On going back

The old house was in many ways just as it had been when he’d left. There was the woodshed, the pen for animals awaiting slaughter, the shutters keeping out the dust. The door hung crooked as always. He gave it a nudge. It swung easily, as if opened from inside.

Was this really where he’d planned his ascent? Or had he returned in search of something else. In his years here he’d been happier, in many ways, than wealth and influence had ever made him.

The slatted wooden table was now pocked by borers. He sat on a rickety chair and imagined his mother ailing here alone. After her letter he’d moved her into a fancy place. She’d lived another three good years—kept alive as much by pride in his achievements as by the doctors he hired. He visited her at Christmas.

A songbird trilled from the pines. He remembered the sparkling eyes of the town girl she’d told him to forget. It was at this very table. ‘You and I are simple folk. Fly too high, fall too far.’ Until the day she died she’d blamed his sadness, his loneliness, on not heeding those words.

Thurston Harkness, who owned half the state, stared out a glassless window at wild hills and whispered to himself.