Paige McKenzie sat on the deck rail, her jeans-clad legs draped over the edge.
Her husband Ron watched her as she held her head back, eyes closed, facing the wan winter sun. She wasn’t crying any
more. Now there was just this. . . this sadness. She didn’t talk. She ate scant mouthfuls of food before drifting away
from the table to stand at the window or sit on the redwood deck.
The protests had gone well, peaceful, just noisy and big enough to attract
the press. Why the group had staged it on a Sunday was a mystery to him. There were patients there on weekdays. You might
save a life by protesting then. But Sunday…well, the powers-that-be thought it would be a good kick-off to the legislative
week. It was all political. Paige was crushed. She wanted to go, they’d even warmed the car up. Then, minutes before
they were to leave, the call came. Orders for Paige to stay home. Orders from the church. Ron thought maybe they had too many
people going now and decided to use part of them next time.
Paige was devastated. Her eyes had gleamed all morning at the prospect of
“doing something” for what she called “ The Cause.” Now she was back to…well, he hated to say
it, but…to normal.
At times, putting his arms around her, smelling the herbal scent of her shampoo
in the long blond hair, he was filled with longing for her. He would put his cheek to hers but she’d pull away wrapping
her arms around her torso as though against some inner chill.
“So, what would you like for supper?” She didn’t answer.
“How about I grill some steaks? It’ll be too cool to eat out here once the sun sets but. . . ”
“That’s fine.” Paige’s voice was flat.
“Okay, can you make a salad or something?”
She turned to face him, then shrugged and walked through the open glass doors
into the kitchen. Ron bit his bottom lip. He remembered how she was when they dated in high school: spontaneous, almost breathless
with excitement over life. Then, without warning, the other images flooded his thoughts.
* * *
The pickup sat at the edge of the field. I-76 lay beyond, and the sun beat down
on the asphalt belting the land, glinted off passing tractor-trailers. Looking up, the two teenagers could see the Denver skyline stretched against the mountains to the west. Waves of heat danced over the dirt road, like rain sheeting down
a windshield, distorting the horizon. The air smelled of dust, perspiration, car fumes, heat. Ron leaned against the truck,
brushed at a fly droning near his face, and watched his girlfriend wade into the wheat field.
“I like the sound of wheat in the wind,” he said to the girl bending
to snap off the heavy drooping head of grain. Her blond hair, bleached white by summer sun, was caught back in two rubber
bands. Beneath denim cut-offs, tan legs stretched…like a cheer-leader, he thought. He’d kidded her earlier; even
her toenails, peeking out from pink flip-flops, were painted to match her green tank top. Paige stood, pulling back her pale
braids, listening to the soft rustling.
“Yeah. It looks neat, too, the way it waves. Ocean waves.” She
chewed on the light gold kernels.
“I’ve never seen the ocean. Farthest I’ve been is Vegas,
and it’s a bummer. If you stop anywhere near a slot, security zones in. The only thing you can do in Vegas, if you’re
under twenty-one, is swim in the hotel pools and go to the free outdoor shows.”
“Ronny,” the girl held her hands toward him, palms out. “I
He glanced at her, a flippant comeback on his lips, but the look in her eyes
checked him.. “What?”
“You don‘t have to stay with me, Ronny. I wouldn‘t blame
you if you just left me out here. Made me walk back to town.”
“Yeah, right, Paige. What‘s up?”
His breath caught in his throat. She couldn’t be pregnant. She was his
girl. Had been since school started last year. And they hadn’t. . . well, if he’d even dared, his dad would’ve
decked him. His mind rejected the thought, dropped it like the stalk of near-ripe wheat he’d crushed and flicked into
“Another week or so, say July forth, this wheat’ll be ready to
“It was just someone I met when we went back east in February. Dad and
Mom were busy all day at the conference and, at night. . . oh, Ronny, I’m so sorry. It didn’t...it didn't mean
anything. . . ”
“Meant somethin’. You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”
He kicked at the dust with the toe of his Nikes.
“I’m sorry, Ronny.”
The boy didn’t look up. After a minute of silence, Paige stepped out onto
the dirt road and headed toward the highway back into Denver. Ron got into his truck and started
it, gunned the engine, spraying dirt and gravel in his wake.
“Get in,” he said when he caught up with her. He leaned over and
opened the door. The girl climbed into the cab and they drove the twenty minutes to her house in silence. A week later, she
had the abortion.
The guys assured him it was nothing. A couple of them had girls who’d
had it done. They were fine, if he knew what they meant, in a few days. The more Ron McKenzie thought about it, the sicker
he got in his stomach. Finally, he asked Paige out again, on an August night.
When he picked her up, she wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Where you
been?” he asked “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Home.” She squirmed under Ron’s wary gaze. “Damon
and some of the other guys stopped me at 7-11 one day and wanted me to go out with them. With all of them. They said I didn’t
have anything to lose. So I’ve just stayed home.”
Ron felt the heat of anger rising through his ears to his forehead. He wanted
to pull Paige to him, to protect her. He wanted to plow into all those other guys and wipe the smirks off their stupid faces.
But Paige got herself pregnant, and she wasn’t forced. He thought that would’ve made it easier. If he could say
she fought, or the guy was too big for her to resist, but she wasn’t raped. Anyway, it was over now. She’d had
it taken care of. Ron reached out to her shoulder, but drew his hand back.
Paige raised her head, searching his face, and he looked away. “You
hate me, don’t you? She opened the pickup door and jumped out, half running up the walk to her house. She stopped when
she reached the front porch and sank to the steps.
Ron watched her go. Her hair was loose, lifting behind her on the evening
breeze. The blue sundress flowed around her like a hollyhock turned upside down. He could see her shoulders, in the porch
light, heaving as she sobbed.
“Paige, wait.” He was already across the grass, up on the wooden
porch. “Wait, ” he said as he folded her in his arms.
* * *