Chapter 30

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A fat, green caterpillar clung to the underside of a delicate leaf. Stanley watched intently to see if it was going to move. The leaf was from a tomato plant and the caterpillar was known as a hornworm. It was capable of great damage to the vegetable, but Stanley wasn't worried about this one, as it had what appeared to be white grains of rice attached to its back. He had intended to pluck it from the plant but there was no need. The white grains, he had learned in his ten previous summers of farming, were the larvae of a wasp. The larvae would hatch and kill the caterpillar. It no longer posed any threat.

In addition to tomato plants, the garden consisted of cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, broccoli and zucchini. Corn was the mainstay of the Reece farm, and therefore took up most of their land. It was what sustained them, as Stanley's father would say. The other crops provided for the family and excess was also sold at the Sunset Bay Farmer's Market on Saturdays.

"This is your future, son," Stanley's father would often tell him. "It'll all be yours to care for some day." The words had implanted a vision into Stanley's young mind, a vision that had both excited and frightened the boy. He had seen the toll this life had taken on his father and knew that over the years it would likely beat him down as well. But this was something that Stanley truly loved to do, and he believed that he had a duty to follow in his father's footsteps.

"Hard, honest work," Stanley said to himself. It was his father's favorite farming motto. "And you can be proud of that."

A swift breeze whipped through the yard, racing past the boy and tousling his hair. He squinted as dirt pelted his face. Doris let out a sneeze. "Bless you, girl," said Stanley. She wagged her tail. It had been a dry summer so far, but Stanley hoped the breeze signaled the coming of a storm and much needed rain.

He ran to the big, dusty-green tractor parked beside the barn and climbed aboard. When he was standing on top of it, Stanley scanned the sky as far as he could see. Far off, the skies were dark gray.

"Think there's rain in those clouds, boy?"

Stanley turned to see his father emerge from the house. At the bottom of the deck stairs, he yawned and stretched. Probably sleeping again. "Yep. I think so," said Stanley.

"I hope so!" yelled Mr. Reece, stumbling toward the tractor.

"There in the east, though," observed Stanley, scrunching his nose as specks of airborne debris pelted his face.

"Hmm? Oh...you're right," said Mr. Reece, looking left to right. "Well, maybe the wind's shifting."

As if on cue, the wind stirred again, nearly knocking the baseball cap from Mr. Reece's head, and Stanley laughed. Mr. Reece climbed up the tractor and plopped down onto the seat. "Come on," he said, patting his lap, "let's go for a ride and check out the crops."

"Okay, Pop." Stanley jumped onto his father's lap.

"Ooof!" Mr. Reece bellowed. "You're getting too damn big to do that."

Stanley laughed. "Sorry, Pop."

"That's okay, boy. That's okay."

As the tractor rumbled down a wide dirt path dividing the fields, his father stared at him through squinted eyes...eyes that to Stanley seemed much older than they were. He could smell beer on his father's breath, even though it was before lunchtime.

Stanley stared out across the vast expanse of corn. When the breeze kicked up again, the crops yielded to it, waving back and forth in the current. To Stanley it looked just like the ocean. The wind pressed into their backs and Stanley smiled.

The tractor came to a halt and Mr. Reece stared off into the distance, then frowned. "Something wrong, Pop?" asked Stanley, but his father didn't answer. The boy followed his father's gaze but couldn't locate anything amiss. Mr. Reece scooted Stanley off his lap and stepped up onto the engine housing and surveyed the field.

"Thought I saw...something...." he mumbled. "Someone...."

"Who?" asked Stanley. Mr. Reece didn't immediately answer and the quiet became unsettling. The boy stared up at his father and suddenly felt alone. It was a strange thing for him to think with his father only a few feet away, atop the tractor, but he felt it, nonetheless.

Stanley peered to his left, into the vertical lines of greenery. Who would be out there...in the field? "Maybe it's Gramps."

"Maybe," said Mr. Reece, his hands cupped at the edge of his baseball cap, extending his protection against the sun. "Could be an animal, too." He turned and looked at the boy, smiled and climbed down to the ground. "You gave me an idea. Why don't you go check on the old man?"

Stanley looked to the left of the corn field, down the long dirt road that led to Gramp's house. It was a tiny house that the old man referred to as a bungalow and you could see part of it from where they stood.

"Really? You think I should?"

Mr. Reece grinned wide. "I do. Then you can let me know if he's there and not in the cornfield. Plus, your Mom would like to know that you look in on him."

Stanley smiled and accepted his mission. "Yeah, I bet she would. Okay, Pop."

"Good boy," said his father, moving his hands through his son's close-cropped hair. "Get on, now."

"I'll be back." The boy ran off, leaving puffs of kicked-up dust in his wake. Doris, who had trotted along beside the tractor, broke into a run beside him.

"Be back before dark, Stanley!"

"Okay, Pop!" Stanley turned to wave, but his father had already begun walking toward the field. Stanley waved anyway as Mr. Reece was swallowed by the stalks.


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