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

Beautifully written!! I could have continued reading well into the night! I especially love the line "Smelled like snow this morning. You know how it smells this time of year right before that first one?" I love that smell and it came to mind vividly when I read that!!

Posted 1 Day Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

1 Day Ago

Thanks for reading and taking time to let me know.



Reviews

Beautifully written!! I could have continued reading well into the night! I especially love the line "Smelled like snow this morning. You know how it smells this time of year right before that first one?" I love that smell and it came to mind vividly when I read that!!

Posted 1 Day Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

1 Day Ago

Thanks for reading and taking time to let me know.
I was enjoying my trip into the countryside, then you go and stop it! Shame on you! That story is worth continuing.

Posted 3 Days Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

3 Days Ago

Augustus, thanks for reading and giving me a comment. Nice of you. Yeah, I'm into short stories an.. read more
augustus

2 Days Ago

Thank you for your kind words. I'll try and find rew's poetry!
Delmar Cooper

2 Days Ago

I've read several of your stories and will be getting back to you soon.
I've never spent time on a farm until I read this beautifully descriptive story. Its economy of words does not limit in any way the clarity and depth of emotions, particularly between Emma and Emory. Like others, I treated myself to reading it twice. After doing so, I only wish that I understood Walter a bit more. I appreciate that he was offended by Emory's "good year" remark given the loss he had suffered but were there hard feelings between the two men beforehand? If so, why did Emory sincerely offer to help? Also, why did Walter bother to harvest his corn if he was so depressed? Maybe he had every intention of moving forward with his life and then something snapped but could Emory's awkward visit have been enough to do that? I don't know. What I do know is that I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent story. Thank you for making it available.

Posted 1 Month Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Martin Durso

1 Month Ago

Thanks very much for the additional info. I loved your story.
Delmar Cooper

1 Month Ago

You are an excellent writer and a pleasure to read. Your criticism is honest and frank which gives .. read more
Martin Durso

1 Month Ago

Thank you very much. I look forward to reading your other stories. I'm trying to post another one .. read more
Thank you for this, Delmar, you've taken me to a place I've never been. You have a gift for making a reader feel he's right there in it, absorbing with all his senses--sight, sound, smell, taste and touch--a story, engaging and compelling. I'm hooked ... will read your other stories in the coming days ... Kudos!

Posted 2 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

2 Months Ago

Thank you for reading. I had a lot of useful criticism on the story, you may note I subscribed "revi.. read more
Opinions abound here... I think this story says everything it needs to say, its a short story, not a novel. The setting is mirrored in the economy of your narrative, so fitting. Reading/observing, you've shown every thing anyone would observe, and that's where the truth is. Ever read any Raymond Carver?

Posted 4 Months Ago


Delmar Cooper

4 Months Ago

I really like Raymond carver and all the dedicated short story writers. To me the short story is th.. read more
Delmar Cooper

4 Months Ago

Sorry, my head is on crokked. I thought this was a review of "The Underwood." "The Underwood" may .. read more


I just surprised myself by reading the whole thing .. not once but twice and back on back ... as you may.. or maybe dont know, I tend to favour poetry rather than stories that are almost invariably a whole lot longer ..
... Your 'A Good Year' Delmar was quite an exception .. I particularly liked how you made the characters feel real and of course, the flow .. and gritty conclusion .. I never saw that coming .. or maybe, just maybe I did .. Hence me checkin ...

Muchly enjoyed and then some sir

:)



Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

6 Months Ago

Delighted that you took time to read it and give me your flattering and cogent comment. I notice yo.. read more
Neville

6 Months Ago


My very sincere pleasure my friend ..
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 5 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 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

5 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 5 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 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Delmar Cooper

5 Years Ago

Thanks for reading. I never considered Emma tense before your comment, maybe she is. I thought Emm.. read more

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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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