Thu 6 Aug 2009
The wheat undulates under the wind; the field appears endless in the dispersed light the sun gives off from behind the horizon’s clouds. A combine harvester moves quickly down the exact middle of the field, leaving behind a thick strip of nothing. But then the combine stops suddenly. A strong wind bends the wheat over and the stalks look like the wriggling legs of some mega-millipede. The lean, gray-haired, balding driver is perfectly still for a moment, his cigarette passively smoldering two inches from his lips. He opens the door and leaps from the seat, then dashes forward to see under the front of his vehicle. Just under the blades on the passenger side lie what remains of a young man, his face turned up, his body mangled below the shoulders. By his head in the wheat lies an old felt hat, overturned, with spots of blood forming a short line on the brim. The driver looks at the young man’s face, stands bolt upright and stiffens, looking like an old boot left on its sole while its owner sleeps through the night.
Finally, he takes the half-smoked cigarette from his mouth, extinguishes it carefully on his blue jeans, and places the remainder in his left pocket. He walks over and properly faces the young man, leaning against the passenger side of the combine. The sun briefly peeks through a hole in the clouds, and a blotch of sunlight moves across the field like a ghost. The driver crouches on one knee and grabs the felt hat by the crown and pulls it from underneath the wheel. He places it easily on his head, where it fits, perfectly snug. Then he begins to walk, very slowly, back the way he came. Another hard wind blows and the wheat reaches for him across the avenue left by the tractor, but he is too far downwind, and it cannot reach him.