“Arti isn’t making his rounds, Steven. You better go check soon as you eat your breakfast.”
Margie was peeling and breaking carrots into a colander in the sink. Whenever her hands were wet, she was reminded there was still no ring on her finger, and every time, she reminded herself there was nothing keeping her on this damned farm.
Steven wanted to come up behind her and embrace her and cup her breasts in his hands and get a whiff of her neck. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her. He was a man. His needs were a man’s, but he knew she’d shrug him off again. He saw it coming. He knew it was coming. “Did you talk to him?”
“It’s all static. He’s not picking me up.”
“That wouldn’t keep him from making his rounds. He didn’t call in or anything?”
“No. You better go check. You won’t have any crop left.”
Steven located Arti with his own radio. It found him at the south end of the corn field. He decided to walk out there.
“What happened, Artie?”
“Two young men with crossbows. I can’t reach the bolts in my back – battery-powered magnetic tips – I can’t walk. They beat me. Why did they beat me, Steven?”
“Crop thieves. Do you know who it was?”
“I scanned their eyes – Doyle and Noble Barclay. They live thirty-one kilometers south.”
“I’m coming, Arti. Five minutes.”
“Thank you, Steven.”
“I’m sorry, Arti.”
Steven found Arti seated beside the road. He was beat up. There were two crossbow bolts in his back. His clothes were torn apart. Steven pulled the bolts out.
“Thank you, Steven. I can walk now.”
“Come on up to the house, Arti. I’ll get you some new clothes and patch up your skin. They tore up your face pretty bad.”
“Yes. I can feel it.”
Arti followed Steven back to the house. “Sit down here on the porch, Arti. I’ll get the kit.”
Margie didn’t like Arti in the house. She didn’t like him looking at her.
“Did you find him?”
“He was at the south end. Those Barclay boys got at him again. Arti identified them. Where’s the kit, Margie.”
“Must be where you left it last. Call Sheriff Barclay. He’ll do something.”
Steven was talking to Margie’s back as she sliced the beef into little cubes. He had no idea how she had grown to despise the farm. It was nice in the beginning on the front porch with the mornings and the silence under the stars at night. That was then. Now her clothes and her furniture smelled like pigs and chickens. Pigs and chickens are disgusting. Her mind was made up; soon as this corn gets harvested, if there’s anything left of it with Arti on the blink, by God, she was off to new horizons.
“You know how Barclay feels about Arti. He’ll scratch his stubble and promise to get right on it, but he won’t.”
She dropped the beef into the sizzling oil to put a nice crisp on it. She liked the smell of cooked beef. Then she’d add the potatoes and carrots and mushrooms. She wouldn’t tell Steven, but she’d use the bottled water. There’s no better way to ruin a pot of good stew than that terrible well water.
“Margie, did you make up a grocery list for me?”
“Margie– It’s not like you have that much to do around here. If I don’t come home with the right stuff, I don’t want to hear about it.”
“Have it your way.”
“You could show a little enthusiasm.”
When Steven was gone to town, Margie poured her first cup of coffee of the day. She dumped the pot she made for Steven and made her own with bottled water.
She went onto the porch to smoke.
Arti looked at her. “Good morning, Margie.”
“Arti, go stand over by the pump.”
“ ‘Yes, ma’am.’ ” She didn’t like his voice, either.
Arti stood silent by the pump. His body shivered for a moment, then he stood still as a fence post. There wasn’t a drive in his body that didn’t need to be replaced. They were expensive and hard to find. Margie shook her head. “Everything on this damned farm needs to be fixed.”
She watched Arti, standing statue still. “You’re the main reason I’m leaving, Arti.”
“I didn’t do anything, Margie.”
Why not now? Margie wondered. That Ford in the garage is mine. It’ll get me to Chicago. What am I waiting for?
It was late evening when Steven returned. He called Arti on his way back from town. “Arti, meet me at the south end of the field.”
Arti stood waiting at the edge of the field. Steven pulled up beside him. “I have something for you, Arti.”
Steven took out his radio and pressed Arti’s contact button. A red light glowed under Arti’s shirt. When the red light turned green, Steven pressed ‘send’. In a few seconds, it was done. The green light faded and went out. Arti had received a new program.
There was not a trace of Margie at the house. Steven checked the dresser drawers and the closet. Her things were gone. All of her things were gone from the bathroom. No point in checking the garage. After he had put the groceries in the pantry, he looked around the kitchen. “Good riddance.”
He opened a can of beer and sat on the porch under the stars with his pipe. “God bless you, Margie.” The crickets held council and the ten o’clock freight hummed by, three thousand feet above the house.
That night the Barclay boys showed up again carrying axe handles. Arti came charging at them, snarling, his eyes glowing red. They stood frozen, wide-eyed, their mouths hanging open. Doyle, the younger brother, swung his axe handle. Arti wrenched it from his hands and broke it over his knee. He grabbed Doyle and threw him hard to the ground and went for his throat, wobbling his head and gnashing his teeth. Doyle screamed until his voice failed to a whisper. Arti allowed the boy to push his head away. Then he went to his stomach, gnashing his teeth and snarling. Doyle felt Arti’s cold face against his stomach. Arti detected the smell of human urine. The other brother, Noble, was unable to move. Arti grabbed him and threw him hard on top of Doyle. He snarled again and went for Noble’s throat and then for his stomach. Noble screamed, kicking and pushing against Arti, and wet himself.
Arti kneeled on top of them, his voice gruff and hollow, like that of an animal. “You will never come here again. Tell me. You will never come here again.”
Doyle could barely speak. “No. We won’t come here. I swear to God. I swear to God.”
Arti grabbed Noble’s hair and pulled his head back so far it choked him. He whispered into his ear. “And you?”
“Gaakh – I promise. We won’t – gaakh – come here again. Please – kkkkh – Le’me go. P–Please.”
Arti let them up, all the while snarling, his eyes glowing. “Run,” he growled. “If I see you stop, I’ll come after you.”
The Barclay boys scurried into their pickup and sped away.
Arti returned to his rounds, walking casually through the rows of corn.
Steven took out his radio.
“Everything alright out there?”
“Yes, Steven. It’s peaceful and quiet.”
“It’s such a beautiful night. Why don’t you come on up and sit on the porch a spell?”
Arti replayed Steven’s request. He walked through the corn toward the house, listening to Steven’s voice, his breathing and his heartbeat, and he looked up at all the vast star–lit heaven Steven could see. “She’s gone, isn’t she, Steven?”