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Kathy Bradley - Cornfields and Kool-Aid
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Kathy Bradley

    With all the rain we’ve gotten lately, from Beryl and various other low-pressure systems, the corn may well be as high as an elephant’s eye. My memories of the Grant Park Zoo, formed when I was considerably shorter than I am now, leave me a little vague as to how high that is exactly, but it is, I think, safe to assume, higher than my head and the corn is definitely that.
    When we were children, Keith, Aunt June and I used to run through the cornfield chasing each other and playing "Bonanza" while Mama, Daddy and Grannie broke the ears that would be cut and scraped and bagged and put into the freezer so that on every Sunday table for the coming year there would be a bowl of sweet creamy summer. We ran through rows that still held the warmth of late afternoon sun, tattooing our bare feet with stone bruises and tagging our arms and legs with the graffiti of bright red blood, tiny cuts sliced by the razor-edge of corn fronds.
    Stray hairs découpaged with sweat against our foreheads, we did not stop until dark, until our parents’ arms, buckets, car trunks were full of heavy green ears, and we could rush inside, past the swarm of bugs dive-bombing the porch light, and fall on the floor in front of the window-unit air conditioner. We stayed there, cotton shirts stuck to our backs, the salt in our sweat making tiny white clouds appear on the fabric as it dried, until Mama appeared with glasses of Kool-Aid, red like the jagged lines on our legs, in glasses dripping with condensation all the way across the kitchen floor.
    Some afternoons Daddy would walk outside to the edge of the field and break three of four ears on his way in from work. He would shuck them, strip away the ribbed husks and silky tassels, crack off the hard stems on the end with a quick snap and toss them under the broiler for a few minutes to roast. The kernels turned brown and chewy like caramel, and we would sit on the front steps to eat them, hands grasping either end of the cobs, elbows propped on knees to eliminate all unnecessary motion as we gnawed our way from one end to the other of this first, blessed offering of the season.
    There were no questions then. No uncertainties. No mistrust of anything in my world, the one that was triangulated by home and school and church. The one populated by people whose stories I knew, whose names were among the first words I learned, whose faces still materialize when I smell honeysuckle or stoop to pick verbena or taste homemade lemonade.
    Wistfulness moves through my body like a sudden chill. I am sitting on the deck, staring across the yard — not 25 feet — at the cornfield that rises like a green curtain, glowing with the sheen of a full-detail wax job. Straight as a plumb line the stalks stand in endless rows that stretch from here to there. From here to beyond there. From here to somewhere else. The tassels are pale gold and bobbing like a jester’s cap, a windsock of sorts. The ears are jutting out at just the right angle, three to a stalk, medals pinned to the chests of soldiers at attention.
    It could be the same field through which I ran wildly 45 years ago, slapping my thigh as though it were the flanks of a stallion, chasing Indians across the flat acres of the Ponderosa. But it is not the same field. I am not the freckled 10-year-old. My fatigue cannot be assuaged by a glass of Kool-Aid.
    I realize that I am halfway listening for the voice of James Earl Jones to come rolling out of the branch, the stalks to part and Shoeless Joe Jackson to walk into the yard. I am looking for salvation from a world beyond this one because — having left undone those things which I ought to have done and done those things which I ought not to have done far too often lately — I am too tired, too spent, too frustrated to save myself.
    There is, of course, no voice, no appearance, but I keep staring into the shimmering emerald shadows and, as I do, I feel my breath slowing, slowing to take in the sweet green scent of corn, which tickles me somehow. I laugh. At the memories, at my "Field of Dreams" imaginings, at the preposterous idea that I could, tired or frustrated or at my very best, ever save myself.
    And, suddenly, I recognize where I am. Not just at the edge of a cornfield, but at Point A of a brand new triangulation, a re-bar set, a monument laid, an altar where I can offer up a prayer of gratitude for all the stories I don’t yet know.

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