William Reichard

Midwest Landscape: Unexplained Death

Sunlight, filtered through a liquid lens, ripples as it reaches toward the lake’s bottom. In winter, it cannot reach the lake’s silt floor. He was in the truck when they found him. His eyes open, as if looking out through the water, searching for every other lost thing that rested where he rested. Not a heart attack, the officials said, not alcohol or drugs, no medical condition. No one will say suicide in a small town. It could cause decades of talk, and his family wanted him buried in the Catholic cemetery, next to his son, who’d died of AIDS (though they called it cancer) over twenty years before. He was simply dead. Having lived his whole life in that place, he knew where the aeration system sat at the bottom of the lake; the system’s pump kept ice from sealing the water’s surface in winter, so the fish wouldn’t suffocate. That’s where the police found him a few days after he went missing, his body gently rocking in the icy water.

 

Midwest Landscape: Long Gravel Drive

These homesteads, where no one has lived for decades, are set apart, sinking ruins on the prairie. A teenage rite of passage requires a boy, full of bravado, to visit, but he doesn’t stay long. When he returns he brags to his friends about how he went in the house, even ran upstairs and looked out the broken window of a room ruined by a collapsing ceiling. He calls his friends chickenshits, but he’ll never go back. He’s heard the sound the tall grass makes, the wind in the trees, that hissing, like faint voices whispering from the fields.

No one knows how long ago it happened. It’s myth now, though, like most myths, it’s rooted in fact. There was a large family, an unsettled debt. One warm spring Sunday, the women in the family went to Mass and the men stayed home to start working the fields. Someone came by. No one knows who, but he must have been angry. He tracked the men, one by one, and bludgeoned each with a claw hammer. Even the boy who took to the field and tried to run to the neighbor’s was caught, and found later, his blood feeding the hungry soil. When the women returned, the scene repeated. No survivors. No suspects. Only an abandoned parcel of land, a spooky house with bloodstained floors, which no one will ever purchase.

Author Portrait

William Reichard is a writer, editor, and educator. He’s published five collections of poetry, most recently, Two Men Rowing Madly Toward Infinity (Broadstone Books, 2016). Reichard is the editor of the anthology American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social Justice (New Village Press, 2011). He lives in Saint Paul, MN.