The Sawmill
By HarryB
Published: February 6, 2010
Updated: February 6, 2010

The Sawmill

by Harry Buschman


Sheila put the picnic basket down and stretched the blanket neatly in the grass. She sat down and looked up at the moon just rising over the far end of the lake, “There's going to be a full moon tonight,” she said.

“Gibbous,” Richie said.

“What's gibbous?”

“When the moon's past full. There was a full moon last night. You remember that from science class, right?”

“Not really. Looks full enough to me.” She began emptying the picnic basket. “You hungry?”

Richie stood up and faced the lake. “You can’t hear the saw-mill. It ain’t the same without the saw-mill. It’s shut down. They've stopped night-work ... next it'll be weekends.”

“It'll pick up again. I've got fried chicken – I asked you before. You hungry? I know how much you like chicken.”

“It's the trees, the old trees are almost gone now. They're making particle board out of the sawdust.” He sat down on a corner of the blanket. "My father worked at that mill all his life, so did yours, Sheila.”

“There will always be a sawmill. This is Millville for God's sake. You want a Diet-Coke?”

He drew his knees up to his chest and looked at Sheila. “How come you can't see it?”

“What, Richie? See what? What's wrong with you lately? Ever since the carnival went through here last summer you haven’t been the same.”

“I won the gold engagement ring at the ring toss game, remember?”

Sheila held up her left hand. “Still there. The finger's turned green but the ring is still there. I'm waiting for a real one, how long can I wait, Richie ... Richie?”

“How long does it take for a tree to grow?”

“That’s a hell of a thing to say.”

“This is a one job town, Millville. Like the mining towns in West Virginia – it’s mining or nothing. In Millville it’s the trees for the sawmill. When the trees are gone, the sawmill goes. I’ll have a chicken leg. No coke.”

“Y’never talked this way before the carnival went through.”

“I know. That’s when I realized there is a best time in your life ... a one time. I keep it to myself and only let it out when things get tough and I can’t stand it no more – when things get so bad I just shut my eyes and wait for the one time to come back and lay its sweet hands on me and give me peace. Then I can see the Ferris wheel and the carrousel and the roller coaster. The music comes back, and the smell of onions and pop corn and mustard and sauerkraut as sweet as the first whiff of a new lit joint. It's sad, Sheila, because it brings the question back to me. Why didn't I go with the carnival, the freaks and the acrobats and leave this dying town behind me?”

Sheila passes him a chicken leg on a paper plate. “Go off with the carnival? Leave without me?”

“Would you let me go alone?”

Sheila popped the cap on a Diet-Coke and looked up at the moon again. “What’s out there, Richie? Is there something out there ... better than what’s here?”

“Can’t tell from here, Sheila.”