The August Yield
It began with a long week of relentless rain. Jim Macy woke in the middle of the night to hear it slamming against the windowpanes, rattling like pelts of rice in the eaves. When he went and stood in the doorway of his house, the wind tugging at his shirt, he saw the endless sheets of water carried down from the night sky by the wind, crashing into the barren fields. It flooded the rows of useless wheat, and it kept up all week. When the rain finally lifted and he found the boy unconscious out in the backfields of his property, he almost didn’t see him under all the mud.
The boy was thin and buried up to his waist in the ground, as though he’d simply grown up out of it. His eyes were closed, and his skin was caked all over with earth. Ignoring the pain in his own aging back, Macy heaved him up out of the mud, his arms wrapped around the boy’s chest, and almost instantly the boy began to cough. Wadded dirt dribbled from his lips.
“Who are you?” asked Macy.
The boy clutched at Macy’s shirt. As weak as he looked, his grip was strong.
“What is it?”
Back at the farmhouse Macy handed him glass after glass of water, and although the boy was filthy he offered him some blankets to warm himself, but the boy didn’t need them. He wanted only water and food: He drank like someone just delivered from the desert, like he wanted to fill his body to the brim with water, and he took everything from the kitchen Macy offered him. Apples, potato chips, the last of this week’s loaf of bread. Macy had been low on food recently because the entire summer had been a drought, and by now, late August, he had almost no hope of recovering any crops at all. But there was a boy here in his house, a child, and he gave him everything he could without thinking twice. He’d never had a son – a wife, once, but never a son. When at last the boy stopped asking for more, he felt lost.
“Who are you?” he asked again.
The boy had no name, no parents, and he seemed confused at the idea. After a while Macy gave up and went back to his room to run a bath for him. The boy was confused about this, too, especially the sight of water coming out of the faucet. Feeling a little helpless, Macy showed him the soap and tried explaining what to do with it. Who is this kid? he wondered, but didn’t ask aloud again. He dipped his hand below the surface of the water as if to show that it wasn’t scary, felt immediately foolish, and left the boy alone in the bathroom after that, trusting that he would figure out what to do.
When the boy came out half an hour later, the mud was gone and he looked like a real boy, a real person. Unearthed, thought Macy. “Should I call the police?” he asked the boy.
The boy only blinked.
I can call them tomorrow, thought Macy.
He used the rest of his food to make dinner for the two of them. Potatoes, carrots and celery, and hamburgers – from the store, not the good kind, but they’d have to do. He never got to cook for other people. He looked through his meager spice rack three or four times, trying to find something that would seem fancy, before sprinkling some rosemary on the potatoes.
“What grows here?” the boy asked him as they faced each other across the dining room table. He spoke with his mouth full between big bites of burger.
“Wheat,” said Macy.
The boy frowned, as though puzzled.
Outside, the fields dried and stiffened under the setting sun. Macy let the boy sleep in his bedroom that night and made up the couch for himself. He fell asleep with his work pants still on, his neck bent hard against the crook of the armrest.
Late at night the pain in his neck woke him, and he sat up straight in the darkness of his living room, awake and listening as the house breathed through its floorboards and its curtains. He’d been having a dream, he was sure of it, about autumn. There was a kid with him. They were out in the rich fields, drenched with sun, and he was teaching the kid how to bring in a fall harvest, a full harvest. He stood up and touched his feet to the cold wooden floor, and that was when he saw the boy through the living room window, barefooted like him and gaunt in the moonlight, making his way away from the house and into the endless fields forever.
Laura Dzubay is an undergraduate studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Her work has previously appeared in Ginosko Literary Review, The Oleander Review, Fortnight Literary Press, Xylem Magazine, and others, and recent awards for her work include first prize in the Caldwell Poetry Competition and a Hopwood Underclassmen Fiction Award.