For the past month I’ve been participating in Bradbury’s 52, a writing group run by Jo Eberhardt. Each week she gives us a prompt with a person, place and object. Last week’s was a farmer, a toy and the place could be anywhere we want. I thought you guys might be interested in the result:
Lester knew that knocking in the engine was a bad sign. He’d ridden this tractor for 12 hours a day for the last ten years. In previous summers, he’d been able to keep his old Massey-Ferguson tuned up after even the slightest cough or hiccup. But even though the oil embargo had officially ended a few months ago, the price of fuel was still too high. The oil he was running through the engine was dark and gritty, blacker than the coffee his brother Jeffrey brewed. Pretty soon he’d have to strain it just so it could start resembling a liquid again.
“One more row,” he kept whispering to as he moved the throttle forward gently. “Just one more row and we can both get some shut eye.”
He wasn’t sure why he was clearing this much earth anyway. They hadn’t seen barely a quarter inch of rain all month, and the temperatures were six degrees hotter than the last summer. Between the money he’d already had to put into the tractor, and the increased price of seed he’d be lucky if he broke even, and that was only if two-thirds of his crop survived the next few months.
The big wheels on either side of him shuddered and shook, the ground to a halt as greyish blue steam began to rise from the red hot engine. Lester quickly shut the tractor off and slammed a hand down hard on the steering wheel. The rubber of the wheel had practically melted in the shape of his hands between the heat and the metal inside of the wheel, and striking it he nearly broke his hand. Since he was alone in the field he allowed himself the luxury of screaming in pain.
Jumping down a second later he kicked the big tire, which resulted in both his foot and his hand throbbing.
“Damnit!” He yelled as he kicked the tire again. Looking down the row he could see that he’d missed the edge by only twenty feet. Twenty feet the tractor could have cleared in a matter of minutes would take him hours by the sweat of his back. He contemplated the trip back to the barn to get all the necessary tools and his already aching back, shoulders, legs, and now hand and foot. He’d have to get up even earlier the next day, especially if we wanted to try to fix the tractor which was now burning oil, but right now warm food and good couple hours sleep were what he needed most.
He contemplated a final kick but thought the better of it, instead running a hand along the long since faded red paint above the engine housing. On one side his older son had scratched out the golden letters for ‘M’ and ‘E’ from Massey, a joke Lester had found amusing at the time, even though he’d had to whip the boy on principle. Somehow he continued to find an excuse as to why he never painted it back. He gave the engine a final double-pat then started the quarter mile walk back to the house.
Daniel knew that look on his father’s face before he even had to say anything. And his father never said much, at least not to him. His mother knew the look also, and wordlessly spooned out a bowl of the soup she’d kept on boil for God knows how long. His father accepted the bowl graciously, then sat down beside Daniel and his older brother Jimmy. Their mother brought each of them bowls then, making sure they each had a generous helping of the scarce vegetables inside. Her bowl was mostly broth but she always said that was where the real flavor was anyway.
Daniel’s father said a quiet grace then turned to Daniel. “How many times have I told you not to play with your toys at the dinner table. Honestly, you’re old enough that you should be out in the field working with me.”
Daniel’s mother put a soft hand on her husband’s shoulder. “I let him play on the table. The pieces are small, and can get lost in the floorboards if he plays down there. Besides I think he has something to show you.”
“Well?” Lester said, looking his son up and down. “What’ve you got for us Daniel?”
The young boy pulled the object from under the table where he’d hidden it. “It’s not finished yet.”
The object was a small rectangular block of red with grey contoured and jutting out from underneath. A half circle of smaller black bricks were attached around a larger red center piece at the back. Even in this half finished state, Lester recognized the shape of his familiar tractor.
“I know you’ve been having trouble with your tractor lately, and I thought maybe I could build you a new one.”
Jimmy chimed in from across the table, “There’s no way he’d be able to ride in something that small, stupid. That thing could barely haul a potato.”
“I know that,” Daniel said defensively. “I just don’t have enough bricks for a bigger one yet, but I thought I could at least learn by building a smaller one.”
“I think that’s very nice,” Daniel’s mother said, “Don’t you think so, Lester?”
Lester picked up the toy roughly with one hand, and examined the front of it. He looked at it sideways for a minute, then down the front. “You’ve got the front grill all wrong, and the tires at least two sizes too big.”
He put the Lego tractor down on its side, the half finished wheel spinning uselessly in the air. Daniel grabbed it quickly, and swept the rest of his bricks into a box he’d been keeping by the table. Before his mother could say anything, Daniel had taken the tractor and the bricks and was running up the stairs to his bedroom.
Without a word Lester slid Daniel’s bowl over to his place, drained the last of his bowl, then started work on the second bowl.