Because life would never again be so uncomplicated
it is recalled with intense affection
a summer, the last of university.
Weeks spent in the country, working on a farm.
Time paused. Saffron days. Butterscotch sunsets. Star bright nights
and a girl, almost a woman, from the house up the road
whose gaze lingered a second or two more than necessary.
At mealtimes and breaks, when the mood was right
perhaps as many as many as six times that summer
the farmer, quiet, intelligent and deep would pour a second cup
of bitumen tea and read aloud from his volume of stories.
He had grown up when radio was king
and had learned
the magic needed to cast a spell by voice alone
his one-man plays had no need for scenery or special effects
compelling listening, especially one about the vanished neighbour.
A couple youngish, late 30’s perhaps, no children and a business in town
new to the district, kept to themselves, friendly enough
but didn’t seem to have any friends – too busy probably, with jobs and a farm.
Their property was elevated with views past fields to the distant bay
expensive that was known, a heavy mortgage suspected.
After a year or two while on holiday in a nearby resort
the husband is boating on a lake often draped with morning mist.
When the wet curtain lifts – an empty stage – not a trace.
A mystery. Some were not surprised. The waters haunted according to legend.
Mid 1960’s still an innocent country, the police and coroner understanding.
Once formalities were completed the life insurance was paid
the sum very large. There are no secrets in small provincial cities.
After a short but not indecently brief interval of grieving
the widow sold and quietly left the district, too many memories he imagined
and with no friends to stay in touch, never heard from again.
A dozen years, later entirely by chance, the farmer is walking
through the most affluent suburb in the nation’s largest city
when he sees a man who looks identical to the dead husband.
The story ended as they always did with a crushed cigarette
and the sighed observation that work wasn’t getting done.
His stories were perfect crystals of fact
no impurities of opinion or interpretation
the narrative stood alone, never needing annotation or footnote.
Fraudster or doppelganger – he gave no clue
that was for me to decide.
Often that summer I would gaze at the property of doubt … and wonder.