Chapter 1, Part 1
Excerpt from The Day the Angels Fell
by Shawn Smucker
I am old now. I still live on the same farm where I grew up, the same farm where my mother’s accident took place, the same farm that burned for days after the angels fell. My father rebuilt the farm after the fire, and it was foreign to me then, a new house trying to fill an old space. The trees he planted were all fragile and small, and the inside of the barns smelled like new wood and fresh paint. I think he was glad to start over, considering everything that summer had taken from us.
But that was many years ago, and now the farm feels old again. The floorboards creak when I walk to the kitchen in the middle of the night. The walls and the roof groan under the weight of summer storms. There is a large oak tree in the front yard again, and it reminds me of the lightning tree, the one that started it all. This house and I are two old friends sitting together in our latter days.
I untie my tangled necktie and try again. I’ve never been good at these knots. My last friend’s funeral is this week and I thought I should wear a tie. It seemed the right thing to do, but now that I’m standing in front of a mirror I’m having second thoughts, not only about the necktie but about even going. She was my best friend, but I’m not sure I have the strength for one more funeral.
Someone knocks on the front door, so I untangle myself from the tie and ease my way down the stairs, leaning heavily on the handrail. Another knock, and by now I’m crossing to the door.
“Coming, coming,” I say. People are in such a hurry these days. Everyone wants everything to happen now, or yesterday. But when you’re my age, you get used to waiting, mostly because you’re always waiting on yourself.
“Hi there, Jerry,” I say through the screen, not making any move to open it.
“I won’t come in, Samuel. Just wanted to apologize for my boy again.”
Jerry is a huge bear of a man with arms and hands and fingers so thick I sometimes wonder how he can use them for anything small like tying shoes or stirring his coffee. He’s always apologizing for his boy. I don’t know why—seems to me his boy simply acts like a boy. And because Jerry is always calling him “boy,” I can’t remember the child’s name.
“I heard he was throwing smoke bombs up on your porch this morning.”
“Oh, that. Well . . .” I begin.
“I won’t hear of it,” Jerry says. “In fact, as soon as I find him he’ll be coming here in person to apologize.”
“That’s really not necessary,” I say.
“No. That boy will apologize.”
I sigh. “Anything else, Jerry? How are the fields this summer?”
“Green. It’s been a good one so far.”
“All right,” I mumble, then turn and walk away because I’m too old to waste my time having conversations that don’t interest me. “All right.”
“Oh, and I’m sorry about your friend,” Jerry calls to me as I begin the slow ascent up the stairs. His words hit me like a physical object, make me stop on the third step and lean against the wall. They bring a fresh wave of grief to the surface, and I’m glad he can’t see my face.
“Thank you,” I say, hoping he will leave now.
“The missus says she was a good, close friend of yours for many years. I’m very sorry.”
“Thank you,” I say again, then start climbing the stairs. One foot after the other, that’s the only way to do it. I wish people would mind their own business. I have no interest at my age in collecting the sympathy of strangers. Or near strangers. In fact, I can do without sympathy at all, no matter the source.
I still imagine myself to be self-sufficient, and in order to maintain that illusion I keep a small garden at the end of the lane. Sometimes, while I’m weeding, I’ll stop and look across the street at where the old church used to be. After the fire they left the lot vacant and rebuilt the small brick building on a lot in town, but the old foundation is still there somewhere, under the dirt and the plants and the trees that came up over the years. Time covers things, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone.
Copy of The Day the Angels Fell + Ancient Tree Journal + $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card
2nd PRIZE: Copy of the book + leather bracelet charms
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