by Drew Coles
You’re thinking of the girl who sits in the front row of Spanish class. She’s new so she’s interesting, like a previously undiscovered pond out in the woods. There’s a bracelet with a dog charm on her ankle. It taps Morse code against the metal desk leg while she works on conjugation worksheets. You’ve heard reports of a belly button piercing shaped like a dream catcher. The thought of this, a metal spiderweb swaying against the backdrop of tan skin holds you for the three-quarter mile strip of driveway. It takes the lights of the emergency responders fireworking off the grain bins to clue you into tragedy.
Your mom has always been a quick thinker, but how many vital minutes passed before she realized her husband hadn’t come out of the grain bin, she couldn’t say. Her impromptu battering ram, the old Massy tractor with the front bucket sits abandoned against the bin. A long rip spills gold corn like an artery.
Grain entrapment occurs when a victim is unable to escape on their own. Entrapment becomes engulfment the moment the victim is submerged. Ninety-seven percent of engulfment rescue missions become body recovery operations.
The co-op still has his name on the propane account and you can tell when the bill arrives by the way your mom freezes while weeding through the backlog of mail stacked on the kitchen table. You always offer to make the call.
“No,” she says, eyes matching the icicles hanging on the thin lines of the electric fence, “that’s my job.”
The girl in Spanish class her name is Sydney. Her favorite animals are the goat kids. Their incessant energy and curiosity remind her of dogs. She laughs at the way they nibble on the ends of her hoodie sleeves. She names them after the Ramones.
The fire department is nominated for a grain rescue training grant. The newspaper doesn’t mention your dad, but his body is anchored in every sentence.
The inputs have been paid for and your mom is too proud to entertain the idea of special treatment. Her family tradition was dentistry. Instead she married an Ag Management major from Purdue. She’s spent her summers learning to recognize complications in doe pregnancy and has embraced her new life with enthusiasm but has never considered having to live it without her husband. Now, she’s sink or swim. A new operating line will require proof of cash flow.
You tell her that you don’t need to go, no one actually has fun at prom anyway.
“Bullshit,” she says. “Take your girl and have fun while you can.” She takes a drag off her Marlboro, an old habit made new.
When Sydney arrives at the house in a sequined blue dress, you can’t help but notice the way it contrasts with your mom’s Carhartt when they hug. Your mom snaps a photo before brushing you down the porch steps. From the rearview you watch her silhouette march into the barn.
The plan was to add some fields of Non-GMO corn this year. Break into the premium market and diversify against a sudden downturn. Without the usual advantages the seeds will require a different kind of chemistry to account for the vulnerability to changes in the environment.
One night Sydney sneaks into the tractor cab. She shows you her new ankle charm, a goat. Together, you take a couple of extra passes around the field and then climb on the tractor roof to look at the stars.
The skeleton of the dream is always the same. The grain bin stands strong as the day it was built. An impossibly faint sound comes from inside. A single finger striking metal. From behind you comes the rumbling of an engine, growing until the ground vibrates. You’re rooted. The old Massy Ferguson barrels over the hill. Sometimes its your mom in the driver’s seat. Sometimes its Sydney in her blue dress. The tractor beelines for the grain bin. The bucket edge pieces the side and the cut is impossibly big, almost slicing the building in two. Nothing streams from the break.
Grain is no longer stored on the farm. The harvest is only worth what the elevator will give. The financials aren’t in, but there might be enough to rent land in your name next year. The new corn worked well.
Drew Coles is the world’s worst farm kid. His work has appeared in the Midwestern Gothic and has been supported by Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.