A Time for Lying Fallow

By J.T. Robertson

Carol didn’t care for spring. Never had, as long as she could remember. The sky seemed too high and overly blue in Spring, as if the world were shrinking away from the Sun’s warmth. She sat quietly on the concrete back step of the farmhouse sipping coffee, and watching the birds cultivating their wriggling breakfast. Beyond the old well house and the walnut tree she’d married Sam under, the fields lay empty and fallow.

“I miss you, Sam Templeton,” she said, but the fields didn’t answer.

The boys she’d hired through the farm service in town came out for the first time in early April, and she made them breakfast. They seemed surprised, arriving before dawn to find eggs and fat slices of ham waiting for them. She even made a few buckwheat cakes for each, which they ate thankfully. It wouldn’t do to have them out there plowing and planting with just coffee and cigarettes to keep them going. Carol knew how to prepare a man’s stomach for working in the fields. She’d done it for her husband for thirty-four years, God rest his soul.

She did the dishes and listened to “Swap Line” on the radio. Out by the barn, a tractor roared to life, and she smiled unconsciously. Those three boys seemed like they’d do just fine. They’d been polite and thankful for the food. If one hadn’t been, she would have called him aside once they’d finished eating and let him go. She might just be an old widow, but she’d have things her way. It’d be easy for some of the older farmhands to think they’d just take over and tell her what was best for her land. That’s why she’d hired these younger ones. They’d make more mistakes, but she knew they’d argue less.

“I’ve got fifteen five-gallon buckets, looking to trade for two laying hens,” the radio crackled.

Right before Sam went into the hospital a year and a half ago, he’d told her what to do. She’d been doing the dishes when he called her into the dining room.  “You have to be prepared for the worst,” he’d said, “Just like any other year.”

“You’ll be here to take care of things,” she said, standing at the end of the table.

“You and I know that’s not true,” he’d replied, coming over to her, and pressing a stray, cotton-white hair behind her ear. “Next year, I won’t be here unless there’s a miracle, and you know I don’t believe in miracles –  ”

“— Because you’ve never seen one,” she finished, looking into his sky blue eyes. Then he had put an arm around her waist, and kissed the age and worry-deepened furrows in her forehead over and over until she had to smile. They stood quietly, each trying to ingrain the memory of the other in their mind, the feel of the warmth through their clothes, the soft sound of the other breathing. “I don’t want to be without you,” she said, running her fingers over the stubble on his cheeks.

“You’ll be strong, and live on for me,” he’d said, with a sad, sweet smile.

“How long should I go on?” she asked.

“As long as you love me,” he said.

Sam had always had a habit of leaving her notes, and for months after he passed, she’d found them all over the house, tucked away in nooks and crannies. Some were simple things like, “Don’t forget to call Joe Williams about the insurance,” or “Check the batteries in the storm cellar radio.” Others were more personal, like the blue scrap of paper she found stuck between the pages of his Bible that read “I love you.” She knew he meant them to be helpful, but every time she found one, she imagined him alive, standing at the kitchen table in his favorite green shirt, tearing that strip of paper from one of his notebooks. Each note brought him back, and then reality took him away again…