Big White Combine

Fiction by Reid Dickie

Bruno Insinger is having The Dream again. He started having it before Christmas and here it was the middle of summer.

Though seeding was delayed by a cool spring, the rains came at an opportune time and Bruno’s 1600 acres of barley and oats germinated into a promising crop. When the crop was about six inches high, the heat started. That was six weeks ago. Not a drop of rain had fallen since and his stunted crops wilted in the fields. Every day was above 80 degrees. The crop wasn’t able to hold the earth in place to counter the erosion; even light winds lifted top soil into hazy blusters. A crop yield 10% of the average was what Bruno expected to get this year. It was a disheartening depressing prospect, a waste of time, energy and money.

In The Dream, Bruno is surveying his fields. For miles around the pale parched green of his stunted crop matches the dry grey earth. The highest point on Bruno’s farm is a rise. Though somewhat precarious, it is tillable and harvestable. He is looking toward the rise which is shrouded in an impenetrable white mist. Above the hill, clouds have formed, billowy and white; from behind them, the sun is sending glowing shafts of light toward the white mist. Gold tinged and subtly moving the heavenly shafts penetrate the mist. Slowly in deep spirals from the bottom of the rise, the mist begins to ascend into the sky. As it clears the top of the hill, a huge white combine appears. It stands enormous against the sky, glistening with clean bright light. The machine is blindingly white, so bright Bruno can only take brief glances at it, a glistering gem against a blue velvet cloth.

Accompanying the vision is the rat-a-tat-tat of tin drums, children’s toys beat with determination and clamorous intent; toy pianos tinkle, plastic clarinets wheeze, a tambourine finds no rhythm. The cacophony increases in volume when the big white combine fires up, perceptibly shaking on the summit. The noise becomes louder as The Dream goes on.

There is a sudden flurry of diagonal white motion; the combine is moving, traveling over Bruno’s acres, eating them up like a starved deafening goblin. A man Bruno doesn’t know steps up to him and writes something on a small slate board. No matter how hard he tries, Bruno can’t make out what the man wrote. That’s when The Dream ends.

The next day was hot and rainless. That evening Bruno sat on the porch swing. He was alone, something that rarely happened on the farm. The kids were vacationing with his relatives and his wife was visiting her sister a day’s drive away.  The cold beer sure tasted good, ‘100% good.’ He thought of The Dream.

At first, it sounded like loud electrical static, a broken buzzing that seemed to come from around the side of the house. Bruno cocked his head. From the other direction, a crackle came that sounded close and dangerous, then another from across the lane. He thought he was about to be hit by lightning. An explosion on the cement porch steps made him realize it was hailstones.

He got up and looked behind the house toward the west. The sky was black with roiling clouds, pierced by near-continuous lightning. Suddenly the air was full of ice. It pounded off the roof of the porch, battering the flower and vegetable gardens into pulp, smashing the windshield of the half-ton, careening and shattering off everything. As Bruno watched, his yard, his lane, his fields all turned white. Hailstones, ranging in size from marbles to baseballs, fell for seven minutes over an eleven square mile area. Bruno’s farm was in the middle of that area. The temperature dropped seventeen degrees in ten minutes. In places, the hail was a foot deep. A day later, there were still pockets of hailstones in shady areas.

The following afternoon the hail insurance adjuster inspected the damage. When he was done Bruno asked, “Well, what’s the word? Big white combine?”

The adjuster wrote “100%” on a clipboard and showed it to Bruno.

“Big white combine,” said the adjuster.

Bruno was relieved. It was over.

For this year.

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