Dave drank from the plastic bottle squinting into the sunlight with his right hand, his left remained on the tractor wheel holding the old Alice steady as she chugged through the soft red dirt overturning the fallow field in preparation for the spring planting.
He hadn’t quite decided yet on wheat or alfalfa. Mostly likely wheat, running the irrigation system out here would be a feat he probably couldn’t accomplish in time without some assistance.
Kira had just left for college upstate. She was the youngest of the sizable brood of six. Dave was proud of all his kids, but seeing the baby go had been shocking. Thirty-six years raising kids and now there were none.
Dave shook his head, his cowboy hat waving to the sun. Heck, he could still remember when 36 seemed OLD! And now here he was reflecting on the lifetime he and Hannah had spent raising children who did their best to flee.
The land was older. He looked behind him to check the clods of dirt were overturning, no rocks stopping progress, nor horses wondering over to see what he was up to. His father had lived here, and his grandfather too. Grandpa had bought the place for $100 from some boys who’d come out west hoping to make a killing mining. It was still named after them–McCoy. The locals all called it that.
Not that the family was Irish or Scottish or whatever it is where the name came from.
Dave sighed making a sweeping turn to head back through the field careful to make a loop with the implement following close to the last furrow. No land wasted.
Slowly he stretched his back feeling every one of his 60 years in the creaks and aches of his body. He’d just started to show a slight paunch in the past year or so. He was more surprised by his pot belly than anyone else. After years of good health, his slight frame had never appeared to need any more shaping than was provided by a lean diet and hard work. But now…well he’d just started wearing larger shirts from the second hand store.
He hunched back over the wheel watching the dust swirl slowly before him. He liked the quiet, the way the land and the work gave him time to think. He pondered awhile on the past week. He liked to take his time, he was slow. Always had been.
Even when the oldest ones where children, they had teased him for being slow. Now he was a slow grandfather. Dave would never be accused of rashness. He preferred to think of himself as thoughtful and careful.
But this time…he just didn’t know.
The Cuthbert’s had been by on Sunday. After church, just when he and Hannah had settled down to their evening supper of spaghetti and salad courtesy of the U.S. government, they heard a truck crunching gravel out front. Most people had no call to go visiting on Sundays and certainly not out to McCoy which was five miles down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere along a little used highway going anywhere else .
Hannah stood up and went to the door.
“It’ll be for you,” she nodded at him and went back to her seat at the table. She wasn’t walking well and hadn’t been for some time now. Dave worried about her when he thought of it. She had become a shadow of the life force she had once been. He wasn’t sure how he could handle the Cuthbert’s without her support, but clearly she had already surrendered.
He stood slowly and padded his way to the door. Just as Andy, that would be the youngest boy, stepped out his new Ford. Dave smiled and opened the door.
“Dave! How are you?!” Andy shouted. He had a way of talking that made Dave imagine exclamation points at the end of every sentence. Dave liked him.
“Can’t complain,” he grumbled. “You?”
“Good, good! Now my daddy he says to me to get on over here! You know why?!” Andy bounded up the rickety wooden steps into the three bedroom.
Dave sidestepped out of his way and looked up at the younger man.
“We have an idea!”
“Do you?” Dave asked quietly.
“Oh yeah! We’s wantin’ to come on over here and talk to you about it. Now you see…” Andy paused. He sighed. He seemed to think…
“Well what we want…we’re thinkin’ ’bout…we want…well we want to make you an offer.”
“I see,” Dave folded his arms over his paunch. “And what offer would that be?”
“A good one. We know some folks and they came into a bit of money and we was thinkin’ the could buy this place from you. We know you and Hannah, y’all are gettin’ on in years and your kids well…they’s all up in the city ain’t they? So what will you do? Ain’t no one workin’ in this economy. You need some cash, right? Well now we can help you out and you can help us.”
Hannah walked slowly into the room, Andy’s presence had been exploding out of the rundown shack for too long. She would need to take a nap this afternoon, Dave could see it in her face. Her body sagged under the weight of her life.
Dave looked at Andy and for once asked a question he never thought he’d say.
“Oh well…now I don’t know. Not right this minute. Maybe $1,000 an acre, you got about a hundred here. That’s $10,000. That’d set you up pretty nice for awhile. Maybe.” He smiled and shuffled his feet a little as though the tiny house couldn’t contain his energy.
“Humph,” Dave said.
“Is that all?” Hannah asked sinking gratefully into the easy chair.
Dave looked back and made another slow loop around the field. It wasn’t that the offer was too low. He was certain it was high. He’d never bothered to have McCoy appraised. He would never sale. His partner and brother wouldn’t allow it.
But then Dick had died. Just last winter.
Dave still didn’t know what to think of it. One day Dick was there the next he was in the hospital and soon he was in the ground. Strange.
Now as sole propietor, Dave had decisions to make. Dick had never married and never had children so there was no opposition on that end. Dave only had to contend with pleasing his six children and his wife. All of whom seemed to be clamoring for something different.
Ryan wanted to start over, turn the ranch into a farm, everything organic and local, he was always saying. It sounded foolhardy to Dave though he would never say so.
Jane still complained about her name, but she was the only one to visit regularly. She liked to bring her girls and ride the horses. She seemed attached to the place. Dave could see her soul replenish when she came like she needed the red dirt, blue sky and star filled nights.
Craig seemed nonchalant. It seemed he didn’t mind what happened so long as his wife wasn’t nagging him.
Jonah wanted nothing to do with the place. He was quick to direct Dave to sale. He’d gotten his mother’s will to accomplish everything in his path. He viewed McCoy as a problem and the best solution was to sale to the highest bidder.
Kira, well, Kira was young. She hardly knew what she wanted or what was out there. Dave still hadn’t gotten used to the silences without her to fill them. She was quiet and serious, but usually could be enticed to talk or play a game add some vibrancy to their quiet days of solitude during holidays from work and school. She had been a mistake a happy one, but eight years younger than Jonah had left her with her parents as her closest allies in her large family.
Dave sighed audibly starting himself out of his reverie. The Alice chugged to a stop, the dirt was too clay like here to work over easily. He stepped out of the tractor and cleaned the blades with care using an old worn red rag. As his body hunched over the shining blade, he heard the clop of approaching hooves. He looked up to see the old white mare watching curiously.
Dave nodded her a greeting and turned back to his work. When the blades were satisfactorily cleaned up enough and a few rocks moved out of the way, he boarded the tractor again. As she roared to life, the mare shied away. She didn’t like the noise or the smell of the old machine. Dave looked down, saw the holes worn through the floorboard and knew the tractor couldn’t take much more of this land. He took another swig from the reused soda bottle.