George Barnes is a salt-of-the-earth man with a practical approach to life. And so he doesn't think twice about looking on as the undertaker prepares his mother's body. But once the body is lowered into the ground, the old woman haunts George in his dreams, not as she was in life, but as he saw her in death, with cotton balls in her eye sockets and her jaws wired shut. George is convinced that, with the mute movements of her jaws, she is accusing him. He should never have allowed his mother to be embalmed; it was an indignity to her body.
The following spring, as the dreams are subsiding, a farming accident shatters the Barnes family. While Emily Barnes is walking through the drive shed, Ford, the eldest son, throws the tractor into reverse and pins her to the wall. Faced with his wife's body, George can't help but remember his mother's accusation, and so, with the help of his boys, he wraps his wife in a shroud and buries her beneath her favourite maple tree.
I tramp through the field behind the house, a gentle slope to a spongy patch of ground where the water settles after a steady rain, then a long rise past the old maple to the barn. There's that sucking sound of my boots pulling out from the mud, like the earth is breathing, but with raspy emphysema lungs. Em watches me from the kitchen window. I can feel her gaze. It was her as prodded me to visit Beamsworth's. I gotta make the trip, I know, but I'd rather put it off 'til tomorrow, what with all the chores I have to do, getting ready for market on Saturday. Em says I should take a bin to Beamsworth's as a thank-you—a nice touch—not the sort of thing I'd think up all on my own. I haven't got a bin ready, so I'll have to make one up over at the barn. I been lugging two shopping bags full of turnips, butternut squashes and gourds which I'll dump into one of our thirty litre blue plastic bins. The squashes is heavy buggers and they sink me further into the mud than I'd like to go. My boots is damp enough already because they been sitting outside in the rain—not directly in the rain, mind—I got more sense'n that—but under the shelter of the side porch, outside nonetheless so's to attract the damp.
The barn's old, but I been through it beam by beam and know it's sound. It don't look it on the outside because all the boards is weathered to a bare bone grey, but on the inside things look different. Take the posts for example: big pillars the width of a man's waist, cut from trees the likes of which they don't grow no more, and the wood as blond and as fresh as the day it was milled. Then there's the floor down below, where my dad used to keep pigs, poured concrete, a pristine lime, all of it sloping to the south end of the barn and a drain. We used to hose it down every day, and all the water and all the pig shit would slue its way to the south and, in the end I guess, go back into the land it come from. No money in pigs no more so I don't follow that routine nowadays, though out of habit I still like to hose down the floor from time to time. There's no cause for it to get dirty except as we sometimes kill a deer crossing the property and hang the carcass above the drain. I ain't a hunter but deer's a bloody nuisance trampling through the gardens, besides which a little venison don't hurt none in the diet.
When we got out of the pig business and into the organics, market gardening and such, I built myself a room on the south side of the barn where some of the sties used to be, a refrigeration unit the size of a bedroom, walls made of plywood and lots and lots of insulation. That way we can pick lettuce and such on a Monday and keep it fresh for market the next Saturday. I got it set up to manage the humidity, too, since there ain't much point keeping vegetables cool through the week if they're gonna turn soggy on you in the meantime. After I dump the squash and whatnot into a blue bin, I haul open the big door to the cooler and flick on the light. Not much left this late in the season, but I still manage to force some arugula in the greenhouse out back. Tubers do well. We still dig up hills of potatoes, and there's rows of beets, though the tops can turn to mush if there's a frost, and we grow all different colours of carrots—orange and purple and white and red. I throw in a bag of potatoes, a bunch of beets and a variety of carrots, and top off the bin with a plastic baggy of mixed greens. It's a good offering. I snap on the lid and haul the bin out to the truck parked in the lane beside the barn.
The truck's a Ford, a pickup truck. Seems inevitable we'd own a Ford. Our first-born came into this world in the cab of a Ford pick-up truck some thirteen years ago—a son, and healthy despite the ruckus at his arrival. We named him Ford so's no one, least of all him, would ever forget the circumstances of his coming into the world. What we didn't figure on was how that would lock us into a brand of truck. Can't very well name your boy Ford then go out two years later and buy a GM, now can you? And now that we've gone organic, things have only got worse. We feel the pressure to go all green and ditch the big trucks and gas-guzzling equipment. But it's hard. The farm's pretty remote from things and it's a rough land—hilly, and dirt roads that's none too kind to a suspension. So far, they ain't built the hybrid that could take the land around here. Which means, at least for now, we'll keep buying Ford pick-up trucks, and our oldest can rest easy knowing that we haven't abandoned his namesake. Or is he the truck's namesake? I can never keep that one straight.