Uncle Grand's Wheat Field by Jim Latham

Bryn finds an unusual object in her neighbour's wheat field; by Jim Latham.

Bryn was taking her first sip of coffee when she saw it. She blinked twice then snatched the binoculars she kept for birding to make sure: a four-poster bed, complete with red velvet curtains and elaborate molding had appeared in Old Man Kemmerer's field. Keeping out of other people's business was one thing, but Bryn had never known beds to sprout from wheat fields in November. She pulled on her dad's well-worn farm coat, still hanging by the door after all these years, and headed out the door.

Bryn crossed the road at a trot and spun the dial on the lock securing the gate. How many hundreds of times had she let herself through the gate to walk the edge of the field then scramble down the bank to the river and into its slow, cold water - the perfect escape from the heat of summer? So many that even in November, two decades, easy, since the last time she'd opened it, her fingers knew the combination so well that she barely looked at the numbers and thought of long, lazy days and warm nights even as her breath fogged in front of her.

She remembered, too, the look on Old Man Kemmerer's face one Sunday afternoon long past when he'd stood on their porch, removed his hat, and handed her father a slip of paper with the combination written on it. He'd walked across his field and the chip-sealed road separating it from their place to apologize for locking the gate. It wasn't neighborly, he said. But times had changed. He'd started locking his doors, taking the keys out of his equipment, even chaining his gates shut.

"Kids these days," her father said.

"If that's the case, Marlon, the fault's ours. We raised 'em."

Neither of the men said anything after that. They nodded and shook hands.

"They don't make 'em like that anymore," Bryn's father said to her with his hand on her shoulder as they watched Old Man Kemmerer walk across the two-lane and back to his place. Her father closed the door, picked up his newspaper and coffee, and shook his head. "Not that they ever made many of that model."

That was thirty years ago if it was a day. Since then Bryn had moved out, gone to school, moved back in to help out, and inherited the house. She slipped through the gate and looped the chain around the fence post. Ahead of her, wheat stubble shredded the last remnants of ground fog resisting the sun's weak rays. It was cold enough the ice encrusting the mud puddles crunched under Bryn's boots but not cold enough to drive the frost deep into the ground. In a few weeks it'd be too cold for mud, but today the frozen puddles would melt by noon, turning the northwest corner of Old Man Kemmerer's field into a mire any self-respecting pig would turn its snout up at. Unlike most of the men Bryn had known, pigs would stay clean if given the choice. Old Man Kemmerer was an exception to that rule, about the only rule he didn't follow. He kept his house, his barns, and his shop immaculate, even by the exacting standings of his generation - her father's generation. Old Man Kemmerer was the last of them.

The bed was facing east - toward the river. The fog was thicker there, almost reaching the treetops. Bryn crunched closer. She heard something over the noise of her footsteps. Voices.

"Hello?" Her voice loud in the dawn chill.

Old Man Kemmerer's face appeared from behind a velvet-covered corner post. His mustache was whiter than in her memory and the lines on his face were deeper, but the real surprise was his expression - an unabashed, radiant smile.

"Good morning, Bryn, what a treat to see you."

"Good morning, Mr. Kemmerer."

"Please, call me Jake."

"I don't think I can," Bryn said.

"Oh, I bet you can." His smile shone out once more. "Come meet my grand-niece, Samantha." He disappeared behind the massive bed frame.

Bryn rounded the corner and stepped off frozen dirt onto an apron made of sheets of plywood covered with indoor-outdoor carpet. She wiped her boots on a welcome mat and stepped forward to meet a smiling girl with sparkling eyes who was thoroughly wrapped in down - jacket, pants, and booties - all of it overlaid with a shiny red dress that glittered in the early morning sun.

"Hello," Samantha said. "Do you like cocoa? We're drinking cocoa and watching the sun rise."

"I see that," Bryn said. Something her dad had told her long ago turned over in the back of her mind. Old Man Kemmerer had a sister who'd moved to Chicago just before the beginning of her senior year of high school. It had been big news in a small town, yet it was barely talked about.

A warm mug was pressed into her hand, and Bryn let the thought go. "I've never been camping before," Samantha was saying, "so Uncle Grand asked if I'd like to try it."

Bryn said, "I've never camped in such a pretty bed."

Samantha giggled. "I told Uncle Grand I wanted to go princess camping. He said we could use my grandmother's bed."

"That was really nice of him," Bryn said.

Samantha nodded, and the tassel on her wool hat bobbled. "Uncle Grand carried the bed here with his tractor. Then we drove out on the four-wheeler. I helped steer both times. I'd never done that before, either."

Bryn looked at her lifelong neighbor as if seeing him for the first time. He smiled at her for the third time in less than five minutes. Bryn didn't think she'd seen him do it once in all her years living across the road from him.

Old Man Kemmerer must have read her mind. "I've never had a grand-niece before," he said. Then, toasting her with his cocoa mug, he asked, "Would you care for a marshmallow?"

8 comments:

  1. At first I thought this was going to be a magic realism story. It turned out to be magical in a different way. Very nice.
    — D. Henson

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  2. I really like the characters, from Bryn to Uncle Grand to the implacable Samantha. The build up was good, the setting excellent and the plot working to an unexpected outcome. But then it was over (too soon) and I thought: did I miss something? After re reading it I thought no, all the elements were there. I just liked the characters so much I wanted get to know them better. This might be an excerpt from a good novella or at least a full length short story. Nice one, Jim Latham.

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    1. Thanks, Bill. I'm humbled by your praise, but I'm afraid all I've got for this one is already up there. Thanks again and take care.

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  3. Doug Hawley - Based on the princess campling concept, I'd like to go prince camping. Bring a toilet and a shower.

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  4. Very effective character development in a short story and agree with others that it would be good to hear more about them. I think your dialogue was very strong also - very natural.

    Paul Kimm
    paulkimm.com

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    1. Thank you Paul, much appreciated. I'm afraid this is all I think I've got for this story. But I very much appreciate the compliment of asking for me. Thank you. Be well.

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  5. It's been a number of years since I've wandered back here to FOTW, but this story sure made it worth the while. As others have already said, the characters really come to life and the story just pulls you in. Really enjoyed it.
    Nice work!
    - Jim

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