Down the road about two miles from my farm is a long, narrow, rutted path. You might not even notice it from the main road. It is almost never traversed. Clotted by weeds and rocks, it would be difficult to navigate for even the roughest off-road vehicles. But at the end of that unused turnpike lives a very strange man.
My grandmother used to know the Rudds. Her grandfather went to school with old Casper Rudd. Even back then, way back in Depression days, the Rudds were queer folk. They had a large family, Casper and his wife Mildred. Seven boys. And they nearly starved in good times—that farm gave out miserly crops. All the Rudds were skin and bone. So Grandma said they hardly noticed the Depression—all the same to them.
Only one of the Rudd boys ever married: the one called Victor. He hooked up somehow with a girl from some farm up north—he met her at the state fair, where they raffled off a tractor that year—every farmer from five counties wanted to win it. Her name was Gilda Trick, and she was over six feet tall but she spoke in a whisper. Her hair was so thin she was almost bald, Grandma said. Lucky to get a man, she said.
Gilda and Victor had a girl named Cornelia, and my mother saw Cornelia a few times. Those Rudds mostly kept to themselves. Cornelia was nearly ugly, but she had green eyes and silvery blond hair that startled everyone who saw her. Cornelia must have gotten out once in awhile, and those eyes and that hair garnered some attention. She got herself pregnant. Cornelia never left the farm. She had her boy Vladimir and just stayed on that hardscrabble place with her parents, farming what they could wrest out of that sterile soil. Gilda died first, of some God-awful and torturous ailment. It took five years for her to die. Victor went a year later. Not much to live for—as if there ever was over at that place.
Cornelia got crazy. One time, she went naked behind her plow, and another time, she showed up at the Baptist church in town wearing jeans and rubber boots. Nothing else. They said she was singing the whole time. When this happened, Vlad was a teenager, but he looked like an old man. Mother said he never shaved himself, and probably didn’t bathe much, either. They fetched him from the farm to take Cornelia home, but she wouldn’t stay there. So Vlad had to take her up to the State Hospital. He never visited, Mother said. Queer folks, the Rudds.
I don’t know if Cornelia is still alive. Mother died three years ago. I inherited this place from her, since my father left us twenty years ago for a “better life.” I came here from my own disaster of a marriage to try to keep on with this place.
I saw a rawboned shadow of a man walking past my far pasture last evening, right before the sun went down. He looked hunkered down and lost. Before I could get outside to hail him, he was gone.
He’s over there. All alone. I can’t think he eats well. He must be a hollowed-out kind of person. At least I have my dog. I wonder if he has any company at all: I have never heard a dog barking from that direction. For all it might be, he could have a crow for a companion—he looks the sort.
It’s a terrible loneliness, out on a farm, when there isn’t family. It turns people.
Tomorrow, I am going to take a walk down that path leading to the Rudd place.