FallowBy Jenny McCudden
THE ROOM FEELS different without him, without the idea of us. Pieces of a shared future now mock me. The painting picked for the sole purpose of making him smile prompts me to look away. In it, a cow called the Bruiser surveying all before him, indignant, bullish, stupidly proud.
The chairs, my choice, stand empty around the large oval table where we entertained our friends and each other, arguing over Bolognese, flirting in the candlelight, and in the early days, using it not for what it was intended.
A stillness pervades in this country kitchen, broken only by the sound of passing traffic slowing at the bend, neighbouring tractors that he recognised by sound alone. “That’s John Fitzroy, where is he going at this hour?” Competition in the countryside is fierce. They help each other out, but always want to be the helper. A certain type of pride reigns here, one that can cripple; to be the best, to expand and improve, to sweat and toil for future generations, to add to precious acres, at the expense of everything else. He’s left now for the yard, to let jobs find him. When he returns I will tell him.
The kettle whistles on the Aga. I make fresh coffee in the percolator, another item that was foreign to him. “How do you eat your boiled eggs?” I once asked, having had to earlier improvise with a shot glass. Such culinary matters did not concern him. Mother feeds me. I came one Friday laden down with potted herbs. “Where are you going with the plants?” he smiled. That look was reserved only for me; it worked every time.
The bitter coffee sharpens me. I want to take the photograph in the heart shaped frame of my farmer and me on the top of Croagh Patrick. Taken seconds after reaching the summit, our faces blushing with achievement; his smile says anything now is possible.
“I don’t climb mountains,” said the man who made his living outdoors. He then panted and puffed his way to the top, taking regular breaks to catch breath and complain.
Outside, a pheasant parades on the lawn. “Look, look, a pheasant,” I yelped on my first morning here. He nodded back, “It’s always there.” He doesn’t like to catch pheasants in his combine harvester, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, the damage done before he even realises.
A slight chill creeps through the open window with the smell of silage. I move to close it and almost trip myself up on his John Deere jacket which has dropped from the back of the chair. A brown paper bag falls from the pocket, and I immediately imagine sticky apple drops. The sweet tooth I once considered part of his childish charm is just another glaring indicator that he has yet to grow up. The bag is empty of sweets but does contain a small velvet box, and I know immediately that I’ve stumbled upon his idea for us.
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