This is Story Three in my 38 Stories Project.
Parameters submitted by Victoria Hanvey
Word Count: 1000
Setting: A chicken farm
Object: A bottle of Tabasco
First Line Rule: The first line of the story must include a word that rhymes with fart.
Farming is art. Eggs need Tabasco. Coax a stubborn cow to step aside, not forward.
Mum wants to bury him here but we all tell her that’s morbid. Of four, two of us are at home, two of us are alien and all of us are uncomfortable. Pip’s never left except to buy cows and attend funerals and weddings. Lainie might want to leave, but she never looks me in the eye long enough to figure it out. Her proudest achievement and thorn in her side is sticking with Mum when I didn’t.
Toto’s the natural choice for executor. He’s a commercial lawyer, understands the jargon. But Pip’s the oldest, the paperwork names him. Toto doesn’t give a shit. We’d met at Tullamarine to get in the same hire car and had a beer before the drive.
“What can it possibly say? Everything goes to Mum.”
“Mum is useless. Mentally, physically. Pip can’t do everything.”
“They’ve got Lainie.”
“What about the admin? Sales? Lainie’s only good for making dinner and beds.”
“Well fucked if I’m coming back. We’ll pay someone.”
He’s right, the will is straight forward. Everything to Mum. When she’s gone, it splits four ways, Phillip, Holly, Thomas, Elaine. There’s an understanding that the second part is meaningless. Even the first part. It’s Pip’s farm now.
I walk with Lainie down to the chooks. My old wellies still fit and nobody laughs when I smash them on the wall at arm’s length to flush out non-existent spiders. The dogs are attentive, weaving around us.
“You okay, Lainie?”
“What do you care?”
“Course I care. Does it suck here?”
“He calmed down. It was nice for a while.”
“Do you think he knew?”
The chook houses ruffle with clucks. We cross into one of the yards and they bobble around our feet with their mechanical struts, like feathered robots. Lainie checks some things I don’t understand. The egg conveyer is still. A wet nose nuzzles my palm.
“What?” I sink my hand into the soft fur.
“Do you want to come and stay in Melbourne for a bit? Toto and I talked about getting someone to come and help Mum and Pip. Maybe an accounts type person and another farm hand. Then we’ll see.”
“Well it might not be sustainable, you know. Dad did… everything. He worked as hard as three people.”
“So you’ll sell it?”
“I don’t know. We all have to agree. Tom won’t take anything, neither will I. You guys will be set up.”
“Pip won’t leave.”
“For Melbourne? I wouldn’t fit in.”
“Why the hell not? We’d get you some new clothes, I could give you a job.”
“I’m not your project, Holly. I’ll be fine.”
“Don’t be a martyr.”
Lainie makes lamb shoulder for dinner. It’s soberingly good. Toto eats in silent mouthfuls of pure joy. He told me he has Uber Eats every night in his office and his fridge is full of beer and mineral water. He hasn’t cooked or had someone cook for him since he left for Sydney. No girlfriends, just dates. Never turned the oven on.
The meal must inspire him because when I wake up he’s attending to two eggs frying gently in butter in a small pan. I open the pantry and put the tabasco, pepper and salt on the table.
“Do me some.” He nods.
“Get anywhere with Lainie yesterday?”
“Negative. You with Pip?”
“Haw-haw. You helping him today? Just bring it up casually.”
Farming is art. No rats, no snakes.
My earliest memory of Pip is him decapitating a tiger snake with a shovel. My earliest memory of Dad is placing the smooth, grubby shells in my hands. Toto slides the eggs onto my plate, sunny side up. They are wide eyed, expectant. My earliest memory of Toto is him hiding Lainie in the stair cupboard when Dad was on a rampage, then standing with his back across it until it was quiet.
“Maybe Lainie will listen to you,” I say. “I’ll try Pip.”
I hold tools while Pip services a tractor.
“Bought a ring yet?”
“Pip, she’s not going to wait forever.” But maybe she will, and he’s taking his chances. There’s no time for weddings. “You know you don’t have to do this anymore?”
“What would I do?”
“So you’ve thought about it?”
“Every fucken day.”
“We’ll help you. Get a mature age apprenticeship, you’ll fly through it.”
“And live where?”
“Wherever you want. You and Bec could rent a little house.”
The day before I left I shouted at her. That if she had any guts at all none of us would have to run away. She continued to send me polite birthday cards for the next four years and that made me even angrier. I hated her more than I hated him. Her weakness. Making his eggs every morning, or expecting Lainie to make them when he’d hurt her or she couldn’t get out of bed from misery. When Dad revealed he was sick I made a cautious truce with her. I sent a short message with my intention to come home. She replied that would be very nice.
“They won’t leave Mum.” Toto looks dirty and energised, the way he used to. Now when I see him he’s always clean and tired.
“I know. They hate us.”
“Oh without a doubt.”
We leave the next day. Pip’s the only one who comes to say goodbye. Mum is in bed, Lainie disappears when it’s time. I drive, Toto has his feet on the dash, eyes closed, cradling a carton of eggs.
“You won’t worry about this, Hol.”
“Asking or telling me?”
“It’s not our problem.” His voice is far away. He’s falling asleep. “Leave them to it. They can’t be helped.”
Eggs need Tabasco. Sometimes a chicken with its head cut off will continue to run, even though it’s dead.
Thanks for reading. I have 35 more stories to write before the end of 2021, so I need you to submit yours!