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Fiction

When you first become in debt everything feels delicate: the tractor hitch, the fresh cows, the pipeline, as if everything is about to break down or bust into hundreds of pieces in the final moment that loses the farm.  It’s harder to get up in the morning like that.  Harold Shaw felt like that for a while.  But eventually he realized that debt was not month to month but a new way of living, that bill collectors would always call during lunch.  With the loss of hope comes a sort of strength.  But, as Harold know, it is not a noble kind.

Every barn has two things: cats and a radio.  The cats are dropped off by town people, or are descendants from cats dropped off and live detached and autonomous lives while the radio plays on.  It used to be that Harold sang along to every country song, no matter what he was doing, because, he was sure, they were songs about him.  Now his country has turned into what used to be pop and he seldom sings.  Only the cats don’t care.  The last few days have been the local deejay’s dream- they filled the space between songs with giddy warnings of the imminent tornado, joking, speculating, repeating safety precautions.  May asked him to stay in the house all day with her so they can immediately run into the cellar- the storm centre by radio language- but she knew he couldn’t do that.  If anything happens he’d be in the cellar before she was, he promised, and she didn’t ask anymore.

“It can be the most powerful force this area has ever seen,” the radio muses.

Harold looks into the haze of the dead cow’s eyes and sees his wrinkled face and moppy hair, distorted.  71’s mouth is almost open, the ridges of her teeth showing: she’s looking upward, waiting for him to breathe life into her again.  He takes off her neck tag and hangs it on a nail to use it for another heifer someday.   He will miss the cow but he does not cry.  He can’t cry.  He will notice that she is gone, and that is something.  He fits the chain around her neck and loops it over the skidsteer bucket.  Instead of crying he drags her out of the barn, her body sliding quietly over the concrete.

An explosion of clattering. A hundred fingers tapping on the barn’s aluminium roof.  Harold first thinks that a flock of pigeons landed, but the rattling doesn’t stop.  Outside, with the pitchfork in his hand, he looks into the black sky and feels ice snap against his skin.

The hail doesn’t hurt, but falls as something revealed from the atmosphere.  Shadows of clouds blend together to commune and brood darkly.  Wind resonates from the horizon and grows, airy and melodic, bringing with it languages Harold never heard before but thinks he understands.

And there it is.

It emerges out of the gully, hovering above the crick bed as if the crick bed is its life source, getting wider and fully majestic towards the top.  Even far away, Harold can see it bend and dip, slowly, assertively, performing with unimaginable confidence.  Its magnetism is apparent and seductive, pulling everything towards it like a greedy lover.

Harold’s cloths build moisture, his arms, cheeks, taut and radiant.  Something catches his eye.  May.  She stands at the cellar door.  She waves at him, the other elbow tucked over a pile of recipe books.

“Harold, get your ass in the storm centre!” she shouts.  But through the hail and spirited wind and dark skies her voice pales and feels like a dream.

It is a wonderful counsel of shifting colours, leaves and dirt, stones turning over in weightless fluid as it floats deliberately towards Harold.  Harold takes a step towards it too, and then another.  Each step is easier than the last until he is jogging in the cool bright sleet.

“Harold!” May yells, but Harold doesn’t hear.  He strides, the pain in his joints dissolving, the top of his boots slapping against his shins in sturdy rhythm.  He passes the John Deere.  He turns around.  The tractor sits gallant, steady, faithful.  Harold mounts the steps like a much younger man.  He turns the key and the seat beneath him vibrates with life.  The knobbed levers are cold and slippery, but he climbs up the gears with fluency until the machine is skipping, nearly gliding over the wet grass of the pasture.

Lightning bleaches everything.  It absorbs this radiance and glows.  Harold feels the barren distance between them disappearing, turning to liquid, it coming to claim him in mighty sanction and he meeting it, in an unearthly marriage of spirits.  Before it even happens he feels himself lifted off the seat, gently, like a maternal gift, perfectly weightless forever, and freed.  And people would gather and exclaim “He was just carried away,” everlastingly taken.  He can imagine it passing through him, filling him, and passing through his barn, dissolving the affinity between a board and a brick and suspending them around his floating body until he is absorbed into the wreckage, peaceful, indistinguishable.

Its persuasive whisper beckons on Harold’s skin.  Harold Shaw is close now.  The commanding power of wind screams the hot breath of a thousand trains exploding by, surrounding him.  Everything it is carrying is melted into colours, shadowy, broken images flashing through him.  Pressed against the seat cushion, wrinkled, gangly fingers clutching the steering wheel, harder now, he can only squirm, until he cannot move, disappearing into the tractor, the deafening wind, the colours blinding.

Check out the Serial Fiction archive for previous installments of Harold Shaw.

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