By Kelly Lynne Thomas
Mia finds a barn on the Iowa side of the Sioux City outskirts. It sits atop an almost imperceptible bump of a hill, a white sailboat against the ocean of the meadow rippling like waves in the wind. She couldn’t find her grandparents’ graves, and she still doesn’t know where, exactly, they used to grow endless rows of corn under the wide Iowan sky, but this could be it. A tall, silver silo stands behind the barn, the arm of a rusted grain elevator reaching up beside it. In the distance, a tractor engine groans to life. The air is hot and dry.
This could be it. The old family farm. It could be.
Mia is not tired after walking across the country, because Mia is a ghost. But she sits at the edge of the meadow anyway and watches a Monarch butterfly flit about the tall grasses and wildflowers. It darts out of sight in a patch of thistle gone to seed, a breeze tugging at the fluffy clouds atop the stalks.
The barn reminds Mia of the one on the farm in Pennsylvania where she grew up—it has the same classic shape, with wide doors on tracks and a tented roof with dual spires. But where her barn had leaked in a drizzle and smelled always of gasoline, this one had a crisp new roof, a fresh coat of paint, and the faint sweet smell of hay drifting from its open doors. Where her barn had been packed with equipment and tools, barrels of fertilizer and compost, this one had faux industrial string lights zig-zagging across its length and a stack of white folding chairs leaning against a wall.
A fat brown grasshopper pops out of the meadow and jumps toward the gravel lane that runs straight through the county, no curves, no bends to speak of. For the first time, Mia notices a wooden sign that proclaims the property as The Old Barn B & B: Lodging and Event Space. Her heart, what’s left of it—no muscle anymore, just the memory of what pumping blood felt like—sinks at the thought of newlyweds toasting their love under the zigzag lights, tourists coming in for a rustic experience at the farm house she’d passed up the road.
But still. It could have been her grandparents’ once. It could have been hers. Maybe it was this barn, with its white siding and green trim, that had inspired her father to buy a run-down produce farm in backwoods Pennsylvania when everyone knew the only money was in subsidized corn and soy, when anyone with sense was getting out of the agriculture business altogether. She thought of that barn, playing hide and seek with her brothers and sisters, splinters from the rough-hewn siding, jumping from the loft in a six-year-old attempt to fly and breaking her ankle--and years later, her first kiss. It was already too late for that barn. This one, too.
The Monarch emerges from the thistle and alights on the brown center of a Black-eyed Susan. It spreads its orange-striped wings toward the sun. Mia looks at the barn again, white siding glowing yellow in the late afternoon light. She thinks of new life, of Sunday school lessons about the resurrection. She’d never believed them, not really, but now she thinks, What if? What if? After all, she’s dead, her body burned to ash and scattered across her mother’s garden, but here she is. Maybe heaven was always meant to be on earth.
The Monarch takes flight, sending the yellow flower swaying. The butterfly swoops and dives, the white spots on its wings flashing like tiny stars. It dips past the barn and out of sight.
The sun, the barn, the butterfly, the afternoon, the aftermath. What if?
Mia’s heart rises back into her chest.
Kelly Lynn Thomas reads, writes, and sometimes sews in Pittsburgh, PA. She lives with her partner, one dog, and a constant migraine. Her fiction has appeared in Permafrost, Sou’wester, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart. Kelly is a coordinator for the VIDA Count, a reader for Sugared Water, and can always be found with a large mug of tea. Read more at http://kellylynnthomas.com.