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This is a prairie road. This road is the shortest distance between nowhere and nowhere. This road is a poem.

- Robert Kroetsch

• • •

ONCE, sometime after Dad’s father was already gone, and his mother was living in the city under the care of Dad’s oldest sister, we thudded down the back road to River Farm. The slope of the road—ideal in the rain—Dad would say, forced my shoulder against the passenger door. Dust twisted with the tires turning against gravel and the loose edges of the road spun off into the ditches. While the truck heaved down the roads, tiny circles of smooth sky pressed through the clear rosary beads wrapped around the rearview.

On these drives to River Farm, I’d wonder if we’d shifted a rock that had never been driven over or had never felt the weight of a vehicle until Dad’s chocolate brown Chevy. That—because of that one rock—our afternoon was written there. A road that only we could read.

On some drives, I’d promise myself that I’d remember a fence post with a particular lean or knot. That if, years later, I found myself there alone or lost, on my way to the spot where my dad grew up, an area northwest of Morinville, southwest of Legal, and east of Nakamun Park, I’d know exactly where I was. Perhaps that trip would be another lifetime altogether, but I’d spot that post or rut or hole, and I’d remember, or at least I’d have that moment where everything is familiar before it isn’t again. On every trip to River Farm, I’d memorize ditches and birches the way I would the lines on Dad’s hands or the indent of his elbows when he was carrying pails of water to tip into the planters of strawberries along the side of our house.

We were on our way to collect a tree trunk. As the heat clung to our shoulders and worked its way between our toes, we sunk into the truck’s old grey-brown upholstery. Dad would later sand and shape the trunk into stumps for sitting around the fire in our backyard, in town, twenty-five minutes from River Farm.

• • •

One of the stumps had dried out so completely from the heat of our summer fires that it split down the center—a crack like a rock chip slicing across the windshield. Before our last fire for the season, Dad wiggled the axe through the crevice until the carved seat became kindling. He stuffed three inches of old garden hosepipe with rubber to make a rainbow fire. Then he tossed the kindling into the flames.

While we watched the flame chew the wood, I thought of the years of sun and rain that had turned a tiny sapling into a towering spruce: Grandpa had introduced himself to Grandma at a church function. They married a few years later. They purchased River Farm from a family who’d owned it for three generations and were moving somewhere north near Baptiste or Athabasca. There, they raised a family of eleven, and harvested a barley crop fifty-five times in fifty-five years. And then Grandma, once Grandpa had passed, moved into the city when the farm became too much.

As those purple and green flames curled over the pit, I’d feel a pang for River Farm and that afternoon with my dad. Dad’s thin face moved in and out of shadow as the flames leapt until they were lost into one another. I tried to imagine him, as he had been inside that story: the seventh child, who bore a shiny forearm scar in the shape of a seven from a farm accident, blonde hair, brown eyes. Lonely inside of a packed house.

Dad’s farm memories, which he’s only ever briefly mentioned, have become scenes that I’ve fashioned: likely stories, plausible moments. His memories are passed on to me through a land that remembers the lifetimes spent on it.

When I try to recall the farm stories, what I remember most is the light. Not long, clear stretches like I think I should remember. It’s not bright afternoons as he balance-beamed between the rows of potatoes, though I know those days happened because there’re pictures.

It’s the tiny corners of light. A bright sliver between the barn door and the damp interior as the wind forced the hinge forward or back, where he, my dad, shifted between machinery and hay. It’s the flash of four-thirty mornings when Dad, half-awake, watched the tractor tires rut through the yard and out back into the fields as the light pulled at the trees and tugged days upward.

Sometimes the scene switches from Dad squinting toward the now tiny tractor moving across the long, flat field where he can still make out his dad’s bright green ball cap, to Dad himself—bony elbows, nearly see-through cotton shirt. He’s always backlit by sunrise and it’s impossible for me to make out his expression.

• • •

Dad signaled left and right and cut across range roads until we arrived. “Here we are, here we are,” he announced.

The River Farm was not near a river. The nearest river was The Sturgeon Valley and it was miles southward. We pulled into River Farm’s long curved driveway. Tall ditch grasses had folded over the rocky path to the house, the kind of thick blades that could be peeled into stiff lines. The kind of grass that presses sharp chlorophyll into your hands: under the tap and against the Ivory soap, the scent punctures your memory and you are pulled back inside the outdoors.

The farmhouse, now five years uninhabited and with no sign of potential renters, looked like all of the air had been sucked out through the keyhole. The roof pulled inward, but the sticky tar shingles, oozed together from years of summer sun, prevented it from collapsing. As I stood next to the truck, peeling blades into piles of lines and popping bright dandelion heads, I looked at the house. I felt the rattle of the leafless spruce and then of the hand axe against the truck’s metal box and then in my bones. Dad tossed his gloves through the open driver’s side, and then shoved the door shut with his hip, before turning toward the burning barrels where the cats with patchy hair screeched for food.

I could never go inside. There’d be baby food jars of buttons, and tiny silver spoons from all over Canada. Things that didn’t make it to the city. I couldn’t look at these artifacts of my grandparent’s life, and when I thought of them, I felt deflated. The air pulled out through my mouth and into the wind that was causing the perennials to bend.

“Let’s go see what we can dig up before we get the hell out of here,” Dad yelled as he nodded toward the dump, a pit in the corner of the yard, just over the line that separated the mowed grass from the unruly.

Halfway there, he stopped and pushed through the barn doors. The light, against the dark interior, illuminated dust that wavered. Motors. Tires. Years of wrenches. Buckets of washers. Grease, like the syrup grandma poured over our pancakes, gleaned and suggested metal surfaces. When the door slammed shut, the barn puffed out old manure. Dad spun the tip of the two-by-four that served as a latch. He tapped the handle with the shovel he’d retrieved from somewhere inside.

“I’ll uncover. You inspect,” he ordered as he took long strides toward the pit.

I found my perch, a patch of clumpy soil that wouldn’t crumble into the hole, and watched him slam his shovel into the dirt and turn over and heave out what had been buried. When he lifted his sun-browned arms, his shoulders would twist up, and then, with force, he punctured the ground. When he’d started the dig several years earlier, there were flashes of white paper in the heaps, mostly soup can labels. I’d press the labels flat. Rub the dirt off with my fingertips. But now, it was only glass and metals—the garbage buried by River Farm’s earliest inhabitants.

• • •

Before Grandpa passed away, he told Dad over the phone that he knew he was going to die. I imagine Grandpa gripped the twisty white phone cord while he told him. Grandpa was healthy, no sign of illness. I imagine he released the cord and the long plastic line slapped against the laminate floor. Dad told him that he’d be around forever, but Grandpa explained how the land would be divided—how his long, flat field would be shared equally between his children. I imagine then, that Dad pictured his dad, over forty years earlier, in that tractor with that green ball cap moving across that wheat field. I imagine that after they said goodbye and Dad slunk back into the couch to continue watching the hockey game that he felt far from home.

I imagine flying over River Farm in one of those helicopters that take aerial photos for the census. I’d move over the land in lines—eleven equal strips. The farmland was a generous gift. But Dad’s unrecorded inheritance: tree stumps, snowflake rocks, soil from Grandma’s garden for his flowerbeds, all items he brought home in small truck loads over the years—transporting the farm into our backyard—was immeasurable.

Dad plunged the shovel in the pit with one arm; he leaned all of his weight to the left. He’d found something. He worked around the spot, until he could reach his hand into the hole. He lifted out a clear glass, lidless jar.

“It’s a Mason,” he said as he slid it into my hand. There was a thin film of dust over his cheekbones and on the sides of his nose. The crow’s feet and creases across his forehead were tiny brown lines.

I rubbed the glass against my shorts and then held it up. The cursive mason broke the light the way a stem in water is sliced in half. From its open top though the thick base, the farm—its field, its patch of trees, its tiny house, the sky, the ground, my dad—pressed through in circles.

“Alright! Let’s go,” Dad yelled as he wiped his hands against his jeans, “I want to drive to the city to get some fertilizer before we go home.”

I drifted off as we rattled over the gravel road on our way to Highway 2. When we bumped over the ridge that divided the sprawling countryside of Mearns from the town of Morinville, we left Dad’s world and entered the one that he lived in with me. Before that bump, I’d think: This is a Prairie Road. I felt the air slide in through my half-open window and rush over my face as we glided onto the paved road. This road is a poem.



“I won’t be around forever.”

I tried to look at Dad’s face, but the sun was too bright. I concentrated on his hands on the wheel. Dirt-lined nails. Gold wedding band—not the original because he’d lost that years earlier while trimming our fence-high hedges.

“What are you talking about?”

“There’s money. I’ve saved money for you.”

I curved my finger over the letters m-a-s-o-n and then around the glass-grooved rim. I held the jar steady against my flat palm, closed one eye, and leveled the base with the road. I squinted through it to the fifty-nine faceted-rosary skies and then twirled the jar to make a hundred and seventy-seven more.


Jessica Kluthe is an author and writing instructor from Edmonton, AB. Her first book, Rosina, The Midwife — published by Brindle & Glass — is available now. Her shorter fiction and nonfiction works have appeared in various Canadian literary journals. She is very excited to be a Little Fiction-er.

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LF #025 © Jessica Kluthe. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, October 2012.


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