Voices in the Corn Maze
By Mary Langer Thompson
Sometimes, as you grow older, you need to finish your bucket list alone. I live by myself in the over-fifty community of Sunset City. My daughter would like me to come live with them. But I’m not ready. Not yet. In fact, I’m not even going to tell her and my son-in-law what’s on my what-to-do-before-I-die list. They’d just laugh.
Today I’ll check off one more event. I’m going to walk through the corn maze on the farm near me.
I approach the natural puzzle, walk past the pumpkins, the gourds, and the arts and crafts, with scarecrows on sticks. There’s the bright yellow button mums. Maybe I’ll buy some on the way out.
A young man with red hair sits on a stool outside the entrance. The corn is a lot higher than I am, but then I’ve never been very tall. And now that aging is making me shrink.
The Maze keeper sees me and looks surprised. “You’re going in alone?”
“He travels fastest who travels alone, my grandfather always said. Will you look for me if I get lost?”
“We’ll turn on the sprinklers,” says the redhead, smirking. His hair contrasts with the golden corn. I think of my daughter’s blonde hair, changed from towhead to butterscotch over the years.
The stalks are dry, and beginning at the entry, the paths go in different directions. I hear a boy say, “I’ll go this way, you go that way.” Their mother stands with them, looks at me and sighs, “That’s the way it is with two kids.”
I wish I’d had a brother or sister, except my son and daughter have never been close. I decide to follow the boy who seems to be the leader, the one who gave the command.
|Photo courtesy of The Art Institute of Portland.|
The boy is too fast for me, and God knows where his brother and mother are, so I stand still for a moment to reconfigure my way. This is a good problem-solving activity. It should help keep my brain sharp. I hear crickets, and the wind sounds like paper blowing. A beer can lies in my path. I kick it to the side.
Other voices: “We’ve been that way.” “Where’s the real path?”
That’s what I would like to know. The location of the real path.
Two girls pass me. One is using a stalk as a broom to make a trail. That’s sheer genius. I follow her, until she stops.
“What the hell…,” she says to her companion. Then, “We’re going this way.”
“Now?” says the other girl.
“Yes. Come on.”
She sounds so confident, I keep following her. I have no idea how far we are from the entrance or the exit. I’ve lost all sense of direction. Am I going left or right or in a circle? Is the maze a circle?
Now the girls are out of hearing distance. Oh, well, it’s good exercise to just keep walking, one foot in front of the other. Are those passing cars I hear? I didn’t know there were any roads near this farm. I had to walk quite a distance from the parking lot. I must not be near the entrance. I can’t hear any voices now.
I wonder as I wander, about life, about family, about growing old. Joe has been gone for how long now? I think it’s been six years, although the years are running together. He would have loved Sunset City and all the activities, especially golf. He would have laughed that it’s called “Heaven’s Waiting Room.” I don’t think it’s funny that he skipped the room entirely.
I don’t know how long I’ve been aimlessly, by default, wandering. I can’t hear any voices whatsoever. It’s growing dark, and I’m getting a little nervous. It didn’t sound like that Maze keeper would look for me, if necessary. I feel panic rising in my chest. He’s probably forgotten all about me. This place is huge, bigger than I thought. Hadn’t I read it was about two acres? What am I doing? I can no longer hear cars, if that’s what I heard. I should have left breadcrumbs or something. Where’s the smart girl with the corn stalk? Where are the siblings or their mother?
I reach into my pocket, hoping I charged my cell phone. I saw a sign recently that said, “Call 911. We Want to be Bothered.” I’m glad somebody does.
It takes about an hour before the police find me. At least I don’t have any broken bones. I won’t tell my daughter I ever had this hare-brained idea or that gallivanting through a corn maze was on my bucket list.
Turns out I am just twenty feet from the street and parking lot.
The redheaded kid is with the cop. He says, “Don’t you realize they designed this thing so that people will get lost?”
Not this lost.
“You saw her go in alone?” The cop looks at him, surprised.
“Yes, you did,” I correct him. “Remember you told me you’d turn on the sprinklers if I didn’t come out?”
“I never said that. You’d be soaking wet now if I had, anyway.”
He’s right about getting soaked. But my grandfather those many years ago wasn’t right. No one travels faster alone. But then, what’s the good of traveling fast anyway?
Mary Langer Thompson has published short stories and poetry in a variety of anthologies and journals, both print and on line. Recently, with her poem, “Wishbone in Moonglow,” she won the title of Senior Poet Laureate of California. For more information about Mary, please visit her website.