Hadn’t seen his boxy handwriting since we were at school. How he found my address I don’t know, but there it was, Danny asking me to come back, begging now I think about it. Just for the harvest. Shoulda listened to my gut.
We’d gotten a box of those postcards, kind of a prize I guess, Best Homestead, Southern District, thirty years ago at least. The old Sask Pool elevator is there in the distance, the barn’s still painted red, if I squint, I think I can see Dad’s grey Mercury behind the old granary. Didn’t have to fill out a form or anything, they just flew a plane up and took aerial photos of the place, part of that whole Centennial project. All’s you had to do was stay put for a hundred years, in the middle of nothing, just stick it out and make the best of it. People trying to make something out of nothing. Seventy-two original homesteads left in the province and we’re in the top three. Mom loved that. Oh, there was a big deal celebration in Regina, the premier and everything. I remember that fat envelope with fancy stamps, the invitation had come right in the middle of planting but there’s the government for you. I was twelve.
Mom went of course. Took the two youngest, me and Danny. Left Bobby to look after the place, though we’d only be gone the one night. First time we’d been anywhere since Dad died. Probably the only time Danny’d been anywhere else. Ever.
Should have known what I was getting myself into. Obvious Danny was never going to be able to make a go of it. Thinks all it’d take is me, playing the dutiful daughter, and it’d all be as right as rain. What he needs is a miracle.
Been back two months. Crops off and no one in the old house these days but me.
Danny’s living down at Bobby’s, the two of them bachelors again, at least until Bobby’s Anne gets home. Three months now, visiting her sister in Sudbury. Right. Anne’s never coming back. Mom warned him about marrying that one; said her heart wasn’t in it.
I pick up that postcard, the one Danny sent back in the spring, run my finger over the glossy photo, the pinking sheared edges. They don’t print them like that anymore. I turn it over, feel the desperation of a pen pressed real hard.
P.S. I can’t do it without you.
“Can’t do it with me,” I say out loud, to no one.
I strike the Blackbird match to the kerosene lamp, the one with the red Scottie dogs. Same one’s been here since before I was born. Fanciful. Mom loved red—sweaters at Christmas, wool socks, those ridiculous boots. She’s wearing them in the official photo, the one they printed in the paper. Mom next to the premier, the Homesteaders’ celebration. Smiling like she was running for office, holding that plaque. Same one’s on the wall now between the glass oval frames of Granny and Poppa on their wedding, neither of them looking too happy.
‘A love match,’ Mom said, and she would know. Poppa’s people hated Granny. Worked to steal the place from her when he died. Granny fought them off. Hired a lawyer, nobody thought she’d go that far. “You keep this farm in the family!” she’d spat at Mom. A death match, that love match.
Crops off, Danny at Bobby’s, and the Scottie lamp lit. A fifth of Navy rum dug from the pocket of Poppa’s old pea coat. The smell of smoke and sorrow.
I take the chimney off the Scottie lamp and turn the flame up long and lean. I used to do this as a kid, wait for the moths to find the light. Mom’d kill me if she knew I was playing with fire. Light bounces off the high gloss paint. Durable, she said. Shadows lick the photos.
I smell my hair singe and set the lamp down on the floor, next to her old bed. Turn to see the bedspread on fire. Nylon, rayon, something cheap and born to burn. Faster than you’d believe, flames and bedding and outside the last quarter of the harvest moon. A waning moon, Mom would say. Plant on the new moon, waning’s for wrapping up.
Paint’s curling and peeling now, dancing, alive with the burning.
I grab the keys and the mickey of rum off Granny’s table, and open the door, iron knob hot in my hand. Night air rushes in like a crowd and the fire blossoms. Take the skeleton key from the keyhole and poke it in my pocket, no sense in locking up.
On the gravel, like Lot’s wife, I turn and stare as plastic curtains melt against wavy glass. Think about the plaque. Should at least have taken that.
Finish the rum which burns the back of my throat—or is it the smoke—start the truck and drive past the broken-back barn. Haven’t had livestock since Mom died. Grain’s at the storage elevator now or shipped. I debate turning right, to stop by Bobby’s, but he and Danny’ll know soon enough.