The room where she sits is gray, dull, and pale. Night is falling. And the moon is shining in through the blinds on the back window, casting shadows on the colorless walls. She sits with her back pressing flush against it and she stares at the possibility of a thousand tomorrows and listens to the echoes of a thousand yesterdays.
This is it. It is the the end of all that remains of her childhood. The last box was loaded in the truck an hour ago and tomorrow is closing day, but she can’t leave yet.
She whispers, “Daddy? Are you here?”, then closes her eyes tightly and listens so hard she can count the individual cicada cries coming through the screen door. She hears frogs down by the pond and fish jump. She hears the coyotes howl in the distance off the back 40 acres, but she doesn’t hear, nor get any sense of, her father’s presence. She keeps talking anyway…
“I know all this must be hurtful to you Daddy and I am sorry. I tried. I’m just not a farmer. You and Jason may have bested me there, but neither of you knew how to let shit go and it killed you both. I’m not gonna let it kill me.”
She hadn’t said Jason’s name out loud since the incident. It feels foreign in her mouth, like a cadaver tongue was grafted in place of her own to utter it.
Their parents had gone to the farmer’s market. They had been fighting that day, more the norm betwixt the two of them than not, and Lisa had balled her fists in anger so tightly her nails drew crescent blood moons from her palms. She remembered screaming at him in teenage hormonal rage.
“You’re dead to me. Don’t ask me for a ride to Frankie’s OR to take you to school OR The Holler. Not even if you have gas money and offer to do my chores. Ghosts can’t hold a feed bucket, Dead Boy. Ghosts can’t do shit so neither can you.
You’re stuck here, you little bastard.”
She had no clue her words were prophetic as she drove off to the pig pickin’ at Josie’s that day, the one Jason had been begging to attend with her for two weeks. Well, as soon as they heard about it.
Frankie and Celia’s mom, Mrs. Mashhit had come out to the barn. That’s where teens always congregate at such events round here. She gathered me up around eight. At dusk. I had to hurry home. There had been an accident in the field…
She figures Jason had been sulking about their fight when he decided to use the baler for some payback. He found an assortment of her belongings and tossed them into the mini baler. They were surrounded by silage and had the occasional part visible through the sides. It appears the machine jammed on her Dressage trophy and it couldn’t raise and eject the bale.
Jason must’ve panicked and come around to see if he could dislodge it and free the bale. With his arm so close, the rollers caught his shirt and pulled it in, crushing it and dislocating it, tearing the flesh and brachial and radial arteries. Jason bled to death in approximately two minutes. Their father found him after dusk when Jason didn’t come in for dinner.
Daddy was determined some essence of Jason remained on the farm linked to the soil when his boy’s blood was spilled. He refused to sell to larger corporate farming organizations that bought land all around them. Instead, they suffered competition they couldn’t handle. See, due to small business costs equating higher charges (compared to corporate ability to work in mass production and charge less giving families the option to buy in bulk, and save money). People stopped buying from Daddy. Not even neighbors, friends, church members, or our own extended family. They had to shop cheaper to stay afloat. They were struggling too.
Daddy said, “Never take it personally.”
“It’s just business. You don’t let it bother you, Baby Girl.”, he was too quick to say when he saw neighbors unpacking groceries from the local grocery franchise.
She believes the disappointment and heartache was what killed him. It turned into the cancer that ate at his organs and, lastly, his brain. It metastasized throughout him like the pervasive depression that took hold years earlier and never left after Jason’s death. It was followed, soon after, by Mama’s who had grieved herself to into the grave. She never felt Mama’s presence here. Not even when Mama was alive. Mama never wanted a girl.
Boys are farm hands, girls are mouths to feed.
She knew her place in Mama’s presence. Felt it. It laid heavy on her. The sensation left when Mama did. She had to force herself to cry at the funeral for Daddy’s sake. Daddy. She was always Daddy’s girl.
“I tried, Daddy. I’ve got to go. You do too. Please, Papa.”
It was a name she called him when she was especially emotional. She felt a stillness. Like walking into a forest and suddenly all birds go silent. She caught a whiff of Old Spice, the aftershave Daddy wore to church or the one night every two weeks he took her to go to the fish camp for all you can eat catfish filet nuggets. Red and white checked tablecloths with the metal clips that held the plastic cloths in place. Bottomless sweet tea in quart styrofoam cups, spicy pintos, cornbread with honey butter, and fresh, fine, chopped cabbage, sugar, and vinegar slaw. The smell of the aftershave grew stronger and she felt cold along with pressure on her forehead between her eyes. The spot, some say, where the third eye resides. The spot her daddy always kissed her and just like that it was all back to cicadas chirping through the screen door and bull frogs croaking by the pond.
Pat Berryhill is a southern gothic writer who lives in Winston-Salem, NC. She has been previously published in Change Seven Magazine, Breath & Shadow, Cultural Weekly, Incunabula, (mac)ro(mic), and other fine literary magazines. You may find her on Facebook at @patberryhillwriter and Twitter @dp_pat