a short story by Jeremy C Kester
Note: See end for copyright, notes, and other restrictions/permissions.
Willa wiped the sweat from her brow as she shut the panel on the large machine next to her. It was the third time it had broken down in the last week. An inconvenience on any normal time of the year, but during harvest, it was an especially high annoyance. There were crops to collect before the first days of the frost hit. Equipment breakdowns only threatened that possible collection.
Were she more influential, she would petition the collectives of the world to postpone the frost. It wasn’t real anyway. At least it wasn’t real like she had been told by her father that frosts should be, a natural phenomenon brought on by weather patterns such as high pressure systems, cold fronts, and other nonsense that meant little to the society Willa and her families were now a part of. The “natural cycle” as they called it, was anything but natural.
“Give it a try,” she yelled up to the boy operating the controls.
The boy nodded before disappearing back into the cab to attempt another restart of the beast. Her nephew Quinn was an honest boy. He worked hard for her, which was important as he was one of only a few in the family who had opted to stay. His hair was rusty brown, usually streaked with grime from any one of the many tasks he kept himself occupied with. That day he was operating the harvesting equipment since John had disappeared the week before, claiming that he found a better job working in one of the collection towers. She was glad for it though; John was a real sonofabitch.
Growing centers — vertical farms. Abominations really. They called them collection towers. How and why that name came about she never knew she likened the name to mean all the farms like hers that were collected as they proliferated.
She hated the collection towers, although she didn’t hate them for their purpose, only the effects they have brought forth. They made her life obsolete.
Farming was no longer efficient. The amount of food that could be harvested didn’t justify the amount of land occupied. Accountants spoke about cost effectiveness and bullshit like that trying to convince her to just sell her lands. Fuck, they even figured that she could spend the money and install six of such towers alone on her land and yet keep a few acres still to toil around with as she pleased.
They called her stubborn. At least that was the most kind of the insults they threw out at her as she patently rejected each offer. Stubbornness was the least of her problems.
She rubbed her fingers on the small silver cross that hung from her neck. Like her, it was a relic from a bygone era when people still believed in something greater than themselves. A loud rumble came as the turbines turned. It had come back to life. A thumbs-up appeared as Quinn shoved his arm out the window of the cab. Willa sighed. One more problem ticked off the list. This delay made things difficult, but she could still be on time with her harvest.
…as long as nothing more went wrong.
“All systems look good!” yelled Quinn. His voice barely carried over the noise of the machine. “Should be good to go!”
“Call me if she gives you any more problems!” she answered back as she wiped her hands on the front of her jeans. Grease stains mixed with the other grime already on the blue fabric. The color of her own hands remained unchanged. Clean was only a hypothetical idea. A wave came in reply as she turned to resume her other tasks.
Days were still long even while the daylight waned. Work piled up too when problems with the equipment arose. Sometimes she wondered why she kept at it when even everything appeared against her. No one did normal farming anymore. (Even ranchers were increasingly using tower landscapes for their steers.) It meant manufacturers cared little about making equipment. Willa had to do with what she had. It meant days like this, with many breakdowns interrupting her normal affairs, were frequent.
Her phone rang as she reached the truck. Like the ring was an omen, she looked up towards Quinn. The machine was humming along just fine. Breathing a quick sigh, she then pulled the phone from her pocket.
Daryl Pullard. Her attorney. Once she saw the name on the screen of her phone, her anxiety climbed a few more rungs. Decisions on whether or not to answer hung in the air as she debated on what the call was for. Undoubtedly, it was for another bid to have her property sold. Or another fucking politician trying to legislate a way to bankrupt her out of her way of life. Time would take care of it eventually, but that fact didn’t discourage those leaches from trying.
“Yeah, Daryl,” she said as she spit a wad of saliva onto the ground, done more for effect than need.
“Good afternoon to you too,” he said in a feigned sense of indignation.
“Sorry,” Willa said. She took a deep breath and grit her teeth. “Just been a rough day so far. What do I owe the pleasure?”
“I wanted to let you know that we were able to secure an injunction against Senator Vicrim’s proposal. Legislation didn’t make it past committee. Should buy you at least another month or so before he tries his next trick.”
Of all those damned politicians, Senator Tiberius Vicrim was the worst. He was the continued thorn in Willa’s side. Like a clock strikes midnight, the senator would propose legislation that created some loophole to steal the property away. At first, it spurred little support. Few were willing to jump on board, despite the increased numbers of other farmers who were giving up their properties en mass.
Tower farming was more efficient. It produced exponentially more food than Willa was capable of, even with the most modern of techniques employed on her farm. That was even without accounting for the lack of need to abide by seasonal growing. Each level could be on a differing temperate cycle. As such, they could provide a full variety of food throughout the year. Meanwhile, she was stuck dealing with the schedule imposed in her zone.
Long ago, nature had given up on its duty to maintain the varying temperate zones. Weather went awry and seasons disappeared as the atmosphere hit a tipping point from humanities recklessness. Fortune came from innovation and the modern methods became the way of life.
Willa kept up. Barely. Each year she continued, that thin line which she hung on from was stretching more. She often wondered how much tensile strength that line had left before it snapped.
“Thank you,” she replied. She was grateful that he did something to extend her life beyond its due date.
There was a hum from Daryl.
Willa’s jaw clenched. “What is it? Spit it out.”
He hesitated a moment before he spoke. “It might be time to consider selling the property. This can only go on for so long before they finally get their way.”
“Won’t they get their way if I do sell?” she asked as she tried to keep her voice flat.
There was a sigh before he replied, “if you sell now, it will keep that decision in your hands. It becomes your choice. And you’ll be able to live well off the earnings. There’s a lot of people eying your land. But when they eventually win this battle — and they will — they’ll tear it from you without giving you a cent. You’d be lucky if they give you a position one of the towers to live out your days. I just want to make sure you get the best outcome in all this.”
“You’re only concerned about your paycheck.”
“A paycheck that will continue only if you don’t sell,” Daryl said. “I don’t get any more money than time spent. You know this.”
“Look,” Willa said as she squeezed the bridge of her nose. “It has nothing to do with the money.”
“Principle, I know—”
“Then why do you keep asking me this, Daryl?”
“Because I don’t want to see you lose everything in the end. Like I keep saying: I don’t know how we can keep the vultures at bay. It’s only a matter of time before they win. They will win. If you sell now, you can walk away with enough money to keep your family happy for at least a generation.”
“Thank you, Daryl — for the advice. I’ll think on it.”
Daryl thanked her before they disconnected. He should know that she had no intentions to sell.
A long exhale came out as Willa placed the phone back in her pocket. As though driven by instinct, her hand reached up, bringing her fingers to the worn silver of her cross. For a long moment, she gazed her property. The hum of the harvesting equipment echoed over the open field, dust billowing as it passed. She raised her other hand over her eyes to shield from the sunlight as she moved around. Those were her fields; her’s alone. They were the fruits of years of her life. They were her life. Pride mixed with the fear that she was coming close to the last of the days that she would be able to look over these lands as her own.
The drive back to the house was quiet. She opted to leave the radio off, her usual mix of downloaded favorites held off for another time. Quiet allowed her to think. It was a rare moment free from the business of running the farm.
If she let herself admit it, Daryl was right. How could he not be? Eventually, her enemies were going to emerge victorious against her claim to the land. The question was not if; the question was when. And when that when came along, her entire family — all the hands that pulled the food from the Earth for her — would find themselves drifting into whatever life was then. Fuck, she didn’t even know anything out there beyond farming.
But if she sold the land? What if she scored a big offer and willingly accepted? She could give the whole lot of her loyal hands something to stay the tide of their unemployment. She could still provide them a life while giving them a better opportunity to find something else.
“Then what will I do?” she found herself asking aloud.
The hum of the truck came into her senses as she realized that she had stopped the truck along one of the roads along her fields.
The question was a selfish one. Everything that she was doing felt selfish, as though she had been dragging everyone along for this venture of hers just for what? Being able to farm in the old ways? Making food inefficiently? Toil endlessly in dirt and grease? What sense did it make?
She punched the dashboard of the car. Stains of grease decorated it from the many times she had gotten into that truck, her hands full of grime. It was a filthy job, trying to keep the farm running. Glamor was void, a sound that she couldn’t find if it was even playing in her ear. There was only dirt and filth and grime and hardship. Like the sound of the engine of the combines running along her fields. Her knuckles cracked and started to bleed. It felt like a metaphor for the way that her day had become.
She shook her head like she was trying to shake loose a thought. Anger would give her little solace. There was little time for it too.
The day got long before she returned to the house. “Was worried about you,” a beautiful older woman said as Willa stepped through the doorway.
Silvia was in her late 60’s although she wore age with a grace and sophistication that even the youth couldn’t help but envy. In her youth she was the envy of the gods, Willa reckoned. If there were any gods that is.
She also spoke with a twang that Willa found endearing.
“Oh? Why’s that?” Willa replied, curiosity beckoning the question. She hadn’t thought anyone knew of the conversation with Daryl much less the thoughts going through her own mind. She placed the radio on the counter and turned the knob.
“Boys ‘n girls said y’were quiet, and then when you did talk y’were short with ‘em.”
She chuckled. A swift motion tossed the key dongle for the truck onto the counter. “When ain’t I short with them?”
“Oh, I reckon that y’were shorter than normal.”
There was no use in hiding it. She sighed and wiped her brow. The blood from punching the dash left dried crimson flakes along the muck on her face. “Daryl’s telling me that I should sell the farm.” Her hand then reflexively reached up and began rubbing the silver. It felt like her arm might stick there.
“Why’s that?” Silvia asked, her hands reaching for a towel to clean them. “They gettin’ somewhere with the courts?”
“No no,” Willa waved off, swatting away those thoughts. “He says that he blocked it. Besides — not the courts — legislature.”
“How long do you think that’ll last? Cuz it looks to me like you don’t trust ‘im.”
“I trust him…” she said before she paused, trying to figure out the words that felt jumbled in her head. “It’s that I don’t know for how much longer I can keep this up — this fighting.”
“I guess that depends on how much y’want it.”
Willa sighed while she flopped down onto one of the chairs next to the table. “I guess I’m not so sure anymore. I mean I love this,” she spread her arms out as though to emphasize everything around her. She then slumped. “But I ain’t sure, you know? I mean, they’re fucking leaches—” she cut herself off before going any further. Anger had already taken much of her energy. She felt that it had had enough of her attention for the day.
A chair pulled out slowly as Silvia moved around to sit in front of Willa. She took her hands with a graceful movement and slipped her fingers to be interlaced with Willa’s. They were soft. Clean. They contrasted so desperately from Willa’s own. “I will support ya no matter what ya decide. I just want ya to decide what’s best for ya…” After a few moments of quiet, she added, “I want ya to be happy.”
“I know — I know. Just hard is all. This is what I always wanted to do. I don’t know if I can let it go.” Willa’s voice sounded tired, as though she was hit with a sudden need for sleep. It was a strange exhaustion that she hadn’t felt before, as though she understood the fighting wouldn’t end until she took her last breath, and all the energy that she would expend in that battle laid out before her. The feeling of it was daunting. How long was she going to live for? How long were they going to keep fighting her to take the farm away?
Silvia squeezed Willa’s hands. “Then I think ya already know the answer.”
“But what if it ain’t the right one?”
“What’s right is following truth. If it don’t work out, y’ll be OK.”
As she was speaking the radio went off. There was a few bits of chatter that Willa didn’t catch. The volume was down. She cursed herself in the moment for having turned it down when she got inside.
Quinn was radioing about another breakdown. And a few others were talking about other problems, including the irrigation systems being offline. Problems had stacked up in the few moments she believed to have had for herself. When she replied to Quinn the radio exploded with calls from the others for her.
“There’s ne’r enough time,” Silvia winked. “Dinner’s in two hours. See ya then.”
She smiled and kissed Willa’s forehead.
Clangs and rattles wove in and around the conversations. Lively stories of the troubles each of them had during the day bounded back and forth. Like cards in a poker game, they each placed wagers, doubled down on their own happenings, then waited for the group to decide on who took the winnings for the day. Winnings meant bragging rights, yet such things were treasured beyond measure by the members of the farm.
Willa smiled as she listened to the stories. Under typical circumstances, she would have joined in. She held the record at the farm, even though she never really competed other than for the jollity. Given that she was the owner, she would easily face the most obstacles, taking others’ on for herself. That day, she wanted her own problems kept to herself. None of the others had to know what was going on. It would do nothing except cause them worry. John was one to listen to her worries besides Silvia. Maybe that’s where she went wrong with him — trusting that bastard.
They all knew the movements to stop farming in the United States as it had been known traditionally. Willa’s was the last of the great farms. It felt almost surreal that she was able to hold onto it for so long when there had been the Great Abandonment so many years before. All the farmers like her took to selling their land in droves, giving up on their way of life in favor of those damn towers. To think that agriculture once took up nearly half or maybe even more of an economy. Now she was alone if one didn’t count those things.
Most of her help came from that very event, with her workers not wanting to abide by the corporate farming operations in those cursed towers.
A nudge came from the side. Silvia smiled, a glass of bourbon in her hand. “You look lost in thought,” she said when their eyes met. She had leaned into Willa’s ear as she spoke.
“I was. Just thinking of these guys,” Willa said, only loud enough for Silvia to hear. “Wondering what the best choice is for them.”
“S’what I always loved about ya,” Silvia said as she sat back into the chair.
Quinn shouted with a lively description of one of the many breakdowns he personally dealt with (along with Willa’s help of course — though that went without saying). It was a point where one of the panels broke loose and started spraying corn into the cab. For effect, he grabbed a handful of the grain from his plate and threw it in the air, showering everyone at the table. Where both he and Willa were cursing up a storm at that event, they each laughed.
Food flew back at Quinn as a few of the others retaliated to reliving the experience at dinner.
“Hey now,” Willa laughed. “Don’t be wasting food.” She then scooped up some potatoes, flinging it right at Jena, another of her helpers. “Gotta make sure you aim first.”
The table erupted as everyone then joined the fervor. Only Silvia, her face wrought with worry, looked out over the scene. Like always, Silvia prepared the food and spent hours upon hours each day to accomplish the feat. Even still the woman often managed breakfast and lunch for the crews, never asking for anything in return for the efforts.
Now that food was being thrown all over as the whole crew forgot about their troubles for the time. Willa smiled as she watched it. As she looked over at Silvia, she noticed the old woman’s shock. Willa laid her hand on Silvia’s thigh. She squeezed it as she leaned in, kissing the woman gently on her cheek. “I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here.”
“Probably starve,” she replied.
“No,” said Willa looking back out over the fray. “I think I can still manage that even with you.”
The next day started much like the others. Willa woke to an empty bed, the other occupant having already started the day. Even though it remained summer, the sun continued to lose its foothold. Darkness continued to spread later and earlier each day. If only they could figure out how to control that along with the temperature. Not that they ever did that well.
“Weather report,” Willa said aloud. A display of the conditions outside lit up in front of her, appearing as though it were formed out of the very particles in the air. She rubbed her eyes as she tried to adjust to the light.
The display showed her the varying weather currents that moved through the area. It showed the target models designed by the government weather control systems and then the actuals. No matter how much control the government believed that it had, Mother Nature knew how to assert her dominance. She felt it odd that they couldn’t control it as well as they claimed. Even so, the temperatures were beginning to drop consistently with the frost looming. Maybe she might get lucky and nature would delay the onset of the systems for a week or two.
She let the anxiety of the pending whether take her. Deadlines like that were getting harder to meet each year as more things got in her way. Even God appeared against her anymore. She gave the stress a few minutes — only a few minutes. Longer than that would not allow her to tackle the tasks ahead. It was already enough to know all the tasks — those endless tasks — that laid ahead.
Then there was the offers. Possibly her last chance to step away unscathed. And maybe with a sizable fortune. Daryl always suggested she work into the deal to lease part of the land to those towers and then keep a small section for a garden. She laughed. A garden. Like that small postage stamp of a piece of land would satisfy her. Then again. It’d be better than nothing.
As she stared at the forecasts, the calculations, the maps, she could feel her hands start to tremble. She clenched her fists when she realized what was happening. Weather never worried her before. There was something else under it all. A fear crept into her mind. “Cease display,” she said. Anxiety had enough of her time. She stood from the bed and grabbed her clothes.
“It was working last night when I put it in the barn!” Yael argued. She was already defensive, even though Willa hadn’t accused her of anything.
The young woman was always in sorts like that. Nothing happened by way of her intervention lest it turned out to be something good. It mattered little as to the circumstances, yet still, she professed her innocence long before any charges were brought to her. Willa ignored it in many cases. Though it seemed unlikely due to Yael’s behavior, much of the problems that followed the girl were accidental. And there did seem like there were a lot of problems that followed her.
“I can vouch for her,” Jena said, looking the opposite: calm and composed.
“I haven’t said nothing yet, girl,” Willa said to Yael as she jammed her hands into the controls, trying to move wires out of the way in hopes of seeing what might be causing the machine to fail. “Jena, go help out Quinn out in the east fields. He’s already got a bunch of hands out there, but can always use another.”
“Sure thing, ma’am,” Jena said with a feigned salute.
Willa spit. “Smartass.”
As Jena ran out, Yael stepped up close to the machine. “How does this happen anyway? I mean, it was working fine yesterday.”
“Keep quiet less I ask you. These machines are old. They don’t make them any longer, so they break because they’re old.”
The young girl sighed, a ripple of frustration pulsed through her face. She tried to hear the words that her boss said. “Okay,” she said. It was half-hearted.
Willa chose to wave off the girl’s paranoia.
Inside the machine was a mess. A conglomeration of the varied repairs that were repeatedly made over the years. Much of it looked up to snuff. Nothing out of — she paused. A small detail caught her eye.
“You said you were the last one on this machine?” She tried to keep her voice even as she looked at the mistake.
It was a simple break, or rather it was meant to look like a break. The tear pattern in the wire chassis was wrong. She had seen enough breaks in that chassis, legitimate breaks, to know that what she was looking at was not right. Whoever did it tried to make it look like it was typical wear.
“It was fine when I left it here!” Yael insisted. “I told you!”
Willa couldn’t tell any nervousness in the girl’s voice. She had never known the youth to act any different. Always defensive; always nervous of being accused of something.
“I know,” she replied to the girl. “Just making—” she paused for the effect. “Damn wire chassis.” She tried to make the curse sound genuine.
“I didn’t do—”
“Christ, Yael,” Willa hissed as she pulled her head out of the machine. “You’ve gotta stop thinking that you’re gonna be in trouble every damned time something’s wrong.”
The girl paused. Willa saw her wrench her face, like she wanted to say something, but was confused, like she expected something but couldn’t quite figure out what. It was a strange face. Willa struggles not to show any signs of being observant in that way.
“I-I’m sorry,” the girl stuttered. “ I guess I just get too defensive. You know my mom and dad didn’t think I could do anything right. It still gets to me sometimes.”
The broken chassis in her hand, Willa wiped the grease off on her pants as she looked at the young girl. “And you know I took you in without any fuss. I haven’t yet blamed you for anything either. I know your parents and I know how they be. You have to find some way to ignore that chatter, otherwise you’ll just end up finding a way to prove them right.”
Yael lowered her head. “You’re right.”
“Let’s just figure out how to get this up and running. How ’bout you go help one of the guys.”
The girl looked up with a half-hearted smile, one that looked like it was made by a defeated child who didn’t want to admit that she was in a better mood. She then turned and left the large room. There was a small look back, like one would do were they making sure they were making the right choice.
Willa looked back down at the small, broken wire bracket with disgust. “Fuck,” she said.
Her entire world swirled before her. Equipment was breaking regularly. It became a cost of doing business; a cost of farming. Some of it was expected. Some. It was like a nagging feeling that she pushed down suddenly forced itself into her thoughts. In that moment, every one of those breaks was in doubt. There was no way the volume she had been dealing with lately were accidental. No way. But why?
“Are y’sure?” Silvia asked, her voice calm as it always was. “I mean we both know that all that equipment is really old and they don’t even make anything for the way we farm anymore.”
Days had already passed as Willa held onto her thoughts, looking more and more at what was going on. The whole idea that someone was spending the effort to sabotage the equipment was anything but far-fetched. Given that she patently refused to sell up to then, making her go bankrupt was one way of forcing the issue. It certainly was making that deadline — that time before she had until it all came undone — come ever closer ever quicker.
To think that one of the people she trusted would do it. At first she believed John was behind it. When he left, there was a huge falling out. Then again, one of the things he seemed most frustrated with was the very thing that she was dealing with. She remembered one particular argument they had about selling when he was fed up about the combine going down for the tenth day in a row. Even as she tried to link the memories to his possible involvement, she couldn’t get his emotions to be anything but a genuine anger that Willa was unable to keep all the equipment running without issue.
Her fingers rubbed on the worn silver of her cross.
“I think that’s the point. Even I thought that. But more and more it looks like someone is trying to get me to sell. Or go broke in the process. Something. I wouldn’t put it past Vicrim to be paying someone here to be doing all this. I’m like the last thing in his way. People see me succeeding, they might not back his plans.”
Silvia’s brow furrowed. She turned away, her attention partly focused on the meal she was preparing.
“You think he’d do that?”
“Of course. It would make sense — you know, push me to a point that maybe I just give up and sell rather than fight this. To tire me out. Paying off any of the hands would accomplish just that. He’d only need to find one who has the most interest in making sure that I fail.” She paused for a moment and rubbed on her cross. “Or someone who needs the money,” she added, almost as an afterthought.
There was a shrug. “I guess that makes sense. But are y’sure that it’s not just the equipment? Who y’think would be willing to do that?”
“I think it’s Yael.”
Silvia seemed like her movement stuttered. “Yael? Y’sure? I mean, I guess it makes sense. The girl’s always prattling on about nonsense like she’s been put-upon by the world.”
Willa sighed. It wasn’t the answer she hoped for. She knew it was right though.
“Yeah. I didn’t want to believe it either. Unfortunately, I think it’s right.”
“What do you think you’ll do?” Silvia asked, continuing to focus on the task in front of her.
“Not sure yet. But I have to do something.”
Willa tried to stay quiet.
The plan was simple. Quinn was the biggest help. She instructed him to run an errand that made him get up earlier than normal. It was a standard errand, if not a bit out of routine — Quinn’s idea. He then hid dressed a bit like Willa and took her truck off to one of the far fields, leaving her behind to wait.
A sound alerted her that someone was on their way. She knew who.
Silvia walked into the room as she always did at that time. Her hands were worn from the work in the kitchen all day, but it was another filth that she needed to remove from her hands.
“How could you betray me?” says Willa as she stepped from the shadows.
Silvia jumped, startled. As effortlessly as she managed the food everyday, she composed herself as she stared at Willa with a look that feigned the expected. “What are you doing in here?” She moves her hands to her apron and tries to wipe the grease from them. “I thought that you were out in the fields?”
Willa stepped forward out of the shadows of the room, her face held tight. Tears fought their way to her eyes. She tried desperately not to let them pass by the tender ducts along the edges of white. It was hard to stand there, facing Silvia in that way. She wanted to run, to pretend that it was something that she would never have to do, to let the world continue as it was before digging for the answers— oh why the fuck did she have to dig?!
“How could you betray me?” she says as she tries desperately to keep herself composed. “Why? Why did you betray me?”
“How long have y’known?”
“Since before I spoke to you. Why? That’s the only thing I don’t understand. Why’d you betray me like this?”
There was silence. Silvia stood there, debating on how to continue with the conversation. It wasn’t a difficult choice, really. She knew that the secret she tried to conceal from the woman she loved was out. Trust was broken, much like the equipment she had sabotaged. That damned persistence that Willa showed. If it weren’t so damned beautiful, it would be the ruin of that woman.
But it was the ruin of her. At least that was what Silvia believed. Progress was pushing forward, leaving them all behind — leaving Willa behind. The woman kept fighting so immensely for a lifestyle long since obsolete. Land was more valuable on its own than all the food it could ever produce from her labors. Could she not see that she was so much better served if she would just give in? If she would simply sell her lot? Now more than ever she could acquiesce to the demands of sale and make a profit— she could give up.
Damn, the thought of it almost made her violently ill. Nausea crept up her throat even with the thought of cashing in for the money. What did the money even mean for her other than supporting the farm?
Her eyes were the worst part of it, Willa reckoned. They looked at her like that of a mother filled with pity for their naive child. “I want to make sure y’d be alright,” Silvia said. “I can’t keep watching y’struggle so much just to make ends meet.”
“That’s my choice,” Willa hissed.
“Is it though? What about me? Quinn? Yael? Jena? How many of us are going to have to suffer if y’lose the farm?”
“And what happens to them if I sell?”
“They can get jobs working at a tower,” she said with an attitude about her that almost said duh. To Willa, it sounded like something that hadn’t crossed the woman’s mind. Silvia was better than that— or Willa thought that she should’ve been. Maybe she was mistaken.
“Like hell they would just go to them. Have they gone there now? Only John left. And damn if I remember his being happy about it. Why didn’t they leave then? With John? He promised everyone better pay and all. Why would you think you had one goddamn inch of right to do this to them? To me?”
No words came from her. Willa wanted her to say something then. Anything. It was heartbreaking and infuriating that the woman stayed quiet.
“I worried that you were going to break from this,” she finally said after what felt like an eternity. “I got tired. Tired of watching y’break your neck every day, to tired to even kiss me when y’came to bed each night.”
Willa froze in her thoughts. Had it really been like that? How long had the pair been intimate? When had she last come in and just kissed Silvia rather than unloading on her about all the problems of the farm?
“It’s like y’re married to this damn farm,” continued Silvia, “and I’m only a convenient mistress to ya.”
The words took the air from Willa’s lungs. She felt suddenly too aware of it all. Too aware of all the moments, all the time she had spent worrying about the farm rather than the one person most important to her. While she always thought of how much she appreciated Silvia, there was a deep chasm between that belief and the actions meant to prove it.
“I thought maybe if I pushed y’hard enough—” she paused. Her voice sounded like it caught on the words. “I thought y’d come to me. I thought y’ld see me. Instead you dug in deeper. Y’pulled away from me.” She started crying. “And I thought maybe I could just push y’away— like I could make the farm too hard that maybe y’d sell, like y’d give up on this. But I felt like y’gave up on me.”
Willa’s heart twisted. As much anger pooled in her chest, the words Silvia spoke splashed into it, breaking up the puddle.
It took what felt like an eternity to Willa before she could figure out what to say. “I’m sorry,” she said. She wasn’t sure if she meant that to Silvia or the farm. How could she separate those emotions— they get so goddamn tied together that sometimes Willa felt like she couldn’t tell the difference. Too long had gone with her being so absorbed into growing food that the idea of growing a relationship simply folded into the other. Now, she was reaping the fruits of that, of that ignorance. “I didn’t even know,” she said as though it mattered at that point.
Silvia laughed. It was one of disappointment, of a sadness being masked by the attempted jollity. “I guess I really didn’t understand myself. All that effort and all it got for me was pushing y’more into your work. But when would it stop? How far would I have to take it until y’gave in?” There was a genuine melancholy tone to her voice.
Willa thought for a moment. Each event replayed in her mind from the years and years that she ran that farm, from when she met Silvia, the older woman looking for a place to call home, finding it on Willa’s farm— in Willa’s bed. And the answer came to Willa. It was clear why she could never sell. It was clear why she would fight until it was ripped from her.
“This is my home, Silvia. I’ll never give that up.”
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