Read by James McNeill
The wind pushes and rattles the thin tin walls of the drive shed.
Jake closes the metal door behind him and walks across the cold, grease-stained concrete floor to the grease and dirt-smeared white fridge and removes a Red Stripe. He twists the top off and tosses it towards a green plastic garbage can surrounded by empty auto parts boxes, rags, empty bottles and cans and assorted other trash. He says: What’s that then?
Oh? Wha’d he do?
Rings are broke. You hear anythin?
Jake lowers the beer from his mouth and runs the torn sleeve of his tan canvas coat across his mouth; yup, heard somethin today.
Tommy looks back over his shoulder and waits.
Jake tilts his head to the right to get a better sight-line on the 4-wheeler engine his younger brother is repairing.
Well? Wha’d they say? asks Tommy.
Said I’m shooting blanks, replies Jake. He drains the beer and tosses the empty bottle into the garbage can. You mind if I have another?
Tommy picks up a rag and wipes his hands. He turns and looks at Jake; go ahead, fill your boots.
Jake grabs another Red Stripe and opens it.
You tell Alice?
I guess you’ll have to.
I guess, Jake stares at the beer in his hand, not tonight I ain’t. He tips back the bottle and drains the beer and tosses the empty into the garbage can; right now, I’m goin to bed. See ya.
Yeah, see ya.
Jake and Tommy are the Burlesons of Burleson road, Mapleford, Ontario, a small and quiet agricultural community located at the 31 mile marker on the Trent Severn Waterway. Of the two brothers, Jake is the larger man; he stands 6’ 1” and weighs 240 pounds. At just 28 years old, he is already balding. Tommy is the opposite; he’s thin, 5’ 9’ and has a full head of light brown hair. The differences in their looks and personalities are so great, that unless you knew better, you’d never guess they were brothers.
A swirl of snow follows Jake inside. He quickly closes the door.
He walks to the back corner of the drive shed and opens the small door of an old, black and rusted airtight stove. He selects a chunk of maple from a small stack of firewood and places it in the stove. He closes the door and sits next to the stove on an aged block of red oak.
It’s a little fresh.
Seems like it.
I thought you were done with that?
I did too.
I’m too damn cold to move. Grab me one of them beers, would ya.
Tommy steps out from under a black ’69 Firebird and grabs Jake a beer from the fridge.
What’s the problem?
I think there’s air in the line.
Need any help?
Naw, I got it.
Good, I wasn’t about to anyways.
Jake takes a sip of his beer. I talked to Alice.
Oh, how’d that go?
‘Bout as good as you’d think. He takes another sip; by the way, you didn’t say nothin to Cindy, did ya?
Good. I wouldn’t think you would.
Why? What’s up?
I dunno. I gotta think about it some more. Maybe nothin.
Tommy goes back to work while Jake sits and finishes his beer.
After awhile, Tommy asks; so when do ya think you’ll know?
What it is you’re thinkin about.
Oh, I dunno, maybe after the hunt.
The Burlesons are one of only a handful of families left in the area that have farming roots that date back prior to the town being incorporated in 1831. Their downfall, like that of so many others, wasn’t the result one defining moment but rather, the slow erosion of success and the inevitable and continual need to sell off parts of their farm to stay ahead. What was once a prosperous farm of 750 acres is now nothing more than two side-by-side five-acre lots, each with a small, ranch-style bungalow on it. The only original building that remains is a falling-down barn that sits on Jake’s lot. Both of the houses are heated by outdoor wood-burning stoves that have large woodsheds built next to them. Behind Tommy’s house is the small tin drive shed where he runs his repair shop. For the past nine years, Jake has worked at the locks.
Jake closes the door and walks to the fridge. He removes a Red Stripe and twists the lid off. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think too much of this thaw. He tosses the lid towards the bin.
I guess not, replies Tommy.
That Dale’s truck?
Yup. Driveshaft’s broke.
Jake takes a sip of his beer; I was at Randy’s and he’s already got the head of that 10-pointer mounted on the wall in his garage.
I guess he does.
Jake finishes his beer and tosses the empty in the bin. He grabs another beer from the fridge and has a seat on the block of oak. Tommy, I need to talk you, he says. He twists off the lid of his beer and tosses it towards the bin.
Tommy turns and leans against the work bench. He grabs a rag and starts to wipe the grease off his hands. What’s up?
You remember when I said I had to figure out what to do. You know, about what the doc said about me.
Yeah, I remember.
Well, this is gonna sound a little crazy, maybe at first anyways, but when you really think about it, it ain’t that crazy.
Jake takes a sip of beer. Course you know how much Alice wants kids.
Not that I don’t, cause I do. I mean youse got your two and they’re doin okay, right?
Jake finishes the beer and tosses it in the bin. He runs his sleeve across his mouth. Shit, I’m just gonna come out and say it.
Why wouldn’t ya?
I don’t wanna adopt some stranger’s baby and say it’s mine. Alice don’t neither. We could get her artificially knocked up, but we can’t afford it. Anyways, we wouldn’t want to.
So, whaddya thinkin?
I want you to do it.
You heard me.
You’ve lost your goddamn mind. You want me to do Alice?
That’s what I’m sayin.
Does Alice know about this?
Yup, we talked about it.
Well that’s great, but do ya think Cindy’s gonna be okay with me walking next door and doin Alice? Cause I got news for ya, she ain’t.
She don’t gotta know.
Whaddaya mean she don’t gotta know. How the hell is she not gonna know?
‘Cause we ain’t gonna tell her. That’s how.
For Christ’s sake, Jake. This is nuts. I can’t do Alice.
Whaddaya mean you can’t do Alice. She looks good. Hell, she’s a lot better lookin than that Petheram girl yous was doin back in high school.
She wasn’t that bad.
The hell she wasn’t.
Come on, Jake. You gotta get serious with me. You don’t mean this shit, do ya?
I’m as serious as the day is long little brother. Look, it won’t take more than a time or two - didn’t ya always tell me alls you had to do to knock up Cindy was ta hang your pants on the bed post? Think about it. At least the kid’ll be a Burleson. It’s the only way Tommy.
Jake stands and walks to the fridge and grabs another beer. He twists the top off and tosses it in the bin. Anyway, I got it all worked out. We’ll just get up a little extra early one day, you walk to my place and I’ll come here. I’ll do up your morning chores while you do Alice. After you’re done, you come back here like nothin ever happened and I’ll head back to my place and get my chores done. He pauses and takes a sip of beer. Don’t say nothin now, just think about it. He finishes the beer and tosses the empty into the bin. He walks to the door. Before he leaves he looks back at Tommy; Alice says she’ll be droppin eggs again in the next day or two. See ya.
Tommy, still a little stunned by Jake’s request, waits till Jake is gone: See ya.
Several days later, Jake and Tommy execute the plan. In the cold predawn dark, they cross paths; they do not look at one another and they do not stop and talk.
And so it goes, on through the varied seasons of the coming year: once, sometimes even twice, every 28 days, followed by weeks of waiting and wondering.
And then it snows.
‘Bout time things froze up. I was done with all that goddamn mud. Jake walks to the fridge and grabs a beer.
Grab me one too.
Jake pauses and looks back at Tommy.
Don’t worry, says Tommy, I’m just havin the one.
Jake grabs another beer and joins Tommy sitting by the stove. He passes Tommy the beer; how come you ain’t workin on Jessie’s spilter?
I dunno. I guess I don’t feel like it.
They crack open their beers and toss the lids towards the bin.
Cheers, says Jake.
They sit and they drink.
After a while, Tommy says; I never told ya, but I went and saw the doc.
Why? You sick or somethin?
No, I ain’t sick. I got tested.
Tested? Why would you get tested? You got Noel and Lea.
I know I got Noel and Lea. But don’t it seem a little strange to you that it’s comin on a year and nothin’s happened?
Yeah, I guess. I checked with Alice to see if youse was doin it right.
She said ya was. Wha’d the doc say?
Said I’m just like you.
Yup. Nothing but blanks.
Shit, says Jake.
You got that right, says Tommy.
They drink some more.
Suddenly Jake sits up and turns and looks at Tommy; that means Noel and Lea…
Tommy doesn’t reply and Jake’s words hang and linger in the warm, fire-stoked air.
After awhile, Jake asks; so whaddaya gonna do?
I dunno, replies Tommy. I ain’t got it figured out yet. I’ll tell you one thing, I ain’t gonna be doin Alice not more. Less you think she might miss it too much?
I dunno, I could check.
Tommy smiles, you do that, he says.
They finish their beer and toss the empties into the bin.
Fuck it, says Jake, we need another one. He stands and brings back two more beers. He opens one and passes it to Tommy then opens the other one and takes a drink.
I’ll tell ya what, says Tommy.
What’s that? says Jake. He sits back down next to his brother.
I’m gonna miss you doin up my morning chores, that’s for sure.
Jake smiles. He takes a sip of his beer then turns and looks Tommy; this is one hell-of-a-deal, ain’t it?
Yup, replies Tommy, seems like it, don’t it.
They continue to sit in silence and drink their beer.
Finally, Jake says; you know, I bin thinkin, maybe we oughta go see mom.
Yeah, says Tommy, I bin thinkin about that too.
And so two men sit, next to a small airtight stove in a small tin shed, and together they drink beer and ponder the absurdities of life. And so, I imagine, it shall always be; in a small town.
© Christian Fennell, 2012
Christian Fennell was born in Alabama, the youngest of seven children. At 14 he left home to work for a travelling carnival. He now lives in a small beach hut in Mexico. His interests include and are very much limited to: women, gambling, drinking and writing. He once owned a horse.