“Diamond” Moore stepped carefully across freshly planted rows of corn; his boots pressing into soft soil releasing the scent of wet earth. Early April was often rainy except these rare sunny days, when a hint of summer was carried on the breeze from the west. The bright sky was filled with high clouds whose shadows raced across the fields in front of him as he walked. As a child, spring meant that school came to an end and he went to work for his father on the farm. Always difficult, he would say good bye to his friends, and his summer was spent wiping sweat from his brow in the center of a field just like this one.
His trips to the fields were now only the occasional walk. Early morning rides on an old International, black smoke belching from the stack, and an umbrella covering his head seemed recent when they were actually a wrinkle in his memory. He hadn’t farmed in twenty years, a link to his past broken by a string of bad luck when he was in his late forties. A drought, a foreclosure, and a second career as a machinist in Auburn had carried him to retirement.
Today was his anniversary. A day for his best bibs and favorite seed cap. A day that he sprinkled a little extra Old Spice on his collar. A day for the flower shop followed by the slow drive of a farmer thinking his way down gravel roads. The slow rusted Ford, barely kicking up dust, rolled to a stop near the edge of a field that held an ancient brick building in its northeast corner. One hid by vines and volunteer pines. One that the locals knew was there, but most often went unseen by the casual traveler. It was here that he had met her. It was here that his life began.
The sun aged bricks of Wilmington No.4 stood tall covered in thick ropes of ivy. A slab of Bedford Limestone still carried the year, 1902, when neighboring farmers had worked together to build the school. Their wives had gathered under some oaks to the east, talking and preparing lunch from covered baskets that they had brought with them. The bricks, bright red then, climbed slowly upward, carefully measured and leveled to form the walls. Men that worked in wood carefully planed raw lumber to build the window frames. The native pine was now cracked and beginning to rot, but the walls still proudly stood tall while holding the slate shingle roof. Time had eaten at the slate, here and there on the ground, lay broken shingles that were slowly melting into the earth from which they had been harvested.
Diamond paused and caught his breath with his right hand resting on the door frame. Each year the walk seemed to take a bit longer and wore him out just a bit more. His breath whistled slightly as it passed his lips. Smiling, he could almost hear her calling to him, “Is that my little Gem?” They had been so young then, and today he felt how long ago that really was.
Ruby was no farm kid; her white dress and black patent leather shoes proclaimed that this was not her choice; she’d rather be back in Fort Wayne surrounded by busy streets and large department stores. Despite her constant protests, Ruby’s father had moved his family to the country when the local doctor had passed away. Her eyes moved from one dirty face to another, pausing momentarily to meet Diamond’s, then on as the teacher introduced her from the front of the class.
His heart felt funny, sort of an ache, kind of jumpy while she told the students that she had no siblings, and that she hoped to get back to the city soon. She didn’t want to leave her friends but since she was only ten her parents gave her no choice. Even as she made it clear to them all that she had no desire to know them, he was lost in her black curls and emerald eyes. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and soon he wouldn’t be able to see her much. He would be in the fields while she continued to attend school. He might catch glimpses of her on Saturday nights in town but then, so would all of the other boys. He was ready to fight at the thought.
Ruby had cast a spell on him. He thought of her during class, he dreamed of her while chopping wood, and he prayed that God would make her his just before closing his eyes at night. He sat on a fence rail at recess, watching her read under a tree while the other children played and pretended not to notice her snubbing. They ignored her; playing and laughing extra loud to show her that they didn’t care that she refused to participate in their games. She looked beyond the pages of her book, beyond the dirt yard where jump rope and marbles were played, to a fence row where a stout farm boy sat on the fence. His gaze never leaving her direction; it held the blank look of being lost. She had to hide the grin that wanted to sneak across her lips.
When summer arrived and he was working in the fields, Ruby would often stroll by on an errand. She admired the young man as he guided the tractor down the rows of beans. She dared not look him in the eye as he came towards her, ignoring his greetings and waves. Inside her heart was reaching out to him, at times straining so hard it felt it might break.
She may have always seemed just out of his reach to Diamond had it not been for a sprig of mistletoe. The little green weed had been hung from the doorway and they had found themselves passing through together. He smiled and looked to the top of the doorframe remembering the soft touch of her lips and how his heart had raced. It was a feeling that each of her kisses had brought over the decades, even in her final days.
Stepping into the classrooms dark interior, he stopped to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim light. Student chairs tossed into piles slowly came from the shadows showing their age by wearing coats of dust. He could see their pair of chairs near the window, still holding his gift from the year before.
Removing dried stalks wrapped in green tissue, the skeletons of Baby’s Breath protested then broke into dust as his hand closed around them. He pulled the long dead daisies to his nose but could only catch the scent of time. The fresh bouquet took their place on the worn seat.
In the afternoon light, he stepped to the window frame and ran his hand down its scarred surface. He could feel the indentations he had carved with his Barlow knife, marking the years that they had been together, each surrounded by a heart. Moisture gathered in the corner of his eye when his index finger felt the numerals with no heart; the years since she had passed.
Until then, each April the two of them had come out together, marked the anniversary on the window frame, and then held each other in the dying light. They would slowly turn while watching the others eyes. A slight grin would creep onto her lips as she waited for the moment that Diamond would bellow, “it’s time to shine!” and begin to spin her slowly while scatting his version of Big Band music. His shaky baritone mixed with her high laughter would echo off the rafters and through the holes in the roof of the old schoolhouse.
There would be no dance today, only a swallow, a sigh and the sound of an old man fighting back tears in a dark room while he sat on a dusty child’s chair. His shining eyes looking through the dusted glass of the window searching for a smile in the dusty corners of his memory. Gnarled fingers pulled open the blade on his Barlow knife. His hands shook slightly as they set to work making their mark, while “Moonlight Serenade” began to creep from his lips.