Under Country Skies

Matthew Donnellon

Photo by Misael Nevarez on Unsplash


There is nothing quite like the illustrious majesty of a small town fair.

The fairgrounds smelled like a combination of fried foods, horse manure, and old mud from a rainstorm three days past. An interesting combination for sure, but a nostalgic perfume to those who grew up with it.

She smiled watching the band on stage. Well, for one member of the band in particular. Even though he no longer had to do county fairs anymore, his career going much farther than either of them ever thought possible, they returned every year for this little gathering hidden among the farms and woods in Northern Michigan. Though one thing always struck about the fairgrounds was how open it was. It was mostly forest where she lived and the trees covered the sky most of the time. But, here it was wide open. She loved, sitting under the country skies. Her father insisted that the sky was bluer out here. She couldn’t really argue, as she took in the azure expanse above her.

To be fair, there was a reason for their particular attachment to this site. It was the spot they met each other five years ago. She still remembered that day.

She was in line at one of the food stands, actually the very same stand she worked at while in high school. The one where she swore she’d get out of this little town.

She was on her way she thought, she had a scholarship to Michigan and if she was lucky the next time she was back would be to visit as a high powered attorney.

But that didn’t work out, as so many dreams tend to do. Her father got sick her second year and she left school against her parents’ wishes. And so she tried to drown her sorrow in fried food.

Except she was two dollars short for her order.

That’s when he heard his voice for the first time.

“I got it,” the man said behind her as he extended a twenty-dollar bill.

“Thank you,” she said.

He got his order and they talked while they looked for a place to sit, finding a picnic table under an oak tree.

“I can pay you back,” she said.

“Don’t mention it. Been there plenty times m’self,” he said. His voice carried a country twang to it.

“I take it you’re not from around here.”


“So far from home.”

“I like to keep moving.”

“I guess so.”

As they ate, she tried to hide the chipped nail polish. She hadn’t had time to fix it.

He noticed her trying not to draw attention to them.

“Farm work?” he asked.

“How did you know?”

“That’s how my sister’s nails always looked.”

“Yeah, it wreaks havoc on them.”

“You should try the gel stuff.”

“I would but there’s no salon around here…” and then she caught herself, “How do you know about that?”

“I have my sources.”


“My sister,” he said smiling.

“Right,” she sounded more relieved than she meant to.

They kept eating and talking and laughing. She couldn’t remember the last time she had that much fun.

Suddenly, he looked alarmed, “Do you know what time it is?”

“Two o’clock,” she said looking at her watch.

“Oh shoot,” he said, “are you doing anything?”


“Come to the stage at 2:30,” he said getting up to leave.

“Are you part of the stage crew?” she asked.

“Something like that. So you’ll come?”


And so she did.

At exactly 2:30 she went to the north side of the grounds where the bands were playing. They quite a few more people there than normal.

She looked for the man she met, but she didn’t see him anywhere. Oh well, she thought. She’d just listen to the band for a bit and then go home.

But to her surprise, the man she met made his way up on the stage with a guitar and he took his place in the center. She caught his eye, and he winked at here.

Something like that, alright she thought to herself.

And the band started playing. They were good. But then he started singing and she couldn’t look away. His voice rang out over the crowd. She was mesmerized.

Jack looked out over the crowd and saw the faces, and he could hear the clapping but it took all her had to keep his concentration. He kept staring at the woman he’d eaten lunch with. There was something about her. He would have paid for anyone in that line. His momma raised him right. It was the gentlemanly thing to do. But then she turned around to thank him, and it was though he could no longer hear, they rang like when his brothers used to shoot guns out in the woods without earplugs. A shock just ran through him. He swore the first time he saw her smile he realized why men went off to war. It was like Helen of Troy was right there in front of him.

And so he sang like never before. He put the heart of the Appalachians in his voice. The young Kentucky crooner did his best to blow the audience away, but in truth, he was playing for one person.

She seemed to like it, he thought to himself. She was nodding along.
I need to do something big, he said to himself. And so he did.

As the concert neared its end. The singer looked out to the crowd to find the woman he’d spent the last five years with. She was still there, off in the corner, nodding along like always.

The audience cheered, for they knew what was coming. Little did they know that this song was first debuted in that very spot so the man on stage could impress the woman who couldn’t afford lunch that day.

She watched the man she’d eaten with for the whole show. He was great. Like really, good. She didn’t know why he was here in the middle of nowhere. He belonged in Nashville.

And the band went quiet.

The others stopped playing. It was just him on stage, with a guitar and kick drum.

She could tell something was about to happen. She could feel it in her bones.
And he started playing, just him, the guitar and the drum. And the feeling changed. He played, and it rolled over them like a summer storm. The audience was nearly silent as he sang. His sweat beaded off him, his voice nearly cracked as he pushed the limit of his range.

Afterward, he’d be known as The Man Who Played With Thunder. Someone had the good sense to record the set, and little did the two nascent lovers know but the simple country singer was well on his way to stardom as the video went viral.

And he played that song again. Five years later, almost to the day. It had just as much effect. The audience was silent and then roared once the song came to a close.

He looked out to find the woman. Things were different now. They paid off the farm. It had workers now, so her parent could retire. She went back to school, on a country singer scholarship he called it.

Of course, even though they both had money now, he bought her lunch again. Sometimes one must honor tradition.

They sat under the same oak tree. The same one two years ago where he proposed to her.

They sat and talked like they always, did at a small-town fair under country skies.

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Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories

Detroit, MI

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