Monday, January 30, 2017

© 2017 By Jack Bogut

            A wedge of honking geese headed south in ragged formation appeared overhead and flew into the edge of the setting sun and disappeared, only to re-emerge from the other side, smaller and farther away.  He looked at the sky and then back at her. She exhaled and nodded. The expression on their faces said the same thing: thank god it’s time to quit.
They’d been out in the field before dawn that day and watched the night shrink away as the sun came up, pulling warmth and then shimmering heat over the morning.  Now the shadows were getting longer again, their edges softening as they covered and started to darken everything at ground level. They were both bone tired.
            Dust from the old tractor and binder just behind it hung over the field, almost motionless, settling slowly, softly in the still air.  Uniform, short, hollow stems that, moments before, had been tall stalks of grain, sat like soda straws, piercing the warm earth, looking from a distance like a blond crew-cut.  This was the last pass, the final cut in this field, the final field. The harvest was done.
            As they headed for the house, a soft breeze and lengthening shadows pushed a layer of cool air around them and brought back familiar smells missing through the heat of the day.  Musty autumn dew was starting to form on the dry pasture grass and smelled clean, like rain on the wind. 
As they got closer to the house, an aromatic mixture of roast beef and onions, boiled potatoes, dark brown gravy, fresh biscuits cooling in a window and fresh coffee brewing, spread through their senses like perfume.
            Again they glanced at each other as they neared the end of the field and went about their tasks without speaking.  He stepped on the clutch and stopped the tractor; she swiveled in her seat, stepped off the mower and walked to the gate. She put her shoulder against the end of it and squeezed with her arm until she could get the wire loop off over the top of the post. It took almost all the strength she had left. She walked the gate open, leaning on the length of the wire and mouthed the words over the noise of the tractor,
”I thought you were going to fix this gate.”
He tilted his head and nodded silently,
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” raising his eyebrows and looking a little sheepish.
 The last rays of the sun highlighted her features with shadow as she waited for him to pull through. As he passed he thought, how pretty she is. 
            Then he stopped the tractor and turned to watch her struggle with the gate as she closed it, waiting for her to get back on her seat for the short ride to the house.  Instead, she shook her head, walked past the tractor and waved him on, one hand above her hip rubbing her back.  
            She made her way to the overhead fuel tank and took the hose from the hook as he stopped the tractor and turned the motor off. He stood up, leaned forward over the steering wheel and unscrewed the worn, chrome gas cap. She tried to hand him the hose but he shook his head and said,
“No, you do it. I gotta’ get this kink out of my back.”
She reached high and inserted the nozzle, squeezed the handle and watched fumes wiggle out of the filler pipe like transparent worms. She always liked the smell of gasoline.  It seemed to clear her head of the dust that lingered in her nostrils. 
            “Makes your eyes bright, ya' know that?” He said, beating the dust out of his clothing with his hat.
            “What’re you talkin’ about?”  She asked back, doing the same to her skirt with her free hand.
            “The smell of that gas. Puts a little gleam in your eye.”
            “Humph!”  She snorted as she smiled.
            They stood looking at each other until she ran the tank over just a little bit and released the handle with a snap:
            “There!  Look what you’ve done.” She said with mock anger in her voice.
            “Me. Me?  You’re the one filling the tank.”
            “You know what I mean, talkin’ like that.”
            “Like what?” He countered.
            She ignored the question.
            “Uh, wanna' step behind the barn?”  He asked, looking at her with a small, silly grin on his face.
            She ignored that question too, turning her head slightly to one side, able to control a smile but unable to hide the laughter in her eyes.
            “Crops are good this year, better’n any in ten years I’ll bet,” he said, taking a deep breath, looking back at the field.
            She stepped alongside him and put her arm around his waist, hooking her thumb in a belt loop.  “Smells like the kids have supper ready.”  She said.
            “Well, guess that eliminates going behind the barn, huh?”
            “Since the kids are looking out the window, I’d say it does,” she answered.
            So he put his arm around her shoulder and they walked toward the house in perfect unison, he shortening his step to match hers, she lengthening her stride to match his, as the sky continued to fill with darkness, shrinking their world to the light and life in the house.

            It had been a good day. And it was suppertime.

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