Monday
Nov132017

The Wind Farm at Night

Susan Neville


 

I'll say that sometimes the click of the turbines makes us crazy. All day the light and shadow strobing in the house. Every day the strobing burns itself more deeply into my eyes until I'm afraid the light will turn dark and never go away. How to explain?

You know how if you've been driving all day you can close your eyes when you get home and still see the country moving in front of you, only now it looks (the country) like an x-ray version of itself because it's behind your eyelids? Or how you can be out in bright sunshine and then come inside and what you thought was a light-filled house suddenly seems like a dark one? It's like that, except I'm afraid at some point my eyes won't adjust.

It's not a complaint really. Really, it isn't. In the northern part of the state, up near Chicago, the ground is toxic, and my sister is raising her children, my nieces and nephews there. I know it could be worse, is what I'm saying.

And they are lovely, the turbines, better than power lines, particularly when the sky is blue. Sometimes I do stare at them. The blades look like ballerina's legs, but all calves and no feet, like ballerina's legs but with the feet chopped off at the ankle, like a German fairy tale. I can picture all the feet with the toes balancing in satin slippers, waiting in a storeroom for the day they'll be re-attached and all the blades will jump from their towers and start dancing. Judgment day! Would that be a sight to see!

At night sometimes my daughter walks through the wind farm and heads toward the factory. She doesn't see me following her. The factory name glows red at night. Up ahead, my daughter's black socks are soaked with dew. She's without shoes, of course, like the turbines, and she pulls her shawl closer. Some nights she has enough time to almost make it there, get back to the house, plug herself into the milk vein, hope she doesn't die this time, hope she might. Most nights I'm there to catch her when she falls.

The parking lot is pink with vapor lights in the distance, not as many cars as when we all worked there. The difference between the uneven fields and pavement makes my daughter's legs shake, her knees give way again. She lurches herself forward. Her hair is knotted. How long since she has combed it?

You know, when I was young and a fool, I ran away to New Mexico to see a boy who said he loved me, and I believed him. I left everything behind for him. He wrote songs and he said they were about me. It took me a while to realize I was a vampire's girlfriend. There were so many times I should have seen this. He used my credit card to buy gifts for other women and stole a garnet ring I was given by my mother. He would never admit to the ring, but I had him dead to rights on the card and when he cried and begged and said he was no good, still I forgave and forgave him.

I loved it in New Mexico. At sunset the mountains turned red, and the aspen leaves shook. Sangre de Cristo, though the red never looked like blood to me because it was light. It was more like a wash of red or a sudden glow of what has always there, but you hadn't noticed it.

We lived out near Taos. He made songs out of my blood and the mountain's. It was nothing as dramatic as a cut, more like a slow transfusion of my life to his until one day when he was singing on the square and other women were looking at him, and the jealousy was making me weak, I realized I was a fool. I wasn't special. Why had I given him my body? I was food, and he would eat whatever was offered to him and soon I would be consumed.

My daughter never quite believes me when I say that I was pretty then. Ha! I know. And I could sing. All my life, I'd sung in choirs, second soprano or alto, so I could add harmony to anything. It's amazing how you can change the tone of something by ending with an open fifth chord, say, instead of a third so it sounds mysterious and medieval instead of sweet. When you really stick that open fifth and don't slide into it, when it comes at the end of a song it sounds like you believe the tone will go on forever.

In high school I thought I would be famous and never thought I'd end up living in the Midwest again. I came back home to my own parents, who have passed, but I wasn't as empty as I thought I was. I was carrying a child, my daughter. She is and has been the one true love of my life. I thought someone should know how I got her in case, like her stepfather and her boyfriend, she is taken away.

 

They used to sit on my front porch in the evenings, after their shift was done. The movement of her arms as she works is so beautiful, the boy told me. That's what he first noticed about her, he said. When she took off her work gloves, her fingertips were lacquered, unchipped. Red or black or midnight blue, metallic silver. Square shaped at the tips, like cars, he said.

I was retired by then, recently widowed. I brought them sandwiches on plastic plates most nights, sweet tea, then disappeared inside. My beautiful girl and this boy. I would help raise their children, and that would be my life. Bit by bit, in my imagination, I imagined the child. Green eyes and ginger hair and soft baby feet and wrinkled baby hands in fists, those sweet soft fingers and soft nails.

They looked so tired. They worked too hard, I told them. I tried to feed them more. I sent them to work with food, fed them when they came home. Fried chicken and potatoes, pie, dark beer. Still, they lost weight. Sometimes they wouldn't come home between one shift and another. I would see his pickup parked in town, the two of them looking half asleep in the cab. Like babies. I told myself they wanted their privacy.

It was hard, I'm sure, living with your girlfriend's mother and in her house. They were saving their money, they said, to rent their own place. One morning they didn't come home and I drove toward town in the early morning and saw his truck outside a house with tablecloths on the windows and rusted bed springs and engine parts in the yard instead of flowers. I'd gone to school with the woman who lived there. Her mouth looked like barbed wire, all black teeth and worry lines. And I'm afraid there are tangles in her brain like electric cords thrown helter skelter in a plastic tub.

I knew what was going on but couldn't stop it from happening. I would think it was over and then it wasn't over and then I'd think it was over again. There were tears. There were promises. Over and over and over, just like it had been with her father. I'm one of those who always wants to believe and so I do it over and over even when I know I shouldn't. If I stopped believing, I don't think I could stand this world. I believe despite all the signs that tell me not to.  

It would be all right, I thought. They had each other. They had work to go to. They had a plan. They had my love. They still believed their promises when they made them.

 

You would think an entire community couldn't live on candy, but ours did for years. The factory still makes candy, so much that you can hardly go into a drug or convenience store in the entire world without seeing bags of it. At one time or another we all worked there. We measured. We poured. We stirred the vats of gelatin and sugar. We filled the molds. We took the heated molds and put them in the cooler and we removed them. We dusted the candy with corn starch. We separated the bags and watched each one fill and seal. We placed them in the boxes. We counted. We counted. We maintained and repaired the machinery. And while we did this, we talked to each other. We watched as our friends' children came to work there. We knew the stories of the founders, where the bosses lived. We raised our children on the seconds, filled their Christmas socks with distorted gummy candy. Sometimes the gummies would stick together into something resembling space aliens or superheroes, and the children would play with them as though they were.

A couple of years ago a big shipment of packing crates was delivered to the factory. The factory shut down for a few days as the old machinery was dismantled and sorted and put into the crates and hauled away. My daughter, the boy, everyone participated in the dismantling. Take this shovel and dig, I thought when they told me about the crates. They knew it too but they were still optimistic. They would be getting shiny new machines to work with, the healthiest machines. New break rooms, new molds, new lines of candy.

In a few days they saw their folly as truck after truck pulled in and unloaded boxes of machinery that looked so strangely human. Like a perfected skeleton of a person but without the flesh. A cheerful yellow they were, the yellow of a caution light, all smooth curving tubes for arms and hands. Without reproductive or digestive systems, without heads. The center of gravity was down by the wheels so they could lean in so very gently over the candy, picking up the trays and sorting, indefatigable. Ingenious. Why weren't we built like that? A few mechanics could run the factory after that, and they would dress in white coats like doctors. The rest of us were unnecessary. What do we do now while we're waiting for our marching orders? What do we do next with our lives?

My daughter and her boyfriend were laid off, spent more time at the dark house in town. It wasn't long until the boy fell asleep in the truck and she couldn't rouse him. It was early in the epidemic. Nighttime, now, her pupils jet buttons. I know what to do to save her but it takes constant vigilance. I can't fix her but I can try to save her.

I just need to walk it off, she says one night, all will be well. And so she walks out the front door, trips, slides down the front step as though she has no bones. She stands back up, her legs noodley, walks through the wet black fields underneath the turbines, toward her new lover.

She is not well. It's breaking my heart. Now she gets the shakes, she's always cold, her teeth hurt and her fingernails ache, she tells me. But something in her, some nights, pushes her toward him. It's an old story. How long will it take her to realize he'll never really see her?

They're beautiful really, she told me once. She was delirious. For a while, she says, I thought I had a crush on one of them. I would look through a window into the factory, she said, and watch it. Him, she said. He seemed different. I imagined the arm reaching out to me, she said. Sometimes, she said, I fantasize about that, lying on the table and passing by him, him knowing exactly what to do with me.

You're delirious, I said to her, but she didn't hear me.

At night there are only a few blades turning slowly. So quiet, the hum. The power has been collected, is going somewhere, though I'm not sure where. Does anyone know? Is it Chicago? And the money, do we know where that is going?

I follow her those nights when she tries to reach him, and I catch her when she falls. I'm not sure she even knows it's me who's carrying her. She's so light in my arms. She's always dreaming.

All the fields were sold off over years. Over time, most of the young ones moved away or are now in the process of dying. The ones who stayed did so out of duty, or out of fear, or even out of love for the place itself. Sometimes I feel like I'm standing on a small island with the shoreline eroding away all around me until someday it will be just the house and my daughter and I will be standing on the roof and then it too will sink and we'll both go under.

But when the corn and beans are combined, and the dust and chemicals are stirred up in this flat country, the sunsets in this place are also glorious. Such purples and oranges and pinks and at night the stars! I can still see her. Green eyes and ginger hair. Soft baby hands and nails. Soft baby feet. Behind my eyelids, still, I'm assembling their child.