The Join

The Join

A Story by Hans Lillegard

The Join







         Ed and Ernie Schultz had spent the day working on the old red International Harvester tractor that stood next to the green John Deer combine in the corrugated aluminum machinery barn, work on the machines that had reserved for Fridays over the years. Ed had wiped thick black, tractor grease on the legs of his overalls, while Ernie had hooked his thumb in the waist pocket of his blue mechanic’s suit, white eyebrows searching out from underneath the shade-bill of a blue and white striped locomotive engineer’s cap. Ed glanced at his soiled clothing through horn rimmed glasses that fit his skinny face, turning his eyes to beaks. He was the first to speak,


         “Well, it looks like that is going to have to work for now.” Ed said, as his brother Ernie craned his neck sideways. The elder who had long forgotten his station above his younger sibling, he put the bad hand that had been mangled in a machinery accident on his brother’s shoulder, the other who had done the lion’s share of that painstaking work failing to notice either the contact or the missing thumb and pointer finger.


         “Yeah,” he spoke of the unwanted machine. “ I guess that will have to do for now.” Ernie responded to Ed’s note on the jerry-rigging that had gone into the repair, and both winced internally at the thought of the new part that would be necessary, and the money it would pull from the checking account. After crossing the farm yard, both stepped onto the low creaky-boards porch and stretched out after the day’s work. Ernie looked into the thick shadowy Elm windbreak that surrounded the house and the most of the farm while Ed looked back at the machine shed, the glance of both men almost as the view of one person. Ed looked at the screen door and flipped it lightly open with the disinterest in forty-seven years of singular existence, thinking barely of his brother as a question formed in the back of his head. Would he only know his nearest relative?Would he ever marry and have children? The farm seemed empty to Ernie, especially after the harvest when the cold wind had traveled over empty fields and started to tangle in the windbreak. He followed Ed into the house, who silently wondered at a different emptiness, was there nothing more than the solitary existence? He loved his brother but he often wondered, was there a higher love beyond that?


         The alarm on the digital-face clock started its high pitched klaxon at four in the morning. Ed slapped it into silence and sat up, dialing down the electric blanket  to inactivity in the cold room of the ancient house where he could see his breath, and which lacked heating on the second floor, he pulled on his clothes,  and walked across the cold, deck-paint floorboards of the hall to stand before his brother’s door, knocking twice and then descended the railed stairway to the warmer rooms of the house. He walked into the kitchen as a wall heater coincidentally ticked into its heating routine, and flipped on the light switch, so that the device fell into ordinary relief.

          Ernie having dressed also passed up Ed and made his way to the back door, ringing sleigh bells on the doorknob from his once-father’s childhood. Making his way across the yard to the chicken coop he started the daily rote of collecting the morning’s breakfast.


Hunkering down over the bacon and eggs that Ed had fried, the two codgers seemed intent on that lesser communion, the sustenance beginning to ramp up the coming day, the morning pre-dawn light and the loosening of sleep laden and creaking joints acting with the action of a carburetor that mixed gas and air and fired pistons. The pair washed and bleached and dried the dishes after breakfast, working with the syncopated rhythm of a single washing machine, orchestrated by a higher and steadier electricity.


         Both men made their way along the hallway to the front door Ed relieving a Monsanto hat from one of the wooden pegs that ran along the wall, a cap that complicated his thick eyebrows and his wide beard. Ernie unhooked an ancient Caterpillar cap from a neighboring wooden projectile that seemed odd atop his thin frame. They crossed the large farmyard once again making for the machinery barn and the day’s errands. Their footsteps echoed grit as they climbed into the white Ford pickup truck that had four wheels along the back axle, with innards that seemed to treat their old bones with cruelty. Ed chucked the gear into reverse and gently throttled the carburetor, feeding the truck a mechanical sustenance similar to their own breakfast. The skies were overcast as they accelerated the gravel lane between the small forests of the windbreak, the far-above tired so that it seemed to threaten an early end to the day from exhaustion. The same skies declared it a day for tasks. They turned onto a gravel road, a plume of unconcerned dust following them to the asphalt. Ed watched for speeders and then with wrinkled hand on the stick and an alacrity for his age, punched it into acceleration so that the truck was suddenly pounding the still air of the day. They followed the road, which twisted into a stream bed and then high centered them in a stomach turning all to space travel over the low bridge that crossed the large rivulet. They turned on to a second asphalt and were soon cruising between the mammoth towers of Grain elevators into town. They slowed at a small grocery and docked in a parking space.

            They buckled down on their manners and entered the store that was organized more for efficiency than for advertising value, sporting instead the hard fought-for rural values. Ed went through the aisles searching for items that would provide flavor for the fare while Ernie went after the staples, buying potatoes and rice to side the meat, abbreviating the list in order to make his way toward the front of the store, which pulled at him like a whirlpool and predicted separation from his brother and total disappearance. A woman sat on a stool in front of the cash register with long brown curly hair over a long face that drooped over the store’s single register belt. She read a TV Guide and noticing Ernie’s approach, shuffled quickly to put the guide back in the rack. She smiled at him as he neared the cash register. Ernie spoke,


“Hi Galene.” He said, “How is business?” She looked at Ernie, her eyes staring a little so that something in the air behind her slowed time and touched with a momentary recognition of both respect and interest that always seemed to catch him high centered and always left him feeling he had experienced something incredibly romantic.


“It is kind of slow today,” she said, stumbling to find words. “I think a lot of folks are out fishing.” She looked down at her hands, which seemed to flutter a little. “It is good weather for it.” There was another pause between them, laden with white air.

“Yeah,” I wish I had the time.” Somewhere inside he subconsciously knew he was getting older. “You know, Galene,” he said as time slowed and he scrambled to find words in the thick atmosphere. He stood flummoxed for several moments as reality once began to settle on him. Of course he was unable to even think about fighting back, but realized that love followed a course for him that was different than for most men, even though he was tested as any might be, and as all men shared that weakness, might have given in at any moment, so random was the world. “Well,” he paused for several moments attempting to avoid the trap, and finally found the courage to reply. “I always like seeing you.” He left the pause to disappear. Galene blushed, returning the world to normal.  Ed appeared at the counter and disguised an amused smile toward his brother. They ran the groceries through the line and Ed wrote a check as Ernie stepped back and wondered at himself. After leaving the store they made an an early end to the dialogue inside the grocery and being brothers first, they left the threat of the store and its one-woman employee and owner, who unconsciously played on Ernie’s mortal strength. The exited the automatic glass door to spill out underneath the overcast skies that had again been unable to threaten them and had failed to conquer, and becoming its creatures, they had completed their task.


It was an anticlimactic drive home, their thoughts fraying loosely in the empty Saturday afternoon. Ed parked the truck in the machinery barn, and both climbed down, scratching the gravel shards on the concrete floor of the hangar like building. The walked toward the farmhouse, their thoughts slowly collecting plans for the rest of the day. They would clean the house as ever they had over the years since childhood. Ernie pulled an old Electrolux vacuum out of the closet and started to work on the living room rug as Ed climbed the stairs to collect laundry, since he was the more fastidious about Sundays and church clothing. He started by throwing the clothes in the washer, and came to think about his world. Of course he loved his brother, could he ever desert that equal quantity to himself? Ernie was a good person, but was there ever a temporal love that outweighed the share between the siblings in a more evenhanded way? He would go to church the next morning. Would he ever lose his envy of the pastor, and the man’s more valuable position of service?

Ernie returned the vacuum to the small closet from which it had originated after finishing with the living room and at the hallway, traded it for a broom and a dustpan. As he started to sweep he thought of Galene. The question that had bothered him since his childhood arose again. Was he really living a normal life? He often found himself doubting himself, only to find himself thinking the same thing or working perfectly with his brother, anticipating the other as the other anticipated him. He grudgingly admitted that he had been wise. He finished with the chores.

The next day they attended a church surrounded by corn stalks at a gravel crossroads. Ed was first in the door and gently shook the pastor’s hand, who in turn clasped his left hand over Ed’s right. It was a simple sacrament to Ed, and he could feel the body of faith entering his soul, just as the bread at communion gave him a substance of truth to believe in. Ernie followed him, uncertain of Ed’s lead, and as always, the truth of his brother’s convictions. He had always found the lessons of the church confusing and admitted his brother the greater intellectual.  


They met on the porch as they always had afterwards, looking toward the gap in the windbreak and beyond. The dust from the harvest stubble seemed to deepen the creases in their faces. Age was coming on and they knew it. Both brothers thought of the same love that opened from the heart beyond man or god, and for several moments, and both knew the rain would come as it always did, from between the worldly and eternal join.    


© 2017 Hans Lillegard

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Added on October 7, 2017
Last Updated on October 7, 2017


Hans Lillegard
Hans Lillegard

Omaha, NE

I am a writer/translator who has published in a variety of online and subscription publications. I like to read Sigrid Undset and Haldor Laxness, along with Charles dickens and a variety of literature.. more..

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