[This is inspired by the tractors rumbling past my window today. As I look down, I can see straight into their open, swilling, soupy trailers. Lovely!]
It was warm in the tractor. Marcus mopped his brow with his sleeve. He couldn’t open the window while muck-spreading. His fingers reached for the air conditioning, then paused. Everyone was forbidden to use it.
“Uses extra fuel, costs us money, that does,” their father had declared. “We can’t afford it.”
“Silly old fool,” Marcus's older brother, Jasper, muttered. “Wait till he retires. Then we’ll do it our way.”
Jasper’s way, Marcus thought, frowning. But he had learned to keep quiet, and said nothing.
He turned on the radio. The afternoon show’s presenter’s voice filled the cab.
“And here’s a request for Tracy and Brian, married forty-three years today. Brian, Tracy says she loves you more than ever.”
A strange thing, Marcus mused, to need a stranger to announce your love on national radio. Couldn’t Tracy, whoever she was, manage it herself in a more tasteful manner? But some people were odd, no two ways about it. Take Jasper and Glenda. Now there was a peculiar couple.
“And lastly,” the presenter drawled. “Here’s a message for Fredrick Littleton.”
Marcus was so astonished he let the tractor lurch towards the hawthorn hedge, wrestling it back just in time. But before he had time to wonder if the message was for the Fredrick Littleton he knew, the presenter continued.
“Dad, don’t forget it’s only seventy-three days until you retire.”
Marcus gasped. This time he hit the hedge, and he didn’t even notice.
Back at the farm, Jasper was strutting. He waved as Marcus pulled into the yard, his ruddy face alive with mischief.
“You got the radio on, Bruv?” He shouted. Marcus nodded. “Did you hear it? Classic!” He broke off into snouty guffaws, helpless with laughter.
“I don’t think you should have done it,” Marcus said. “You know how touchy Dad is.”
“Bollocks,” Jasper said, planting his beefy arms on his hips. “Nothing like reminding the old bugger time is almost up. With any luck he’ll go sooner.”
“Did he hear it?”
“Do I give a shit?” His eyes narrowed, and he nodded at the trailer, his dark brows furrowing. “Haven’t you finished yet?”
“Ran out of muck.”
“Bloody hell Marc, how long does it have to take you?”
“It’s a big field.”
“I’m not keeping you on after he retires if you can’t pull your weight. Come on,” he sighed. “Let’s get you filled up.”
But the second load still wasn’t enough, and Marcus had to make another trip back. Pulling into the yard, he looked round, but there was no one about. Bloody Jasper, he thought. He was probably messing around in the office pretending to look busy. Marcus honked the horn. He wasn’t refilling the trailer himself.
He honked again. This time his father appeared. He seemed in no particular hurry, his hands sunk deep inside the pockets of his dirty green overalls. Marcus turned off the engine, and jumped down from the cab.
“Haven’t you finished yet?” Fredrick studied his younger son, and spat on the ground.
“Nearly,” Marcus sighed. “Where’s Jas?”
“I dunno,” Fredrick shrugged. “Lazing around, I expect. Think he said he was going to phone and order the seed potatoes. Apparently, I’ll only buy the wrong ones. Been doing it all my life, but would I know?”
Marcus bowed his head, ashamed of his brother’s impatience. It was true; the old man had been farming all his life. He held out an olive branch.
“Jas doesn’t mean it, Dad. He thinks he’s funny.”
“We’ll see who has the last laugh,” the old man harrumphed. “Need another refill, do you?”
“Yeah,” Marcus said. “But I’m going to grab a drink first. Pretty hot in there today.”
“I’ll fill it up then,” Fredrick huffed. “But get a move on. Bone idle you are, Marcus. You and your brother.”
Marcus stuck his head into the office to moan about being the only one working, but Jasper wasn’t there. Smarting at how he could never please his father, Marcus drove off with his teeth gritted, and his hands gripping the steering wheel. The muck spreader sloshed its smelly soup over the side with every jolt. He turned up the radio. With any luck he’d be done in time for a nice, cold Friday pint. His mouth watered.
He was nearly finished when lights illuminated, and alarms bleeped. The spreader was blocked. He swore. Clearing it was the worst job on the farm.
He pondered driving back for help, but imagined the reception he would get. Both his father and brother would berate him for not sorting it out himself. It was probably straw built up in the propulsion paddles. He clambered up onto the trailer to take a look.
There was something blocking the paddles, but it wasn’t what he’d expected. Instead of straw, there was a Woodstock figure caked not in mud, but in slurry. His stomach lurched. He clambered down, bent over, and was sick into the soil. He didn’t need to look twice to know it was Jasper.