddish-blond hair, the kind of color people often referred to as strawberry-blond, but unlike most redheads, she had a tanned, olive-looking complexion. She had beautiful bone structure, and she looked good without makeup, which she rarely used. She had high cheekbones and dark eyebrows and, as Richard could have told you if he'd been persuaded to talk about it, there wasn't a mark, a blemish, a mole or a pimple on her from her toes to her hair. She was just naturally good-looking, and though Richard had darker hair, he had the same good bones and skin and natural good looks.
They rested like that, then, with their feet on the rail, looking the same while Caroline let the vibrations and noise from the tractor slowly ebb out of her, and she tingled a little, the way a piano string might do as the sound it made slowly faded away. Then she said, "Now what?"
"Just take it easy, I guess."
Sitting on the porch with her husband and working on the land and being home and together was just about as close to heaven as she could get.
"I love my house, you know," she said.
"I know it's not a big house and people always ask me why we built such a small house, but I think it's just perfect."
"Uh huh," he said, and looked out at the road and listened to a car coming from far away.
"No one wants to stay simple or modest anymore," she said. "It's like some old idea that's gone forever. Everything's got to be big and fancy and everything's got to be a big show. I hate that. I hate people who live like that."
"Uh huh," he said.
"I like the way we live. It suits me just fine."
"That's good," he said.
"Some people can't take it, you know. They have to go shopping all the time, buy things, have fancy cars, get the latesthairstyle and all that junk. They never get satisfied. They're always looking for something else. I like the way we are. It feels right, you know?"
She changed positions by sitting on the rail and putting her feet on the chair.
"I want to do something special for you today. I could make a pie. Would you like that? A chocolate pie? Would that be good?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"I guess it's too hot to get into baking a pie. How about something else. Chocolate isn't any good for you, anyway. It makes you nervous and gives some people a headache."
"Is that right?"
"It is. I read about that in the paper the other day. I was also reading this article," she said and stopped when she saw he had closed his eyes. "Are you falling asleep?"
"Okay. I was also reading this article about what Americans really eat, you know, and it's like people eat snacks and junk more than anything. More than real food. You know, the sugar content, it was about all that stuff. It said about as many people were drinking Cokes or Pepsis for breakfast as there were drinking coffee. Can you believe that? I still think milk's the best thing for you."
He didn't say anything.
"I guess you're tired. I don't blame you. I couldn't work over there. I wouldn't, anyway. You know what I'm trying to say. Why don't you go inside and lie down."
"I'm all right."
"It is just so hot."
"Maybe it'll cloud up this afternoon. When it gets this hot we usually have a thunderstorm. What's that?" she asked, seeing something in the paper.
"It's just something I was looking at while you were cultivating. I was thinking it might be fun. You want to go?"
"Of course I do. It looks hilarious."
They took his truck, which was in better condition than her car. They had lunch at a barbecue place. The air-conditioning felt so good it might have been worth eating all day long just to stay inside. They ate too much as it was and Caroline was restless once back in the truck.
"I'm too full now," she said.
She sighed and fanned her skin with her blouse, flapping it in and out to cool off.
"I wish we'd gone on and air-conditioned the house when we built it," she said. "It's too late now. I hate these decisions that you make and they turn out later to be wrong. I hate that. We could have borrowed a little more then and done it and not even felt it spread out over thirty years."
"They wouldn't give us any more."
"Oh yeah," she said. "Now I remember those bastards."
"You sure have taken to cussing a lot these days."
"I have? Well, maybe I have. Anyway, I don't care. I don't care about anything right now but the heat. Couldn't we buy a window unit?"
"We must have that much money somewhere."
"Couldn't we borrow it? Neither one of us is sleeping very well these days. We just lie there and sweat."
"I don't want to borrow any more money."
"Of course you're working in the air-conditioning over there. Of course I didn't think about that. That's just like me. I always think about some things but not the right things. Just like I'm always talking about some things but not the right things. You know what I mean? Sure you do. I know what you're thinking," she said. "I'm talking way too much and way too fast again. Right? You're thinking there goes Caroline getting out of control again, but I'm not. I know what I'm saying or at least I know what I'm trying to say by not saying it, follow me? I always get this way when you stop talking to me. I always do. The less you talk the more I do. I guess I'm trying to make up for both of us," she said and stuck her arm out the window and made her sleeve into a funnel so the air went up it and across her body.
"I think it's not sleeping well that's got us messed up," she said. "I think that's what it is. I really do. We ought to get a book on sleep therapy and see what they say about it."
"I feel all right," he said.
"If you're all right then there must be something really wrong with me," she said. "I'm just getting more nervous all the time and I thought I was going to have such a relaxing summer."
Caroline taught first grade and she loved her children and they loved her. Lately, though, all the other things associated with being a teacher, all the paperwork and the bureaucracy and so forth, had begun to get her down.
"Are you mad at me for being so out of it at the end of the year?"
"No," he said. "I haven't even thought about it."
"Good. What's this mud-bog thing we're going to, anyway? I mean, is it like those trucks with those huge tires you see all over the place now?"
"Not really. It's just stock trucks," he said. "Kind of like this one."
Caroline took her shoes off and stuck her bare feet out the window and leaned across the seat with her head on Richard's lap.
"The floor of this truck is hot as a frying pan," she said. "Can I lay like this?"
"Go ahead," he said.
"I'm not cramping your leg, am I?" she asked. "Remember that time we were riding in the car and you got that cramp in your leg and you shot across the car with your leg sticking straight out. Remember that?"
"Vaguely," he said.
She put her bare feet on the dash and wiggled her toes and then looked at her toenails one by one.
"You used to love my feet. You couldn't keep your hands off them when we got married," she said.
Richard made a face.
"You couldn't. You used to tickle me and rub my feet for hours. I swear you did. You have this convenient one-way memory,"she said. "You only remember what you want to remember."
"I remember everything," he said.
"Do you remember how much I've always hated Cynthia?" she asked.
"Now we finally get to it," he said. "I wondered when it was going to happen. You've been building up to it all day."
"So don't get started on it, that's what."
"Don't get started?" she asked. "You're the one who started it by going to work over at her house."
Richard and Caroline had grown up in the same small town in North Carolina. They had both gone to the same local branch of the state university system in the eastern part of the state. They dated off and on the whole time they were in school, and kept on seeing each other even after Richard dropped out in his junior year.
They married when Caroline finished and got her teacher's certificate, and soon afterwards Richard opened up a one-man cabinet shop. The shop gave Richard, he thought, about as honest a way to earn a living as one could find.
"I told you not to," Caroline said, continuing on, "I asked you not to, I begged you not to, but you went ahead and took the job."
"I didn't have any choice," he said.
"We wouldn't have starved if you were without work for a few months," she said. "We'd have made it."
"We would not have made it and I'm not going to sit around living off of you, anyway," he said.
"I hate Cynthia. She's the only person I've ever hated right off and kept on hating even after I got to know her. I swear she is. She's just the worst. She makes my skin crawl. She and all her fancy ways and her fancy, expensive, and so, so exclusive New England college she went to that she just always has to tell you about along with everything else she constantly parades before your eyes. I cannot stand, and I mean CANNOT STAND," she shouted at him, "to think about you over there with her alone all day long. It's driving me crazy. It is. I can't stand to think about it but I can't stop thinking about it."
"You want to know what goes on all day," he said. "Do you really want to know?"
"I don't know if I can bear to know," she said.
"If you want to know, I'll tell you."
"Well, go on, then," Caroline said. "Go on and I'll sit here like I'm dead and listen."
"I walk in the door. She gets up about the time I get there and comes walking through in her bathrobe."
"Yuck," she said.
"About the time I get my tools out and start tearing out the cabinets that line that kitchen from wall to wall, and I mean wall to wall, sixty-two feet of them, top and bottom, for a total of one hundred and twenty-four feet, about the time I get started back in on that, I hear the water running in the pipes and she starts her bath. The bath takes forever because it's a long time before I hear the water running out the drain. Then she comes in and chats a little bit and takes her breakfast into the other room where she has made a temporary kitchen--breakfast room kind of thing, and she sits there drinking coffee and reading the paper and looking out the window, and that's about it."
"What about the rest of the day?" Caroline asked. "I mean, what do you talk about? I mean, you said, chatting with you. What does that mean?" she asked, madder at that than almost anything because he never chatted with her anymore.
"She just talks. She walks around the room and talks and I keep working."
"And that's all? What about the rest of the day? I mean, you just described about an hour. You're over there for ten hours every day."
"One time it was about ten. Okay. One time."
"I don't want to know any more," she said, already mad at herself because she had told herself she wasn't going to let on how much this was bothering her. "I just don't want to know any more, okay? Just don't tell me anything else," she said.
"Okay," he said.
"That's too much already. That bathrobe and that kind ofaimless walking around and talking to you. That's too much already," she said, unable to stop. "It just is. It's just like Cynthia to have all the time in the world to do whatever she wants. And all the money, too. I bet she wouldn't go to a mud-bog event with you. I bet she wouldn't do that. Would she?" she asked. "Just answer me that. Would she?"
"I don't know."
Cynthia was thirty-nine years old. She had a huge house and two children. She had divorced her doctor husband last year and had gotten the house and a settlement large enough to play around with for a couple of years.
"I just want to ask you one more thing," she said, "and then I'm not going to say anything else about it."
"Suit yourself," he said.
"What kind of robe is it?"
"I have no idea."
"What color is it?"
"I told you I don't know."
"I bet you don't. I know you. I know how you are around good-looking women. I know her, too. I know how she coos and preens around men. I know how her voice gets so soft, just so helplessly soft, around men. It makes me want to puke. I swear it does. It makes me want to scream to hear it."
"Go on and scream," he said.
"I'm not going to. I'm not even going to think about it anymore. Tell me some more about this mud-bog thing," she said, trying to get back to the job of making sure her husband loved her the way he was supposed to.
"I showed you the ad in the paper."
"But tell me," she said. "I want you to tell me about it."
"You've got these macho types who have four-wheel-drive trucks, like you see on the street, and you've got these promoters who go out in a field and dig a two-hundred-foot-long pit that gets deeper as it gets longer, and they fill it with loose dirt and then pump water in it for days and then these guys one by one tear their trucks up trying to get from one end to the other."
"Are we going to try it?"
"This truck isn't four-wheel drive," he said. "You know that."
"Oh," she cooed, in a soft, Cynthia voice.
"Come on, now," he said.
"I just don't know those kind of things," she said in the same voice. "I just hardly know anything at all."