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fiction ian stansel A Dry Season My father was a farmer. He woke before light and spent his days trying to guide and control the life that came out of the earth. The farm belonged to his family gone back three generations. Corn from the getgo . My mother stayed at home and had us children because that was the way of the world we lived in. In my very early years my mother was a lively woman. She took us out in the old Ford truck, pushing and pulling the shifter with such vigor I was in awe of the machine, that it did not fall apart under her power. Then that changed. She stopped taking us into town, leaving the job to my father or Robert, Father’s farmhand , or even from time to time Robert’s wife, Estelle. My mother stopped leaving the property and then one day she stopped leaving the house altogether. We lived just outside of a town called Sycamore. Sixty miles from Chicago, due west. Sixty miles made a difference then, far more than it does now. It had been less than a decade since the end of the second war, and the suburbs, though growing fast with GIs and their 36 ecotone young families, were still just a narrow collar on the city. I was the second and last child for my parents. My sister was Harriet. I was the one, though, that our parents had been waiting for—a boy—and it showed in the way they treated me, taking my side in fights between Harriet and me, giving me a stern talking-to for something that would have surely gotten Harriet a spanking or worse. From an early age I understood myself to be different from my sister. One summer day, Harriet and I found ourselves, as we often did on summer days, bored enough to act like friends. We scratched hopscotch into the ground by the barn, but quickly tired of it. We tried to get our dog, a black Labrador named Petal, to chase a stick, but she wasn’t budging from the shade of the house. It was too hot and she was too old. We sat down next to her just as our father came out of the barn leading Grace, his best mare. She had a hitch in one of her back legs. “Goddamn it,” our father said. “What the shit.” Then he called out loudly for Robert. “Go on and play somewhere else,” he said to us, waving his hand in no particular direction. “Robert!” he called again. Harriet and I went around the side of the barn, but stopped and waited at the corner, peering around. Robert came out of the house, where he’d been having lunch. His wife was there that day. Estelle often came out and visited with my mother, sometimes bringing vegetables or flowers from her garden. It was easy to forget that Robert worked for our father; most of the time they seemed like partners or even brothers —Father being the elder, of course. Estelle followed Robert out of the house, but stayed on the porch, leaning against the whitewashed post, watching her husband and our father. Robert shuffled over to where our father had Grace’s leg up, examining her hoof. “What the hell did you do to this shoeing?” our father said. “I had a little trouble with that one,” Robert said, matter-of-fact. He stuck his hands on his back pockets. The stalks should have been higher, but we’d been suffering a hot and dry spell and everything was getting dwarfed by it. 37 ian stansel “I can see that. What I can’t see is how you were gonna reimburse me the price of a healthy mare after she goes lame ’cause of your halfassed work.” It wasn’t like our father to talk to him that way. Robert’s body slumped a little, but then he stood up straighter than normal. “I don’t think it’s quite that bad, Karl, come on. She’ll be back to normal in a couple days.” Our father looked at him. “Well, then we can...


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