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Rainbow's End: Pt.1

Amazing things happen when his car breaks down near a farm and he meets people who change his life.

Rainbow’s End: Pt.1

Note: This is a long two part story but an intriguing journey that may be worth taking.

I was on my way to a bio-technology conference in Philadelphia but didn’t have to be there until three that afternoon, so I decided to get off the turnpike for awhile and see some of the countryside. I had just reached the top of a hill when I heard a horrible clanking sound from my engine and the car lost speed. No one had to tell me what happened. I managed to pull over to the side of the road, pulled the emergency brake and pounded the steering wheel shouting, “Damn! Damn! Damn!”

After I finished my tantrum, I tried calling my wife, Sarah on my cell phone but there was no signal. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. I got out of my car and looked around and saw a field and a tiny farmhouse nestled in a valley about a half-mile away. It looked like a scene on a post card.

I decided to walk to the farm to use their phone and started walking, leaving the car unlocked. I hadn’t seen a car on this road for hours so I didn’t worry. Usually, I am very cautious and I don’t take chances, but then why didn’t I check the oil when I filled up with gas and why did I take a back road in an area I didn’t know, it was so unlike me. Anyway, there I was in a real mess and I had no one to blame but myself.

Finally I reached the entrance to the farm and remember my cynical grin when I read the sign, Rainbow’s End. It even had a rainbow painted on it. I thought of Judy Garland singing, “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and sarcastically muttered, “Rainbows, pots of gold, bluebirds.” I remembered the Wizard of Oz as I walked down the muddy lane, trying to avoid puddles. “Some yellow brick road,” I muttered. At the time I was too upset with my blown engine and missing the conference to think about the possibility of anything good happening.

The long lane curved and I headed down a hill into a valley where I could see the stone farmhouse, smoke coming out of the chimney and a clothesline between two trees with clothes flapping. I walked past a stone wall bordering a barn and heard a voice, “I’m in here.”

I went to the wall and yelled, “My car broke down.” I wondered how he knew someone was there.

“Be right there!” the voice shouted back.

As I stood by the wall, three geese came squawking towards me with their big wings flapping. In the barnyard, a dozen chickens were pecking in a manure pile and several sheep were munching hay from a wooden rack. Finally, a tall man with a bushy white beard, long shaggy hair and red and black checkered jacket came out of the barn with a pail of milk. Wearing black rubber boots up to his knees, he walked towards me through the muddy barnyard. “You say your car broke down?”

“Yes, I think I blew the engine. It’s just up the road about a half a mile.”

“I’d say you’re in trouble,” he said, looking at me through his wire-rimmed glasses, shaking his head.

“Is there a mechanic nearby?”

“Not for twenty miles or so. Stewartsville has one.”

“Can I use your phone? I have a credit card.”

“Don’t have one, but you can come up to the house.”

“You don’t have a phone?”

“Nope!” he said, not looking at me, shifting the bucket of milk from one hand to the other.

“I guess I really am in trouble. How am I going to get in touch with a mechanic, if you don’t have a phone?”

He didn’t respond to my question but turned and held out his hand. “I’m John.”

“Michael,” I answered, taking his hand. “I don’t mean to trouble you, but how am I going to get in touch with a mechanic?”

“Radio, ham radio,” John said, pointing to an orchard. “We’ll be setting out potatoes in a day or two. Apple blossoms let me know it’s time to plant potatoes.”

When we entered the front door, John put the pail of milk on the kitchen floor and called, “Mildred! We’ve got company.” He put two big jars on the counter, took down a metal strainer from a hook, placed it on one of the jars and poured in the bucket of milk. “Ever have milk straight from a cow?” he asked.

“No. I don’t drink much milk,” I said, watching him fill both jars.

“I don’t either but my daughter Molly loves it,” he said, holding the jar steady. “But we make butter, yogurt, cheese and ice cream from the milk.”

Mildred entered the kitchen and John introduced me. “This is Michael. His car just broke down.”

“Welcome to Rainbow’s End,” she said, smiling and holding out her hand. She was wearing loose fitting faded jeans, a brown wool sweater and sandals with thick green socks. Her braided blond hair was turning grey and hung well past her shoulders and I was struck by how rosy her cheeks were.

“I think I blew the engine and I’m supposed to be speaking at a conference in Philadelphia this afternoon,” I said.

“Oh really,” she responded and looked at me, “On what?” Mildred asked, taking the jars of milk John handed her and put them in the refrigerator. She then removed a large jar filled with milk and put it on the counter. I noticed it had a thick layer of cream at the top of the jar.

“Bio-technology,” I answered, surprised that she asked. Why would she care? I wondered.

“Bio-technology,” she repeated then looked at John then back at me. “Really,” she added.

After an awkward silence, John looked at me, “Bio-technology,” he repeated, shaking his head at the word and grunted.

I was surprised by his reaction but didn’t say anything, though the way they looked at each other seemed strange.

“Did you ever see butter made?” she asked.

“No,” I answered, watching her put the cream into a blender.

“Wait ‘til you taste our butter,” she said but I was struck by their reaction to the word, bio technology.

“Are you against technology?” I asked. “I mean is that why you don’t have a phone?”

“Got a blender, don’t I?” Mildred said, plugging it in. “And we have solar electric and hot water,” she said.

“Solar electric and hot water,” I repeated. “I didn’t see any panels.”

“There on the south side of the house,” she said. “And no, “I’m not against technology.”

John picked up a shovel that was leaning against the wall. “See this shovel,” he said. “I couldn’t have a shovel like this without technology. And we’re going to radio someone about a mechanic.”

“So why don’t you have a telephone?” I asked.

“We don’t need it and we don’t want it,” John said. “The radio works fine and it keeps us out of a big corporation that rips people off.” He paused. “Other reasons too.”

I heard of a lot of people who dropped out of society in the Sixties and went back to the land, but I thought they were hippies and weirdoes. John and Mildred did not seem like hippies.

John leaned the shovel against the wall and Mildred turned the blender on. I watched as the blender whirled and whipped the cream. I looked around the kitchen and thought about the world I had just entered. An old cook stove was on one wall and I could feel the low heat coming from it. A wooden counter was on the other wall and I noticed a variety of leaves drying above the counter held by a row of strings. Next to the counter was the old refrigerator that looked like it came from the fifties. It had several colorful drawings of trees and flowers taped to the door.

From the kitchen, I saw a small dining room. I peeked in where a young girl with long blond hair was seated at a round oak table. In front of her were several small piles of colorful stones. She was deep in concentration, looking at the stones. Next to her chair on the floor by her feet, a collie looked up at me but didn’t budge. Asleep on a sunny window sill was a black and white cat.

“That’s Molly,” Mildred said, as she scraped butter out of the blender. When I asked how old she was, Molly looked up at me.

“I’m twelve,” she said, smiling then went back to work. She glanced down at the dog, “This is Toby.”

“What are you doing?” I asked, walking into the dining room.

“Jewelry,” she answered. “I’m making jewelry. Would you like to see what I just made?”

“Sure,” I said and walked over to the table. She opened up a wooden box and I saw it was filled with colorful pins and at least a dozen bracelets and necklaces.

“This is a butterfly barrette,” Molly said, “for hair.” She handed it to me and I could see the delicate green and yellow stones attached to a clothespin painted a bright yellow with little wings coming off of it.

“That’s very beautiful and clever,” I said, turning it over in my hand.

“Thank you. I love making jewelry,” she said, smiling then continued working.

“What grade are you in?” I asked.

“Grade? I’m not in a grade. I’ve never been to school.” She looked up at me.

“Really, you don’t go to school. So do you home-school?” I asked.

“I guess so,” she said, picking up a small blue stone. “Mom and Dad teach me things once in awhile, but mostly, we just do things together and I learn that way. We don’t call it home school or anything.” She glanced up at me. “I like to read and write stories,” she said. “Oh, and songs. I love writing songs,” she added.

Just then John called from the other room. “I’ve got the mechanic on the radio.”

“Nice meeting you, Molly,” I said then walked through the kitchen to a small room and saw a closet. John was seated at the radio with earphones on. “He says he’ll have to come tow you before he could know what to do.”

“When can he come?” I asked.

John spoke into a small microphone and nodded. “Okay. See you then, Roger and out.”

He turned to me and took the earphones off. “Lucky, Pete’s a ham radio man like me,” John said. “He’ll be here in a few hours. He’s just finishing up something.” John stood up and shook his head. “He said if it needs an engine, it could take at least a week or two before he gets one.”

“A week or two! I can’t be here a week or two!”

“You might not have a choice,” John said, putting his ear phones on top of the radio and stepped out of the small space.

“Is there a motel in town?”

“No, there’s not even a town. Pete’s got a small garage on his land. Nearest town is Smithsville, twenty or so miles on the other side of Pete’s.”

“I’ve got to get in touch with someone at the conference. I’m supposed to meet my wife there. She’ll be worried.” John nodded, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

Mildred came into the kitchen from the other room and asked if we’d like some tea.”

“I could go for a cup of coffee,” I said. “Do you have coffee?”

Mildred shook her head. “Sorry. Only tea, herbal tea, we don’t use coffee.”

“If we don’t grow it or get it nearby, we don’t use it,” John said, taking a seat at the round kitchen table. “I used to drink four or five cups a day but that was over fifteen years ago.”

“This is mint and lemon balm tea,” Mildred said, taking the tea pot from the wood stove and poured three cups. There’s some honey if you want.”

“Thanks,” I said and smelled the aroma of the tea. “Smells good,” I added.

“See all those jars,” she pointed to a shelf. “I’ve got tea that can cure most illnesses in a day or so. That’s a favorite specialty of mine--herbs and home remedies.”

I looked up at the shelf and saw the jars and a row of long brown leaves tied in bunches hanging below the shelf.

“Oh that’s comfrey we harvested in the fall,” she said.

“Interesting,” I said, looking at the dried leaves and took a sip of my tea then asked John if he knew where I could get to a phone.

“Everyone’s got a phone around here except us,” John said. “We could go over to the Nelsons, a mile or so from here.”

“That would be great. I’d really appreciate that,” I said. “I’m supposed to lead an important seminar this afternoon and deliver a paper on my research.”

“Too bad,” John said, “Guess they’ll have to go on without you.”

I picked up my mug with both hands and smelled the aroma again. “This tea smells so good,” I said to Mildred then took another sip.

“How about a slice of apple pie--just made some pies this morning from last years apples.”

“No thanks, maybe later. I’m anxious to call Philadelphia,” I said. “This is an important international conference and my missing it is not good for my company or my career.”

“What’s your seminar on?” Mildred asked, looking intently at me.

“Genetics and the role of technology in stem cell research and cloning,” I answered. “It’s pretty cutting edge,” I added.

“Really,” Mildred responded.

I saw Mildred and John glance at each other. John got up and looked out the window.

“What kind of ideas?” Mildred asked.

John turned from looking out the window. “Are your working on reproductive cloning--producing human cells?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered, surprised at his question. “It’s pretty important work.”

“I did that fifteen years ago,” John said.

“You did--fifteen years ago? So you’re a scientist?”

“Was,” he answered and reached for his coat on the hook by the door. “Let’s get going to the Nelson’s so you can make your call.”

I was stunned by John’s answer, amazed that in the middle of nowhere I met a farmer who was once a genetic scientist. I took a final sip of tea and thanked Mildred. She nodded and smiled at me. I noticed John and Mildred look at each other as if my presence had suddenly opened a door in their lives that had been shut for a long time.

When we walked outside, John stood on the edge of the porch and looked around. “Micro-biology and genetics,” he said, “that was my life for over twenty years before I left.”

“There have been a lot of changes, especially in the last few years. Some major breakthroughs,” I said, amazed I was meeting someone who was in the same field I was.

“I bet!” John said, sarcastically. He looked at me then down at his feet. “Come on. The truck’s out back.”

We walked around the side of the house and I saw a row of solar panels slanted at a forty degree angle. On the roof were more panels. I also saw a small greenhouse filled with greens and seedlings. John was silent as we walked to the truck and I felt like I had awakened a ghost in John’s life.

I noticed the truck and knew it was an older model. I saw how neat and well maintained it was. “What year truck is this?” I asked as I got in.

“Fifty-five Chevy,” he answered, climbing in, reaching for the key already in the ignition and started up.

“Looks in pretty good shape for being over fifty years old,” I said, touching the dashboard.

“I take good care of this baby. She’s part of the family,” he said, rubbing the steering wheel as the engine kicked in then pointed to two slightly rusted fifty-five gallon drums. “That’s the bio fuel I use in this truck. I make it from sugar beets.”

As he put his palm around the gear shift next to his knee, he turned to me. “Sorry about my reaction to your work,” he said. “It brought back memories.”

“It’s an amazing coincidence,” I said, turning to him. “Here we are meeting on this farm and we are both micro-biologists.”

“Maybe it’s not a coincidence,” John said.

“What do you mean?” I responded. “What else could it be but random chance or do you believe the theory there’s an invisible web that connects all of us, you know, six degrees of separation?”

John tugged on his beard then straightened his glasses and stared straight ahead for a moment then started backing up the truck. “Don’t know what I mean for sure,” John said. “It’s just interesting.”

He was silent as we drove up the muddy lane, out to the road, past my car then down a steep hill to the Nelson’s farm. Finally, I asked John what he was working on when he was a micro-biologist.

John laughed and half grunted at the question. “My research was on dividing DNA molecules, reproductive cloning. My book was pretty controversial and I wish I had never written it.”

“What book?” I asked becoming more fascinated in John.

“Cloning and Future Societies,” he said, glancing at me.

“Are you John Wiseman?” I asked. “I read that book in graduate school. That was an important book, a great book.” I couldn’t believe I was sitting in a truck with John Wiseman.

“You disappeared,” I added. “You wrote this great book and then no one ever heard from you.”

“Right,” he said. “That book should never have been written.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it weren’t for that book. This is unbelievable.”

We turned down a long dirt road and came to a farmhouse. The yard was littered with old tires, a rusted tractor without wheels, several wooden boxes and a lot of other debris scattered about. “Here we are,” John said. “That’s Gus Nelson coming towards us.”

He was a short, stout man wearing a flannel shirt that was partially tucked into his jeans, the tail of the shirt hanging out the back. He had a cigarette dangling from his mouth which he flicked away as he walked towards us. I noticed an old faded New York Yankees baseball cap over his shaggy grey hair and the white stubble of whiskers on his chin.

We both got out of the truck. John waved and Gus nodded his head. “How we doin’,” Gus asked as they shook hands.

“We need to use your phone. This young man’s car just broke down, looks like he blew his engine.”

“I’ve got a credit card,” I said. “I’ve got to call Philadelphia.”

“Phone’s in the kitchen,” Gus said then turned to John. “How you been John? Don’t see you much.”

“Fine,” John said. “You know me. Don’t get out much.”

We followed Gus up to the house and entered a cluttered kitchen with a round Formica table filled with mail, catalogues and newspapers. There was an open plastic milk jug and a half eaten bowl of cereal. On the counter was an open box of powdered doughnuts.

“Phone’s over there, young man.” Gus pointed to a wall between the kitchen and the dining room. The red and green linoleum on the kitchen floor was worn and grimy. I looked in the cupboard and saw several cans of tuna fish, Campbell’s soup and two cartons of Marlboros. The kitchen smelled of stale cigarette smoke.

I took the paper out of my pocket with the phone number for the conference and noticed the television was on in the living room, but no one was watching. I dialed the number of the hotel where the conference was being held and heard it ring at least eight times. Finally someone answered and I asked if they could page Robert Bigelow adding, “It’s really important.” While I waited, Gus added the half filled cereal bowl to the pile of dirty dishes in the sink.

Finally, I heard Robert’s voice and told him I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. I noticed John smile when I said that. “Tell Sarah when she gets there my car broke down and I can’t give my paper or do the seminar. There’s no way she can reach me here. Tell her I’ll get in touch with her later.” I paused, glancing at John. “Guess what? I found John Wiseman, the guy who wrote, “Cloning and Future Societies.”

When I said that, John looked at me and shook his head then brought his hands to his face. He walked to the door, noticeably upset.

“I’ve got to go,” I said. “Tell Sarah, I’ll be in touch.”

“I wish you hadn’t told him about me,” John said.

“Sorry, but this is mind boggling, finding you.”

Gus listened, “Hey, John, what’s goin’ on?” he asked. “What’s he mean he found you?”

“It’s a long story,” John said, turning to Gus, shaking his head.

“You ain’t running from the law or anything?” Gus asked. He scrunched his eyebrows, staring at John. “What’s goin’ on? Is that why you stay to yourself so much? I knew something weren’t right.”

“He’s not a criminal or anything like that. He’s a scientist and disappeared about fifteen years ago. He’s famous.”

“Famous. You’re famous? John, what’s this all about?”

“You tell him, God damn it,” John said then opened the screen door and slammed it behind him.

“Thanks for the phone,” I said. “You’ll find out later.” I gave Gus a quick handshake. “Sorry, I’ve got to go. Thanks for the phone.” I threw five dollars on the table.

John was in his truck staring at the steering wheel. When I opened my door, he turned to me. “I want to be left alone. This is my life now. The past is the past.”

“I didn’t realize I would upset you. It’s just so amazing finding you.”

He started the truck and drove home. He was silent, obviously troubled. His grip on the steering wheel was tight and he shook his head, closing his eyes as if holding back rage. We drove past my car then stopped at the entrance to his farm. He looked at the sign. “This might be the end of Rainbow’s End,” he said, staring at the sign.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you found me and now others will know. Don’t you understand?”

“Understand what?”

“My work, that book,” he said, turning to me.

“Your work was important. It led to the breakthrough. I told you I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for you.”

“Do you know what you’re doing? Did you understand what I was saying in that book?”

“Sure. Cloning and your research and the molecular reprogramming techniques you developed changed our knowledge of what is possible. It was a real breakthrough.”

“Right, and that’s why I stopped. Why you must stop.”

“Why I must stop. What do you mean?” I asked, completely bewildered.

“And now I might have to leave here,” he said. “I didn’t want to be found. That’s another reason I don’t have a phone. No one can find me without a phone and I don’t have a computer or a credit card.”

“I still don’t understand. Why did you stop? Why should I stop?”

“I knew my work would lead to the cloning of human beings--first sheep, dogs, rabbits, then cows and soon human beings and because of the principles I discovered, they will be able to create human types that can do whatever the government wants. They can create armies that have no conscience, giants who don’t feel but follow orders. They can create mentally slow humans who will be slaves and work for food just like animals. Corporations can produce and sell these cloned slaves who will work for no pay and put others out of work. Human animals will become a commodity. My book opened the door for what is happening in the work you are doing.”

“That’s not true, John,” I said. “That’s not what’s happening.”

“If it’s not, it will. Mark my words. Our world is driven by greed.”

I looked at John. He turned away from me, his hands still gripping the steering wheel and stared straight ahead at the sign. After a long silence, he turned to me. “When my book was published, I was contacted by several governments who offered me great sums of money to work for them, including our military. Of course, they would form private corporations, subvert funds to get around laws banning human cloning, set up state of the art labs and give me anything I wanted to continue my work, but I knew what they wanted me to do. It frightened me and made me realize how dangerous my book was.”

“But my company is using genetic technology to create organs to replace diseased organs. It can save lives. Your book was revolutionary.”

“I know it. My last lecture to the International Society of Humane Science warned of the danger and that’s when I disappeared.”

I looked over at John as he started driving. I thought about his warnings as he continued down the bumpy lane. Both of us were silent. Mildred was taking the clothes off the line and Molly was sitting at a loom weaving in a glassed in porch. It felt so quiet and peaceful.

John looked at his watch. “It’s almost two. Pete should be here soon for your car then you will know what your story is.”

When we got out of the truck, he rushed over to Mildred. I quickly followed. She turned and could see John was upset.

“What is it?” she asked looking at him and glancing at me.

“He knows who I am and he told someone at the conference he found me.”

“Oh my,” Mildred gasped. She placed her hand over her mouth, shaking her head from side to side, looking at John.

“I’m sorry I said anything. I didn’t realize what was going on. Why you disappeared.”

John and Mildred were silent, looking at each other. She then turned and continued taking clothes off the line. I stood next to John and felt the tense silence.

Mildred picked up the basket filled with laundry and started walking up to the house, the basket sitting on her hip held with her hand. She stopped then turned to us as we followed her.

“Maybe something good will come from this,” she said, looking at John then at me and continued walking up to the house.

John looked at me and shook his head but didn’t say anything as we followed Mildred into the kitchen. She put down the basket and placed a kettle on the woodstove and threw two logs into the fire chamber.

“A cup of mint tea is what we need,” she said, getting some mugs down from the hooks under the shelf where her jars sat.

“Michael, I don’t know what’s going to be with your car or whether you’ll stay here or go back with Pete to his garage, but it’s important that you don’t let people know where we are.”

“I understand,” I said. “I promise I won’t tell anyone, now that I realize what’s going on.” I shook my head, still reeling from the surprise of finding John and what a disturbance I was causing.

John sat down at the table and looked up at me. “But your friend in Philadelphia knows you found me. How are you going to keep it a secret?”

“I just won’t say anything,” I said. “I won’t say a word. I promise. I won’t tell anyone where you are.”

Just then Molly walked into the kitchen, holding up a colorful woven tapestry that had a big colorful rainbow in it.

“Look what I just made,” she said, holding it in both hands. “I’m going to weave more and we can use them as placemats at dinner.”

“Oh, Molly, that’s so beautiful,” Mildred said.

“What’s wrong?” Molly asked looking at her father. “Daddy, you look upset.”

“He knows who I am, Molly,” her father said. “He’s a scientist in the same field I was.”

Molly looked at me then at her father. She glanced up at her mother. The kitchen was silent for awkward minute. Molly’s eyes narrowed, thinking, looking at me, nodding her head as if she saw something then looked back at her father.

“Don’t worry, everything will be fine. I know it.” Molly said. She smiled. “You’ll see.”

John shook his head and looked at me then at Molly. “I hope you’re right.”

Just as the tea kettle started to whistle, we heard a sound outside. We looked out the window and saw the tow truck coming down the lane with my car lifted up on its two back wheels.

Pete started walking to the house and we went outside to greet him. I noticed he had a slight limp when he walked. He was wearing overalls, a heavy red and green plaid shirt and a brown wool watch cap.

“Hi. John,” Pete said, reaching out to shake his hand, “been a long time since I’ve seen you.

“Sure has,” John said. “My old truck is still running fine,” he added. “And I rarely leave the farm except for the farmer’s market in the summer.”

“Well, it’s a good thing we have the radio,” Pete said. “Great hobby and it sure comes in handy.”

John nodded but didn’t say anything.

Pete turned to me, “Yep, looks like you blew the engine,” he said. “No oil, might have leaked out or something.”

“Do you think you can get a new engine for it?” I asked.

“Don’t know. Not too many cars like yours ‘round here. Doubt I’ll find a used one and ordering one will take some time, two weeks at least, maybe longer.”

I looked at John then back at Pete, took a deep breath and closed my eyes, stunned, shaking my head at the bad news.

“Looks like you’re stuck for while. Do you wanna come back with me? I could take you to the motel up by Smithsville.”

I thought for a minute then turned to John. “Do you need any help around here?” I asked. “I’d like to stay here, if it’s okay. I don’t know much about farming but I learn fast.”

“Yes, I think that would be good,” John said. “There’s a lot to do and I could use some help. We have an apprentice coming soon, maybe even tomorrow,” John added.

“Great, thanks,” I said. “Being in a motel for all that time isn’t attractive and at least I could help out here.”

“Sounds good,” John said, nodding.

I turned to Pete. “I’m going to stay here and just stay in touch with you.”

“Probably a good idea,” he said. “There ain’t much going on in Smithsville unless you like watching people pick up their mail at the Post Office.”

Mildred came out on the porch and waved at Pete. He waved back and then walked to his tow truck. “I’ll radio you in a day or two, John,” he called back at us.

“Hey, wait, Pete,” I called suddenly realizing my suitcase and papers were in the car and dashed up after him. I opened the back door and got my things out as Pete got into his truck. “See you,” he said then took off.

I stood there watching my car being towed away shaking my head at how suddenly plans can change. One minute I’m on my way to Philadelphia and then just like that I’m on a farm with a man who had already changed my life with his book. My mind was spinning with the strangeness of life’s little twists and turns.

“So you’re going to stay with us and help out,” Mildred said as soon as I entered the kitchen. I was surprised how she knew when it was just decided outside.

I nodded and put my suitcase in the corner and sat down at the table just as Mildred was pouring the mint tea. “Hope I can be of some help,” I said.

“Good and Jenny will be here sometime tomorrow.”

“Who’s Jenny?” I asked.

“She’s our apprentice. She worked for us last summer, really smart and a good hard worker,” Mildred said. “You’ll like her, lots of spunk.”

I listened but at the same time was distracted and preoccupied with the conference I was missing, how my wife and partners would react to my not showing up to deliver the paper I had worked on for months. My wife, Sarah, would be upset after working like a demon to arrange my presentation. So much was at stake and I had no way of contacting her and no idea when I would get my car back.

“What a damn mess!” I suddenly blurted out, completely disconnected to what Mildred had said about the apprentice coming.

John and Mildred looked at me, startled.

“I know it’s hard and you’re frustrated, but there’s nothing you can do about it now except be here in the present,” Mildred said. “Things have a way of happening that seem bad at the time but turn out to be blessings in disguise.”

“A blessing,” I repeated shaking my head. “I don’t know about that. Missing this conference is going to have a big impact.” I paused and looked at Mildred, shaking my head again at the word blessing. “Do you believe in fate and destiny? Is that what you mean, blessing in disguise?”

“I can’t say I believe in fate. All I know is that what seems like a disaster often turns into something that would not have happened, like when John wrote that book and got all those offers and then we suddenly left the university and the research, we didn’t know what would happen. We both resigned our positions without notice. We broke our contracts. John was in charge of this big research project and the university got some big grants, really big and also invested a lot of money. They sued John for breach of contract but we left, disappeared. Our friends and parents thought we were nuts. It was a big story in the newspaper and on television. We had little savings and didn’t know what we were going to do. Then a year later I got pregnant and Molly was born.”

John interrupted. “Then we found this run-down farm for sale from this widow whose husband died. We bought it from her for practically nothing because she was anxious to leave and she liked us and she saw we had a baby.”

Mildred looked at John and nodded. I listened to their story, fascinated by the courage it must have taken to walk away from their careers, their security. John was a world famous scientist.

“We didn’t know anything about growing food but we said we’d learn and here we are and we couldn’t be happier.” She wiped her hand on her apron.

“We just stumbled on this farm when were on our way to Mildred’s mother’s for Thanksgiving. Don’t even know why were on this road in the middle of nowhere. Guess we made a wrong turn. Anyway, we just saw the sign--Farm for Sale. We looked at each other and drove in here and that was that.”

I nodded but didn’t say anything.

“Maybe it will be the same for you with your car breaking down and you meeting John and here you are,” Mildred said, lifting her tea to her lips and looking at me over the edge of her mug.

Listening to Mildred and John was interesting, but I couldn’t imagine my being stranded here for two weeks as a blessing or a good thing. It was a mess and it was not easy for me to accept being in the present, too much was at stake. As much as I enjoyed their company and was fascinated by how they lived, I wanted to be at the conference and not stuck in the middle of nowhere.

After finishing our tea, John took me up to my room on the third floor. “See you later--get some rest.” He paused. “Our apprentices stay up here.”

It was a small room with a single bed, a small desk, a tiny oak bureau in the corner, an oval shaped wool rug in the center and a tiny closet. I put my suitcase on a chair and went to the window then looked out and saw many long square raised mounds covered with leaves and straw. Only one bed had something growing--long green, grass like blades that I later found out was garlic. I noticed a dozen or so apple trees in blossom. In back of the beds was a large fenced in area with several sheep nibbling grass. I unpacked and put my clothes in the small bureau then sat in the chair, thinking about my situation, trying to resign myself to the reality that I going to be stuck here for two weeks or more. I also thought about John disappearing and walking away from his career and how amazing it was finding him in the middle of nowhere.

Later, when I went downstairs, I saw Molly sitting on a chair in the dining room playing a guitar and humming. She looked up at me and smiled, then went back to playing. It seemed like she was always finding something to do whether it was making jewelry, weaving, playing the guitar, reading and writing stories.

“Sounds nice,” I said looking at her hunched over the guitar, strumming.

“Thank you,” she said and smiled again. “I’m writing a new song.”

I nodded and went into the kitchen. Mildred was taking bread out of the oven. She had put a salad on the kitchen table and then called into Molly. “Time to set the table, dear.”

Within minutes Molly had the table set, humming as she went around placing silverware and plain white dishes. We were all seated at the round oak dining room table. John opened a bottle of wine.

“How about some apple wine?” he asked, holding up the bottle. “This is Wiseman Apple vintage 2007.”

“Sure,” I said, impressed that he made his own wine. I lifted my glass as he poured.

Dinner was a delicious vegetable, chicken casserole and the salad was mostly greens with grated cheese sprinkled on top.

“Everything you’re eating is from the farm,” Mildred said, “even the cheese.”

Just then John heard the sound of the radio buzzing. He got up and went to the closet, flicked a switch and put on the earphones. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but saw him nodding his head.

“That was Pete,” John said. “He couldn’t find a used engine so he ordered one from the city and said it would be at least ten days, maybe longer before it got here and then another day or so putting it in.”

“Oh well,” I said. “I guess it could be worse. It could have been that BMW doesn’t make engines like that anymore and I’d have to junk my car and buy a used American car,” I said sarcastically.

“Don’t worry,” Mildred said. “Everything is going to be fine--just wait and you’ll see.” She then stood up, “Now, the apple pie.”

Mildred’s optimism that everything would be fine was somewhat comforting though I was feeling too cynical and frustrated to fully appreciate it.

“I hope so,” I said, shaking my head doubtfully.

“You’ll see,” Mildred repeated, smiling at me, knowing I was not convinced by her words. Molly had been quiet all through dinner but a few times, I glanced at her listening to the conversation, nodding and smiling.

“Mom’s right,” Molly said. “Everything is going to be fine. I know it,” she said, smiling. “It’s really good that you are here, very good.”

“So, you think it’s good?” I responded, stunned by Molly’s statement.

“Yes, you’ll see.” She smiled at me and nodded.

I sighed and sat back in my chair and looked at her, baffled by her words and manner then turned to Mildred.

“I’d love some apple pie,” I said, trying to find my way back to being in the present like Mildred said earlier.

After the pie and more tea, I decided to turn in. It had been a long day.

“Thanks for dinner,” I said, standing up.

“Why don’t you come out to the barn in the morning and I’ll teach you to milk Mary Jane, our cow. Six o’clock, meet me in the barn.”

I wasn’t so excited about that idea but said, “Sure. See you then.”

John nodded. “Goodnight.”

In bed, I read a copy of the New Yorker I happened to bring with me but didn’t read very long before I fell asleep. Fortunately, I conked out without thinking about my dilemma and I don’t remember dreaming.

When I woke up the next morning, the sun was just coming up over a hill in the distance. The sky was turning blue. I got up, went down to the second floor to use the bathroom and could hear Mildred humming and moving around in the kitchen below. I got dressed in a pair of jeans I had, actually, my favorite pants and put on a clean t-shirt and went down to the kitchen.

“Better put one of those jackets on,” Mildred said, pointing to the row of coat hooks outside the kitchen. “Chilly these April mornings,” she added. “John’s out in the barn.”

“Thanks,” I said, putting on a heavy green and red plaid wool shirt.

“John’s going to break you in fast. You’ll earn your keep,” she said, chuckling.

“Really,” I said, not sure I was quite ready for all of this.

I walked through the mud to the barn, wishing I had boots. When I entered, the smell of straw and manure hit my nose. John was sitting on a stool, his head leaning against the cow’s thigh as he milked. He had on his rubber boots.

“Good morning, Michael,” he said, then in the next breath,

“Take that pitchfork and get this manure into the wheelbarrow and take it out to the pile next to the wall.” I could hear the milk hitting the bucket in quick succession as John squeezed and pulled the cow’s teats.

Sitting in a row were six or seven cats, obviously waiting for some warm milk. John picked up two small bowls, filling them each with milk then leaned over and placed them in front of the cats. “Here you go,” he said, watching them scurry to get into the bowls and lap up the milk.

I lifted the manure into the wheelbarrow then took it out to the wall dumped it onto the small mountain, noticing the steam coming up out of the pile. Next to the pile I noticed two other piles, one with what looked like older manure and straw and another that was dark, rich looking compost.

As I walked back into the barn, I heard a car coming down the lane and wondered who would be coming so early. I saw a blue Subaru turn the bend, honk as it went past the barn and park next to the stone wall. I noticed several bumper stickers that said, “Peace” and another that said, “Buy Locally.”

John came to the entrance of the barn with his milk bucket and we both watched a young woman get out of the car waving at us. “I made it, John,” she yelled.

“Hi Jenny,” John shouted, waving back, “Go up to the house. We’ll be right along. By the way, this is Michael,” he added.

“Hi, Michael, I’m Jenny,” she yelled and then reached into her car and pulled out a backpack and dashed up to the house. She had on a short maroon skirt over jeans, a heavy navy blue turtle neck sweater, a green down vest and an orange wool cap on her long dark hair.

“Jenny’s quite a person,” John said. “Unique.” he added. “She was our apprentice last year and Molly loves her. You’ll see, she’s got a lot of spirit and knows what she wants.” He paused and looked at me. “Actually, she knows what she doesn’t want which is just as important.”

“Interesting, knowing what you don’t want,” I repeated to myself, never having thought of it that way before. I glanced at her running up to the house.

“Does she know who you are? I mean, who you were before you disappeared?”

“No and she doesn’t need to know,” John said, looking at me. “That’s the past and up until you came here that life was long ago and far away and that’s where I want it to stay.”

I nodded, wondering if I would be able to keep my finding him a secret and not betray his wanting that part of his life to be forgotten. I was still excited at meeting the man whose book had such a powerful impact on my life.

“Follow me,” he said as we went around the side of the barn and climbed a hill. The barn was actually built into the side of hill so we went into an upper level of the barn without going up any steps. We entered a narrow room with a dozen or so chickens squawking and poking about. On one wall were several long poles stretched from one end to the other and on the other wall sat a row of nesting boxes. Some had chickens sitting in them, but most of the nests were empty. John had a big straw basket held in the crook of his arm and went along picking up eggs from the nesting boxes. One chicken refused to move from her nest and squawked at him. “Better leave her, looks like she’s brooding.”

“What’s brooding?” I asked.

“She’s going to have chicks, if all goes well.”

John moved quickly, gathering eggs. He opened up a trash can and took a small bucket and filled it with feed to put in the feeders along the other side of the wall. “Looks like their water is okay for now,” he said and we left the chicken house. He handed me the basket of eggs while he picked up the bucket of milk where he had set it.

“Time for breakfast,” John said walking slightly ahead of me, his long legs moving quickly. He turned back to me as he walked. “Looks like a good day to plant the potatoes.”

The kitchen was warm when we entered. Jenny was standing next to Mildred at the stove talking and stirring a big skillet of scrambled eggs.

“Everything’s ready,” Mildred said. “Jenny get the toast and butter and we’ll have a nice breakfast.”

Jenny sat down next to me and John was across from us. Just then, Molly came in to the kitchen, saw Jenny and screeched, running to her and they hugged. “Ohhhhh Jenny, you’re here.”

Jenny’s eyes widened and a big smile came to her lips, “Molly, you’ve gotten so tall since last fall. I can’t believe how beautiful you are,” she said hugging her. “I have so much to tell you,” Jenny said, smiling at her. It was clear the two girls had a real bond. It was nice to see. Molly sat down next to Jenny and they held hands while they waited for their breakfast.

Mildred brought a big bowl filled with the scrambled eggs to the table.

“Help your self,” she said, then went and got a big kettle of hot water from the woodstove and put it on the table. “Here’s some nice ginger tea, perfect for a chilly spring morning.”

“Mildred, you haven’t changed a bit,” Jenny said.

“And why should I?” she laughed, sitting down next to John as everyone laughed.

“So Michael,” Jenny asked, “what brings you to Rainbow’s End?”

“It’s not a pretty story,” I said. “My car blew an engine up the road. I was on my way to a bio-technology conference in Philadelphia. I was supposed to present a paper on my research yesterday but fate had other plans.” I glanced at Mildred when I said “fate” and our eyes met.

“Well, you ended up in a pretty magical place,” she said, nodding then looked at Mildred. “Maybe fate knows something you don’t know.”

“Who knows? All I know is I am not going anywhere for awhile.”

“Do you believe in fate?” Jenny asked me.

“No,” I said looking at Mildred and John then turned to Jenny. “Actually, I don’t think there’s such a thing as fate. I think everything is random, haphazard and unpredictable. There is no fate. No plan. No destiny. Things just happen and there is no explanation except for the fact my god damn car blew an engine because I was stupid and didn’t check the oil. All this talk about what happened is for the best is getting to me,” I said, raising my voice and took a deep breath, surprised at my loud blunt outburst. “I don’t want to be here, damn it! I want to be where I’m supposed to be--at the conference!”

Everyone looked at me stunned. An awkward silence hung over the table. I then looked at John suddenly remembering how amazing it was that I ended up meeting him, someone whose book had such an impact on my life.

Finally, Molly spoke up, breaking the silence. “What makes you think you are not supposed to be here?” she asked.

I wasn’t certain if she was asking an innocent question out of curiosity or was attempting to suggest I was wrong, that actually I should be here. I didn’t know how to answer her.

“You’re supposed to be here,” she added, nodding her certainty as she looked at me.

I laughed. “I am, Molly. Why do you think I’m suppose to be here and not at the conference? Do you think destiny brought me here and made my car break down just outside your farm?”

She shrugged her shoulders and looked at me. “I don’t know about destiny. I just think you’re supposed to be here.” She paused and smiled. “You’ll see.”

I looked at Mildred, remembering our conversation at dinner. “Your daughter is just like you,” I said. “That’s what you said. ‘You’ll see.’”

“You’re going to find out how amazing Molly is,” Jenny said. “And you should listen to her.”

I looked at Jenny and suddenly, a bewildered feeling came over me remembering how amazed I was when I realized I was in John Wiseman’s truck. I sat back and took a sip of the ginger tea, wondering what was going on and looked around the table at everyone, aware that they were all looking at me.

“Let’s finish up and get the potatoes planted,” John said, changing the subject dramatically. “Are you ready to work, Jenny, or do you want to get settled first?”

“What’s to get settled?” Jenny said, quickly standing up. “I’m here and ready for action,” she added, putting on her green vest. Jenny turned to me. “Ready, Michael?”

“The potatoes are already cut and ready to plant,” John said. “They’re in the shed.”

“I’ve never planted potatoes,” I said.

“You’ll learn!” Jenny said. “I’ll show you. Come on, let’s get going.”

“You two get started and I’ll be there in a bit. Plant them in the two beds next to the garlic, Jenny,” John said. “I’ll be in the greenhouse.”

We went out to the shed and got two bushel baskets filled with pieces of potato. They had small leaves sprouting. We each carried a basket and walked to the beds next to the garlic.

“John’s method of farming is not traditional,” Jenny said as we stood in front of what looked like at least sixty or seventy long raised beds. There were several different areas with similar beds covered with thick layers of straw and leaves.

“I’ve seen pictures of farms but never anything that looked like this,” I said.

Jenny nodded and smiled at me. “Yes. John has worked very hard over the years cultivating these beds with rich compost and now he can come out here, move the mulch aside and just plant. The leaves and straw break down and these beds are filled with worms. He rarely has to till the soil and he can plant things closer together and gets twice as much from each bed than the other way.”

“Impressive. I’ve never seen anything like this,” I said looking out at the beds.

“I’ve learned so much about growing food and being self-sufficient from John and Mildred. They’re amazing. You are lucky you broke down where you did.”

I shook my head when Jenny said that, not knowing how to respond. I didn’t feel lucky that my car broke but then thought about having read his book. “If she only knew the influence John already had on my life,” I thought. “This is weird,” I muttered to myself, shaking my head, trying to make sense out of what was happening.

“Okay, this is the plan,” Jenny said, putting down her basket. “I’ll get on one side of the bed and you on the other and all we have to do is place these seed potatoes down about eight inches apart and then cover them back up with the straw. That’s it.”

She smiled and I noticed her dimples and how her cheeks rose up and her brown eyes sparkled. “Got it,” I said thinking how pretty she was. She seemed so earnest kneeling down on her side of the bed with her basket and I and got down on my side.

“We should be able to plant these two beds in an hour or so if we work and don’t talk too much,” she said. And that’s what we did. We worked for at least ten minutes without a word.

Jenny planted potatoes seeds to the middle from her side and I did the same and we worked quickly. She concentrated on what she was doing, humming softly while my mind was barraged with thoughts about the conference, my car, my wife, realizing what a mess I’ve made for my company and probably my career.

At one point, she looked up and our eyes met. “You seem like you’re a million miles away,” she said, narrowing her eyes, looking at me then paused, “Let’s finish this bed and take a five minute break.”

I nodded bothered by what she said and how she looked at me and tried to concentrate on the planting but then wondered what her plans were for her life. Why did she want to be an apprentice? Did she want to be a farmer? Did she go to college? Who is this person planting potatoes with me? I was curious and fascinated glancing at her kneeling across from me, wearing the short maroon skirt over her jeans, the unzipped green down vest a, her orange wool hat, her long brown hair halfway down her back.

“Break time,” she said when we got to the end of the bed. She took her orange cap off, moving her fingers through her hair, letting it fall over her shoulders then leaned back on her arms, stretching her legs in front of her. She took a deep breath and looked around. “I love it here,” she said, smiling.

“It’s beautiful,” I said also looking around. “But this is unusual for me. I spend most of my days in a lab and rarely get out in the country like this.” I paused, taking a deep breath, “I work over eighty hours a week.”

“No way!” she almost yelled, looking at me in disbelief. “That’s nuts!”

I was stunned by her reaction, her incredulous eyes looking at me and suddenly wanted to change the subject.

“So, Jenny, what do you do when you’re not apprenticing? Are you in college or what?”

“I was for one year about eight years ago but dropped out to get my education in the real world, traveling, working in different places, learning cultures. “College is a coward’s way out,” she said. “Nice and secure but it leads nowhere.”

“Really,” I responded, surprised at her statement. “Don’t you need a degree to get a good job?”

She shook her head. “Everyone I know who has a college degree and a huge debt can’t get good jobs and no one is doing anything close to what they studied in college. They work as carpenters, or as waitresses, or landscapers and feel stuck doing boring jobs and because of their debt, their broke.”

“Maybe I was lucky,” I responded. I went to graduate school and am working in the field that I enjoy, molecular biology, genetics. It’s pretty cutting edge.”

“And eighty hours a week,” she added. “Is that all you do is work?”

“Yes, I guess so.” I said. “My wife works about the same and when we come home, we’re both so tired we hardly spend any time together.”

“That’s not for me,” she said, nodding. “I want time to enjoy my life, to take walks, listen to music, read, kayaking. I love to bake cookies for friends and hang out.” She took a deep breath and looked at me. “Michael, you’re missing the point about life. It’s about having time to live and enjoy, not work ‘til you drop and then what--die.”

I listened to her philosophy and nodded. “I love my work and I get paid well.”

“Then why do you seem so sad. I can see you are not a happy person.”

“What!” I said. “You hardly know me. How can you say I’m not a happy person?”

“You look exhausted and tense and I could tell how you were working, you weren’t here. You were a million miles away, worrying about everything. I can tell.” She paused. “That’s so sad,” she said, looking into my eyes.

I was startled by her perception. “It’s true I have a lot on my mind, but how do you know I’m not happy?”

Jenny shrugged her shoulders and looked at me. “I can tell--that’s all. Let’s get back to work,” she said, moving forward, getting on her knees and picked up several potato seeds from her basket.

While we worked I thought about Jenny and what she said. At one point, I looked over at her and she smiled at me, her eyes meeting mine. “Be here in the present, Michael. Get out of your head.”

I couldn’t believe how direct and emphatic she was. Who did she think she was talking to me like that after knowing me for such a short time? I thought about her words, “get out of your head, be in the present,” swallowing my urge to say something but knew she was right and liked how she smiled, how she looked at me.

We worked quietly and finished planting the other bed then piled the mulch back over the potatoes. She looked at the two beds covered with straw and nodded, smiling. “This is so beautiful,” she said. “It will be fun to watch the potatoes grow and the best is harvesting them in the fall, it’s like digging up buried treasure.” She looked at me. “Too bad you will miss that, Michael. It’s the best feeling in the world to harvest what you’ve planted.”

I looked at the straw covered beds then at her eyes sparkling as she spoke but didn’t say any thing. We picked up the empty baskets and headed back to the shed. John was in the greenhouse thinning out the seedlings and looked up when we walked in. “We planted the beds, John, now what?”

“Well, I think we could get some of that red leaf lettuce in. We’ll plant a tray every two weeks and keep the seedlings coming,” John said, carefully thinning the tiny sprouts, not looking at us.

“Do you think I could get a ride over to Gus’s to make a phone call later?” I asked. “I have to get in touch with my wife.”

“I could take you over in awhile,” Jenny said. “Or I could take you over to Shirley’s. You’d like her and I’d rather see her then that old letch, Gus.”

“That’s a good idea and Shirley would love to see you,” John said, looking at Jenny. “Good idea. Get the lettuce in and then you can head over there,” John added.

(to be continued)

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