[Fiction] Reaping — Hannah Storm

The tractor thrums, an earthy vibration, the secret she holds between her legs. He does not know she thinks of him still. 

He thinks of her legs. From behind the wheel, he sees her covered now, clothes disguising the woman he wants, remembers, the same one who walked into his local and into his life, who left one, not the other, who would swallow his comments, punctuate them with replies returned so quickly it was if she was downing alcohol not answers. He held his warm bitter and she held court in that tight dress, so out of place in the back room of their village pub, where all the lads laughed long after she blew in across the fields, kept laughing even longer after she opened her mouth, mocking the way she spoke. Like nothing they had heard here. Like nothing he had seen. He felt the heat creep closer, wished it was her. They laughed each time she talked, but when he took the piss out of her for being posh, it was only so he could hear her speak, see her look at him, watch the way she flicked her hair as if it was the corn in the fields. 

For years after she left, he would close his eyes, imagine her voice, wish she could whisper just to him. When he went to harvest, he would run his fingers through the sheaves first, tenderly, as if touching her hair and skin. Imagine what he might say, how he would convince her she should not have gone away, ask her what the other bloke could offer that he couldn’t. Then he would push away the feelings that he would never quite be good enough, not knowing the stranger with whom she had left had also broken her, that even though she and the other bloke spoke the same way, he knew he understood her more. 

He does not know she thought about him each time she returned, when he watched her settle for a while, visiting her family who had made this their home, a rare bird back briefly to roost. Each time she came to this place, crept back desperate for comfort, she wanted to say she was sorry, that she should not have flown away, wanted to tell him she felt like a bird with a broken wing, and ask if he could help her heal. 

He does not know she looked for him long after the pub closed its doors, like so many other locals. He does not forget. She does not either. He does not know she hovered by the field’s edge, watching him sowing, threshing, reaping, ploughing, pretending she was taking pictures of the sunflowers, her hair like their golden crowns. Or that on the mornings when she ran because it was how she held onto life, she would stop in the field closest to where she had last seen him, her fingers feathering the fronds of corn, sometimes pressing hard, so hard on their points, that her blood would break the skin and she’d know she was still alive. She would feel free for the first time, standing there in shorts that showed the legs she used to love, limbs that had been hidden for years because of another man who made her feel shame for being the woman she was. In winter, she would stand there, still, shoes sticky with mud, dirt clinging to her soles, wondering if she would ever be free of this feeling that weighed her down, wishing she saw the earth as he did, as a place that gave life.

Through all those seasons, he would wait. Never knowing when she would appear, always caught by surprise when he saw her, years passing, but never the yearning. He remembers the seasons, each one defined by duty and desire, the earth pushing up its produce and pulling in that which had past, nothing wasted, but him: summers when he would sweat for those warm, wet beers, feel the length of his longing; the winters wondering if her heart would thaw. 

Until the autumn when she returned. When he saw her, standing there, and she turned to tell him she was making her home here now, that this was where she would raise her own. 

Now he sees her, and cannot understand what it is she is saying.  

Now their talk is snatched sentences, words harvested by years. He wants to tell her how beautiful she is, that she should not hide as if she was ashamed of what once made her fly. She wants to tell him she has never forgotten the way he made her feel. At night, when the sky is velvet black and the stars provide the only light for miles, when the rest of the village is asleep, she lies awake, remembering him, imagining what it might feel like to know. 

The engine of the tractor vibrates. He drives from field to field. She sees and hears this version of him. But she longs to really see and hear him. She wants his words to mock her, wishes he would whisper again ‘so posh’, thick words sounding like ‘so, push’, and she wants him to pull her high onto his vehicle, slide her onto his seat, drive her through the fields until he unclips her and slips into her on the hay bales high above the abandoned pub. 

She wants to feel the sheaves scratching her skin, see the dirt beneath his nails as he touches her in places he has never known, have him tell her she is ripe as the fat berries plucked by the birds. She wants him to explode inside her like the machines he sets up to scare the crows skywards, shooting his warning across the sun honeyed corn as her soul scatters into the wind. She wants them to fall from the sky, feathers finding each other as they land. 

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Hannah Storm writes narratives of fiction and non-fiction and the spaces in between. Her stories are inspired by her years of travelling the world as a journalist, the people she has met and the places she has been. Her debut collection, ‘The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing’, is published by Reflex Press. Her writing has been named in Best Microfictions, the BIFFY 50 and placed second in the Bath Flash Fiction Collection. Her memoir was recently shortlisted in the Mslexia annual award. Hannah lives in Yorkshire, England, with her family, from where she works as a media consultant and mental health advocate, as well as writing and offering writing workshops. 

She’s on Twitter @hannahstorm6