BY CASEY DEANE
Copyright is held by the author.
AT DAYBREAK a solid line of coal-coloured cloud loomed just above the horizon. A heavy construction truck rolled along a rural road and in a farmhouse a woman shouldered a heavy rifle and aimed at a living room window that shook as the truck neared. She swept the room with the rifle and trained her aim on a glass slipper in a dusty cabinet and then at her own reflection in a standing mirror.
One defiant ray of red morning sunlight breached gathering cloud and cut cross-country to the farmhouse. It penetrated the window and traveled the room, exposed disturbed dust suspended in air and edged the woman’s silhouette so that her reflection in the mirror was cast with a crimson glow. Her reflection trembled as the truck passed.
“Anyway I ain’t afraid.” Jessie scowled. “We ain’t never gonna lose.” She dropped the rifle to her waist and let her gaze follow the shaft of light to the window. “That’s what you’ve got to tell yourself.” In the mirror a man appeared behind her and she turned to him, “Believe that.”
“From the kitchen I can see that storm’s on the way.” Stanley nodded toward the window.
“Perfect.” Jessie fit the rifle into a duffel bag and reached to a table where there was an assortment of gun parts.
Stanley fidgeted with a button on his coveralls and pursed his lips as he watched Jessie scrub a trigger assembly with a toothbrush.
“You should eat something. I can —”
“Tea will be fine. Ain’t enough time for a meal.”
She blew on the trigger and the sunlight vanished. She examined the assembly amid the ambience of dolour that had supplanted the beam of suddenly perished sun.
Stanley spent moments back in the kitchen fidgeting with his button and sadly shaking his head. He filled the kettle then slumped on an elbow and watched out a window. Down the road from the farmhouse the truck had pulled over and several men stood wearing bright orange vests and hardhats. Beyond them the horizon was gone, blotted and replaced by the bleak underbelly of the burgeoning storm.
“They’re just working lads,” Stanley called as he plugged the kettle in.
Jessie was fitting a barrel and a receiver together and murmuring. A clock ticked resoundingly.
“First we . . .” Tick. “Then all of us . . .” Tick. “We can’t forget . . .” Tick. “Car done, plates done . . .” Tick.
She racked the bolt on the rifle three times and blew a bang off her forehead before looking into the action and calling out, “Dad, did you get the balaclavas?”
She stuffed the rifle into the duffel and cocked her head, waiting for an answer.
Stanley paced the kitchen in slow, measured footsteps. Outside the wind had picked up and it made the orange vests flap against the waists of the workers. Half of the sky was an encroaching shield of granite; a fearsome and determined column of cumulonimbus fully committed to an unstoppable atmospheric frontline advance. “Sugar, Jessie?”
“Naw, black,” she shouted back.
“Guess lately I got a taste for what’s bitter.” Jessie ignited a lamp and drove away the ominous wash that had filled the living room when cloud eclipsed sun. She was haloed by the lamp’s light and it cast a golden streak along the oiled black rifle she was wiping down with a rag. She tossed rifle and rag to the side and marched the room, crossing the threshold into the kitchen.
“It’s a fairy tale.” She waved, “Hello? Fairy tale. We’ve been through this. They work for the company. They bear the responsibility of repping the company. They are the company.” She waved again. “Dad?”
Stanley’s attention was to the window; the workers were beginning to get rained on. He sighed. “The pen and the sword —”
“We ain’t using swords dad and you’ve tried the pen. It hasn’t worked.”
He frowned and the electric kettle clicked. Jessie was chewing a thumbnail as he poured over two teabags, each in their own cup.
“Those hard working lads as you call’em are why there are tumours in this town,” she shot.
The wind rattled against the house. There was an incessant tap coming from somewhere.
“They’re gonna take from us, dad, and give us nothin.”
Stanley handed her a teacup then turned back to the window. Sheet lightning flickered. His face shimmered silver and there was a menacing rumble from the approaching storm. She stepped closer and her reflection appeared behind his.
“They ain’t gonna stop. They’ll take . . . everything.” She blew a tendril of steam from the lip of her cup.
“Wait,” he raised a finger, “it’s still brewing.”
Abruptly the wind ceased and for a moment there was calm. Only the ticking of the clock from the living room. Jessie stood, teacup poised at her mouth.
Suddenly a brilliant bolt of forked lightning illuminated the kitchen. Peace was split by explosive thunder that shook the farmhouse. The workers scrambled toward the truck for shelter, protective orange vests held up over their hardhats. Instantly a heavy rain came and rat-at-at’d against the pane.
Jessie spoke through a tight bite, “It’s for Susan’s baby. Maybe it’ll be born healthy. It’s for everyone, dad. Us. You, me . . .”
Stanley locked eyes with eyes reflected on wet glass.
“. . . and mom.”
He traced a finger trail through dust on the windowsill. She put a hand on his shoulder and loosened her jaw. “She was a fighter . . .”
He faced her.
“. . . she would’ve wanted to fight.”
Precipitation pounded a barrage on the farmhouse. There was a loud and reverberating knock knock knock.
“Jess . . .”
Jessie cupped trembling hand to her father’s cheek. “You ain’t gotta worry about nothin.”
Wind, rain, flash, thunder, and another commanding tattoo on the door.
“Dad.” She dropped her hand and looked at the door, then back to him where he stood, the wind howling against the window, “Did you pick up the balaclavas?”