by Peter C. Conrad
Allen looked down from the stack of square hay bails to where his younger brother, Mark was. Mark had darker blonde hair and was one inch taller than Allen. Allen manoeuvred along the top of the stack to where Mark was. Allen carefully stepped high to keep the snow from falling down and alerting Mark. He took one more looked to see that he was in the right place and jumped onto Mark.
“Uck!” shouted Mark as he fell forward onto the frozen ground. He quickly struggled to face his brother who was on top of him. Mark grabbed Allen’s shoulder and pulled up. Allen fell side ways. Mark rolled to one side as fast as he could. He struggled to his feet, but was surprised that Allen was still on his knees.
“Come on,” said Mark as he braced himself and clinched his fists.
“Why do you have to be good at everything?” yelled Allen.
Mark pulled his gloves off and stood where he was. He might not win this time, but Allen was going to hurt when it was over, Mark thought.
“Damn you!” said Allen again as he sat down on the frozen ground.
“What the hell do you want?” said Mark.
“I already got it,” said Allen. “I just needed to hit you.”
“What?” said Mark, bewildered.
“I want to quit,” said Allen with a tired voice.
“What?” Mark said again as he relaxed and leaned over to get his gloves.
“Everything: hockey, school, I don’t know. Maybe even this place,” he said as he looked around at the haystack, the fences, and the cattle quietly eating.
“Well, I guess you wouldn’t be the first,” said Mark as he sat down on a bail of hay. He pulled his gloves on and adjusted them.
“You mean Matthew,” said Allen.
“And Kat,” said Mark. Kat was short for Katherine.
“I don’t hate Dad the way they did when they left,” said Allen.
“I don’t know,” said Mark. “I guess you just want to get away from this place.”
“It makes sense to hate this place,” said Mark.
“I don’t know if I hate this place either,” said Allen.
“But you dream of leaving just like the rest of us,” said Mark.
Allen shook his head.
“Come on, especially since Kat and Matthew hitched rides to somewhere else.”
“I don’t know,” said Allen. “Things don’t have to be the way they are…” said Allen.
“But they are,” said Mark. “I look at things the way they are and think about how I want them to be. Then, in my thinking anyway, I’ll get what I want somewhere else.”
“Things aren’t that bad for you,” said Allen. “You get to sit in the house after school to keep the books and do the pedigree records for the cattle.”
“Was that what set you off?” asked Mark.
“I guess,” said Allen.
“It isn’t the chores that are getting to you,” said Mark.
“I’m not sure, but it is as if everything changed when Kat left. When Matthew left, he was the only one who had. Dad could just say he was too wild anyway. When Kat disappeared, he looked at us differently.”
“Like what?” said Allen.
“Like we could leave too, but he has to do what he can to keep us around. You should stop denying that the problem is Dad.”
Allen shook his head again. “I don’t know. I just want to quit everything.”
“That’s probably because your school work isn’t that good,” said Mark.
“Shut up,” replied Allen.
“No one likes to get lousy marks,” said Mark.
“You seem to do alright.”
“I don’t play hockey,” said Mark. “I have more time.”
“You just have to come home after school, get your work done and then you’re free to do whatever you want,” said Allen.
“I still have my chores to do. Even if it doesn’t seem like it to you, putting the numbers into the farm books is a chore too.”
“Yeah, right,” said Allen sarcastically.
“I am doing the books because I took accounting at school. I see school as the solution to everything,” said Mark.
“Yeah, you told me what you thought before,” said Allen.
“If you do all right in school, you can do things after.”
“I don’t believe that,” said Allen. “I know that the only reason you really try to get Bs on your report card is that you know Dad doesn’t like it.”
“I guess, especially because I am the youngest. If you leave too, than I will be the only one left. If I have good marks and graduate high school who knows what I might be able to do.”
“Yeah, you think you might go to college,” said Allen.
“More is possible than you think,” said Mark.
“It’s just wishful thinking,” replied Allen.
“Why don’t you just take a chance? Do something for yourself even if it doesn’t please Dad,” said Mark.
“I guess we should get to the chores,” said Mark. He was tired of the same kind of conversation they had been having all year. Matthew challenged Mark two years before to get his first B at school. Once he saw the B on his report card in math, he tried to get the same marks or better ones in all his subjects. It gave him a feeling of power. His father had always said he would never amount to much; that was why he was going to stay on the farm like his brothers. Mark knew differently.
Mark wanted to continue to get the best marks he could. He was in grade ten and his marks would matter once he graduated high school.