Vasant 2024 Stories - Peter Conrad

 

Beautiful Fences

By Peter Conrad

 

Ted felt nauseous as went out to the field following Leo and James. There was a strip of soil that ran down the centre, while the rest had the tiny green shoots of new barley plants. The seeder had run empty during the run up the centre. It was a field of malting barley, and the field would be inspected before they could sell the crop. Their father left them to demonstrate they could run things when Ted went to train in radio broadcasting. Their father was a heavy equipment operator at the pulp mill in Hinton, which he could continue to do. If things went wrong, Ted would remain on the farm another year.


Ted was the youngest and only sibling that had no signs of Autism among his brothers and sister. They could stay in Hinton and have Joan, James, and Leo enter special programs, but their parents decided to try something else: move them to a farm they would buy and have them learn how to take care of things. They found a farm in an isolated place on a side spur of Alder Ridge Road in the south peace region.


Their father insisted that Ted was only being their eyes and ears. He would be able to see what needed to be done; he would hear what was going on. The time had come for James and Leo to start seeing and hearing so Ted could go away to get a diploma in radio.


Ted used to go to his truck and drive to different places, the north where the landscape opened to a view of the Little Smoky River and listen to the radio. He wanted to become a radio broadcaster.


“Isn’t it beautiful?” asked Leo.


Ted looked at the overgrown pasture, the fences that mark the boundaries and the field beyond. “What?” Ted asked.


“The fences.” Leo looked at Ted as if there wasn’t anything else that mattered.


Ted realized the logic: they are a sculpture of perfect pickets, evenly spaced out stretching from one side of the rectangular enclosure to the fences along the sides. The side fence was also a part of the perfection. Beauty is in the order of objects, animals, plants, anything. The beauty is increased if there is a pattern from the smallest to the largest or from the largest to the smallest.


There were these same expressions of the perfect ecstatic in spring when the seed drill had made its pattern in the soil, and when the crops were rising above the ground in perfect rolls. Leo would marvel at the lines created between crops, the rectangular fields of different crops as they grew and had their own colour or patterns created by the shapes of their leaves, height, or stocks, like a crop of straight stalk wheat along side of oats with the weeping willow stems. The bright yellow blossoms of the canola crops beside the blue flowers of flax were indescribable perfection.


This was a cursed year when the principles of perfection had been violated: the seeding produced the lines of pure perfection in spring as it always had, but as the weeks passed and the green rolls of young plants started to grow, something was wrong. The pattern was not filling in correctly.


Ted remembered when things changed. Leo’s label was the same as Joan’s and James’.


“They say I have Artism,” Leo said.


“What’s that?” Ted asked.


“It’s like being an artist,” Leo said.


“But you don’t do anything artistic.”


“It’s not that kind of art,” he continued, as Leo attempted to speak with a self-righteousness, he had heard their mother use. “It’s like the crazy artist like poets. They write what no one reads, and if you read them, you can’t figure it out; it’s just crazy art. They do crazy art.”


“How did they figure out you’re a poet?” Ted asked.


“They did this test, weird test. They made you look at strange faces, these strange faces and you tell them what’s going on,” said Leo.


“So how did you pass that test?” Ted asked.


“I couldn’t say what those people were doing, so how was I supposed to know?”


“Do you have to write poems now?”


“As long as I don’t write any poems, I’ll be all right.”


Joan worked with her mother in the garden. She wanted the garden to be perfect just like the pictures in books. Once the rows were seeded and growing, any plant that was out of place would be pulled out even if it was a healthy vegetable. As summer progressed, she worked with James to construct fences that marked the boundaries of the garden.


In Hinton, Joan was encouraged to collect insects from the forest and mount them with labels. The boards were careful arrangements of moths, butterflies, beetles, and dragonflies. James helped her, and the completed boards were brought to the Hinton Training Centre, a forestry school.


Ted hurried to the field when he saw Leo and James standing where the unseeded strip was.


“This doesn’t look right,” said James as Ted walked closer.


“It’s a mistake,” said Leo.


“It’s wrong,” said James. “I want to make it look right.”


“It is starting to grow, but it is wrong,” said Leo.


James walked into the unseeded area and kneeled on the ground. Leo sat down on the ground beside him.


“We can fit this,” said James. “How much barley seed is there?”


“A bag,” said Leo. “No, there is a bag and a half.


“Let’s get it and hook the seeder to the Farmall M tractor. I can seed this again,” said James.


“That will work,” said Leo.


Soon the field was what it was supposed to be. The straight lines rose from the ground and were perfect for James and Leo. Ted prepared to move to Edmonton.

 

Peter C. Conrad is from Canada. He has two short stories broadcast on CBC radio. Peter’s short story, “Rain” was published online by The Prairie Journal. He has published creative nonfiction in Folklore and Western People.

 

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