Saturday, 5 September 2015


There was a cockerel on top of the barn roof, made of a silvery metal that caught the setting sun and sparkled.  It was a weather-vane, and it swung slowly to point to the North, the direction the wind was coming from.  Nathaniel sat back on his heels, his hands pressing into the small of his aching back, and looked up.  By his side was a tarpaulin set on the short grass in the rows between the vines, and on the tarpaulin were the red-and-brown raggedy weeds that he was pulling out by hand.  Georgette, kneeling next to him and hauling with a stoked ferocity on the stringy weeds, glanced over at him, and then went back to weeding.
"Boreas is coming," said Nathaniel.  "We're going to have to poison the watermelons tonight."
"Tonight?" Georgette's voice was plaintive, perhaps a whine rather than a wail.  "How many did you plant this year?"
"Just shy of eighty hills," said Nathaniel.  "There's two vines to a hill, it's been a good year."
"Sweet Jesus," said Georgette, the words sighing out of her.  She looked at Nathaniel and saw his lips pursing, turning white with the pressure.  "Keep it to yourself, Godbotherer," she said.  "Or you'll be poisoning the watermelons all on your lonesome."
There was a minute of silence while Nathaniel thought the words he wanted to say, and imagined Georgette repenting.  Georgette grunted occasionally with the effort of the weeding, and didn't bother him. She knew what he'd be doing, Nathaniel had been 'Godbotherer' to the whole farm for the last thirty years.
"We'll poison ten," said Nathaniel.  "One hundred and fifty will be plenty for the harvest and the molasses."
"And the brandy," said Georgette.  Nathaniel's face contorted again, and she shook her head.  "You can disapprove all you like, Nat, but I don't see you not spending the money.  I don't see you not planting fewer watermelons to ensure that we choose one or the other.  Your actions speak louder than your words."
"The weeding here will keep until tomorrow."  There were tiny red spots on Nathaniel's cheek, in an otherwise sickly-pallored face, and his voice was the careful tone of someone controlling themselves and taking care not to say what they're actually thinking.  "I shall go and prepare the poison."
Georgette looked along the vines, and sighed.  "You do that, Nat," she said.  "I think I'll need to finish this row, the weeds here are tall enough to throttle a child."
He stood, unfolding into a tall, gaunt scarecrow of a figure, and was silhouetted against the sun.  The wind tugged at his untucked shirt and and bell-bottoms of his jeans, and for a moment she was reminded of the Gaunt Man, a monster from childhood tales.  As he strode away, along the rows to the end of the vines, she considered for a moment that it might not be that far from the truth; they poisoned the watermelons to stop thieves, but at the end of the day, each of those poisoned melons might kill someone, or some animal.  Nathaniel was puritanical about using arsenic instead of anything more creature specific.
She turned to the remainder of the weeds; there was about 6 metres to the end of the row and she figured it would be about 20 minutes to free the vines from the weeds.  She leant in, the mucles in her arms and back bulging as she hauled on stringy, tough stems that grew from a deep-set root bolus and tried, like ivy, to wrap itself around the vines and choke the life from them.  The only important thing, she thought to herself, was to make sure that Nathaniel never poisoned the watermelons alone; the voices he heard might be mostly about punishing himself and the threat of a vengeful God, but they were still voices and he was inclined to act on them.  It wasn't at all unbelievable that he might poisoned the wrong melons, or the wrong number, or fail to note which melons were poisoned and which weren't, just because he thought that God had told him to do that.
Finally the row was done and she stood up with relief, her muscles flooding at last with blood and fresh oxygen, and their screams of delight feeling only a little bit like pain.  She walked, slowly at first as the muscles recovered, and then with an increased pace, through the vines and across the side-yard to the barn.  The door was only slightly ajar, and she tsked to herself; Nathaniel should know better than to work with poisons without proper ventilation.  She pushed it, and it moved a few centimetres and then stopped.  She pushed again, realising that it was catching on something, and put her back into it.  The door opened further, but it was an effort.  One she didn't need after spending the afternoon weeding.  When it was open enough, she stepped inside and looked around the door to see what was obstructing it.
There was Nathaniel, dead as a doornail, with his head jammed firmly in the bucket of arsenic.