Dance to the Whisperer
Steven H. Short
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The sun lightens the soft rolling land on a cool spring day as a lone car speeds along the narrow asphalt Nebraska highway, noticed only by an occasional sparrow or crow, or by the lone four legged scavenger that roams the roadside ditch looking for its next meal. The two occupants, both men, are quiet as the car carries them to their designation. Rico Perez, the passenger, occasionally nods off into a sleep created by the boredom of watching the simple, open landscape the area offers, wakening only when the car jilts from a bump in the road or when his head hits the passenger window as he nods off. Nelson Turner, the driver, is a tall six foot one with wavy blonde hair. A graduate from the University of Nebraska with honors in civil engineering in 1935, he opened his own construction company in Omaha in spring of 1940. The company’s first big break comes in the spring of 1942 when it’s hired by the United States Government to build airbases in southern and central Nebraska.
The Second World War is in its infancy and airbases are needed badly to train pilots and crewmembers for America’s new work horses, the B-17 and B-24 bombers. Rico accompanies Turner to help manage the project. A laborer at first, he worked his way up to become Turners right hand person, and, although not admitted by either man, the two are close friends.
Turner sits back and concentrates on the road ahead, occasionally looking down at the round dial in the middle of the cars dashboard, monitoring its speed. Seventy miles per hour it reads as the 1934 Chevy coupe glides through the bottom of a hill, then receding slowly to sixty miles per hour mark as the car begins to ascend up the other side.
After having traveled three hundred miles, Nelson notices fatigue beginning to set in. His eyes are becoming heavy and his head begins to tilt to one side, slowly he falls off into a sleep. Suddenly, feeling the uncontrollable movement of the steering wheel, he’s awakened by the jostling of the car as it enters the ditch on the opposite side of the road. Turner reacts quickly to bring the car under control and brakes to a stop, careful to not press heavily on the pedal for fear of putting the car into a skid. He looks over at Rico, who is awake and staring straight ahead.
“You OK, boss?” Rico ask.
“Yep, I’m ok, you ok?” Turner asks back. Concerned that he might have injured his friend with his carelessness.
“Yea, I’m alright.” Rico replies “Where are we anyway?” he continues on, looking out the windshield, seeing only the open land in front of him.
“I figure we’re about half an our out of Fairington. I’m going to get out and get some fresh air and wake up.” Nelson informs him.
Nelson gets out of the car and stretches his arms out as far as he can, feeling the muscles stretch and loosen. He walks around the car, breathing in the morning air, feeling the warmth of the sun on his shoulders.
Feeling more awake, he gets back into the car, starts it and pulls the Chevy back onto the highway towards Fairington. Rico falls back asleep within the first mile.
After traveling a few miles and upon exiting a long shallow curve, Nelson sees the outlining of a tall structure protruding from an area of trees. As he gets closer he begins to make out the name “Fairington” stenciled in big black letters on the side of a tall water tower. Just to the left of the tower, the white steeple of the local church lifts itself above the trees, displaying its spiritual power over the land.
As Turner approaches the small town his eye catches the speed limit sign on the right side of the road and he slows the car to the required limit of thirty-miles-an-hour. He scans the scene ahead of him looking for the intersection where he will turn. His instructions told him to turn on the first gravel road on the east side of town, turn left and follow the road for five miles. Turner finds the corner, slows and turns the steering wheel, hitting the bumpy gravel road enough to wake Rico. For a short moment, Rico notices the skeletal outline of the tall trees, their branches reaching high showing the slight tint of green of the new spring growth. He smiles and nods back to sleep.
Five miles from the town, Nelson Turner brings the car to a stop along side the road next to a long ago harvested cornfield. He exits the car and walks towards the lifeless field, stopping just short of the first row of battered corn stalks. With his hands on his hips he turns slowly from left to right, keenly eyeing the field and its terrain. He takes a deep breath and smells the air’s clean crisp scent.
“Rico, we’ve got a big job ahead of us here, they say we have to have it built in four months! Ready to go for the first planes to arrive.” He yells as he turns his head back towards the car where his assistant, is just waking up from boredom induced nap.
“Jez, might as well tell me to end the war at the same time.” Turner mumbles.
“Yea, big job here, Nelson.” Rico says as he approaches Turner, rubbing the sleep out of his left eye, “But we should have it completed on time. We’ll just have to work longer hours.”
The two stand side by side for several minutes, each man gazing over the lifeless field, their minds mulling over every detail of what it will take to get the project done on time.
“That tree grove will have to come out,” Rico mentions, pointing that direction.
“Yep, we can cut that hill over there and use it to fill the draw,” Nelson replies.
The two men begin to walk along the edge of the field, careful not to get their shoes muddy, exchanging technical jargon and reviewing their plans.
The time was approaching noon and Nelson was beginning to feel the rumblings of hunger in his belly.
“Let’s go into town and get some lunch,” Nelson says as he turns and begins walking back towards the car. “I think I saw a café on the highway as we entered town.”
“Yea, and if I remember right, I think it’s your turn to buy lunch,” Rico quips quickly.
“How do you figure? I bought last night.” Turner questions.
“Thought I’d see if I could get you to buy twice boss man,” Rico laughs and gets into the car.
Turner wheels the car around in the middle of the road, spinning the tires and kicking gravel as he accelerates towards Fairington.
The two men continue to engage in technical construction jargon during the short trip back to town, find the restaurant located conveniently along highway 65 and park their car in front. Turner opens the drivers’ side door and proclaims “Last to the Café
door buys!” and quickly exits before Rico can get his hand on the door handle. Turners quick exit and long legs give him the advantage and he arrives at the entrance to the door first. He opens it and enters, looking for seat for him and Rico.
“Help yourself gentlemen, sit yourselves anywhere you like, we’ll be with you in a jiffy,” came the voice of a rotund, gray haired woman behind the counter.
Turner spots a booth along the wall and proceeds to sit down, with Rico right behind him.
“That was not fair, and you know it!” Rico protested.
“Ah, quit being such a sore loser and lets eat,” replies Turner.
Both men pick up a single page, type written menu and scan for something that fits their appetite.
“This sounds good, sliced ham, potatoes, gravy and, why does this not surprise me, corn.” Says Rico.
“Hello, gentlemen, what can I get for you today?” Ask the busty, rotund woman who was behind the counter when they entered.
“I’ll take the ham and potatoes with gravy,” answers Rico.
“Make that two,” adds Turner.
“Anything to drink?” the waitress ask.
“Two coffees, please.” Says Turner as he watches Rico’s reaction.
Turner moves his head, watching the half a dozen or so people sitting, conversing and enjoying their afternoon lunch. The clientele varied in age and dress; local farmers he thought. At one table he watches an old man outfitted in the traditional farmer bibbed overalls, his face wrinkled and hands covered with the brown spots of age sipping his coffee. Sitting across from him is what Turner thinks is his wife, an older white haired woman, her face showing the deep lines of life that have been carved over time, her fingers continually fumbling with the white collar of her dress. In the booth in the far corner of the room, Turner pays close attention to a young couple sitting across from each other, their elbows on the table and hands interlocked, her young face showing the signs of sadness as tears drip off of her cheeks. The young man, wearing a purple letter sweater with gold chevrons sewn on the sleeve, reaches across the table and wipes the tear off with a napkin. He’s talking, shaking his head from side to side. Turner assumes he’s telling her he’s entering the war. Feeling some what ashamed and sad, knowing he won’t have to enter the war due to his draft status being classified 4F, he watches the young man comfort the girl, sadness also covers his face.
Turner tried to enter into the Army Air Corp to become a fighter pilot shortly after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, but a crushed left shoulder from a car accident four years prior made him unable to do the physical requirements of the military. So his commitment to the war effort turned to helping out on the home land.
He turns back toward Rico to see the dark skinned Mexican reading the local small town newspaper, “The Fairington Express.” He notices the headlines of one the articles, “Eli Johnson claims government stole his land to build Airbase!”
“Where’d you get the newspaper?” Turn ask.
“It was sitting here on the seat next to me.” Rico replies.
“Looks like some of the locals aren’t too happy about the airbase coming in.” Turner says.
“Yea, I read that. The old man thinks the government stole his land, didn’t give him fair price on it, and the worst part about it is, when the war is over, he can’t get it back! How do ya like that?” Rico says.
“I don’t,” Turner responds.
The waitress approaches with two coffees in her hand and sits them down on the table in front of the two strangers. “Your lunches will be up shortly gentlemen, anything else?” she asks.
“Not at the moment, thanks,” Turner replies. He continues to read the article on the back page about the unhappy farmer. Sad he thinks, here is a person who’s family has owned this land for nearly a sixty years, and the government comes in a takes it away from him, never making it available to him again. Doesn’t seem right. Although he understands the sacrifices that citizens of the country must make during the time of war, it disturbs him that they can be so unemotional about it, uncaring.
Turner’s thoughts are interrupted upon the arrival of the waitress bringing their food.
“There ya are gentlemen, need anything?” She asks.
“No thanks.” The two say simultaneously.
The two hungry men begin to eat as their conversation focuses on their upcoming work at the airfield.
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