Merrick didn’t mind much, being a farmer. He had been one all his life, so it wasn’t like he knew how to do anything else. He had been born a farmer some nineteen years ago, raised a farmer, and would, more likely than not, die a farmer.
But it sounds so bleak when you put it like that.
Merrick was happy, he really was. He spent all his time in the fresh air. He’d discovered pretty early on that hoeing and plowing were excellent ways to stay in shape. There were animals to talk to when he was lonely and an acre or ten of plants to wander through when he wasn’t. Life was simple and peaceful and that was just the way Merrick liked it.
The farm where Merrick lived and worked was divided nearly in half by a dusty country road. It was seldom used, and when someone did happen to pass through it was typically just another farmer exactly like Merrick, going from one dreary destination to another to discuss cabbage or celery or pig slop. Which is why when a gilded carriage so bright it hurt Merrick’s eyes rumbled past, Merrick dropped his rake in the mud. He had heard of carriages covered in finery just like this one was–that wasn’t what shocked him. No, the real reason Merrick had dropped his rake and was now standing and staring and covered in muck was because of the face in the window of the carriage.
The face was small and well crafted, with skin that had been kissed by the sun but never burned, with features chiseled by the finest artists and eyes that glinted knowingly even in shadow, their color mysterious and intriguing and inviting. She–the face belonged to a young lady–had hair, too: warm and wavy, the shade of healthy soil. Her lips, delicate and kind, curled into a smile. And what a thoroughly beautiful smile it was.
Now, the carriage was traveling at roughly five miles an hour, as the horses that were pulling it had come a long way and were tired of hauling a monstrous box filled with lazy humans who thought they were too good to walk. Approximately twenty meters to Merrick’s right as he faced the road were the six acres of cornfields that were the pride and joy of Merrick’s farm, each plant clocking in at an almost unheard of nineteen feet. Merrick’s field of vision covered about a one hundred and seventy degree arc, give or take, and he could turn his head an additional forty degrees to either side. There’s a lot of trigonometry and calculus involved here that could tell you exactly how long Merrick had a decent view of the carriage and the girl inside, but Merrick didn’t know any trigonometry or calculus. He had never heard of the subject, actually. So if you had asked him, he would have said he’d had only the blink of an eye to gaze upon that magnificent face, so we might as well use that as the definitive measurement of time.
And in that blink of an eye, something amazing happened.
Merrick ran after the carriage. He sloshed through the mud and pushed past the pigs and called out until the driver stopped the horses and Merrick caught up, panting from the effort but more than ready to make conversation with the incredible creature he’d had the good fortune to meet. They spoke and she chuckled and finally she asked if he would like to accompany her back to the city. Merrick knew he had chores to do and cows to milk and all that sort of thing, but how often do you get a chance to go to the city with the girl of your dreams? To be fair, Merrick had never really had dreams, not about this sort of thing, anyway, but after only an instant he felt sure that if he had had dreams and they had needed a leading lady, this girl would have been it.
So he agreed and stepped into her carriage, his grime-soaked clothes leaving marks on the fabric, and away they went, talking and laughing all the while. She showed him the city with all its sights and sounds and smells and that very evening Merrick got down on his knees and promised to love her for the rest of his days. She was surprised and elated and kissed him on the mouth. They lived the rest of their lives in the city, in a huge house with a view of the fields Merrick never went back to, surrounded by their children and pets and feeling, every day, more joy than could be felt by any of the other inhabitants of that city or of the surrounding areas.
Of course, now and again Merrick would feel guilty about never completing his chores and leaving his corn fields to wither and his livestock, his only friends for the first nineteen years of his life, to fend for themselves, but then he would look around at his wife and his children and he would know he had made the right choice. And then he would smile to himself and put one of the smallest children on his lap and recount one of his stories of the time he’d found a pig in his bath, or the time he’d gotten lost in the wheat fields, or, all of his children’s favorite, the day he had first seen their mother in her gilded carriage. And they would all sit and listen and she would be there, smiling at him, loving him as much as the first day she had met him.
All that happened in the blink of an eye.
What, you didn’t think that was real, did you? Merrick was a relatively simple boy, but that didn’t mean he was delusional. He was a farmer, always had been. He’d spent his life with cows and rakes and corn, what did he know about wooing a lady, not to mention a lady like the one in that carriage? No, Merrick knew what he was and what he wasn’t. And he was alright with that. Really. Seeing some exquisite creature the likes of which mankind had never seen before and would never see again didn’t change anything. Merrick had known he was going to die a farmer ten minutes before the carriage had come into view and his opinion had not changed ten minutes after it had disappeared behind the cornfields. Forever.
But sometimes, Merrick would wonder if he should have run after the carriage. He never saw it or her again, but as the years went by her face never faded from his mind. He would think about the carriage sometimes, when the vibrant green and gold of the corn wasn’t enough for him. He would think of her smile when all he could see was ungrateful, apathetic frowns from the livestock. He didn’t think much of the family they could have had. It made him too sad. No, he’d made the right choice, he would tell himself. The pigs needed him, and the corn and the wheat and everything else. This farm was his. He couldn’t just leave it.
Merrick died alone, at home, just before dawn many years after the carriage had gone by. And as the sun rose over his lifeless body, Merrick, or whatever was left of Merrick, knew that he should have chased after the carriage. He should have run after it with every ounce of his being, thrown himself in front of the horses if they would not stop. He should have, he should have, he should have. But now it was too late.
Written by Abby Lass