The Hard Fifty Farm is a zine by Jessie Duke (Pioneers Press, 2013) featuring tales of a tangled-up, thorny walk through contemporary back-to-the-land rural farm life. The beautifully-written stories in this issue, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, are of love and failure and dreams crashed. We see the characters looking for better, smarter lives in the country, having a rough go of it but the desire to rise to the occasion. The following excerpt is from Farm Lesson #1, the tale of a young woman coming home to rural Kansas.
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“You need to quit the bohemian bullshit and get your ass back to Kansas,” her father had yelled into the phone. “If you go back to California, that’s it. Do you hear me? That IS IT.”
She considered this now, from a bed on the floor of her father’s finished basement. After the first night they’d moved the mattress from the old pull-out couch to the floor because it felt like sleeping on a mouse trap.
She remembered the first time she and her sister slept on that bed, their last Georgia summer. She was 11 and Sadie was 8 and they’d stayed up watching a marathon of “Green Acres” and that show with the talking horse. The air conditioner was no match for the heavy-wet southern heat, and they’d sat scraping the ice from frozen Capri Suns with long, thin-handled tea spoons, sitting cross-legged, side by side in the dark, staring into the TV glow. It had felt like a real big deal getting that pull-out. Like they were moving up in the world. They guessed their dad was probably getting rich and when they were rich maybe they’d move to a farm, just like on the show. Just like on the show, but with cuter husbands, they’d decided.
Their dad had gotten the couch in the divorce later that year, and for a long time it was the symbol of The Great Injustice that had been done to them and their mother.
“It’s not even that nice of a couch,” she thought to herself now, staring up at it from the floor. “It’s itchy.”
She’d spread Mexican blankets out on the floor in a path from the bed to the door so they wouldn’t ruin the immaculate white wall-to-wall carpet. “If one of the dogs pukes on the floor, Cindy’s head will explode,” she’d told Jude. “It’s bad enough that we’re here in the first place. I’m starting to get the feeling my dad didn’t even ASK her about this first.”
Jude and the dogs had disappeared at some point while she’d been asleep, and the sun had gone down. She started to worry. He had a life-long habit of coming and going without warning. Whenever she woke up alone she’d wonder if this was the time he’d just be GONE. She got up, checking herself in the bathroom mirror before making her way out back to look for him.
She saw the dogs first; they’d gotten them special collars made for hunting dogs that each had a single glowing ball hanging from them. It was dark enough that you couldn’t make out the dogs’ bodies, only two fairy lights speeding back and forth across the lower yard as they silently and frantically enjoyed their new freedom. They’d never had this much room to run before.
Jude faced the yard, his mohawk hidden under a new baseball cap with a motor-oil company logo embroidered on it. He was wearing his gray ringer t-shirt with the California flag across the front; the shirt had been in heavy rotation since they’d left for the Midwest. A collection of empty beer bottles were at his feet, and he was taking slow drags off a cigarette, looking out at the long lines of identical houses, sheds, swing sets; the muffled sound of canned laughter coming from a sitcom on the neighbor’s big screen.
“He is never going to forgive me for this,” she thought, then went back inside.
Reprinted with permission from The Hard Fifty Farm: What Becomes of the Broken Hearted by Jessie Duke and published by Pioneers Press, 2013.