Robert Milling poured himself another capful of Canadian Hunter whiskey and carefully navigated the combine through his fifth cornfield of the night. He loved farming at night, and, since he was albino, had to, to protect his sensitive skin from the sun. He felt comfortable at night, slightly buzzed from healthy gulps of his sinner’s juice. Sometimes he didn’t even perform the reaping, threshing, or winnowing that the combine was capable of, just drove slowly through the growing corn, wheat, oats, rye, or barley and admired the empire he had built, in a way similar to what Caesar must have done, while looking on his faithful Romans, but in this case, it was corn.
It had been his father, Gordon’s farm, and his grandfather Herbert’s before that, but Bob (as his friends and compatriots called him) knew it was he who expanded the farm into what it was today—an empire. The farm and everything else he had built: the biggest John Deere Tractor in the world, entire neighborhoods of houses for non-farmers and several other lucrative business ventures. This would be his legacy.
If only my boys wanted it.
Startled, the thud of corn stalks being run over brought him out of his reverie.
Damn it. Must have had a little too much tonight.
As he overcorrected the wheel, he ran over even more stalks of corn. Sweating now, and in a panic that he was ruining hundreds of dollars’ worth of profit, he shut off the engine and called his wife.
“Barb. Yep, it’s me. I’m in field five, and I need a rescue,” he said into his walkie-talkie on the dashboard. “No, not that kind of accident,” he said, referencing the time he tried to drive his motorcycle over a well, misjudged and ended up landing inside the well, still upright on his motorcycle. Thankfully, workmen had been around to lift him out, but it was a dangerous stunt neither of them could forget.
“Jeez, Bob, this really has to stop, eh? Hang tight, I’ll be there soon,” Barb said.
“10-4,” Bob said.
“10-4,” she responded.
Bob felt a tiny twinge of guilt. His wife of forty years really was a saint to put up with him. Unfortunately, he only had these loving and insightful thoughts when he was three sheets to the wind, and at that point, Barb, could hardly stand the sight of him.
When Barb pulled up to the John Deere Combine, she found her husband hanging drunkenly around the pole that held up their sign “Warning: KEEP OUT CANADIAN GOVERNMENT, PRIVATE PROPERTY.” He seemed like an aging, ghostly, male-stripper as he twirled the pole, concentration evident on his face.
The next morning, Bob woke with a pounding headache and a strong desire to wear the sunglasses his doctor had prescribed after his eye operation to block out any possible sunlight.. Reaching for the sunglasses and a cigarette, he covered his sweaty white body with the comforter. He loved smoking in bed. Especially hungover. Plus, he felt like smoking in his bed was against some sort of rule, and he cherished the feeling of slightly, but not really, breaking the rules.
Bob looked at himself in the mirror.
Man, I’m sweating like a drag-queen in the lingerie section.
His aquamarine eyes were rimmed red. The bags that were now a constant fixture on his face seemed deeper, more carved in. His graying, curly afro a constant reminder that he used to look better, in the seventies, when he was just like one of those Beegees. Getting old was for the birds.
Bob heard footsteps on the stairs near his room.
“Wakey, wakey,” Barb said, carrying in a tray with bacon, eggs, sausage and applesauce. I bet someone is hungover!” She smoothed back his hair affectionately. Barb had spiky black hair and purple horn-rimmed glasses that gave her the essence of a feminine Buddy Holly. To save herself from this distasteful comparison, she wore several different shades of purple and lavender. Today, she had on a royal purple corduroy coat and lavender trousers.
Bob smiled at her and went for the applesauce first. He ate applesauce with every meal as he felt it aided his digestion in his advanced years. At his age, he couldn’t afford to play around. He also drank two liters of Pepsi every day, but justified this with the belief that carbonated drinks were also good for the workings of the stomach (and if anyone suggested this might be a contributing factor to his type two diabetes, he would stubbornly and swiftly ignore them).
“You know,” Barb said, “You could really just call Jeffrey and talk to him. You don’t need to continue this ‘night farming’ or whatever it is that you like to call getting smashed out in the field. The amount of corn you have ruined in the last week—” she shook her head. “The farmhands will only believe it is meddling boys and crows for so much longer. Crows certainly don’t come out at night.” Her fingers fidgeted nervously with the frills on the side of her apron. Her tongue darted out of her mouth and across her thin, painted lips.
“Jeffrey loves you, Bob,” she said. “He just craves your approval so much that sometimes he wants to keep things from you until he can get them sorted out first.”
Jeffrey was the baby of her three sons, and the one she loved most. He was the nicest and the most charming, the one who still sent her flowers on Mother’s Day. Barb knew Bob saw himself most in Jeffrey, too, even though he had chosen to move to Florida, while her other two boys, David and Herbie, stayed with them in Ontario and farmed. Jeffrey had multiple clearing and hay-delivering businesses in New Smyrna Beach, and had built a life for himself in Florida, while the other boys mooched off their father’s success.
Bob had to find out from his brother, Hugh, a week ago that Jeffrey had brokered a deal to sell his land in Canada to the Turkish government so they could build a wind farm on it.
Hugh had called Bob and rightly said, “You know, brother, I just thought W.W.B.M.D. (What Would Bob Milling do) you know? And I just knew I had to call you about it, see what you thought.”
“I don’t know, Barb,” Bob said, “It just cuts me deep that none of my boys seem to have any time for me anymore. What is it with kids these days?”
“I’m sorry, Bobby,” Barb said. “Jeffrey will come around.” She grabbed one of Bob’s very pale, calloused hands and held it in hers, her painted purple nails a sharp contrast to her husband’s translucently white ones. “But for now, you need to get your bum out of bed and get to work.”
They had built the office as an extension to the house thirty years ago. The beginning with him had not been easy—Hell, her whole life with him had not been easy. First, living in New Zealand to conceal her growing belly when she was just twenty, then trying to convince everyone that her big, bouncing baby boy of nine pounds was premature, lest any of the neighbors figure out she was pregnant before the wedding. On top of all of that, there was trying to be sheep farmers in a foreign land with no friends for miles and never enough to eat. Never mind having to come back to Canada with their tails between their legs and live with Bob’s scary mother for all those years. God rest her soul. During all of his hair-brained ideas, she tried to tell him he was just a simple farmer and should try to stick to what he knew. But simple was never good enough for a man like Bob. He was always looking for the next big thing. The next thrill. The next damn well to drop down into.
“Barb, can you come in here?” he yelled, covering the telephone mouthpiece with his hand and waving his other arm wildly like he was drowning and flagging down a lifeguard in the ocean. Turning the stove to simmer, she started in his direction. When she got close enough to his desk, he handed her the phone without preamble.
“You gotta deal with this one babe. I can’t,” he said, rubbing his eyes.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hi, this is Jordan with Windfarming Global, to whom am I speaking, please?”
“I’m Bob’s wife, Barb.”
“Great. Well, I suppose we should inform you that your husband has been very cooperative with us up until this point. We are prepared to transfer another million dollars to the Canadian government, which would, in turn, be doled out to your husband in his plans to make a wind farm, in Picton, but now he is saying he doesn’t have the money to pay us this month on the loan. I just want to verify with you that this is correct?”
“I will have to get back to you,” Barb said and hung up the phone.
“All my life Bob. All my damn life I have stood by you. Through your disgusting affairs with those imported Danish women working on our farm. Through all of your hairbrained schemes: raising sheep in New Zealand, raising damn emus in Canada, wind farming for God’s sake! And through all of it, I have been the whipping boy. I’m always the one cooking the dinner and delegating your business deals that almost break us every time. There was the John Deere people when you just had to build the biggest tractor in the world—”
“But I built it, didn’t I?” he asked.
“What about in China when you wouldn’t stop teasing them about eating dogs. In their own damn country. We almost lost the emus and ostriches that were already on the boat over. And almost got deported. You know how they get with their pride!”
“But it all worked out, didn’t it?” he asked.
“I don’t want to deal with it anymore. I want to retire.”
Bob watched his furious wife simmer and felt like a cad. Barb was right. In every assertion, she had been correct.
“Come on, Barb,” he said, “We’re a team. Everyone calls us B&B. Bob and Barb. I chose you, all those years ago, back in ‟68 instead of that silly, busty Peggy-Sue, because I knew you had what it takes to be my general. My right-hand man, Barb. Plus, you loved my albino ass when no one else would, when they called me Casper the Farmer.”
“You chose me because I was pregnant with David,” she said, running her hand through her short spikes of hair. Her big green eyes filled with tears bigger than the amethyst teardrop earrings he had gotten her for her birthday, which she wore as a testament to his fleeting, powerful generosity.
“Look at us now, Barb. Look how much we’ve both grown.”
Believe me, Barb, he willed silently in his mind.
As he gazed at his wife, he pulled on his giant belt buckle and rubbed his belly. This was their mating signal for each other: his intoxicating pull on the belt buckle. Barbara’s eyes softened. He grabbed her in a bear hug and pulled her close for some sweet, sweet loving.
A few weeks later Bob sat in the giant John Deere, with a bottle near his slack lips. He thought about how he hadn’t heard from his boys lately, how he seemed to disappoint his wife, how Jeffrey had been keeping the secret about selling off his Goddamn inheritance land to a bunch of Turkeys.
As the engine hummed, he heard a loud THUMP! THUMP!
He came to in front of his own farmhouse, a passenger in the back of a cop car.
“Okay, sir, time to get out and go to bed,” said a young man in uniform. Bob felt strong, smooth hands pull his drunken, pale body from its slump and felt the motions of walking to the door.
“Oh, dear God! What happened to him?” Barb shrieked.
“Your husband crossed over several fields and roads, too, and into Farmer John Osborn‟s land. He ran over two cows with the tractor and killed ‘em. I’m real sorry. I—ah, I think he just needs to go to sober up, eh.”
“Jesus Christ,” Barb said.
“I think I’m a cow murderer,” Bob said to no one in particular. He felt himself stagger inside and the blessed release of sleep.
Late, the next morning, hung-over and ashamed, Bob sat in his office, pretending to work on important business deals. He heard a knock on his office door, and his seven-year-old granddaughter, Shelby, ran into the room.
“Grandpa, Grandpa,” she shouted, with all the enthusiasm of the young and vibrant, her blonde pig-tails trailing behind her as she ran towards him. As the little girl tumbled into him at top speed, she giggled uncontrollably and pulled on his thinning hair as she climbed on his lap.
“Hi, pumpkin,” he said to her.
Just then, he saw his daughter-in-law, Julie, a woman he despised more than heartburn. David’s wife left much to be desired. He knew for sure that his wussy son let this woman make all the decisions.
“Hey,” Bob grunted.
“Look, I’m here to ask you if maybe we could have a family get-together, or something. Jeffrey called from Florida and is coming up.” Julie played with the ends of her dark, curly hair.
“Why do yous guys all care now, all of a sudden?”
Julie looked young and thin and still fresh from the years of physical labor. “Bob—”
“All right, fine,” he said, not wanting a lecture from anyone, let alone Julie. His head had been hurting all day.
“All right,” she said, turning to go. She looked at him, possibly in the first time in the ten years they had known each other, with something more than a little concern in her eyes. “Heard you killed two of farmer John’s cows. Calm it down on the drinking on the tractor, ok?”
Later that night, Bob glided the combine through his shiny cornfields, and felt, for the first time in a long time, a feeling better than pain. He was hopeful, optimistic that his sons might still love him. As he navigated the clean rows of perfect, gleaming corn, he knocked back some capfuls of Canadian Hunter. Feeling slightly woozy, he laid his head back on the headrest, setting the combine to auto-pilot.
The pain in his head, masked by months of excessive hangovers, thrummed to life. A clot in his brain exploded. His final thoughts as he drifted down the rows and rows of gold and green, into the deep sleep that eventually claims every human being, were of his ashes being poured into the seed of the combine, so that he may live forever, peacefully, among his corn.