Bad Seed: Chapter 15

The gravel road was torn up from tractors entering the field on this dewy morning and leaving large ruts in the dirt and gravel. Stella rolled down all the windows, and turned up the Alice in Chains and let the haunting harmonies of Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell fill the air with lyrics of loss and longing. Some music should be illegal to play in a car. Stella’s foot grew heavier as they flew down the gravel road with her new dog at her side, both of their heads bobbed to the beat.

Stella loved and hated this time of year when the memories and ghosts of the past were so close that they became tangible and embodied in every moment and song on the radio. Instead of sliding into the despair of the past, she focused on this odd sort of pride that filled her chest with warmth:  proud that she survived Kevin. The drive, the music, the day thrilled her and she felt like she was finally waking up from a nightmare, even if Kevin was in her bed a few hours ago.

Stella pulled down the long driveway flanked by Oak trees and circled around behind the large, stately house. The farmhouse was built in the middle of a Bur Oak savanna, so it felt like the centerpiece of a park. In its prime the home must have sheltered multiple generations under its gabled roof. It could use a fresh coat of white paint and maybe some trim work, otherwise the house looked like it would survive another century on the prairie. Big wrap-around porches where she and her sister spent their summers sipping lemonade between games of hide and seek or sleeping on hot nights. In the distance, was another much smaller house, the original homestead, that was slowly degrading into the land after it had been washed off its foundation in the flood of 1927.

A tire swing hung from an oak tree in the side yard beyond the chicken coop. Stella didn’t have a happy childhood memory that wasn’t on this farm: summers exploring the acres, splashing in the river, playing with barn cat,s or chasing the gaggle of geese that took up residence in the yard. When winter weather kept them inside, Stella and Casey would explore the forgotten rooms of the upstairs either playing house or a make-believe jewelry store with Alice’s collection of costume jewelry. 

Stella didn’t want to be like the rest of her extended family and bring her problems and woes to her aunt’s door. Hell. Once upon a time, Stella was the problem dropped at Alice’s doorstep anytime mama felt the gypsy spirit take over. Mama would return months later with stories of life on the road following the Grateful Dead and making a living selling beaded jewelry and breakfast burritos out of the back of their Caprice Classic station wagon. With all of mama’s comings and goings, Alice didn’t bat an eye, like it was the most natural thing in the world  for two pre-pubescent girls to be dropped off at her house on a whim.

Although Alice owned over two hundred acres of cropland, she had little interest in the life of a farmer. She was an artist. Her medium was scrap metal collected from area farms which she turned into giant whirling wind catchers, or rusted flowers, or the occasional piece of lawn furniture. Her latest creation was a monumental piece welded and fashioned out of a decommissioned windmill that had stood on the back forty of a neighboring farm since the early 1930s. Alice replaced the mill’s missing blades with the shapes of full-bodied women welded from scrap metal from barbed wire to cogs, tin-roofing, even old nuts and bolts from the old International Harvester stripped and rusting in the back barn. She used a piece of that old tractor in every piece she made.

Stella left the dog in the car as she got out and walked up to her aunt. Alice was bent over the metal picnic table she liberated from a county park that was reclaimed as an imminent domain and turned into a highway exit ramp. The picnic table had become her workbench over the years. As Stella rolled to a stop in front of the farmhouse, Alice flipped back the welding helmet and squinted at her niece. The wrinkles that fanned away from her eyes looked like feathers like she was wearing a masquerade mask. Her white hair was tied in a neat bun at the top of her head. Alice looked like a Hallmark granny that fusses over having everyone home for the holidays, but you never want to disappoint.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Alice asked. 

“Hoping you had a spare dozen eggs.. I read you should put an egg under each tomato and pepper plant in the garden as a slow release fertilizer.”

“You didn’t get that green thumb from me.” Alice pulled off her helmet and welding gloves, fluffed her tight gray curls with her stubby fingers. “Who’s that handsome devil?” Alice pointed at the dog.

“Act of contrition,” Stella said.

“Baby girl, we ain’t Catholic.”

“Shame and guilt don’t discriminate.”

“Kevin?”

Stella nodded and looked down to her Vans sneakers and was suddenly transported to a younger version of herself twisting in her Keds after Alice caught her picking on her sister.

“Son of a bitch probably deserved it.”

“Maybe,” Stella said.

“Well,” Alice said. “Karma’s a bitch.”

Stella’s smile spread across her face until her cheeks ached and she snickered to herself.

“What’s so funny?” Alice asked and shook Stella’s arm.

“I think you just named my dog.”

“Really?”

Stella whistled between her teeth and the dog’s ears perked up. “Come here, Karma!” she called.

The dog put her paws on the rolled down window and launched herself out of the car and onto the driveway. In a flash of fur and dust, Karma came to sit at Stella’s feet and leaned her weight against Stella’s legs with an attentive look.

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