A Country Mile

“There’s nothing in a country mile,” Jack told Evelyn while they shared a bistro table at a tiny sidewalk cafe. The streets were bumper to bumper and pedestrians streamed past in a blur of summer dresses and lightweight suits.

“Where did that come from?” Evelyn asked, as she casually lifted her glass of white wine. They’d been discussing investment strategies and a way to expand her boutique now that the neighboring book store was going out of business. The country mile had appeared suddenly, and inexplicably, in the middle of their conversation.

Jack’s eyes appeared slightly out of focus as he scanned the busy storefronts across the street. Sign after sign displayed a jumbled mix of retail and services. Tiny doorways squeezed in between with smaller signs pointing to upstairs businesses.

Though his eyes looked at a busy city street, Jack’s mind had tuned to the desolate stretches of farmland that had filled his childhood and adolescence. He didn’t know where the memory had come from or why it had struck him with such vibrancy on a random Tuesday afternoon. He felt trapped by it, caught up, as the memory rolled before his eyes as a hazy overlay, blotting out the familiar avenue.

“Jack?” Evelyn tried again, amused by her companion’s uncharacteristic dreaminess.

“What? Oh, yes,” Jack answered at last, pulling himself back to the moment. “I’m sorry, I was distracted by a… a thought.”

“By a country mile?” Evelyn asked with a grin. “What does that have to do with my shop?”

Jack laughed, uneasily, composing himself as the waiter came by with another round of drinks.

“Nothing at all,” he admitted, in his usual steady tone. “Perhaps our talk of expansion reminded me of how much more there is in one city block than in an entire country mile.”

Evelyn smiled warmly, pleased with the opportunity to ask a personal question. “You grew up in the country, didn’t you?” And Jack admitted he had, deftly turning the conversation into a philosophical appeal for urban opportunity over the romanticized idea of country living.

He did not tell Evelyn that he hadn’t been back to his hometown, or spoken to any of his family, in over thirty years. And he did not tell Evelyn that the inexplicable vision of his country home had brought a cold sweat and a terror that had rocked him to his core.

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