The Vitruvian Farmer

VitruvianFarmerA week before Christmas, my father left the milk jar for me to skim off the fog-colored fat.  I found his boot prints in the ice kicked out of the goats’ water pan.  The machine in the barn had also disappeared.  

My mother searched his things and found little missing: his graphing calculator, his best shoes, two bottles of antibiotics for an infection that had wandered through her body for the last few months. He left behind most of his clothes and money but took the auction house catalogs he’d been amassing on his nightstand.  

My mother accused him of staging a time-travel triumph to make us admire him while we grieved his absence, instead of doing what we should be doing–growing bitter.  

I measured the diameter of the scorched ring in the hay.  Six feet.  A man’s height.  I imagined my father, like a Vitruvian farmer, making hay angels in the circle.  

I packed a bag in case he, or the machine, should return.  I hid it in the barn.  Four days later, I found a faded oval on the living room wall where my great-grandparents’ wedding portrait had hung until that morning.  I always missed him by seconds it seemed.


Other things taken:

Motion sickness pills

Leather work gloves

Three rolls of gauze

Paper tape

The Gentleman’s Guide to Historical Spirits

The Palette of Insanity: Artist’s Distemper

Nail polish (plum-colored)  


Half of a chocolate cake sitting on the counter

I penciled notes for him on the wall by my bed.  Was he planning to come home?  Should I sell the goats?  Was it beautiful wherever he was?  One day, I found his answer traced into the eggshell.  Yes.

Things that inexplicably appeared:

Blood spots on the bathroom floor, like asterisks that sent us searching for the footnotes

Lumpy bandage on the windowsill which my mother threw away without looking inside

Red bra (crimson according to my mother, maroon to me, which I thought made him sound less guilty)

Walking stick with a 15” knife inside its silver handle, on the kitchen table

Stretched canvas of a bedroom in Arles (wet)

French revolver

Warmth on the chair facing the picture window.


A year and a half later, in late July, the machine reappeared in the barn.  I rubbed the fog from the glass with my sleeve.  Inside, a naked man slumped forward.  Same coarse, red hair as my father.  Same beard.  Different tattoo on his arm.  

Victim or accomplice, I owed him assistance.  I dragged him out into the hay where he fell back, his eyes glazed, as if under ice.  I breathed into his mouth, pounded his broad chest until he flailed his arms and legs.  I left him lying there stunned.

I jumped into the machine with my bag: iodine for the water, my mother’s address book with the names struck through, and rolls and rolls of pennies from the bank, having heard all a penny could buy in the olden days.  And just for safekeeping, the revolver.