Jule’s Farm-Chapter 1 – Ted Prokash
December 18, 2022
The old man was in the back forty when the horse fell on the boy. He heard it. He didn’t know exactly what happened, being some distance from the barn, but he heard the terrible scream from the animal followed by the alarm of the women and knowing the temper of the horse lately, owing the bad foot, he had a good idea of what happened.
He looked west where the weather that had put a clammy pall over the day was still coming. Slowly. The sun, obscured as it was, bent to meet the horizon off somewhere unseen. There wasn’t an hour left by which to see. The corn had better get in the ground, he decided. The women would take care of the boy.
The old man recited a brief prayer. It was not a prayer of specific supplication–for the God he knew did not interest Himself in the problems of small men. But he recited a prayer of general acknowledgment of the unchangeable will of God and he went about finishing up in the field.
When the old man finished the planting it was dark. The cold wet hung in the air all around. When it did finally rain it would go on a long time.
The man washed up and went straight to table. There was pork roast with potatoes and gravy and corn and bread. His wife served him his plate and sat across from him at the table. She was bothered but she didn’t talk. The man prayed. Then he ate.
‘Milk,’ the man said in a way that somehow carried no connotation of either question or command. The wife sat for a while as if she hadn’t heard. Then she rose and poured a tall glass from the jug on the counter, set it in front of the man.
When he had finished the great mound of food on his plate and wiped up any leavings with a piece of bread, then eaten the bread, the man washed it all down with one long, continuous drink.
‘The horse?’ the man questioned.
‘Broke its back and died,’ the woman said sharply, acrimony in her voice, perhaps for what she perceived as the stupidity of the question.
‘I heard no gunshot,’ the man observed, somewhat in the way of preserving some dignity for his position.
‘It broke its back and died,’ the woman repeated, having already spent any passion she had for the subject.
‘The boy?’ he said then.
‘With Aunt in the back room.’ This Aunt was a sister of the old man’s father who lived on the farm. She was not much older than the old man, her nephew. The old man’s given name was Jule.
‘Well, is he bad hurt?’ he asked in reference to the boy.
His wife seemed to resent even this question, or perhaps the way it was put. But she stayed her tongue from evil. For she was devout. ‘He’s smashed about the ribs and chest. Horse fell square on top of him. His breathing is labored. Nothing about his head or his arms or legs though… horse fell square on his chest. He didn’t cry out,’ she added, ‘though perhaps only ‘cause he couldn’t.’
Jule allowed himself a small spot of pride for that. At eleven years old, the boy was remarkably stout and almost as tall as the old man himself. But then he began thinking about the strain it would cause if the boy did happen to die. He began thinking about the loss of the horse. He knew his wife was thinking about the other three she had lost to the flu. A mood settled in that might be called grim by those who had the time and luxury to name such things.
‘I’ll go for the doctor,’ he said. ‘After prayer.’ He took out his rosary beads and his wife did the same.
For some time the only movement in the little kitchen was the passing of calloused fingers over smooth-worn beads and the slow dancing of the orange flame in the oil lamp. The low chanting of husband and wife was rent on something they could never own. Misery meant only you were still left alive.
The aunt sat in a chair at the boy’s bedside. A lit candle cast just enough light by which she could read her prayer book.
She had been holding the horse while the boy tried to work on its foot. It was a proposition doomed to hell. The animal trembled and rolled its eyes and the moment the boy touched the infected spot in its hoof, it came up off the ground and towered over the woman like final judgment day. It stood over her briefly, in all its enormity, as if to give a glimpse of what would be at the end of times. Then it pitched over backwards, crushing the boy with a resonant thud.
His mother was in from the kitchen in an instant and somehow the two women managed to roll the dead horse off the boy. Nor was it any small chore to carry him into the house and put him in the bed where he currently lay.
The boy let out one great, terrifying gasp when the horse rolled off him. Then he settled in to the shallow rasping that was all he could muster since. He barely opened his eyes, but persisted in a look of deep concentration. Perhaps in prayer, or perhaps in just staying alive.
Always, after the aunt finished a prayer, she would study the boy’s face in the candle light. In it there was pain and concentration, but both of these were mastered somehow by an overall calm. It was God in the boy’s face.
From the time he was a baby, it was clear that the spirit of God was in this child. It was clear now in everything he did. It showed in the calm, persistent way he went about his chores, the way he grew so strong so quickly, the earnest way in which he prayed. It had seen him through the flu that killed his siblings and the aunt was sure it would see him through this too.
For though none in the family would blaspheme to speak it, they all felt this boy was destined in God’s favor.