January, 1983. Coeymans, New York
Janice Westfahl saw rather than heard pop, pop, pop, a stitching of pops going off, small puffs of smoke. The rock wall crumpled, then shimmered to the ground. Dust billowed and bellied into the air. A few seconds later she heard thunder that would have frightened her if she’d heard it on a clear summer day because it meant a storm.
Pulverized, Janice thought of pulverized, the meaning of that word played out right before her eyes. A sheer side of a mountain dropped to the ground, blown to smithereens. And we all fall down. Wasn’t that the child’s game? Her classmates’ dresses billowed as they dropped to a crouch. That’s what the mountain looked like—a billow of rock, and piles like children flopped on the ground. The cliff that was left over was the awesome kind, sheer, wiping the air with rock.
She leaned into Caleb, his arm around her, hugging her close. Her body rippled with the joy of being so close to this man who worked the ground. When they’d met she’d fallen in love with his big machines slowly, ever so slowly trundling over The Farm, turning over the dirt, beating the grasses, cutting them. Then she’d fallen for the companionable hours they’d spent riding in his tractors. And now he hauled rock in a quarry.
The whole time he’d been watching her reaction, his pale blue eyes studying her, but she couldn’t meet his eyes. She looked at the blue scar left by the explosion with no pity for the mountain that was being felled to repair the New York State Thruway.
“Up close those pebbles are car sized boulders,” he said.
“I’m glad I saw it,” Janice said. “You’re something to work there.” She’d not meant to fall in love, three years back. But his big machines—his tractor, his combine, the gizmos he used to break the earth—seduced her, though he’d been clear he was not the marrying kind.
“It makes ends meet.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Not particularly. They clear the site when they set the charges. The dynamite is worthless without blasting caps.”
“I couldn’t stand the noise.”
“They give us ear protection.”
“The phone is the loudest equipment that I’ll use,” Janice said quietly. In two days she would be leaving for her job at Godspeed Books, a publishing company outside of Chicago. Her job would be to connect the company and its authors with the national and Christian media. She’d have some power bringing national attention to her authors and their books.
“Let’s get married.” Caleb’s voice sounded raspy as wind blowing through dried grass over the top of stale, crusty snow. He tipped her chin up, so she had to meet his eyes. They reminded her of puddles reflecting the sky. He just didn’t let her see into them.
“Sure.” Janice squinted. Her heart was beating fast. The man she’d loved because the light fell on him, because he was beautiful and took her up in his tractor, was actually asking her to marry her. Sure, she’d rather learn how to drive the big machines than wheel and deal outside of Chicago. Sure.
Caleb drew her to him, his lips electric against hers, his beard scratching her. He smelled like baking corn, and she felt surrounded by his passion, her own passion bubbling like a spring.
“Don’t leave,” he whispered, his eyes still shut. Something vulnerable about his face she’d never seen before.
“Aw Caleb,” Janice sighed. “Why now, why when I made a promise to take this job a thousand miles away?”
“My friends told me I was a fool to let you get away.” He wiped her hair off her face, even though her hair was short and didn’t need brushing aside.