Local author Nath Jones is trying to do a couple hundred guest blog posts this year. I took her up on her Fiction Improv offer, gave her a few prompts and the short story is below.
In 1979 my brother Leo wanted me to help him with the harvest. I didn’t go. It was really that simple. He wanted me to go back, at least for a few days. Didn’t matter. I kept as far away as possible from that undulate landscape. His father, my stepdad, wasn’t exactly a guy I ever wanted to see again. Not that he was good for much by that point. Pretty doddery. Didn’t have any stake in the place any more. But history’s history. And he wasn’t dead yet.
It wasn’t my fault Mom left in the early sixties. But after she did, after she left me there with Leo and him? You better believe he didn’t make me feel welcome on the old homestead. He came after me with a length of two-by-four one time. Right across the grass. Waving that thing like he meant to level me with it. I could have been killed. I was just a kid. Maybe twelve. If that.
I got home around six, seven at the latest. And. Okay. I forgot to bring home a new pair of tinsnips. And. Yes. He had asked me to do that for him.
Leo was already gone. Out with some girlfriend. So his dad couldn’t ask him to get a pair in town. I couldn’t call him and solve anything either. Before cell phones. What are you gonna do?
That jackass came tearing after me and I just took off, ran up through Bakers’ back field, over to the south, around this knoll that kept the wind from penetrating too bad, and just camped down for the night. No fire. I sure didn’t want his ass flushing me out. Just rolled myself up and slept there on the abandoned backseat of some old Chevy Tri-Five.
Leo never knew. I went back in the morning. Never said a word about any of it. Leo was telling us both about that date of his. But I wasn’t listening and neither was his dad. I remember how he looked up at me when I walked through the door, kind of relieved but still pretty much beyond intimidating. Like, “Don’t you open your mouth.” So I didn’t.
Leo would have paid me for that harvest. Probably. Probably would have paid anything I asked.
Neither of us was thirty. Close to it, both. But I didn’t go back. Leo always says how he would have split the place with me. But seventy-five acres in Iowa. Who needs it? Just enough land that you can’t manage it on your own but not enough to justify having any real help.
Stepbrothers aren’t blood anyway. Who is he to me? What am I to him?
I can still see Leo though, with his hair the same color as those husks and his tan skin. I mean he was the farmer. Not me. He did better in the heat than I did. I was always heavier, burnt skin peeling off everywhere, sweating through long sleeves in August. Couldn’t hardly stand to be outside for the glare of the sun.
Years later I found out what happened. Leo had a quarter of the corn in, was up on the hopper, must have slipped. Didn’t go down into the grain at least. But he fell face forward from about fifteen feet. Broke his wrist in three places and shattered his tibia.
I didn’t know. Yeah, he called. He called a few times. Up at that pay phone in the sandwich shack across from where I was working at the time. The girl there, Angela, came over to tell me he was on the phone. I know at least twice.
But I thought he was just going to guilt me. Shame me about not being home.
I couldn’t give up my job to work for him for just two weeks. It was a new job. I had a delivery route—Slushie flavoring, pretzels, popcorn containers. Shit like that for movie theaters. Drove all around. My whole car was full of those damn stickers with that blue and white basset hound. Had one on the car even.
And maybe that was part of why I didn’t go back, too. Leo would have laughed me out of town with that sticker on my car.
I wasn’t ashamed of it. It was my job. Didn’t bother me. But I didn’t need to hear about it. Vanity I guess. Youth. Pride. Something. Although I guess no one really grows out of that stuff.
He was just the same. Only two years older than me. I have no idea why he didn’t tell that Angela about his broken wrist, about his shin. That would have changed things. I would have gone home. I think it would have made a difference. His old man was skinny by then, more resigned. I knew that. Not in my heart, which was still so terrified. Maybe I could have been reasonable even if he wasn’t my real brother. But Leo wasn’t about to admit anything to any stranger over the phone. He didn’t even really tell her he wanted me to help with harvest. I just knew by the time of year.
There was family land everywhere. And too hard to work it. Margins were shit.
He just sold the whole place to a subdivision developer. Right then. That last time he called me. I found out later that he thanked Angela, hung up the phone, picked it back up again, looked through that pathetic excuse for the area’s Yellow Pages, and found a real estate agent. Had him come right on out to the place. Did an appraisal on the spot, named his price, and the developer about gave him cash in hand.
No one said anything about urban sprawl back then. There weren’t neighborhoods of kids playing basketball where you used to do hay. Everyone had land to sell. It wasn’t a big deal. He made a phone call and that was it. Six weeks later he was studying up to be an agent for the extension service.
The rest of the grain came in, though. A few neighbors did what they could for him. Gathered what was left. Covered most of his costs. It’s okay. That’s how it is. The harvest went on. It always does, somehow. Just not there, not with him or me.
Author bio: Best New American Voices nominee Nath Jones received an MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University. Her publishing credits include PANK Magazine, There Are No Rules, and Sailing World. She lives and writes in Chicago.
Want Nath to do some Fiction Improv for your blog? Let her know.