A Country Woman

by Monica McFawn

There is a country woman now among us. We can see her from most of our backyards. Whatever you lack she will exemplify—that is, if you are slothful and prone to depression she will be whistling and weeding in the single place in her yard that you can see from the recliner you have not left since last night. If you are needy and rattled when alone, you will catch a glimpse of her through her window sitting down with a three course meal she made for herself. You might even hear the music on her radio—old bluegrass—and hear her sing along. If you are lacking in purpose and passion, you need only see the peppy flick of her muck boots on the sidewalk as she heads out for the day.

“With these two hands and a day’s time, I can move a mess of earth,” she likes to say, but only to those who become impotent thinking of the brevity of days. She is referring to the koi pond she’s digging, which she plans to stock with “offspring of her daddy’s fish farm salmon,” a losing proposition considering a salmon’s need to migrate, but it seems like a dreamer’s envious boldness to those who hear this particular detail. If only they could throw themselves into something so hopeless with such aplomb!

She is at all the parties. To invite her is to send the message: I can face up to my faults. A kind of sweet torture is to engage her in conversation in a corner after having a few glasses of wine. The country woman speaks of many things: her family, the farm, weather changes, ham-hocks, apple butter, the orneriness of old roosters as opposed to the sass of old hens. None of it means anything to you—why should it? But the telling is full of charm and homespun wit. The only recourse is to keep listening until she loses her charm, thereby affirming yours. It is a convoluted game, and the longer you listen the more you are entertained and delighted, the more you wince at your own delight and the more the country woman tries to amuse, and sensing your discomfort tries to alleviate it. You end up drunken with your arm around her shoulders, drooling compliments in her ears, as if by foisting your admiration on her you will somehow take on her traits. It is like taking a rubbing of a gravestone with a pencil and paper—the closer you press the better impression it will leave.

It might seem more logical just to avoid her, to keep the shades down and the eye averted, and this we try. One neighbor invests in heavy drapes, tightly locking blinds, and tall wild hedges for her front walkway so she can avoid seeing the country woman in the few steps from the driveway to the front door. And indeed, if you walk fast with your head down you need never see the country woman in full. You might hear her whistle as she reams her gutters with a toilet brush or peripherally see the flash of a tartan plaid work shirt through a thicket, but the county woman herself is never again manifest.

Then as sudden as “sow-to-trough” (her saying), she is gone: the flash of her yellow raincoat through the gap in the drapes, the squelch of her Wellington boots, the sound of burning, cooking, nailing, feeding, mucking, whetting, basket-braiding, carcass cleaning, pies frying and meat baking (her order), this comes quietly to an end, as if the country women scuttled away in secret though she was the one from whom we hid. We listen for her like the clear tone of a bell long after being struck, a kind of warbling vibration that holds us in thrall while we wait for it to cleanly end. Has she gone back to the country? Will she be back? Hers is the most palpable of absences, a not-aroundness so forceful that even her yard, left intact, is ragged as if something has been rent from it—the pond and roosters and wheelbarrows seem too small for the space they take up, rattling stand-ins for something larger that once fit flush. The neighbors open their windows and beat their drapes with brooms and look around as if relieved, but there is a great unease. You can avoid the country woman but not her absence.

Monica McFawn lives and writes in Michigan. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Conduit, Conjunctions, Poetry Salzburg Review, Harpur Palate, and Hotel Amerika. Her collaborative flash fiction/visual art chapbook (with painter Curtis Rhodes) has recently been released as issue 42 of Xerolage. She has also written reviews and criticism for The Quarterly Conversation and Rain Taxi Review of Books. She can be found online at monicamcfawn.com.