By Paul Teese

The crunch and ping of pebbles under my tires stopped as I slid the old pickup onto the weedy shoulder of the dirt road. I turned the key, and the engine coughed and died. A sudden quiet transformed the early morning scene, and let my senses come alert. The sun was peeking above the slate-blue ridge to the east, slanting into the meadow and warming the dew. An ephemeral silver mist lifted through shafts of angled light.

I sat for a moment, windows down, sipping hot coffee, the aroma of vanilla mixing with the stink of dissipating gas fumes. Finally, I stepped from the cab and bent to cinch my laces, the leather coming snug around my feet.

I rose to face a sea of tall grass before me and waded in, leaving a wake of flattened vegetation. Quickly, the dew soaked my jeans, chilling the skin of my legs. The ground beneath was wet, and every stride I took was accompanied by the swish of damp leaves and the suck of sodden earth tugging at my boots. Mixed among the grasses were flowers of white, yellow, pink and purple, some festooned with drooping webs.

Far into the meadow, I paused, stooped and uprooted a stalk with tiny flowers. Its stem was square as I rolled it in my fingers. I pinched off a leaf, crushed it, and inhaled. Wild mint. A faint flutter of wings drew my attention. I peered back over my shoulder. Whatever the bird, it was long gone, but almost underfoot, behind me, lay a fawn. It watched me, all eyes and legs. The only movement was the quick rise and fall of its ribs. It seemed as fragile as the flowers I’d walked past. I gave myself a minute to fix it all in my memory, the wet nose, the texture and dapple of the fur, the notch of the hoof. That was enough.

I turned back to the truck, now small in the distance, and began the return trek. I felt like a kid and yanked at a grass stem. It squeaked as the top slid off, and I clinched it in my teeth. But the closer I got to the truck, the more bitter it tasted. The hard road came with a jolt. I tossed the blade on the road and saw how stark it looked in the dust. The bent rusty door of the truck let out a metallic groan as I pulled it open. I slid in, and just before I turned the key, I thought I heard the faint rumble and wail of some distant freight train heading God knows where.

Paul Teese was born and raised on Long Island. He attended Gettysburg College where he majored in Business Administration. Over his varied work life, he has been a tennis instructor, an officer in the USAF, a federal bureaucrat, an ecological researcher, an instructor at a university, the director of a small non-profit, and a candidate for public office. Along the way, he took a few years off to live on a commune where he learned to milk cows and weave hammocks. Now retired, he has recently taken up creative writing and is working on his first novel, The Flora of Heaven. He lives with his wife in a quiet village in rural upper Bucks County.