L.B. Sedlacek has had poetry and fiction appear in different journals and zines. Her first short story collection came out on Leap Day 2020 entitled “Four Thieves of Vinegar” published by Alien Buddha Press. Her latest poetry books are “The Poet Next Door” (Cyberwit), “The Adventures of Stick People on Cars” (Alien Buddha Press), “The Architect of French Fries” (Presa Press) and “Words and Bones” (Finishing Line Press.) She is a former Poetry Editor for “ESC! Magazine” and co-hosted the podcast “Coffee House to Go.” LB also enjoys swimming, reading, and playing ukulele.
Barclay Clairview didn’t know much about blood transfusions. He did know that two people who had 0 positive blood couldn’t make an A positive child but that had not come up in a while. He licked his lips and stared at the sun. His lips felt like they were cracked and bleeding, but when he licked them they were dry and there was no blood. Warner had warned him to bring chap stick but he had dismissed the advice believing Warner, who sometimes went by Warnie, was a little too sensitive and delightful for a man wondering what he was doing using something like chap stick. He should’ve bought it anyway and he had tried, but when he ran into the convenience store in Iron Trail the clerk gave him a funny look as he picked up a tube of chap stick and started fingering it in his hands. He rolled the smooth tube around in his fingers noticing he had smudged it. He wiped it on his pants lifting it up high in the fluorescent lights. He didn’t want to go down for someone thinking he was stealing something as lame as a tube of stuff for girls that kept their lips soft and supple. That’s when he noticed the label. It was pink. It wasn’t the no flavor masculine looking kind with the black label. And it was bubblegum flavored. How did that look? How sensitive and delightful did he look? He tried to laugh if off. The clerk, some deep tanned kid behind the counter, glared at him and rifled a hand through equally dark and greasy hair. Barclay had washed his hair and taken a shower that morning. Warner had been right about that. He glared back at the clerk and muttered a “sorry, wrong stuff” and quickly grabbed a tin of chewing tobacco. He spat a wad out now wishing it was the chap stick, hell even the bubble gum stuff with the pink label. His lips were sorry now and so was he.
He licked his lips again and sat up lifting his arms in a wide stretch. He saw green. He pawed the dirt finding a wide blade of grass. He jerked it up, tore it in half and rubbed it on his lips. There wasn’t much moisture, but it was something. Warner had told him to bring an extra bottle of water. He hadn’t taken that piece of advice either. He wiped his brow with his sleeves. He stretched again, sighed and lay back down folding his arms up underneath his head. He remembered Warner telling him a story about a fellow who was parched and stuck at a junk yard somewhere in the middle of nowhere, or maybe it was California, he couldn’t remember. The guy was dehydrated. Dying of thirst. Maybe not dying, but getting close. He crawled to the car skeletons one by one ripping out any batteries or windshield wiper reservoirs he could find. He drained the liquid out of them drinking just enough to keep hydrated and not enough to make him too sick. Warner had told him all this while pacing around in a white bathrobe talking on his cell phone relaying the story in-between bursts of cell yell conversation.
He checked his cell phone. The face was smudged with dirt. Brown dirt. There was plenty of it. He could taste it on his lips. His tongue. It was in his eyes. He knew because he kept wiping his forehead with his sleeve. His shirt was smudged, but Warner had told him to wear dark blue jeans, nothing faded, torn, with holes in it, nothing like that and a dark t-shirt with no logos that would stand out, nothing white, yellow, orange, red or glow in the dark although he shouldn’t be out here that long. His watch was due to end around 8 pm or dusk whichever came first or whenever Warner came out in the truck. He had to wait till rush hour was over even though there wasn’t much of one off this two lane road about an hour from Charlotte. North Carolina still had farm land. Wide open spaces. Trees. Lots of trees. He could do with the shade of a tree now, he thought, then he thought again and realized Warner hadn’t called to check in, to make sure everything was all right, that no one had found him or anything else. He held up the cell phone underneath the tallest corn stalk. He couldn’t see the screen or the time. He checked the diamond shape in the corner. He knew it. Warner had to know it too. No signal. He sighed. Started to wipe his forehead and stopped. His shirt was starting to smell. He wrinkled his nose and sniffed. He was beginning to stink. He plopped down in the dirt and watched the corn stalks, the mighty green shining corn stalks, sway in what little bit of breeze poured through the field. He was in old man Harrison’s west corn field, the one furthest from the house, furthest from the main road, furthest from the low hum of the harvest tractors that hadn’t yet started their descent towards the bright green crop. He giggled a little and thought of a hot bag of popcorn with dripping butter like at the movies. It was hot enough for this corn to pop, he thought. He stared up at the sky and said a little prayer with another laugh. He prayed for his cell phone to have a signal, for Warner to call, for a drink of water, for no one to find him, and a tube of chap stick. He threw in a cosmic reset button that he wanted to look like the giant retail office supply store’s button used in some gimmicky commercial he’d seen on TV once, yeah he wanted it to look like that except he wanted it to be green but not as green as the corn. His button would just reset everything with a loud little pop and allow everything for him to start over again. This way when he did something stupid like forget chap stick he could just press the button and start over and buy it like he should’ve done in the first place. He checked his cell again.
“Come on, Warnie. It can’t be that hard to find a good spot to call from. I can get you when you’re out here sitting watch in the corn field.” He moved his tongue back and forth against his teeth several times until a small pool of saliva formed. He swallowed it and moved his tongue up and down alongside his teeth three more times. It was enough to take away the thirst pangs for a few minutes. He would brave Warner’s wrath, old man Harrison’s gaze, the rush hour traffic, the afternoon son and hotfoot it to a convenience, any convenience store including the one where he’d made an idiot out of himself with the bubble gum chap stick, just to get a bottle of water if one was close. He eyeballed the plants planted in long thin rows beneath the corn. The leaves were transparent, long and ridged with tiny indentions on the edges. Thin dark green veins glowed against the sun’s shimmer. He had heard that in some places the plants grew wild as high as twenty feet. He’d heard that new methods of reproduction had come into play, all indoors, all safer from being discovered by someone on foot, in a car or using binoculars from a helicopter.
He was assigned to this field by Warner. It had come down from the top. He wasn’t sure who Warner worked for but he did what he told him to do. The pay was good. Enough cash to pay rent on his one bedroom in Iron Trail. Enough to eat, clothe himself and a little extra leftover for unmentionables.
He pulled at his boxers. He kicked at the dirt. Jerked on a corn stalk. Grabbed a ripening ear of corn ripping it off with a tug. He peeled back the husks. The corn was not anywhere close to ripe. The kernels were firm and tough and try as he might he could only manage to tear a small hole in a few of them with his teeth. A tiny drop of moisture lingered on his lips. He ran his tongue over it thinking that it was sweeter than any liquid he’d ever tasted. He knew it was the sun, the heat, the smells, the dirt and being lost inside a corn field in the middle of the afternoon affecting his wandering thoughts. He knew Warner was late with his call and that in about two hours it was time for a shift change. Every time he’d sit watch, Warner always called. He sighed. Checked his cell again. Tried to see if there was a text message in his In Box.
He shoved the phone into his pocket plopping down in the dirt. He grabbed a handful of spindly leaves rolling them between his fingers. “Premium crop. This crop’s worth a lot.” He jerked a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. With clumsy fingers he tore the top of the cigarette paper just enough to let the tobacco fall free. The spindly leaves were harder to manage. He bit his lip chewing it hard until a small spurt of blood popped onto his tongue. “Here I am dripping A+ blood out in a corn field. What would my parents think? Almost got it. Almost.” He rubbed the leaves with his fingers, rubbed them fast so fast his fingers began turning green. Using his pinky finger to dab, he stuffed the cigarette paper full of leaf bits. Holding up the stick to the sun, he fumbled in his pockets finally producing a pack of matches. “Here we go.” In a few seconds, the hand made roll sputtered and spewed with a slight flame that burnt out and began burning in his fingers. It was a crude roll he knew, but what else did he have to do? He stuck out his tongue and tasted it. The first taste to the lips, the tongue, was just as good, no better, than the first drag on a ciggie, he thought. It was the first drag that kept him going, kept him on a leash of sorts to Warnie, kept him accepting last minute assignments like this one from Warnie, kept him happily estranged from his parents kept him holed up in the middle of nowhere in Iron Trail with the glass high rises and downtown townhouse living of Charlotte just out of his cash flow’s reach. He figured Warner knew he took samples a time or two. It was more like ten or twenty, he had lost count because the sampling was half the fun and sometimes he even wondered if Warner didn’t want him to sample because then he could find out just what scale the crop, the crop under his watch, was on. The sun would half bake his brain, the weed would bake the other half and then he’d be done, content to soak up ants, dirt and sweat until the next shift came by or a buyer came through and then they’d spend the night underneath the moonlight filing backpacks, paper sacks, whatever they had with the magical bounty. It was magical, he thought, this one was superb, the high a buzz like he’d never experienced.
That’s where he was when it happened. When the boot struck his face. The baseball bat on the back of the head. The fist in his mouth. Warner hadn’t come alone. Warner yelled that he hadn’t been approving his sampling all along having suspected another flunky for the longest time and when this flunky didn’t come round no more the only one left to suspect was him, Barclay Clairview, the big dumb moron who was too stupid to bring water to the cornfield, to buy chap stick for his parched lips, yep that was him the fellow laying in the dirt now surrounded by corn stalks, his own A+ blood and a pile of green leafed plants heaped upon him like a blanket, a blanket dogs could easily sniff out bringing their uniformed buddies with them, bringing the heat upon him worse than any sunburn.
He thought of his invention, the cosmic reset button and knew if he had one he’d use it on Warnie first. Zap. Zap. Zap! Barclay swallowed his own spit and blood tasting metal. He knew it wouldn’t be the last time he would taste it as his ears tingled slightly from the sound of sirens just on the horizon.