Harvey closed the heavy, wood door of the barn. The last milking of the day done, he headed toward his old farmhouse for supper. He knew it would be some kind of meat, cooked perfectly, falling apart tender. Potatoes fried and salted. Corn and green beans. And a big glass of milk with ice cubes.
But first he’d need to scrub his hands. His wife would insist. Every night for thirty-six years she would hand him a bar of soap and send him to the washroom sink to scrub.
Thirty-six years of marriage. They’d been nineteen years old when they married. The thought made him chuckle as he scuffed his feet before opening the storm door to the house.
But then he remembered what happened. The night he failed. Right before the wedding. He had been so afraid of the forever that marriage meant. And so he faltered.
He never told Bea. Never let on that anything happened. He just closed that memory up in his soul.
Three months after his wedding day, the world collapsed with the stock market. His mind switched. Harvey no longer needed to think about that mistake. Everything was all about surviving lost investments, lost jobs.
That’s when they moved onto the farm with her parents. A city boy turned country. Turned farmer. He hated it at first. His soft hands had to grow thick calluses. His nose needed to become accustomed to the smells of animals. The nights were the hardest. Trying to sleep without the sound of city living was impossible for the first three years. He had to learn to be soothed by the sounds of crickets and roosters.
But the big benefit, what made country living worth everything he missed about the city, was the privacy. Nobody looking into your windows. Nobody knowing a man’s business. He could be alone when he wanted to be alone. A man could keep his secrets to himself in a land that large.
On that night, just before going into the house, Harvey stood and looked up. The moon looked like a thumb nail somebody just bit off and spit onto the ground. At least that’s what he thought it looked like.
Just like the moon looked that night. With that other girl. They walked through the tall grass and looked up at the moon. Memory threatened to flood back. Harvey refused to let it. He walked into the house.
“Oh, Honey, it smells good in here,” he said. “Whatcha got cookin’?”
“You’ll find out as soon as you wash up,” Bea said, handing him a bar of soap. “But do it quick. I don’t want your food getting cold.”
“I wouldn’t dream of keepin’ you waitin’, Darling.”
“Make sure you don’t.” She smiled at him.
As he washed, he looked over his shoulder at the kitchen table. Set for two. Only two. Never three like it used to be. Not since their boy Carl went to Viet Nam. And never again since he came home under a perfectly pressed American flag. One of the first to fall in that war. One of the very first heroes from over there. He pushed that thought away, too.
“All ready,” he said. “Now what are we eating?”
He sat at the table next to his wife. They held hands as he prayed. It was a simple prayer. Not too long. Just long enough to thank his God for providing and healing.
He served the meat. Bea served the rest. Silver clinked on china.
“This is great, Bea Baby.” He smiled at her.
“Well it ought to be. It cooked all day,” she said, teasing.
Harvey could still see the sadness in her eyes. It broke him that he couldn’t figure out a way to make it better.
“Are you missing him today?” he asked.
“You got a telephone call today,” she said, brushing off his question. “I took down the number. Some man named Charles. He said you would know him as Chuck.”
Harvey lowered his fork. Stopped chewing. “Did he happen to say his last name?”
“Oh, goodness. Something terribly Irish.” She said. “McQuinn or McKinney. I can get the message.”
He smiled quickly. “No, Darling. We’re eating supper. I’ll take a look at it later.”
“Well, whoever he is, he said you were good friends when you were kids.”
“McKinney. Chuck McKinney,” Harvey said. “I suppose we were okay friends.”
“He’ll be around tomorrow sometime. I told him to come on by for dinner. Right around noon.”
“Did he say why he was coming? I haven’t seen the man for years.”
“I wonder if he wants to offer his condolences.”
“‘That’s awful kind of him.” Harvey stabbed a piece of meat. “Seems a terrible long way for him to come just to say he’s sorry for our loss.”
They finished their meal in silence.
The next morning, after his first chores, Harvey sat at the table, drinking coffee. Bea moved nervously around the kitchen.
“Do you think that Charles likes stew?” Bea asked. “I should have done steaks.”
“Stew will be fine, Honey. That’ll be just fine.”
“I sure hope so.”
“Suppose I should go get myself cleaned up.” Harvey stood and walked toward the stairs. “By the way, you look beautiful.”
“You’re too sweet to me.” She smiled.
That smile always made Harvey’s heart warm.
His bedroom was bright. He undressed, letting the warmth of the sun rest on his skin. That was another thing he had to learn when he moved out to the country. Dressing in front of uncovered windows. It took him a long time to remember that it was okay. That no one would see in. The closest neighbor was two miles away. Nothing had to be concealed. Nothing covered up. Because no one was there to look in. No one saw the things that Harvey wanted to keep private.
At noon, on the dot, Charles McKinney pulled up to the old farm house. He drove a brand new Chevrolet. A dusting of dirt road was on the fenders. Harvey watched the man get out of his car. He wore a three piece suit and carried a briefcase.
“This isn’t just a friendly visit,” he said. “Bea, after we eat, I want you to go into town. Just say you have a ladies meeting or something. Something just doesn’t feel right about this.”
Because of his tone, Bea didn’t protest. She went into the dining room and finished setting the table. Harvey walked out to the porch to greet him.
“Well, Chuck, welcome,” he called, trying to appear casual. “Come on in.”
“Harvey, it’s nice to see you.” Chuck walked faster, extending his hand. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. I’ve changed plenty.” Harvey opened the storm door. “Come on. Let’s get you some dinner.”
The three ate stew poured onto buttery biscuits. Chuck told Harvey all about law school. His career as a district attorney. His wife and kids. Bea poured coffee from the peculator and brought out sugar cubes and fresh cream.
“Now, gentlemen,” she said, putting a plate of cookies on the table. “I have to get going. Sewing club. I can’t miss a single meeting.”
Chuck stood. “Bea, it was just lovely meeting you. Now I know why Harvey ran away from city life so quickly.”
“Well, that’s awful kind of you,” she said. “Now don’t you leave a single cookie for me. Eat them all. You hear?”
“Thanks, Honey,” Harvey said.
She kissed his cheek before she went out to the truck and drove down the road.
“So you’ve been farming, huh?” Chuck asked, biting into a cookie. “You never seemed like a farmer.”
“Well, when the market crashed I had to do something,” Harvey said. “I got stuck doing it. It’s a good life.”
The two men sat for a few moments in silence.
“Listen, Harvey, you know I’m not here for small talk.” Chuck sat back in his chair. Loosened his tie.
“Bea seemed to think you were here to offer condolences.”
“Oh, yes. Terrible thing to lose a son to the war. Terrible indeed.”
“But you aren’t here for that, are you?”
“I’m here on a personal matter.”
Harvey pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. “Let’s go out on the porch.”
The two men stood on the porch. Harvey smoked, hoping to calm his nerves.
“Someone is looking for you,” Chuck said, breaking the silence.
“I thought I’d come out here and let you know about it.” Chuck paused. “You just tell me if you decide you don’t want to be found.”
“Who is it that’s looking for me?”
“I know about your night with Violet. Just before your wedding.”
Harvey tossed his cigarette butt into the grass. “Yeah?”
“I saw the two of you walking. Saw you going into that field. Saw you after, too, getting yourselves dressed again. You didn’t know I was there.”
“What? Were you following us?”
“She was my little sister, Harvey.” Chuck turned his head, looked at the miles of growing corn. “I should have stopped you. I just didn’t know what to do.”
“Did you tell anybody?”
“No. I never wanted to.” Chuck crossed his arms over his chest. “It would have killed Violet. She told everybody that she got hurt by a man she never knew.”
“I hate myself for that night. It wasn’t right.”
“She was okay, you know. She never expected anything from you.”
“How do you know that?”
“She told me. Just a couple months ago.” Chuck rubbed his head. “She’s dead. Died of consumption or something.”
Harvey lit another cigarette. “I’m sorry about that. She was a good girl.”
Chuck leaned on the railing. “She had a baby. A girl.”
Harvey turned his head, looked at Chuck. “That’s why you’re here?”
“Her name is Barbara. She lives about an hour from here.” Chuck put his hand on Harvey’s shoulder. “She’s married. Has a couple boys. She just wants to know her father.”
“Does she know who I am?”
“Nope. I haven’t told her. I wanted to talk to you first.”
“You sure she’s mine?” Harvey leaned against the railing. “She couldn’t be from anybody else?”
“Nope. Violet didn’t have any other men. Not ever.”
Harvey squatted down. Tried to make himself small. He didn’t know why he wanted that. He just knew that he wanted to hide. “Bea’s going to kill me.”
“Listen, Harvey. It’s up to you. You don’t have to tell her. This can be just between us.”
“I lived with this secret for so long. I couldn’t live knowing that I’ve got a daughter I’ve got nothing to do with.”
Chuck opened his briefcase. He pulled out a picture. “This is for you. That’s a picture of Barbara and her family. Her boys are three and two years old.”
Harvey looked at his daughter. Ten minutes before he hadn’t even known she existed. Looking at the photo, his heart swelled. She had the same smiling eyes that his mother had. And the boys. So handsome.
“I’m a grandfather,” he said. “What are their names?”
“James and Peter.” Chuck pointed at the picture. “And they are full of trouble, those two.”
“Oh, I bet.” Harvey smiled. “I bet they are.”
The men stood, looking at the picture.
“Well, I need to get going,” Chuck said, closing his briefcase. “Talk to Bea if you want. Just give me a call when you decide what you want to do.”
“We want them.” Harvey pushed down his emotion. “You just tell Vickie that we want them. I’ll talk to Bea. She might kill me, but she needs these kids. She hasn’t been the same since Carl got killed. She needs these boys.”
“You just call me when you’re ready to see them.” Chuck walked to his car and opened the door. “You’re a good man, Harvey. I always knew you were.”
“I don’t know about that.” Harvey smiled. “But I want to do what’s right.”
Harvey watched Chuck drive down the road. As soon as he was out of sight, he let himself feel. He let himself weep. For Carl. For Violet. For Barbara. For the pain that this would bring Bea. For the end of his gnawing secret.
When it was all done, Harvey went inside to clean his face. He didn’t want Bea to see that he’d been crying. He sat on his bed. The emotions over took him again. After awhile he regained himself. Walked over to the window.
The window with no covering.
He had nothing to hide.