A Good Year

A Good Year

A Story by Delmar Cooper
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Short story edited

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                   A Good Year

 

The coffee burned my mouth as I sat down, out of Emma’s way, at the table. She fussed around the kitchen getting breakfast ready, hanging coats on pegs by the back door, and setting a bottle to warm in a pan of water on the stove.  Claire sleeps through the night now, but she would be awake soon. Emma usually feeds her while the boys and I eat.

“What will you do today, Emory?”  The creak of the oven door, the scrape of the biscuit pan almost drowned her words.  I cut only hickory for the stove.  Emma claims it bakes better.

“Mend the axle on the hay trailer, I guess.  Then there’s the shed roof I need to see about.  Why, is there something you need done?”

“How long has it been since we got the corn in, a month now?”  She was buttering the biscuits while they were still hot, the butter melting right into the flesh of the bread.

“A month.  Yes, about a month since harvest.  You know that.”

“Over a month I'd say, why hasn’t Chandler burned his corn?  Every day I expect to see his fields laid by, smell the smoke from his corn stalks burning.  Not long ‘till first snow and he hasn’t touched his fields.”

“Plenty of time for that,” I said, looking out the window into the false dawn in the east.  The bottoms of the panes were rimmed with frost that was beginning to melt and run from the heat of the kitchen.

“Why don’t you go down and see him today?  You haven’t been down there since…  Well, since right after the harvest.  That axle can wait, it sure isn’t going anywhere.”

“Emma, if Walter Chandler needed my help he’d …

“No. No, he wouldn’t, Emory.  He wouldn’t ever say a word.  If I was a man I’d go see him.  I’d go today and let the shed roof and all the hay trailers in the county go to hell.”

The boys came trooping in then.  I filled their plates as Emma went upstairs with the bottle.

From my workshop I can see the road wind down the valley past my farm, then Chandler’s, before it disappears over the hill.  The county tarred and graveled the road last spring, so when the yellow and black school bus stopped in front of my house there was no plume of dry November dust rooster tailing behind it.  My boys waved up the hill to me before boarding.  Ted, the youngest, had already unbuttoned his coat.  I was glad his mother didn’t see that.

I could see Chandler’s fields, row after row of dry, barren cornstalks reeling in drunken ranks.  Emma was right, the stalks should not still be standing.  There was a winter smell in the air.  The corn left in the field was an affront, like a roach on a wedding cake.  I put my toolbox back on the work bench and got into the Ford.

I almost didn’t see him.  His clothes were as brown as the corn stalks; the blue chambray collar of his shirt caught my eye.  I got out and waited at the fence line, my forearms resting on the top strand of wire.  I liked it better this way, seeing him at the edge of the field.  I didn’t want to be in his house.  He made a raspy sound, like pages being turned as he came through the corn.

“Emory.”  He said, simply as a matter of fact.  We didn’t shake, we seldom do, and his hands were occupied rolling a cigarette.

“Walter,” I replied.  An awkward silence hung between us while he lit his cigarette and fanned out the match.  “See you got your corn in, “ I said.

“Yes, barns are all full - silo, cribs, and every vessel I own, even had to stack a few dozen bushels in the parlor.”

 “Yeah, it’s been a good year.”  I regretted this as soon as I said it, but Walter didn’t seem to notice.  “You know I got that new John Deere?  I can pull the center plows off and run the middlins.   The outboard plows lay those stalks over just like they were hand stacked.  I’m just about caught up.  I thought if you wanted I could come down and give you a hand?”

“Been a little windy for burning,” Walter said.  He was resting on the top wire, the smoke from his cigarette rose straight up in a blue stream.

“Smelled like snow this morning.  You know how it smells this time of year right before that first one?  I smelled that winter whiff,  thought about that John Deere and just got it in my head I might come see you.”

Walter Chandler pinched the hot ash from his cigarette and watched it fall.  He looked me full in the face before he spoke again.  “”I’m just as good a farmer as you ever were.  I smell what’s in the air as good as you.  I got a Case tractor sitting right over there as good as any Deere ever made.”

"Walter, I didn’t mean anything like that…”

"I’m as good a man as you are, you son of a b***h.  I can take care of this place, I can take care of…”

“Walter, it was the diphtheria.  There was nothing you could do.  Nothing even a doctor could do.  It was God’s will.”

“Get off my fence.  Get back up the hill to your wife, and those children, and your God damned John Deere tractor.  Don’t you ever come back down here and tell me about God’s will.”

After supper Emma informed me we would be having ham for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.  I had seen this decision coming since the day Ted named the turkey I was raising with the chickens.  She stopped in mid-menu and a strange look came over her face.  “Emory!  Do you smell that?”

The instant she spoke I smelled smoke.  I ran straight upstairs to Claire, but she was sleeping quietly, then I saw the glow through the window, from down the valley.

I rushed out of the house toward the workshop and my truck.  Over my shoulder I yelled one word back to Emma.  Chandler!”

I could see it all from the shop.  A thin line of fire snaked across the fields; the barns were going sending volcanoes of sparks up through incandescent clouds of smoke.  I stepped on the starter as flame came up through the roof of Chandler’s house.  I rushed, that’s what you do when there’s a fire, you rush toward it or away from it, but I knew it was too late.  I knew what I would find.  Walter Chandler was burning his corn.  He was burning all of it.

 

 


© 2014 Delmar Cooper



Author's Note

Delmar Cooper
Comments, criticism welcome

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Featured Review

Dear Lord, how did I miss this? What struck me immediately is the quality of the dialogue, which is a woefully difficult thing to do well, but this is pitch-perfect in content and pacing. I think Mr. Barrett has picked up on something important, the notion of the question of work ethic and how near and dear that is to the heart of Walter Chandler. There is clearly soemthing very close to madness at work here concerning Chandler; I had pondered whether or not we needed more of his backstory here, but I'm inlcined to think that less is more here. I think that more of the backstory might make Chandler's actions seem more logical, and I think that may work directly in opposition to what you are trying to put across in this tale. Again, I'm going all palm to the forehead for not having seen this earlier.

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

3 Years Ago

Your comments are always uplifting. I try to let a reader decide most of the story. This often fai.. read more



Reviews

Hi Delmar, I think I owe you a crit, but truly the pleasure is all mine. This is another gem. Do you ever write anything else but gems? The story flies on the wings of dialogue, so true, so simple.the luscious details of a farmhouse morning. A few points: I did not know what you meant by "a false dawn"--when Emory looks out the window; the transition is somewhat abrupt moving from the kitchen scene to Emory's workshop; also the transition from Chandler's back to the kitchen. I wish there were a little more of an indication of why Chandler is so defensive and so angry with Emory. Clearly Chandler has suffered the loss of a child and blames himself, but his reaction to Emory seems overblown unless there's a little more backstory. Obviously this is just an opinion and you must trust your own intuition. I enjoyed and admire the story very much.


Posted 3 Years Ago


Dear Lord, how did I miss this? What struck me immediately is the quality of the dialogue, which is a woefully difficult thing to do well, but this is pitch-perfect in content and pacing. I think Mr. Barrett has picked up on something important, the notion of the question of work ethic and how near and dear that is to the heart of Walter Chandler. There is clearly soemthing very close to madness at work here concerning Chandler; I had pondered whether or not we needed more of his backstory here, but I'm inlcined to think that less is more here. I think that more of the backstory might make Chandler's actions seem more logical, and I think that may work directly in opposition to what you are trying to put across in this tale. Again, I'm going all palm to the forehead for not having seen this earlier.

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

3 Years Ago

Your comments are always uplifting. I try to let a reader decide most of the story. This often fai.. read more
You do well preserving the nature of a farm man. Simplicity, understanding that the boundaries over stepped on a farm lead to great consequences. Pride is the on line that can never be stepped over. A simple mans life is defined by his work. When that work ethic is in question by another man; it's a life in question.

Enjoyed, thank you.

Posted 3 Years Ago


Very good read, in my opinion.

A big strength for me is the way you introduced the tension between Emory and Walter so well and in such few words. Well done.
On that same note, the relationship between him and his wife could be better defined. I couldn't tell if they were in a tense spot in their marriage, or if she was just normally that insistent.

I read all of it though, and enjoyed it.

Posted 3 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

3 Years Ago

Thanks for reading. I never considered Emma tense before your comment, maybe she is. I thought Emm.. read more
The subject and setting, as you may already know, are dear to my heart. While there is some good in this modern era, such as medical advances, the simple life and gentler times hold more appeal to me, personally. With that said, there's room for improvement in the telling, and the advise of Chris and Ms. Rose (below) sounds very good.

Posted 4 Years Ago


Delmar Cooper

4 Years Ago

I thought I had thanked you for your review but I don't see it now so thanks. Yes, Rose and Chris a.. read more
STRENGTHS
-Setting the scene without telling
-Building up to, but not spoiling the ending

AREA FOR IMPROVEMENT
-Transitions. The story seems to jump from Emory getting into his car to seeing Chandler, and when Chandler ends the conversation the story jumps to Emory at home eating dinner.
-Long Dialogue. Emory has a tendency to use four sentences in one dialogue chunk whenever he needs to drop some exposition on the reader. Try either cutting these sections down to 1-2 sentences, or breaking up the segment of dialogue with movement or description.
The reason for this is "people tend to speak in short bursts not lengthy speeches"
http://ed.ted.com/lessons/three-anti-social-skills-to-improve-your-writing-nadia-kalman
(I just happened to have recently seen this video. You probably already know all the dialogue tricks she talks about, but it is also a really well made video)

MY OPINION
-Name Differentiation. Emma and Emory sound similar. Especially in a short story it helps the reader keep everyone straight if no names are similar.
-"that's what you do when there's a fire, ..." felt out of place and distracts from the ending.

Posted 4 Years Ago


2 of 3 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

4 Years Ago

Thanks for the useful criticism. The problem, as I see it, lies in the double duty Emory has of bei.. read more
"...run in heat of the kitchen..." - this just doesn't sound right to me...
"...“Emma, if Walter Chandler needed my help he’d … " - you gave the beginning of the Quote but not the end mark.
"... I helped their plates as Emma went upstairs with the bottle." - missing something before or between their and plates?
"...and waited to the fence..." ?
"...us until he lit his cigarette..." - until?
"...fanned out he match." - he?

It wasn't all that long ago in the US that families died of diseases that are treatable today. In many other countries they still do. The vignette spoke humanly of personal relationships and perceptions.


Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Chris

4 Years Ago

I know the colloquialism but out of date happens and a new crop of readers auto-error your write.
Delmar Cooper

4 Years Ago

I've made those changes including the "helped" reference. I'm getting pretty conversant with the te.. read more
Chris

4 Years Ago

so are we all... chuckling here
I grew up with farm people.. this touched me deeply.. I find myself getting caught up in your stories.. and not even caring if the structure is correct

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

4 Years Ago

I thought you did good Ma'am, real good. The fact is, when a reader understands what I mean I'm ela.. read more
olla

4 Years Ago

you have no fear there... not from me anyway.. I think I might be a fan..
This comment has been deleted by the poster.
A bit of bouncing around. Who is it a good year for. Is Emory glad Walter burned out losing home and all. Why is it a good year. Your EDITOR may want to revise >>> ( “See you got your corn in, “ I said.) ( “”I’m just as good ) >>> Quotation marks.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

4 Years Ago

Thanks. Problem transferring fom "word" with quotes. [ Is Emory glad Walter burned out losing home .. read more
Dickey Harrold

4 Years Ago

It's a good story and nice read. Actually I sensed the repent, I had to think on it, though. I mean .. read more
This is pretty good. You told the story subly, and I like that.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

4 Years Ago

So long as it was not so subtle as to defy comprehension I am pleased.

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Added on January 17, 2014
Last Updated on March 13, 2014

Author

Delmar Cooper
Delmar Cooper

Trussville, AL



About
I write- a little. I don't write to reinvent the wheel, or discover fire. I just drag along from sentence to sentence hoping for a spark. more..

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