He says: You’re cold as clay this morning. Where are your socks? Your toes are cold as the silver snout of Old Catch, darling. Coffee’s brewed.
Old Catch: A trickster figure, not quite the Devil. Sometimes a psychopomp. One of his common mischiefs is he hides beneath warm covers. In the stories his silver nose is handsome but so icy that if snatched from his face and thrown into a fire, the fire freezes.
She says: Last night was a husker night, my darling.
He doesn’t know. He says: I thought I wasn’t ‘darling,’ only you. A husker night?
She: My dear. My dear, I’m cold.
They have played the naming game before. You’re cute. No, you. I love you. I love you first. I love you best. Honey, soap, kitten, monster, golden boy, blue girl.
He: What is a husker night?
She: What is a husker night, my dainty? Why, my beloved, on a husker night the Husker goes abroad. The Husker ghosts through and by, wisping, whisking by and through the corn-sheaves. Higher than your heart, higher than your head. He walks until he finds a mind to haunt. A haunted mind. Did you hear him?
She: Didn’t guess so. All that harvest sheathed, high holy stalks rust-splotched, desiccation set on the leaf like blood spotting a handkerchief. Even windless the stalks whisper—and so they never hear the Husker come. He comes, they go. Sometimes they go only after they’ve been stripped. Peeled. Husked. Tassel to the dirt, leaf to the ground. Silk, too, in tangled clots. Down. My deario. My meat.
He: ‘Meat’? I’m not fond of that one. Call me what you usually do.
He: Not even close. Windy last night, wasn’t it? Blustery. Wuthery. Knockback at her tricks. Did you go for a walk in the field? I dreamed you went. Your pillow was empty, your shoes and socks were gone.
Knockback is an amoral folk figure, depicted as an old woman, associated with wind, storm, and surprises. She is referenced in the jump rope song: Knockback knucklebone / left right face / jump to the side / two tooth taste / Knockback rattleboom / High low high / Dodge the wind / or baby dies. / Lady Knockback / wind for eyes / up twenty-four floors / down twenty-five.
She: How else could I know it was a husker night, my brightness? The moon, maybe. It begins as a thin bright hook and it goes right through the eye. And it ends with the moon tight in the night’s closed fist. I wept with the wind—it was windy, wasn’t it? Sly wild, that wind; a sneak, coming lickety-quick up through the corn, sending the dark to shiver and ripple, a wall of whispers, and the house to shake. I wept, my sugar, and couldn’t blink away the salt for crying, but by then I was in the field. The field is gold and green and good.
He: Closer, hey. Almost what you usually call me. Aren’t you tired of this game? Were you crying when you left?
She: My goodness. My greenbean. My fieldhand. Farmboy, my.
She: My lover. My lungs. Still no? Oh.
He: What does the Husker do? Did you see him? Is that why I never felt you come back to bed?
She: He husks.
He: Ha, ha. Husks what?
She: My life.
She: My heart.
He: … No. No. Listen, I asked you: Husks what?
In his dream, he heard an animal scream outside the house. It screamed for a long time. Long enough he, half-waking, thought he should find it and finish it for mercy’s sake. He’d want mercy were it him in the corn.
A schoolyard tale, told at harvest: Beloved pet disappears on a squallish night, is lost in the wind-clattered corn. When it returns, it behaves just a little differently. Sometimes the owner wakes in the night and finds the pet watching them. Eventually, the owner goes into the corn field and finds animal bones, laid out as pretty as piano keys. The owner knows the bones belong to their pet, but these bones are old … And their pet was watching them from the window or frisking in the yard when they went into the corn.
She: I have a question. How many bones lie in the field, my lovely? My arrogance, my honey-milk, my pail of cream, my apple-tree, my corn king?
He: Still no, none of those. I need more coffee for this game. Or you do. The light’s all thin milk. A riddle?
The coffee is bitter black, full of pot-bottom grounds. The light’s all thin milk; it’d run right off a knife. Outside their window the small corn maze is rust and shadow, dry and ears to the ground, hushed. Morning is uncertain, doesn’t know what it should be: cockcrow or gloam, gloom or breakday?
She: An answer—twice as many.
He: You never answered.
He: Did you see him?
Why—are their bones in the field? Wind, again. Blustery. Wuthery. A broken plow’s rusting edge, driving over the field, burying a tangle of—is it hair or silk? Cold wind. Colder. But not as cold as dirt.
He: Did you?
He: You’re cold as clay this morning, darling. Where are your socks?