The gore of good food. Installment 2.
Inside the Mason jar, a colony of displaced potato beetles amassed. Right side up and upside down, their striped backs and orange bellies quilted the the jar’s glass bottom. I stuck my ear against the jar’s mouth. The cylindrical glass made a miniature concert chamber of bug sound. High squeaks roared like a bog on fire with frogs, crickets and mosquitoes.
My wrist got tired holding the jar when the grubs and beetles reached halfway up the quart. At the edge of the black plastic patch we used to grow eggplants and peppers lay two stacked stones the size of dinner plates. I tried to kneel, but the plastic was too hot. I settled into a squat and lifted off the top stone. I shook my jar like a salt shaker, laying down a layer of beetles and grubs onto the bottom stone. Two beetles found their legs and started off the stone. Like they held a compass, the beetles headed straight back to the potato patch. I picked them up and knocked them into the crook of my palm. Like two dice rolling off my fingers onto a gameboard, I shook the beetles back onto the stone slab.
Between swivels of my rock grinder, I felt the plump bodies of the grubs collapse and heard the crackle of the beetle shells breaking. It felt like my throat had a worm in it, heavy and squiggling. I doused the stone with more bugs, mostly grubs now, and again rubbed the two rocks together. The rock’s gray surface darkened to black. Orange mucus from the beetles and the pink skins of the grubs glistened against the stone my brother and I called the killing block.
I heard the sputtering exhaust of my father’s tractor. It signaled his descent downhill. Ian, Moira and I looked up from our places in the garden. Behind him, my father hauled the next wagonload of hay bound for the barn. My mother stayed bent over at the waist, speed-weeding young rows of Red Ace beets until the tractor stopped alongside the garden. Everyone but my mom headed to the haywagon. She said she would walk and meet us back at the barn. The rest of us scrambled to find a place atop the stacked haybales by climbing the outside of the wagon’s sides like they were sparse rungs on a ladder. After a scratchy ascent, we gained a bird’s eye view of the garden. I could see exactly where my brother had stopped thinning the corn.
Out on the paved road, the wagon slithered roly-poly and headed into the s-curve before the straightaway marked by our house on the right. I wondered if we would spill out onto the pavement. I ducked down into the hay when I saw the Box Elder tree branches coming towards me. I smelled machine oil in the baling twine. I breathed in through my mouth to catch the hay. Its scent moved faster than the twine’s, fat with heat from the sun and thick like the smell of a horse mane.
Tree branches snagged in the wooden joints of the wagon sides as we came up the driveway to the barn. For a moment the tree limbs stretched with the tractor’s velocity, then a tart sound of leaves plucked off their branches like feathers. I couldn’t climb down the front side of the wagon. Feeling for splinters on the weathered two-by-fours that made up the wagon sides, I climbed down to the ground and circled around to the front of the wagon.
In a moment I was climbing again, walking up the rust-brown wagon tongue, squeezing my body into the foot of room between the front of the wagon and the barrel that held up the hay elevator. Without knocking my shins on the tongue like I had so many times, I grasped the elevator gunwales. I popped my feet onto the barrel’s top, stood all the way up and walked up the length of the hay elevator with my eyes.
I had studied my siblings do this ascent many times. The track running up the elevator used steel teeth about an inch and a half long. The teeth dug into the haybales, securing them to the chain track that led into the hayloft. The teeth worried me. I feared for some confusion on the ground where my brother turned on the elevator with me still on it. I climbed, my eyes watching the track—making sure it stayed still—and craning my neck to see the oncoming windowframe I must climb through. At it, I dipped my head, lowering my body as deep as it could go and scooted under the wood sill, feeling the track’s teeth brush my belly.