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The Water Tower

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“Things been pretty good haven’t they.”

“Yeah Will. They been good. Real good.”

“Shit Jer that ain’t what I mean. I mean things have been right between us. You know like we done right by each other?”

“Damn Will ” Jerry says “you know you always did right by me and more. A damn lot more.”

“All right. All right. I jes’ want to know we’re settled.”

“In spades Will. In spades.”

“Good.” Will speaks feebly. “That’s a comfort ya’ know. A real comfort.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Each man sits quietly for several minutes until Will speaks again.

“You know, Jerry…”

“Yeah, Will?”

“ I’d sure love to see them crops again.”

“They look good, Will. They look real good.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know, but I’d jes like to see it for myself, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. But you gotta stay here till you get better…”

“Jerry…” Will turns ashen. He looks first at his friend and then out the one window of the intensive care unit.

“Jerry. I ain’t getting better. I ain’t ever getting better.”

Will turns back to Jerry and looks up at his friend. Jerry looks away. There is a tear in his eye. Jerry wipes his nose as though it needed it and catches the tear with his red bandana. He glances around. The hospital room is empty. The nurses are away tending to some other patient down the hall. Jerry turns back to his frail buddy. He speaks quietly.

“Look, you don’t say nothing to nobody ‘bout this, you hear.”

Will nods.

Jerry disconnects Will’s IV line. He unplugs the impersonal monitors and instruments that have his friend hogtied. He manages to roll Will off the bed and onto a wheelchair. He slips Will out the back door of the hospital unnoticed and into his pickup truck.

Together, they drive out to Will’s farm, kicking up a roiling cloud of dust in their wake. Will looks out over the countryside. For a moment, Jerry can imagine he and his friend are just out for another ride to see the crops. He imagines they will drive around like old times seeing what there is to see and that afterward, everything will all right again.

Jerry stops the pickup on a ridge overlooking Will’s farm. There’s a crop of corn growing up thick and straight. Jerry opens the passenger door. Using his one good arm, he cradles Will like a sack of grain and carries him out into the field. He gently lays him down in a clearing between two rows of cornstalks. The two men sit for a spell in the shadow of waving leaves and corn silk. Jerry breaks off a stem of brome grass to crew on. He gives another to Will. They sit together for a very long time, not talking about anything.

“Yup, you were right Jerry. Looks to be a real good crop. Real good.”

“Don’t it, Will? Don’t it though?”

It would be past dark before Jerry gets Will back to the hospital. Jerry catches hell from the chief resident. He dismisses the twerp doctor with a shrug and walks away without regret. The next day, Will is dead. This would have been a good story for Peter to have heard. Someday he will.

After another couple of hours, Peter leaves his desk and lies down on the studio sofa. He falls into a deep sleep. He will not know it, but while he sleeps, his friends will drape a placard around his neck. It reads: “Farm Boy Sleeping. Do Not Disturb.”

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