Brian Kubarycz


A farmer's barn burns midnight bruised to break of day. No neighbor's son will run to see its blazing frame, nor kneel to inspect its blackened underside. None will even gaze out on it as bullroaring tongues break from its bulk. The farmer pumps ground water into tightly tin-cupped fingers, brings one hand's brim hard up, against his lowered lip. Panting, he hears no whinny. To deafened ears, the flames revive harsh sounds half-heard in sooted city years. As a lad of scant ambitions, he had coked hot quenchless fires in cave factories and watched on as the ablest of the gang poured molten ores into blackened troughs which coursed with liquid light. After working days burned to umber evening ash, he would be released and leave to learn to take in distillated spirits passed from rag to burlap rag, while seated, Sabbaths, in the devilmost hind pew of Sunday School.

Liquors leavened him within, but never as did warm the hortatory voice which rent the congregation clean in two, twain groups of unshorn sheep who would be laved or damned below, as now they waged, enslaved, snared in industries infernal. The voice brought water to the farmer's eye. Smudge tears—for the rest of the gang had seen it—moved the farmer to his feet. In his flat, full dark as it was shabby, the farmer fell to newfound knees. And he fell to beating himself. Shielded from the judgments of the gang, but foully naked under God's bright monocle, he shook with winter fever in the heat of threshing season.

Five times five, he flailed himself, blundering back into the yonderest apothecaries of his heart for, God alone saw, whatever whorls he imprinted when only old enough to grasp upward after what was vessel of another's wrath. Five fingers drew hand hard into acorn fist and fought against, God only knows, what demons of the air that stank about him, so full of crime. He was brimming. Even if the farmer had done nothing, still he felt its grip, the sin of fear, cold as coal stone and waiting, down within him.  The voice—he could hear, be still!—straightened him until his spine became as mast and all his idle deeds and vain imaginations seemed rigged to him and billowing, as if the cargo of his follies had been inventoried and prepared for watershipping. The fell weight of it so heavy, he raised awl against himself.

Winding his way between carts and carriages, he traced his steps back to the factory, seeking solace in the blazing heat that meant mercy only for how it came from without him. Pausing at the gate, he felt blood trickle from one ear. He tasted it as one might take a cordial after dinner, feeling what was damnable excess in others might be virtue in oneself. Then he felt the damage he had wrought, and he heard only the steady knell that never sprang from clapper.

Stepping once again into the arc of furnace light, he could feel the blast break open the full loaf of him, though he could hear bullroarers no more, hear only a distant bell beckon him back to the country he had come to town to leave behind. His home was Bourne.

How he came to own the ragged land he farmed is no man's matter. Nor was his taking of a wife who died of typhus in the first bed of their marriage. Nor did the farmer mind to find a fitter bride, not any more than he thought to lift brass tube up to one ear to seek approval of his discourses with any man. The farmer lived according to the strict sleeves of his conscience, suffering as was given of the Lord and thinking nothing of tithing two times over, even of the water that he dowsed from under ragged acre. Two pumps of ten he poured, and often, back unto his almighty God, as his urn offering. And pity the man who spoke aught against it, though the farmer heard him not. 

And so dwelt the farmer that all men became his enemies. Not that he wronged any. Simply, there was no man could feel his life was righteous anymore once he had come to understand the farmer's manner of subsisting. And so when aged barn began to blast, they spoke no word of it, took no notice and doused no part, feeling that even to acknowledge the gross misfortune would be, God alone knows how, another sign of their own fault before the Lord. The farmer framed his face within ten tin-cupped fingers, knowing there was no wound anymore to fear, no heart sting anymore could itch. There was no need to fight the flickering but only to accept what fire was, a gate swung open there him, a threshold he had tramped so many times before, if only as prefigured type and shadow. 

It was the pantry of the Lord that bade before him. It was the Lord's eternal threshing floor, the ark doors flung open to release refining heat, and they stayed parted on that morning. The farmer took his final drink, and he pumped his final tithe. Then he strode forward, into what tender mercy.