Skip to main content
Father kicks at the gravel. He can’t leave the farm; she should know that. There is too much to do. She shouldn’t leave the farm either. Last night she begged him to take them on a picnic today. It is their birthdays tomorrow, she said. They work hard. They deserve a break. They deserve to have fun. He said no. They’ll get soft, he said. Then, under the tangle of their frayed quilt, she did all the things he always wants her to do. When she lowered her head he forgot what he was saying. His hands slide into the deep pockets of his overalls as he thinks back about this now. Eventually, he gave in. All right. They could go. But she would be the one to take them. Today, today only, he will do the work of one man and three boys.
She opens the back door of the Caravelle. Her three boys look to her with their unspoken questions. They have brown eyes, and freckles dot their faces. It is not hard to tell them apart. Not for her. They grow more different each day. She reaches her hands towards the middle boy, the one who is most still. He puts his small hands out. She shakes her head; his hands are spread too wide. He brings his hands into a shape that more resembles hers and she nods. She deposits the bird and his hands fold over it. The other boys lean close. They smell like dirt. Like hay. Still too young to smell like teenagers.
The other boys want to see what’s in the middle boy’s hands, but her look subdues them. There is no time for that now. They are not far enough away. She takes in her surroundings. They are out of sight of houses. The farms here span 100 or 200 acres. The laneways are long. The trees that line them are lush after a wet summer. She knows that weather, along with all other things, flows in cycles. Dry summers and wet summers. She also knows that winters are harsh and dark. Snow flies every day. If it doesn’t snow, it is only because it is too cold. Winters are spent inside. All of them in the kitchen, where there is a wood stove. Or in the barn, where it is not so cold because of the animals. The thought of another winter on the farm is too much.
She hears a distant tractor. There is a west wind, but not a fierce one. There is the damp smell and she knows that the lowland across the road, where the culvert empties, is the source. A monarch flits across the gravel road. If she were to say the word out loud it would come out marnarch — she has always called it that, not knowing the spelling, not knowing that monarch means royalty. She has seen pictures of the queen on TV. The lady who waves to all the people. Always going somewhere. She admires the queen.
Father waits in the lane for his boys to come back. They are good boys, for the most part. Every year he gets them to work harder. But sometimes he catches them goofing off. Behind the barn they chase the chickens; why, he doesn’t know. Maybe simply to hear them squawk. They throw stones, just to see how far. They scoop water out of the trough and spray each other. Even so, they will be good farmers someday. One of them will take over this farm. It doesn’t matter which one. Not really. They will all stay nearby, he is sure of that. A neighbouring farm might come up for sale. It happens sometimes. On the next concession, where there has never been a family, where the woman is barren, or so they say. He suspects otherwise, suspects that she keeps her knees locked tight. Maybe one of the triplets will take over that farm? He wonders about the middle boy though. He is not robust. Doesn’t work as hard as the others. That one is Mother’s favourite. She tries to hide it. But they all know.
She drives more steadily now. She is afraid to hit another bird. Or a butterfly. Sweat sticks her fingers to the steering wheel. She turns to look in the back seat. They are all staring intently at the middle boy’s cupped hands. Without warning he opens his hands and the bird perches upright on his palm for a moment. All three boys gasp. The bird takes flight, almost to the roof, before it veers to the window and rebounds off the glass. Unhurt, it tries again. There is a flurry. The two outside boys raise their hands to capture the bird as it flutters. It doesn’t have room to gather the speed it would need to injure itself. The middle boy stares in amazement while the others lunge over him in an effort to grab the bird. The bird strikes one window, then the next. She pulls over and opens the back door. The bird lands on the middle boy’s knee for a moment. Then it flies out the door and away. The boys laugh.