Three generations of Koopmans live under the same roof of a farm house twenty miles from the center of Holy Cross, Iowa.
Grandma Koopman still reigns tight-fistedly over the house she and her Anton — God rest his soul — built from nothing back during the Depression.
Her son Nels and his wife Bobbi run the farm: two hundred milk cows, three hundred acres of corn, and four hundred of soybeans. But the rain won’t stop, and the bills keep right on coming each month.
Thirty-year-old William Koopman needs to move out. He almost did just that a decade ago to get his own place. Then Grandpa died, and William couldn’t leave Dad hanging. So he stayed, married his girl Marcy, and even brought her to the farmhouse to live. Poor girl made it a year before she bolted at the end of a rough winter.
A week after Marcy left, William’s shiftless younger brother John returns. The prodigal son heading back home from Chicago, tail between his legs and no money in his wallet.
William must go after Marcy, keep from killing his unemployed brother, and help save the family farm before this growing season ends.
Buy the Book
- Buy a PDF directly from UnWrecked Press.
- Digital versions also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo Books, and Smashwords.
- Trade paperback available at Amazon, CreateSpace, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.
Read the Related Stories
Both stories are available as ebooks.
Read an Excerpt from Chapter One
On a gray March afternoon, three months to the day after William Koopman’s wife left him, his worthless younger brother John returned home.
Back in December, on the morning Marcy left, William had been yanked out of sleep by the furtive sound of drawers opening. It was still dark, a half-hour before chores, a winter morning when all the world felt dead and frozen. He opened his eyes, and the weak light saw his wife of four years stuffing as many of her belongings as she could into black garbage bags. William tried to convince himself that he was still dreaming, even as Marcy slipped out of the bedroom door with two bulging plastic bags in each hand.
When she began creaking down the steps, he realized he was awake. He forced himself up and out of the bed, his heart suddenly pounding and his breath catching in his throat. On his way down the cold wooden steps, he avoided the squeaky ones without conscious thought, not wanting to wake his parents or his grandmother.
By the time William had caught up with her, Marcy was bundled up in her coat and gloves and heading for the back door. Blinking fast to clear his vision, he followed her out of the house where he’d lived all his life, even after his marriage to Marcy. Dad needed his help on the farm, he’d told her then, and it had been easier to simply stay right here rather than move out and have to commute.
No way, he thought, numb to the bitter winter cold, even though he wore only a black T-shirt and long underwear bottoms outside the old Iowa farmhouse. A tall young man with the chunky build of a farm worker — all knotted muscles with the hint of a beer belly — William watched his breath cloud in front of him as his bare feet crunched in the day-old snow.
Still he hadn’t said a word. He simply followed Marcy, his mouth stuck shut, as if his vocal cords were frozen by the chilly air. After Marcy threw the garbage bags into the trunk of her rusted white Chevelle and slammed it shut, she turned to look at him for the first and last time that morning.
“I have to go,” she said. Her words popped in the cold morning air, making him flinch with each syllable.
Her stubborn chin poked out from under the hood of her red sweatshirt — my sweatshirt, William thought dully — while she waited for him to say something. As if to protect it from the bitter air, Marcy had shoved her long blonde hair under the hood. In the dim gray light, her eyes remained hidden.
William could only stand there, his bare feet melting size eleven outlines into the snow under him, and gape at his wife. I’m dreaming, he told himself.
With a wordless sound of frustration, Marcy finally moved, turning away from him. Her boots slipped in the packed snow, and William fought the urge to try to catch her, to keep her from falling.
If you have to go, he thought, watching her arms go flying into the air for balance, I guess you’re on your own now. But you’ll be back, he wanted to say.
Regaining her balance, Marcy closed the car door behind her with a hollow slam, and William jumped. The cranking of the car’s big engine cut through the silence of the early morning like the hacking cough of an old man.
Wait! he thought suddenly as the headlights washed over him, snapping him out of his numb lethargy. You can’t leave!
He took a step forward and opened his mouth to call his wife’s name, to tell her not to go, but the winter air rushed into his lungs, silencing him. Marcy was already backing her car around in a half-circle. Her brake lights covered William in a blood-red glow.
“I have to go,” she’d said, as if everything were that simple.
The last thing that William allowed himself to remember about that cold December morning was what had happened when Marcy drove off in her big white two-door. A chunk of icy gravel shot out at him from under her back tires, as they spun trying to get traction in the snow, and even though he was still mostly asleep and in a growing state of shock, he had somehow caught the rock in his hand.
Then her car’s taillights were fading to pink in front of him, the car was shrinking down the lane, and all he was left with was the mutter of the Chevelle’s muffler and the sickly-sweet stink of exhaust.
William looked down at the rock in his calloused hand.
How the hell had that gotten there? he wondered, staring until the sound of his wife’s car faded and the night was silent again. One second his hand had been empty and cold, and then the next second it was stinging hot and bleeding, a piece of random gravel clenched inside it.
* * * * *
And now, three months later, William was again feeling that same sense of numb surprise, as he stood outside the hog barn and watched John drive up the gravel lane in a new red Ford. The wind flared up as if in response to his memories, peppering him with hard pebbles of rain. He fought the urge to turn his left hand palm-up to see if the chunk of gravel was still there.
Instead, he turned back to his work, to the hogs and their food, the constant intake of sustenance accompanied with the constant exhaust of shit. The rain was coming down harder now. His constant companion for the past few weeks, the rain had sometimes slipped into wet snow as the temperatures dropped, the constant precipitation keeping the ground soft and muddy.
With his back to both the house and the red Ford parked in front of it, William emptied four pails of feed into the trough on the other side of the fence. The William of March was about twenty pounds lighter than the William of three months earlier. His jacket and work clothes hung on him as if he were the younger brother, forced to wear hand-me-downs from an older brother.
“Eat up, stinkballs,” he muttered, watching the pigs push against each other for their meal, forming one hairy, grayish-pink mass of flesh. William pressed his boots deeper into the mud and manure below him, breathing through his mouth to keep out the ever-present stink of manure. The pigs, he knew, had been keeping the Koopman farm afloat in the past few years.
Smells like money, his father would always say, breathing deeply of the pig stench. Then he would laugh and — in the last few months — try to get William to crack a smile. His efforts rarely worked.
Shaking his head at the thought of Dad joking around in the face of the farm’s problems, William wondered how long would it take before the little shit would leave this time, running from the family and the stink and the unending labor of their Iowa farm. He felt generous that gray March afternoon, with rain dampening the back of his neck and his exposed hands; he gave his brother John three days, tops, before John left them again.
* * * * *