Gary Fincke ~ Tractors

Once, in May, a trac­tor near where the teacher lived in Western New York van­ished beneath the earth when a farmer drove too ear­ly into the onion fields. The teacher, a month from fin­ish­ing his first year of instruct­ing teenagers, drove twen­ty miles to stare at what he had read was a John Deere, large and green, as it rose from the mud, heaved up by pul­leys. Someone in the crowd that was watch­ing said that the farmer, as his trac­tor sank, had stood, rid­ing until his shoes had touched the soil. Someone stand­ing near the teacher laughed. “A tem­po­rary Jesus, that fool was,” he said, “believ­ing he wouldn’t drown that tractor.”

One of the teacher’s home room stu­dents, fif­teen that spring, had lost an eye in a farm acci­dent sev­er­al years ear­li­er. The emp­ty sock­et had been stitched closed. Her hair always hung across the near­by scars like a veil. None of the oth­er teach­ers knew whether or not she would receive an arti­fi­cial eye or plas­tic surgery, but the teacher heard sto­ries. The one he heard most often claimed the girl was pig­gy­back rid­ing her father like a mod­el for the joy of fam­i­ly farm­ing. The detail includ­ed each time said the girl had been wear­ing shorts and a t‑shirt because the ear­ly May weath­er, that year, had been warm, the soil sup­port­ing the weight of the trac­tor. Only once did some­one, a col­league in the fac­ul­ty lounge, say that the father’s black Harvester trac­tor had flushed birds and turned over two nests of mice before it bucked and tossed the girl. The teacher didn’t ask how that woman could pos­si­bly know that.

That sum­mer, the younger broth­er of one of the teacher’s stu­dents tum­bled under the har­row that trailed what the news­pa­per described as his father’s red New Holland. Before the ser­vice, the boy who had been in one of the teacher’s English class­es looked at the floor, not speak­ing, when the teacher reached his spot in the receiv­ing line. The father sat beside the min­is­ter in a pew apart from the fam­i­ly. During the funer­al, the min­is­ter said, “Remember the eight years of joy that child has brought,” as if, the teacher thought, the dead boy had been that farmer’s pet. After the ser­vice, the father rushed from the church, his shoul­ders so hunched it appeared as if he was being dragged.

In September, the girl with one eye was in the teacher’s first-peri­od class. For a month, her head always tilt­ed down toward her opened book, she nev­er answered when he called on her. In October, he asked her to read aloud a story’s impor­tant para­graph. When she began at once, the class lis­tened close­ly. Several hands went up before the teacher even asked a ques­tion. Each week, as fall drift­ed into win­ter, she flaw­less­ly read what he asked for. Always, the teacher’s first ques­tion brought an out­burst of raised hands.

In March, the boy whose broth­er had been killed quit school. In May, before she began read­ing, the girl, with­out look­ing up, said she loved the story’s unhap­py end­ing because every­one kept secrets about them­selves that deserved pun­ish­ment. Instead of the pas­sage that the teacher had asked for, she read the last page, her voice tuned so per­fect­ly to the despair of the char­ac­ters that no one spoke when she fin­ished, even when the teacher did not ask a ques­tion until the girl, after sev­er­al sec­onds went by, looked up, her hair part­ing to expose her dam­aged eye.

The teacher, after school, silenced his car radio and drove into the coun­try, choos­ing back roads with lit­tle traf­fic. He drove slow­ly, as if he was look­ing for an unmarked address. He rolled his win­dow down as he passed a field where a trac­tor was being dri­ven. He lis­tened close­ly as he passed two more busy trac­tors. At last, he turned onto a rut­ted, grav­el road, slow­ing fur­ther. He passed an expanse of what would become onion fields before he saw a deep-blue trac­tor. Though it was a dozen rows deep in the lev­el field, it stood still. The teacher could not iden­ti­fy its make, but he could clear­ly see that the farmer was crouched beside it. Not as if he were exam­in­ing it. The teacher could hear that the trac­tor was smooth­ly idling. Moreover, the farmer faced away from the trac­tor, his eyes fixed on the plowed earth between the road and where he crouched. As if he was lost in thought. As if, like the teacher, he felt ghost-like, and was wait­ing to re-enter his body.


Gary Fincke’s col­lec­tion of flash fic­tion The Corridors of Longing was pub­lished in 2022 by Pelekinesis Press. The title sto­ry was reprint­ed in Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-edi­tor of the annu­al anthol­o­gy series Best Microfiction.