Granny's 1951 John Deere
* See my story below. Since this was my first published story and it's not on-line, I thought I'd put it on my blog so that I could link to it on my website! This story was my first attempt at a "short short story" and it came out of a lecture I attended during grad school about how to write a short short story (also known as Flash Fiction) which is anywhere between 400-1000 words. The lecturer whose name is beyond my grasp at the moment said one thing that stuck with me. He said something like, "In order to write a very short story, you have to start with one object and then go for it." I'm always grateful for the opportunity (in every area of my life) to simplify my thinking, the scope of what I need to deal with, at any given moment, so I grabbed his nugget of wisdom and wrote with it. The object that I created the story around was my grandmother's 1951 John Deere. Try a flash story it if you want and share it with me! It's actually really fun. Let your mind wander in a sort of free-association way. Edit much later.
The Bees, Their Rising
The father plowed his field. The daughter stormed after him in the tracks of his John Deere, rusty and skeletal. Cigarette smoke lifted and mingled with the tractor exhaust.
“I’m coming after you.” The daughter, in her jet-black cut-offs, started to sprint. Her voice was only a whisper over the noise of the forty-year –old engine. The father turned and tapped his cigarette. Ashes scattered. He faced forward again, toward the back of his land. His hips shifted side to side – the dance of his work – the look of riding away.
The daughter, thirty, was finished being mad from afar, collecting the reasons in poems. She had left J.C. Penny’s early, yanked her son out of daycare and driven for five hours. A customer in her late fifties, buying hosiery, had corrected the daughter’s grammar, brought her back to her mother, back to the farm – to her father.
She sucked the humidity into her lungs and thought of her mother’s accident. That same day she had won the fifth grade science fair. The father did not notice her purple ribbon. There was funeral on a Monday and plowing on Tuesday. Plowing for twenty years after.
In ninth grade, she took up with boys in the barn. Boys who lived down the road who saw her at school and saw her fine coffee- black hair hanging to the middle of her spine. Chickens squawking next door and her being felt up, then gripped and the push while the father did chores. She left for the state college – the thing to do and then dropped out. The father spat into the phone. Figures, he said.
Then the silence for years. She had a son. Having a child was on her mind when she unbuttoned her blouse. She liked the idea of milk forming in her breasts and a child rooting for them.
She left her five-year-old on the father’s braided rug, eyes glued to Mr. Rogers, while she went after the John Deere. She pushed opened the screen door and stormed through the yard, past the bee-haze garden of tomatoes, swollen and deep orange, and into the thirsty field. Cutting across the field, she caught up to him quickly. The mowed stalks were thick and stabbing under her Keds, the kind of almost pain that relieved an itch.
“Stop, you son-of-a bitch.” At the top of her lungs, she cried for the father. She thought he’d eventually spot her, maybe on the back turn to the west or a sideways exhalation of tobacco smoke. He’d not be able to ignore his daughter, chasing the old John Deere. Bees rose from the furrows and spread out over the stalks as she ran. She did not fear a sting. The bees were like dust to her or like memories flying. One of them got her in the leg – stung hard and secretive. She howled and flailed her arms, knowing that she would swell. “Just keep on riding, smoking your lungs rotten,” she screamed, then sat down, collapsed into a shallow ditch. The tractor stopped in time for her last word to ring out over the field.
“What?” the father asked, flicking his cigarette butt to the ground.
She glared at him. “It’s nothing. A sting. Just go on plowing.” Behind him the sun was low on the barbed wire fence.
Her father took his hat off and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. Then he kneeled beside her in the stiff grass. “Show me where.” She pointed. He pulled a tobacco pouch out of his back pocket. With his knobby-knuckled index and middle finger, he pinched a chunk free from the pouch. He spit on the wad of green and then rubbed it on the sting. The daughter knew those knuckles. She was surprised to know them.
“I told you to go on,” she said. The crying came without her giving up to it. It came without permission.
“Hush,” he said, holding the wad of tobacco against the side of her leg. In the distance, the five-year-old son began to call for his mother. He sounded to be pacing toward the field, saying, “Mama,” every few feet.
“He sounds just like you did when you’d call for your mamma,” said the father. “He’s a good boy. He is.” And with one hand he rolled and lit another cigarette. When the boy came, he scrambled on top of the John Deere and pretended to steer. The sun slipped, finally, out of sight behind the fencerow. The daughter stopped her crying and the bees, their rising.