Last Fall

by Joan Wilking

The livestock was long gone. When the first phalanx came through they led the cows and the pigs away. Marie had cooked up the last of the chickens weeks before. They'd eaten that stew as a family. It was the last meal they'd had together before he put Marie on the train and sent her and the kids away.

Thank goodness the harvest had been good. The barn was full of hay, baled and neatly stacked. The silo bulged with grain. The root vegetablescarrots, turnips, rutabagas, and the restwere stored in the cellar. It was cool down there, safe. The apples were packed into barrels, a layer of sawdust, then a layer of fruit, then sawdust again.

The day was bright, crisp, cool. Falling leaves flashed their yellows, oranges, and reds as they spiraled off the trees in front of the wood frame house. Jock walked to the barn. Paco, the Jack Russell terrier the kids loved so much, followed behind snapping at flies. Jock hadn't been able to bring himself to give the dog up, not yet.

The boom, boom, boom, was closer today. If he didn't know better, if he didn't know it was already fall, he might have been able to fool himself into believing it was a months-long Fourth of July celebration, what with all the booming and whistling and plumes of pale smoke tinting the sky to the north.

Jock and his father had built the barn with the help of the neighbors when Jock was still in his teens. They'd built it to replace the one that burned. One lightning strike and the old barn had gone up. They'd managed to get all of the livestock out that time. Thank goodness for that.

Now the neighbors were gone, moved away. Their fields lay fallow all summer, their barns empty, their doors bolted, their houses boarded up until Lord only knew when. He'd ended the summer alone, refusing to leave. How could he abandon a piece of ground that had supported four generations?

Jock slid open the heavy hanging door. He inhaled the smell, the sweet smell of fresh cut hay, of grain, of things he'd grown, things he'd thought would eventually enable him to carry on. He pulled the crumpled paper out of his pocket and read it again before he threw it and lit the first match.

It went up, just like the last time, just as fast. He turned and walked back to the house. The dog followed close behind. When he reached the front porch, he sat down and called the dog to his lap. The maple tree's branches blocked part of the view but soon it didn't matter. The foreground and background colors merged. Yellow, orange, and red; bloody, bloody, red.

Copyright © 2002 Joan Wilking

Joan Wilking's short fiction has appeared in many print and web publications including The Mississippi Review, The Barcelona Review, and Atlantic Unbound. She is a resident of Ipswich, Massachusetts, and can be reached via email.

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