Souls of the Harvest
You can’t harvest a crop without killing something. A combine ain’t particular, it cuts whatever’s in its path. There’s no malice in it, just a part of the season, like rain and heat. Food or nesting draws critters in, but come harvest the combine keeps rolling. Some run and live. Others don’t, and don’t.
After a good day’s labor I like to sit on my back porch and breathe in the autumn air when it’s thick with the smells of the earth. Clouds in the west promise rain, but up above stars speckle the night, old Orion coming around earlier now on his way to winter skies. Crickets chirp under the house and frogs sing in the ditches where water drains from the fields. And though they’re almost done for the year, fireflies drift up out of the flattened crop. They shine their little lights like spaceships or angels come to carry away the souls of the beasts that offered themselves up to the harvest. Got fireflies in front and stars behind, and a land flat and dark as oceans stretching out into the night.
Used to be I could hear the old wood floors inside creaking about this time, and I knew Sal was heading out to join me, maybe have a smoke and a laugh. She’d bring me a beer and a cool wet cloth for my head and we’d chat about whatever news was on the TV that day.
No footsteps rattle the boards now but my own. Sal’s been gone these several years, and my boys got called away to the city like boys do. So it was only me at the clinic this morning when the doctor’s report come in. Somebody’d circled some splotches on an X-ray, looked like yellow crayon, and there was this paper full of big words. Doc tried to explain, but hell, I said, the circles tell me all I need to know.
He said, you gonna be okay with this?
I said, sure, why not, and I went home, climbed into my combine, and farmed till sundown, same as yesterday.
The clouds have swallowed up the stars. I love a good storm, but there’ll be no ruckus from this, just a gentle emptying of God’s pockets. I walk out into the field as the first drops fall. Down by the gully where my boys used to help me make fence, I hold my hands out from my body and lift my face to the sky. The rain is cool in the sticky air, washing over me and cleaning my skin of the day’s work. Nothing can wash away the stains inside, but the fireflies rise up around me, rise up through the rain and into the heavens, and I know, now, that there’s a light for me here somewhere, too, waiting its turn. If the good Lord’s coming for me, let him come. He can take whatever part of me he’s entitled to, just leave the rest, leave me to lie down in this field and take root in the earth. That would be all right with me. It’d be all right.
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About the Author
Dave Hoing lives in Waterloo, Iowa. He works at a university library by day, collects antiquarian books by night, and fits in freelance writing when he can.
In 2010, he and co-author Roger Hileman published a historical novel called Hammon Falls. It’s set primarily in Iowa between 1910-1940, with spatial stopovers in Paris, Dublin, Chicago, and Buffalo, plus occasional temporal side trips into present day.
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Copyright © 2008, Dave Hoing. All Rights Reserved.