Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Farmhouse, Part 5

A late-January thaw had melted much of the snow; what was left lay on the hillside and fields in an icy crust after the weather turned frigid again. We marched from the farmhouse toward the woods beyond the barn, each step slow and difficult as our feet broke through the crust.

Time after time, we gathered armloads of firewood and carried them back to the house, then returned to the woods, scooping up snow an ice along the way to melt in our mouths. Our fingers and toes hardened and numbed. “Faster, you worthless peons!” came the cry.

In the fading light of afternoon, we carried wood from the road up the deeply rutted red-dog driveway, several hundred yards to the farmhouse on the hill. When the piles were finally moved, they marched us – hungry, exhausted, frozen and dehydrated – back to the house. Visions of Clark bars and Three Musketeers danced in our heads.
Kicking off our boots on the back porch, our Pledge Master appeared in the kitchen doorway, munching on one of our secret candy bars.
“Thought you could pull a fast one on us, huh?” he said, showing us a trash can filled with the rest of our hidings. “We found everything that the mice didn’t get to first. For your deceit, no supper for you tonight!”
And just for good measure, he led us in another long session of calisthenics, before banishing us to the cellar.

Next morning, our tormentors slept late. We found a candy bar that had escaped their search, but it had done little to relieve our hunger. Bright sunlight streamed in through the high, dusty cellar windows and splashed upon cobweb-covered shelves. Jewels of reflected sunlight caught my eye. On one shelf I found broken glass and three or four Ball jars and rusty lids, and behind them three or four full jars of canned fruit.
“How long do you think these have been here?“ I whispered.
“Who cares? Open them!” Chas answered.
“If the seals have broken, the botulism could kill us,” Ted opined.

Hunger overruled judgment. We chose the jar with the most recognizable fruit, wiped the dust from it and screwed off the ring. The flat cap was stuck, so Chas worked on it with the claw of a hammer. The rim of the jar cracked when the cap came off. I scooped the broken glass from the thick syrup and we fished out the sweet, soft, yellow apricots with our fingers and devoured them.
The fruit did not kill us, but in the coming days we wondered if the brothers would.

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