Flash Fiction: Off the Farm
After graduating high school, I worked three years on my Dad’s farm in Wexford, earning five dollars an hour to tend pigs, and plow, plant, and harvest the corn and soybean fields. Dad made me pay room and board, so it took a good while to save up the thousand dollars I needed to move to the city, where I planned to find a new job and place to live.
For a long time I toiled; three planting seasons, three harvest seasons, and the final year at the farm I worked double-time (except for the pay) plowing up a hundred fallow acres my father wanted to plant. I worked diligently, meticulously, but I despised the laborious work, and blunted my malcontent by thinking about the future, of a life in Evermore.
Every Sunday, in all types of weather, I walked down to the corner truck stop to buy the Sunday edition of The Evermore Press. The only section I cared about was Arts & Entertainment, the rest I left on the kitchen table before retreating to my small bedroom to devour the paper. Live music, theater, poetry jams, workshops, exhibits: all criticized and praised by beat reporters keen to the scene in Evermore. It might have been hype to get tourists or bumpkins like me to come and spend their money, but the Sunday paper was a window into a larger life than I’d ever known at the farm.
Sometimes on the radio when I was up early slinging pig shit, someone would go off on a news bit about how Evermore was fast becoming an urban center of the arts and that people from all over were arriving to study at the university, and important artists vied to show their work in museums and public spaces. It sounded like the place to be, in the big city, all the exciting culture, streetlights, and concrete, glass, and steel landscapes of strange beauty. Even while slopping my father’s swines in the dead of winter, my daydreams throbbed in a lush kaleidoscope of urban desire spun by those Sunday reads.
The day I left home, I packed my black JanSport backpack with three changes of clothes, and all the basic travel stuff: soap, toothpaste, and a volume of Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and the Essay by Robert DiYanni, which I bought off a book salesman at the truck stop two summers back and carved out the pages to make a money stash. In the hollowed-out book, I stowed a picture of Mom and my thousand-dollar treasure. Zipped up, the pack weighed about thirty pounds, a towable weight. I strapped the backpack onto my shoulders, shut off the bedroom light, walked downstairs, through the house, and out the front door.
Dad was on the porch smoking a pipe. The wind blew over his bowl of sweet tobacco and a ribbon of smoke warmed my nostrils as I passed by him to descend the steps. On the sidewalk, I turned to face him. He stood like a stone at the top of the steps, king of his agrarian domain, looking out into the distance, down the front acreage and across the road, at the small family cemetery and the white spire of my mother’s grave. Perhaps he recalled a distant memory of her, the woman who died giving birth to me.
“Goodbye Dad,” I said.
“You’re not a son of mine,” he said, turned, went inside and shut the door.
I walked away, down the drive and out to the road, not stopping to say goodbye to Mom. She couldn’t hear me anyway.