Heartland

By Donna Vittuci

Outside the train, the Indiana corn grew taller than teenagers. Outside the train, hidden by bent stalks and all-over tall grass, Kip restrained Nola with handcuffs he found rusted in the bottom of a metal oil drum behind the garage. He’d lifted them through ash and burnt wood pieces. With no lock, no key, they wouldn’t close or keep, but the capture idea lived.

Nola tossed her hair, and the grime in the crease of her neck stirred Kip. May she never wash! He would eat field dirt off her freckled skin, then eat the freckles, too.

Nola was the strange and new piercing his dreams. She’d tied Kip in knots, this childhood friend with her amazing new breasts. She beat him in cards June to July, the mornings they dealt and shuffled on her back porch, seated at a little girl’s table and chairs. He imagined her stepping out the screen door with tea for them in tiny cups, a younger Nola in a ponytail and sherbet-colored midi-shirt to match her shorts, approaching a younger Kip, who cared not a whit what she was wearing and couldn’t tell you later if you asked. He leaned back, balancing on the small chair’s rear legs until she frowned and said, “You’ll fall,” just like a mother.

Nola elbowed Kip from first to second in the movie line. The walls were red and gold, with a raised design you couldn’t resist rubbing, the talk hushed and became personal in the close-drawn crowd, Nola with the braces on her teeth and her lips bewitching red. The coming attractions flooded the screen. They were going to be washed away, they both sensed a rising. First Kip’s pinch on her bare flesh, then Nola’s fingernail inside his sweaty elbow crook.

“Come here, tickle,” she whispered to his ear. He leaned in, his head was going to fall of his shoulders.

“We’ll ditch this place,” he said.

 Somebody said, “Shhhh!”

The mindreading lifted them from their seats, past the red brocade, the velvet, the salty things revolving behind glass, dumped them onto the sour street. She grasped his hand, as if it was too bright for her to even see and she needed him for his stillness. They both stumbled, and then their bodies grew able. They walked away from flat buildings, stone faces, stores, and hot cars; their limbs propelled them to vacancy. The world was alone with them, and they were alone in the world.

That’s when he brought out the handcuffs.

Above him in the field, she commanded he look at her. The ground hummed from the train they couldn’t see as its cars anchored the tracks, pinning the earth and pining through it. Kip wanted to pound a stake into that wailing steel. 

The handcuffs gave him courage, and Nola didn’t balk. She took Kip down the blue banded sky with her, hollowed-out collarbone expanding above him, a handcuff at the ground either side of his head. They flipped and rolled three times nearer the tracks, pushing, molding, folding around. Her eyes were brittle with gleam so he must have been brittle, too. He stripped her shirt. Nola’s instep in his palm, her curled toes in his groin, her breath chugging at his ear. She moved merchants and buildings from where they were rooted.
 
Kip lay half outside his clothes like a scarecrow punched-through. Nola back on her elbows, breasts bare to the tall grass, the corn rows a next barrier and the train tracks further yet.

She said, “I wish I had a cigarette.” She would never quit surprising him.  

Her knees are the tent of my desire, Kip thought.

They pulled on their clothes, handcuffs rattling, skin subtracted from the world.  He piloted her ahead of him by his hand on her shoulder, and she exaggerated a floppy walk for his benefit, supposed it may be sexy, but it wasn’t. Then came a fly-over of birds he’d suddenly give a million bucks to hitch on, and the shifting wind.

Kip squinted and rubbed his face with his hand. Had they kissed?  He couldn’t remember. They walked a foot apart or more. The birds settling in the corn eyed them bouncing alongside the bent stalks, corn that had reached its limit and was collapsing back to earth.    

At the railroad berm they soft-scuffed the gravel. They might have been too close to the tracks, too close to each other. Kip’s thigh twitched, his feet were lead, his tongue tasted bitter.

“You ever ride a train?” he said.

“Nah.”

Nola’s arm hairs lifted to his, a staticky worminess. 

He had pallid insight of her thirty years on, still walking this grass or rubbing the velvet rope on line at the cinema. “You never will,” he said.

“So?” Nola’s eyes glittery, and her breasts through her shirt with their abracadabra, her hair weighting her neck. She smelled of hay and spent grass and sex, but provoke and perverse came on Kip like a fever. The train continued north to Chicago, it left them the miles of corn. An hour ago he would have said summer was as boring as glass, that it needed a chip taken out of it, boring perfection, boring innocence, that summer was a fat zero. 

Now he could hardly look Nola in the face, and next he’d tell her they were sending him off to school.

“Parents,” he said, blaming them for his escape. “I got no say in it.”

Truth was from the start he’d been primed for leaving, getting his own way, and going.


Donna Vitucci’s work has appeared in print and online since 1990. Her recent novel, ALL SOULS, is published by Magic Masterminds Press, as are her previous 3 books. Her literary fiction explores the ache and mistake of secrets among family, lovers and friends. After a lifetime of living in the Midwest, she now makes her home in North Carolina, enjoying nearby grandsons and an extended growing season for cherished gardens.