Lee, New Hampshire 1982
I sat in silence starring at the open field as my old man drove the Ford F-150 along the main highway. I felt his words before he even started talking as he flicked a cigarette out the driver’s window. He had just dropped off my mother for an Adult Ed word processing class at my high school she was taking to improve the accounting on our farm. Dad signed me out of class early so I could help restock the feed for the cows. I knew though there was another reason. I felt this conversation was in plans since the day I was born and having just passed my fifteenth birthday the idea of what was coming was in the air.
“How was school today?”
“Fine dad, ya know start of sophomore year.”
He glanced down at me and brought the cigarette to his mouth. He was only in his forties but the deep-rooted lines on his face doubled his age. His eyes were always weary and even when he smiled his face was still drawn.
“Marty Lyons told me he saw you hanging with the Indian girl the other day.”
I turned and mumbled, “Yeah, Nora, she is Native American,” I pulled on my backpack and turned to look back out the window. “We’re friends.”
My dad smiled. Even with my correction to his old language, he was not showing any anger.
“Yeah fifteen, my son, you’re getting up there now.”
I shook my head as he turned right and entered the bridge that led up to our farm.
“I think you should know that we are starting to make plans in a couple of years when you graduate how you and I can run this farm together. Lanie and James are young. To tell you the truth, I think they always will be.”
I looked out at the haystacks I had spent all weekend rolling. My life at fifteen had been tied to the farm and I was now hearing the words to seal my fate.
“I’m not going to be around forever and just like this place was passed down to me. I want you to be the lucky one to take it over someday.” His hand patted my knee. It was the most affection I could expect from him and I knew that it was still hard for him.
My eyes closed and opened quickly as I could not let him down but was still trying to fight off complicitly agreeing to a future I did not want. “James is smart!”
“James is a follower. Whatever antics Lanie convinces him to do, he will. And don’t even bring up Lanie!” He crushed his cigarette butt in the car ashtray already filled with a dozen ends of Marlboros.
“I told your mother, long ago. Lanie needs help. He is funny, the clown, every family has one. But he needs help. That is why I need you, Elliot. When I’m dead and gone with bugs in my eyes, this place will need you. Lanie will be here I just don’t see him moving into his own. James maybe, Lanie no.”
I nodded as I turned and looked back at the open field that was now our land. It was interesting to me that something that could represent freedom brought more weight to confine me. The September air was still warm, and I rolled down my window. I heard music blaring from Lanie’s boom box and I could see them dancing in the distance. I knew they had probably taken the opportunity with my parents out of the house for an hour to get high. My old man saw them too and shook his head. He then looked back at the drive and shook his head again as a newer green Toyota was in the drive and a guy dressed in a suit and carrying a clipboard stood there.
“Jesus, Fucking Christ! What does this asshole want!” My old man slammed the truck into park and jumped out. Every once in a while, real estate people, aluminum siding contractors and land developers made their way out to our farm. My dad’s reaction was nothing new.
“Hey sir! Beautiful home you have here and the land, wow just breathtaking!” he almost dropped as his clipboard as his arm swung in the air. Dad's arms were folded as he looked away and then back at the stranger.
“Can I help you with something?”
“Well, I work for a water bottling company, and we are looking for investors in our product, Little Springs! You sir are the lucky one! I am going town to town and want the right caliber of investor for this company!”
My dad shook his head and rolled his eyes at another salesman. His grin appeared as he answered.
“You want me to invest in something as stupid as bottled water! You really think that people are going to be dumb enough to buy water!”
The smile on the salesman’s face faded quickly as he tried to persuade a man who did not want to invest in anything other than a night’s sleep.
“Here is our prototype with a sample.” The salesman handed over a plastic bottle with a waterfall scene pictured. My dad ignored his extended arm, but I took the bottle with a nod.
The stranger talked about purity and freshness of the water, the world changing and how it would be better for the planet to use allocated springs instead of tap water. It was hard to hear much of what he said as Lanie’s music was blaring in the background. My father’s face was tired.
“Turn that fucking music down, Lanie!” There was silence.
Still the salesman continued. After a few minutes of declining his offer. My dad had enough.
“Time for you to go.” Dad started to walk back to the house when the salesman took his pitch to another level.
“This is a beautiful piece of property sir! If you are ever thinking of selling, I have a contact who is building over fifty-five park developments, and he would give you a substantial offer.”
My body froze as my dad spun around and walked straight up to this stranger in a brown suit. My old man’s eyes were wide open as his finger went right into the salesman face.
“Listen asshole I asked you to leave! Does your friggin bottled water block your eardrums!”
With that the man nodded and got into his car spinning his tires on the dirt as he rotated around. My dad grabbed the prototype water bottle from me and flung it at the Toyota as it sped out our drive. Dad then let the screen door slam in front of me as he walked in the house.
Lanie came running over with James following close behind. “What the hell is up with dad?”
I just brushed my hand away as Lanie tried to hand me a joint.
“Shit Lanie, come on he is just inside the house. “
Lanie was grinning. “Suit yourself. Hey, did you see that guy literally had a phone in his car. He let me talk on it. I called your girl, Nora, pretending to be you!”
James was laughing hysterically. “Yeah, he was like. Nora, I love you, and kissing the phone.”
I felt my cheeks burning red. “Lanie you shithead. I’m going to kick your ass!”
With that Lanie who was always fast sped across the field with me in hot pursuit. When I did finally catch up to him it was a wrestling match rather than a fight. Lanie still laughing all the way through. It actually felt good to release the tension of moments earlier.
One of our neighbor’s was taking the class with my mother and drove her home.
Dinner was quiet as my dad was still tense that, yet another intruder had come to his property and tried to convince him to sell. “Not going to happen ever!” was his only response when the subject came up.
Later that night I snuck out into the barn. Nora was waiting for me. We had already made out once and this time I just wanted to lay next to her. She listened when I told her that I wanted something more than the farm. I wanted to travel to see some other places. She kissed my cheek and cushioned her head beside mine.
“It will happen. You don’t have to stay here, but you don’t have to solve it tonight.”
With that I took her in my arms and starting kissing until I saw the light come on outside and knew I had better get back. She took off out into the night and I slid in through an open window in the mud room which was next to the kitchen.
“Friends huh?” My old man turned on the kitchen light.
I nodded and headed up the stairs not wanting to catch his stare.
He didn’t speak to me for a few days as was the case of how he showed me his disappointment. Then that Saturday he asked me to train James on the tractor. “James may have potential to farm.”
I was almost gleeful at the idea of James being delegated to take over. I brought him out in the fields. Rolling hay, then moving the bales. Every bit of everything. All through September he carefully followed my instruction on everything from measuring feed to cleaning stalls in the barn. He did well on the tracker too. Lanie looked on as if he was a lost puppy. I showed him sometimes too, but as usual he would not listen. Always thinking he had a better way or method. But James was catching on. My dad said so too. The plan was falling into place. He could be the one to take over. My mom even started to show him how she kept records.
I was becoming excited that my future would be mine. I was planning so many trips in my head. Italy, France, Costa Rica. My future would be mine.
The first weekend in October was the Annual Town Fair. After chores were done, we all headed out. I felt extra festive this year. I did catch Lanie and James drinking behind the stadium seats at the foot ball field, but just shook my head. I walked around the fair with Nora. We rode the ferris wheel. I threw three rings right on the Teddy Bear she wanted. She beamed as she held it tight. The air was fresh and crisp. The foliage was starting to brighten all of the arbor around. Orange, red, yellow colors all glowing in the light. Hot apple cider coaxed my throat as I took a sip. I felt young. I felt a future would now happen for me.
When we got home. Nora and I made out in the barn again. Things were moving to another stage as she removed her blouse. I felt the intensity of wanting to fully be with her waiting for her to let me know. Just in the moment when her head nodded in the affirmative, I started to unzip my jeans, a paralyzing scream came from outside. I stood up and she grabbed her clothes.
I ran outside the barn door. Only to be rushed by Lanie, who screamed “It’s James! He is under the tracker!” My dad ran past me followed by my mother. I went into the house to call police who could sent the fire department. I watched as my mother cried and the only time, I have seen my father shed tears. James my fourteen-year-old brother was gone. Lanie was on the ground wailing. I just stood there and watched. James had died and along with him my future.
The trips, the plans buried. My father walked past with the understanding that I was to stay. I was to keep this going.
I looked at Lanie who wept for his brother.
This is the first chapter of The Brother Who Kept which I originally wrote as a short story. Here is the story if you would like to read.