No Cell Can Hold by Ross McMeekin

by JHow on April 30, 2013

in Announcements, Bonus Content, Fiction

Corn
One midsummer morning, out in the middle of his acreage, a farmer peeled back the tough, grainy leaves of a fresh husk of corn, expecting to find inside a developing cob. But instead, peaking from below the damp silk was a World War I era hand bomb with a propeller on the end, the type that, decades ago, a biplane pilot like the Red Baron might have thrown from the cockpit upon enemy encampments when they could be spotted clearly from a break in the clouds.

The farmer brushed away the silk and found that the shell of the bomb had a soft, gentle, blued glaze; though the model was old in design, its condition appeared factory new. He suspected it might still be live, so he was glad he hadn’t removed the pile of sheets from the flatbed of his pickup, the sheets he’d been using the day before to help a neighbor haul furniture. He unrolled the sheets, matted them across the bed of his truck, and set the heavy pill gently down.

The farmer continued harvesting and found bombs on nearly every mature stalk; he chuckled each time one appeared from behind its leafy wrap. My word. By late afternoon he’d collected so many that the shocks above the back wheels of his pickup began to sink nearly to their source beneath the bombs’ collective weight.

Once the bed was full, the farmer stopped to consider what to do now with a truck full of vintage bombs. He was a devout man; he’d prayed for miracles every night before falling asleep since he was a little boy. This, however, was the first affirmative answer to those prayers he’d ever witnessed. But it seemed odd; he questioned how the bombs might be useful to anyone or for anything. After some more thought, he felt okay with not knowing. He was, after all, only human, and knowledge of the specific activities of the Lord were above his pay-grade.

In the end, he decided it best to call the authorities. They might know how to proceed. So he drove along the dirt road that split his farmland, back towards his house.

***

Two officers arrived on his property in a white government cruiser just as the last flickers of sunlight painted the edges of an approaching thunderhead purple. The farmer greeted them, dispatched the niceties, and walked them out to his shed, explaining along the way all that had happened. The officers listened and nodded and took notes on spiral-ringed notepads.

Once inside the shed, the farmer slid the tarp from the top of the flatbed, revealing beneath the overhead dome lights the stockpiled results of the day’s harvest. The officers walked around the cache, picking up bombs here and there, breathing on them and rubbing them dry with their wrists, spinning the propellers with their fingers, and occasionally jotting down a note or two.

Finally, one of the officers spoke: “Do you have a license for these?”

“Like I said, they were inside, where the corn should have been.” To prove his point, the farmer handed one of the officers a fresh husk.

The officer peeled back the organic material. Sure enough, inside gleamed another bomb, identical in every way to the rest.

“Miraculous,” said the farmer.

“Give us a moment,” the officer said, and he and his partner stepped outside the door of the shed and spoke to each other in quiet whispers, at times making subtle gestures to the famer and his burdened truck.

While they talked, the farmer walked over to the flatbed, picked up one of the explosives, and tested its weight in his palm. He grinned. So much of what happened on the farm–the crops, the rotations, the tasks that came with each season–could be predicted years in advance. That predictability brought a slow warming his heart, a warmth that did a good enough job sustaining his spirit that it felt ungrateful to complain. But rarely did it bring excitement.

So this? This was something else. Regardless of what the bombs were for, he hadn’t felt anything of the like in years, maybe decades.

The officers closed their notebooks and stopped speaking. One of them took up his palmed radio and called in a series of numbers. The other walked back inside towards the farmer and pulled handcuffs from the clip on his utility belt. He began to speak: “You have the right to remain silent–”

It made no sense to the farmer what was happening. What did he do? As he held out his wrists and felt the cold metal bands clamp tight to his skin, he only wished he’d employed earlier the right the officer was now going on and on about; silence might have saved him. But how could he have stayed silent about a miracle? How could anyone?

The vinyl seats in the back of the government sedan sighed beneath the weight of his body. They drove off in the dark and the dirt road splitting his farmland seemed to crackle in protest beneath the tires as the sedan carried them away. The farmer hadn’t a clue what was to become of him, and he felt afraid, but alongside that fear, inside his chest, was a warmth that refused to chill: he figured if corn stalks could grow bombs, if men could be arrested for telling the truth, then his story could still end well.

They turned onto the smooth county highway, and the thunderhead arrived, throwing rain against windshield like so many beads. No one spoke. The farmer looked down and saw the manner in which his hands lay shackled in his lap, as if the only act they were still allowed was prayer, as if today hadn’t proved his prayers were far more dangerous than the crimes he’d never commit.

Ross McMeekin’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Tin House, Shenandoah, Folio, PANK, Hobart, and Green Mountains Review. His essays have appeared in The Rumpus and Hunger Mountain. He received a MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and edits the literary journal Spartan.

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