The Farm Hand
A Rick Beck Story
Editor: Gardner Rust
For David Miller
Editor: Gardner Rust
For David Miller
I'd done little to cultivate Sven's friendship. In some instances I'd purposely done harm to it. I didn't know why I acted the way I did around him. I always regretted it but never soon enough to keep from acting the fool. As we took the journey back to the house I felt regret for my own immaturity.
"When I first walked up your driveway, I was curious about you. At first I thought you were another hand, my competition. So, I pretended to ignore you," Sven said, putting his hand on mine in a comforting way. "Since that occasion I've suspected you were put off by the attention Ralph showed me, but I saw no reason to hurt his feelings. He was an ally in a strange place. Whatever the problem between you two, it had little to do with my presence."
"He makes me angry."
"He doesn't intend to," Sven said. "He's tried to be the best brother to you he can be, but you don't give him an inch. He's firm in who he is and unrepentant."
"We have a history that's hard to erase. I don't want him thinking that what he did was okay."
"Because of what Ralph did or because of how it made you feel? Are you angry with him or yourself?"
"Just how much did he tell you?"
"He told me it wasn't the first time. In fact the history went back a ways."
"I can't believe he talks about it with strangers."
"We were hardly strangers, when he confessed to me about the trouble between you. Ralph and I got along from the day after I showed up. There was a certain trust we built up. He wanted to talk about what troubled him most."
"That makes me even more angry."
I felt my face flush once I knew Sven knew all about my history with Ralph.
"Instead of saying no, you picked up and scurried off to the barn. Ralph knew he'd done something wrong, but he couldn't figure out what had changed."
"That's private. It's between Ralph and me. He had no right to discuss it with you."
"Ralph has nothing but love for both of his brothers. Your rejection of him troubles him deeply. He doesn't understand. He asked my advice and I told him he needed to forget the past and embrace the brothers he has today in spite of your acrimony."
"I moved to the barn. That's how it made me feel. I'm not comfortable discussing this."
"Yes, we all get that part, but you decided for yourself to stop going along with him. He didn't know why. You never told him why."
"What else did he tell you?"
"He told me he doesn't understand why you turned on him. Ralph thinks in short sentences. You think in complicated paragraphs and he doesn't understand what he did."
"When I was boy, I didn't see any harm in it. Once I was in high school, I picked up with Barbara Sue, and I told him to quit. I'd wake up at night with him mounting me. That's why I moved. I told him to quit."
"Ralph was already conditioned to it without any complaint from you. He's younger than you and immature to boot. He doesn't know what's inside your head?"
"It's not something you talk about. What would I say?"
"I'm dating Barbara Sue and she wouldn't approve."
"Yeah, but I didn't and now… well, you see how we act when we're together. We make each other mad."
"Both Ralph and Junior have a new appreciation for you. It would be a good time for you to show some appreciation for their loyalty in a tough situation."
"I know you're right. I don't know how to change how I feel."
"Why do you think I told you about the Palmers?"
"To let me know it happens outside my world?"
"To let you know it happens inside your world," Sven said, leaning over to kiss me on my cheek.
I blushed even more, but I didn't tell him to stop. I was left feeling warm and confused. I looked at the way the single light in the dashboard lit his face. He seemed pleased with himself. He was smiling and taking glances at me.
I had a million things to say and no words came out. I needed to say something but instead I turned my hand over so that our fingers came face to face. By mutual design they intertwined. He smiled more broadly. I squeezed his hand in place of looking for words.
"There is the lust and the coupling without any purpose than being connected to another human being. At times, that's all there is, Robert. It's a warm body to be close to. It gives you a feeling of well being. Then, there's passionate love, which can involve the same coupling, but intense feelings come before and after the act."
"My intense feelings told him to quit it," I said.
"What are they telling you now?" Sven asked, looking away from the road and into my face.
"They're leaning strongly toward the feelings of well-being. It's not the same thing as when it was Ralph and me."
"I hope not," he said.
"I did tell him to stop. I remember that much."
"You ever tell a bull to quit while he's having his way with a cow?"
"No, I've got more sense."
"Just something to think about."
"I know that. When I see Ralph with you…," I said, unable to identify my feelings to him but having a better understanding of what they were.
"It seems to me you are mad at Ralph for being Ralph."
"I don't know. You've confused everything. I thought I knew what I felt, until you came along. What I feel… I don't know what I feel. Here I am running a farm and I'm not half the man you are. You know Pa'd have you in charge if he had a say."
"He'd be wrong."
"I wanted a few years when I wasn't fighting to hold on to a piece of dirt, because everyone else in my family has done nothing else. We've been paying the bank on that farm since the middle of the last century. We still don't own it. We might never own it."
"Life creates unpredictable circumstances. We adjust as best we can. You're doing fine from where I sit. Worrying ain't gonna get the corn in."
"That's for sure. I didn't think I could cut it, but there's something majestic in riding my combine across the field. It was just seed in the spring, tiny little things. Now, it's taller than me. How amazing is that in a few months? We do that. Farmers do that. It's a miracle."
"You know what I mean. Okay, I'm a farmer."
Sven laughed and squeezed my hand.
I didn't want to let go. I'd been falling for years, unable to catch myself. He'd caught me and I wanted him to hold me tight.
"Put corn in the ground and get out of the way. It's going to grow on its own terms. It is a miracle of nature. Heaven help us the day we sow the seed and the ground stays fallow."
"I wouldn't have known but for Pa getting hurt. I've never thought about it before. It was just a job I had to do. I've only been going through the motions. I couldn't tell you what it makes Pa feel, but I think I have some idea now. I understand him saying we're married to the land. It's why we're here. It's what we do. It's not supposed to be easy."
"As far as I can tell, people are like corn, except forces around them demand you grow the way they tell you to grow.
"I can tell you that approach stops working for people who have followed the rules all their lives, worked hard, and obeyed the laws only to find themselves thrown out with the garbage by the people in charge.
"Those men get rich and we become outsiders on our own land. We don't so easily listen to their recipe for growing fat and happy, their idea of success. We no longer figure in their plans and we best get out of the way of their prosperity.
"In my case I go from farm to farm trying to stay fed. I don't look beyond the farm I'm on, until it's time to leave. There are no rules, no laws, or conduct we can depend on to keep us from starving. We lose contact with our families. We keep moving to avoid being declared vagrant and worthy of a visit to the local jail."
"I planned to leave and couldn't. You wanted to stay on your farm and couldn't. Go figure."
"My father worked our farm for nearly thirty years, his father thirty years before him. My great grandfather cleared the land and planted the first corn in our region. After all those years of working, they still couldn't pay off the note. They tell us we feed America but who'll feed us now that we've lost our farm? We get short changed."
"I got to tell you, that doesn't make me feel a lot better," I said. "It makes me more determined to make sure my family doesn't end up like that."
"And people like Jake and his boys and people like me will help, because we've been where you are and couldn't save our farms. That's why the money isn't important. Helping a man keep his farm is worth all the pay I've ever gotten."
"There's no way to repay you, Jake, his boys. It means more than you'll ever know to sit at a table with people, not your own, who care anyway. It makes me care that much more," I said with all my sincerity.
"This depression will end. Farmers that make it will do okay. The rest of us will simply get passed by on the road of life. We may or may not catch on somewhere that the farmer needs us to stay."
"That had to come out of a book you read," I said.
"Maybe, truth often does," Sven said, not being as happy as before. "Right and wrong is more difficult. One man's right is another man's wrong."
"It sounds like you're saying we don't have much to do with the outcome," I realized.
"No, that's not what I said, but it's an accurate comment in many cases. Sometimes we have no choice. In your case you have no choice if you're going to live with yourself. Maybe one day Ralph can do it, but today it's up to you. Tomorrow it might be different. You're the eldest and therefore even Ralph and Junior expect you to take the lead in place of your father."
"I suppose. They sure didn't think I had a brain in my head after I cut Crosby's truck's loose the other day."
"You proved your point and they both know you did something they wouldn't have had the nerve to do. In fact, I don't think I'd have taken that big a risk in your place."
"Stupid, me wanting to show that skinflint he couldn't push me around."
"Smart! You'll never have any more difficulty with Crosby."
"Wait until Pa knows the story. He won't like it."
"He don't have to like it. You did what you saw fit to do. I said I wouldn't have had the nerve. I didn't say how much I admired your courage. You're a farmer now, Robert. You've earned the right to call yourself that."
"Thanks, coming from you that means something to me."
"The truth often does. I'm happy to be working with you."
"I'm jealous of Ralph," I blurted in an effort to be honest about what had been eating on me.
"Ralph? Ralph's so natural and easy going."
"That's exactly what makes me jealous. I'm not natural. I agonize over everything. He doesn't care. He just has a good time. I resent him for that."
"Let him. He'll grow up soon enough. Why not let him have fun without you getting mad?"
"If Ralph hadn't taken up with you so fast we might have become friends right off," I said. "I could see us becoming friends. I was jealous when you took up with him. I may not have known it then, but I know it now."
"I took the easy road. You were complicated and distant, not to mention annoying. Ralph was open and friendly. Besides, he hasn't said two words to me since Jacob arrived. He is a curious fun-loving lad and like a bee searching for nectar, he explores anything new."
"He's that way. Anything new he's got to sniff around it right off."
"You make it sound like he's doing something wrong. Ralph is being Ralph. Let him be. Jacob opens another door to him. He's never going to leave here. He'll learn about the world from the people he meets on and around this farm. It's what I like about him. He wants to know what's out there but he doesn't need to go out there."
"He hasn't said two words to you? How does that make you feel?"
"Ralph's not the only person I like talking to, Robert. I said he was infatuated with me. I never said I was infatuated with him. I like Ralph's honesty and openness. It's refreshing to find for a man on the move. There isn't enough honesty in the world."
"Meaning I'm not honest?"
"Meaning it has nothing to do with you. Your trouble is you can't feel the comfort coming from the bosom of the land. You don't seem to remember you were nurtured here. This is where you grew strong enough to make the decision to leave. You aren't trapped. You are free to go."
"You take up for him all the time, you know," I argued, no longer able to keep my eyes off him.
"I wouldn't if you were fair to him. I've lost all my brothers. I don't hold with brothers who don't see how important it is to have them around. You'll regret it if you don't make peace with Ralph. You're the eldest and it's up to you to close the distance between you. Ralph will meet you half way. He doesn't try because you don't give him a chance."
"I like Ralph. I wish I was more like him and less like me. I don't know what's wrong with me."
"You're fine. A bit on the serious side, but I can deal with that."
"Ralph's a born farmer," I said. "I'm not. It should be his farm after Pa. He loves the land like Pa."
"And Junior's the businessman. Every time Junior goes out to run errands, he brings back a pocket full of change. He showed me the jar where he keeps it. He wants a car."
"He's always been that way. People save their odd jobs for when he comes with jellies and such. He's a hard worker. Stop the truck in front."
"I need to roll this barrel back onto the farm truck."
"I don't want to go back yet. I feel like we're just getting to know each other. I want to talk."
Sven stopped on the opposite side of the lane in front of our house. I got out and stood, gazing at the glittering Iowa sky. The moon was big as a basketball and just as orange. It seemed as if I could reach out and touch it. The stars cascaded across the sky in a brilliant display of light. I became swept up in the stars. I don't recall them ever being as brilliant as they were that night.
As I watched the universe light up, Sven wrapped his fingers in mine. I lost track of the sky as quick as that. As beautiful as it was Sven out shined it in my eyes. I'd never felt so enraptured, standing there, feeling his hand in mine, and watching his strong distinctive face as he took it all in.
For the first time I recall feeling as if my life was complete right there where I was. I wanted to be exactly where I was, with him, forever. My feelings for him heated up as a soothing warmth overtook me. I turned to get a better look at him. Without warning his lips touched mine ever so slightly and his arms were around me to keep me from floating up among the twinkling stars.
"Sorry, you looked so precious, I couldn't resist," he said.
His forehead rested against mine as I looked up into his eyes and his eyes were in mine. It was like I had only then come to life. His lips brushed mine as he gently rolled his forehead against mine. He sighed and our faces were nose to nose as I tried to catch my breath. I felt his hands in the curve of my back as he held me. Breathing no longer came easy. The natural rhythm of life became secondary to whatever had struck me. His breaths came in short bursts and met mine.
Sven's fingers intertwined with mine again. I felt the heat from the Ford, but the heat in his kisses generated more, causing me to swoon. We stood like that, watching each other under the light of the harvest moon.
"Don't… be… sorry," I said with each word hanging on its own breath.
"Ain't life grand," he said.
This time I kissed him and he swept me into his arms. I hugged his body tight against mine. There was no way to deny what I felt for him and I wanted to make sure he knew I was holding nothing back.
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