|Harvest Time Approaches (photo by J. Scott 1997)|
It had been a year and a half since their last visit to the ancient tractors that watched over the railroad tracks that bordered the last cornfield in Dickerson, Maryland - and almost twenty-three years since the second-to-last visit. This time, it was Ted who had requested it. He had become addicted to his phone - more specifically, to the unceasing torrent of sludge that was the 60-by-60-by-24-by-7-by-365 bad news cycle - and he needed a bit of his favorite therapy. He needed someone well-versed in his particular brand of escapism. He needed Nicole. After two days of back and forth via text, it was arranged.
This time, it was Ted who was late, for a change. He emerged from the eight-foot-high corn that should have been harvested last September, and found Nicole leaning against the "new" old tractor, smiling and pointing at her watch.
He decided not to address his lateness. "I think this corn is probably past its sell-by date, at this point," he declared.
Nicole chortled. "Yeah, its pretty high."
"It's as high as an elephant's eye," Ted said.
"It's higher than Astrid on prom night," Nicole added, as Ted stepped up and wrapped her in a warm bear hug. "But you know what's really sad?"
"You bringing up Astrid, before we've even said hello?"
"I smelled you coming."
Ted stepped back and blinked several times. "Excuse me?"
"I could smell you before I heard or saw you," she sort of clarified but not really.
Ted made a show of sniffing at his armpits. "I know it's like 65 degrees in February and all, but come on..."
"I mean your cologne, sweetie."
"It's nice. What's it called - eau de Midlife Crisis?"
"Geez, Nic. If I wanted to be insulted, I'd watch a White House press conference."
"Ha. I think they canceled those," Nicole said with a roll of her eyes. "Too many questions, or something."
"Don't get me started."
"Hey - you brought it up, buddy," she smiled. "In fact, you're the one who called this meeting. It sounded serious. Are you okay?"
He looked at his shoes for moment, then at the unseasonably warm Maryland sunset, then back at Nicole. "I'll be okay," he said quietly. "But enough about me - let's talk about you..."
"Let's not," she said flatly.
"It's been almost a decade since we lost Bobby, and I know it's nobody's business, but--"
"It's been eight years, eight months, and twelve days, Ted. And no, I don't think I'll ever remarry. Why? You got something you wanna ask me?"
"Well, actually..." For a moment, Ted looked so deeply into her eyes that she felt compelled to pull her jacket closed and secure it in place with crossed arms.
"You are not proposing to me in the old cornfield by the train tracks, Theodore!"
"What? No! Not even! I'm just saying, if you ever change your mind..."
"You'll be the first to know, sweetie. I promise. By the way - I heard this old farm has been sold."
"To a developer," Ted added. "I heard. It's sad. I spent a lot of happy nights in this field. I mean, most of them were before you came along and Yoko'd Bobby away from the group, but still..."
"'Yoko'd?' Ouch. That's a bit much, isn't it?"
"Yes. I instantly regretted it," Ted said. "I'm sorry. I like your hair, by the way. I've never seen it so short. It's cute. I hope it's not insulting to say it's cute."
Nicole smiled. "Cute is perfect. Now, what's really on your mind? Did you want to vent about the so-called president, or what?"
Ted inhaled deeply, filling his fifty-ish-year old lungs with overly-warm February air. He watched a half-dozen thoroughly confused little birds chase each other toward the setting sun, chirping excitedly about the end of the world - or maybe just winter - or, perhaps, simply about the end of the day. He exhaled slowly, as if emptying his lungs of warm and satisfying cigarette smoke, and refocused on Nicole. "Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Berlin, Nic..."
"Oh, lord. Here we go," she groaned. "You mean Berlin, the band? 'Cause I saw them in L.A. a couple of months ago, and they were awesome. Don't mess with Terri Nunn, man."
"What? No. I love Berlin. I mean Berlin, the city, and I'm quite sure that you knew that."
Nicole's playful dimples disappeared, and her eyes went all sad and sore, as if watching the ghosts of loved ones suffering. "I know what Berlin you mean," she sighed. "I just don't think I can do this. I don't want to go there again."
"Neither do I," Ted said, "but lately, it's not giving me a choice in the matter. It's like it's come back for me, and it won't leave me alone."
Nicole shook her head slowly and, despite her best effort to resist, rolled her eyes slightly. "It will never leave us alone. It's up to us to shut it out. The Cold War is over, and at least for the moment, we won. We should focus on the here and now. We have lives to live. Did I tell you Claire's graduating in May? My baby's going to have a Master's Degree."
"I know, I know. And that's amazing. But Berlin haunts me."
She took his hand. "I know it, babe. I do. But it's been over thirty-five years. It's so far away, now."
"I can still hear the screams. I can still see the blood in the snow. Why didn't you call? You said you'd call. We were going to quit the business and disappear. It was all lined up..."
"Don't!" she interrupted, her voice shaking, "Don't you dare. There was nowhere for us to go, and you know it. There was only one way for me to disappear."
"We could have tried," he insisted. "The Soviets were awful, but they were so inefficient."
"Yes, but the East Germans weren't! The would have shot me fifty times, before I even reached the middle of the bridge. Look - we did what we did, and we can't undo it. Any of it."
"I know, and knowing what I know now, I'd throw that grenade all over again. But when they caught us, I wish you could have at least given me some kind of sign. They didn't even ask me any questions. They just made me watch as they strip-searched you..."
"Hey - you got to see me naked, didn't you," Nicole laughed, awkwardly.
"That's not funny!" Ted spat. "I thought they were going to slit your throat or something, right then and there..."
"Again, those were Soviets, Teddy. They would have shot me right away, and then spent the rest of the night filling out forms. Besides, the microfilm was already safely at the embassy. Even if they had killed us both, we had finished the job."
"That's not what's really eating at me," Ted said with a sniffle. "And it's not even that you ran off with Bobby, executing what was basically our plan for your escape from Spy World."
"I was a child!" she cried, "I was in love!"
"You knew what you were doing. Wait. Are we doing 'Raiders,' now?"
Nicole looked around, somewhat sheepishly. Eventually, she said, "What?"
"I feel like that last bit is something Marian said to Indy, when he came looking for her father's medallion."
"Is it? I'm sorry. Look - I'm never going to be as good at the Ridiculous Game as you are. I thought I was doing pretty well, for a minute there. I hope it helped."
"You were, and it did," Ted said, hugging her. "Thank you. You're my lava lamp."
"You're welcome, sweetie. Wait. I'm your what?"
"My lava lamp. You're like, instantly calming. Very therapeutic. Don't look at me like that. It's a good thing - really!"
Nicole shook her head. "No, I get the therapeutic part. Bobby had a lava lamp, when we first started dating. It was very soothing."
"See? That's all I meant," Ted said, relieved.
"Oh, I think I do," she smiled. "The thing is, you have to stare at a lava lamp for a while, to get the effect." Nicole turned and headed toward her car, parked somewhere on the other side of the looming towers of dried corn.
"So?" Ted asked, following her.
"So, how many years have you been staring at your lava lamp, Theodore?"
He shook his head at the sky and sighed. "Only since the day we met, Nic," he whispered, "maybe longer."
|Spoiler Alert: It's not really lava.|