Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Broken Chain--a story (iii)

By the time he pulled the husking hook over his right glove again, he was more than a little angry. He had unloaded the entire wagon by himself--even the DeRegt's kid had not helped--and he was sure, now, having unloaded the entire thing, that the wagon held more than thirty bushels. 

Scooping the load out was hard work, always was, hardly a relief from the monotonous hours of picking. But his sense of injustice kin­dled some new emotion in him, and his scoop worked constantly, even easily, charged up by rising anger. When the box was empty, he looked again at the bin, convinced he was right.

DeRegt was still nowhere around. The boy bounded from the house when he saw the wagon empty, and jumped up on the seat, picking up the reins on the way.

"Let's go, John. I'll take 'em."  

John stared at the kid. "Where is your father?" he said.

The boy shrugged his shoulders, impatient.

John stood in the empty wagon, holding the broken chain. Nowhere did he see old man DeRegt.

"Come on, John," the boy said. "We got to get another load."

The horses jerked the wagon forward, back to the cornfield.

De Regt's gloves were already reversed. The morning's picking had opened holes in the fingers, and his nails, already worn down from the work, were starting to hurt. The balls of his fingers were tender, and each snapping ear sent pain searing up from his hand, like it always did. In the heat of his irritation, pain and exhaustion turned to bitterness.

And it only made him work harder. He became so swollen by outrage that the ears seemed to drop from the stalks, faster and harder. When the boy couldn't keep up, John helped out with the inside row to keep the wagon moving.

"Ja, John, you are doing better now." It was DeRegt--bent over the stalks the way he was, he hadn't even seen the man come up. "I could find only a few ears in the rows."

He didn't bother looking up.

"You thirsty?" the man said.

John shook his head and kept working, hard ears clunking continuously off the bangboard.

De Regt turned to his son and helped with his row. In a few minutes they'd nearly reached the back of the wagon, so John moved even faster to keep ahead. With the sides of the wagon bulging again, the wood curved like a buggy spring. But DeRegt kept working, talking occasionally to his son. 

John said nothing this time, anger turning into hatred, his lips sealed by his stubbornness.

"Hey, John, stop once!" DeRegt said.

He didn't turn around, just waited like a tortured slave, his back to the master.

"You take the rows down the field to the end there, ja?" he said. "I need Henry to fence. When you get to the end, take the load and put it in the crib. Then you can meet us back here."

John turned slowly. He wanted to shout, to tell him again about the chain, to scream about the full load, to remind him of Cornelius Van der Wall, his father, the neighbor; but his stubborn hatred grew into a vicious delight in the in­justice he felt himself suffering. He nodded and turned back to the field.

In a moment father and son were gone and John was left to take all three rows. When he came to the end of the field, the load was heaped into a steep hill. More than 35 bushels, for sure.

When he returned to the field, he knew supper­ time was passing. The sun had fallen into the western sky, and the breezes that had kept the work cool through the morning and afternoon began to chill. DeRegt and his son awaited him at the point where he was to begin. He pulled the horses into the right row and tied the reins.

"You're a good worker, John--your father should be proud," DeRegt told him. "Thirty bushels, I'd say-- faster than even most men could load it."

John tightened his swollen hands into fists. There hadn't been an ear less than 35 bushels, he knew. He pulled his overall jacket on once more, stepped into his rows, and began to pick again, accelerating the pace.


He stopped.

"Edgar here says he'll work until it gets dark and then have his supper. That good with you?"

He nodded firmly. "Yes, sir," he said.

DeRegt left then, but returned when darkness fell and nearly a half load was piled in the wagon, covering, once again, that broken chain.

"A good day's work," the man said, hands on hips. He walked over to the wagon as John began to remove his tat­tered gloves. "What's here--ja, 14 or 15?-plus 30 on the first, and 30 on the second?" Somehow, John knew it wasn't a question he was supposed to answer. "That's 75 bushels. Good work, eh, John?"

John threw the gloves into the box and jumped in himself. "Not so good, Mr. DeRegt. I've done much better." 

De Regt looked almost surprised.

"Much better."

"Ach, to me, 75 bushels is a good day's work for a boy like you. Not even some men can pick that much."

John Van der Waal said nothing, let his anger sit and boil inside. By the time he walked home, he could barely speak. He told his parents nothing of what had happened in the field. 

He ate very little and went directly to bed. It was late, and tomorrow would be early again. He lay awake, quiet, sullen, his body tired, his fingers numb, his mind wrenched between two images of his neighbor DeRegt, his own and his father's. He made no resolutions, no decisions about tomorrow, for he still believed that DeRegt was a man of his word. When finally he slept, he rolled around as if sleeping on the ground.

Tomorrow: As he returns to the DeRegt farm, John determines that something must be done.

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