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“Brothers” by BD Feil


Literature is the only art form that truly allows us to enter the mind of someone else. When we are fully engaged with the interiority of the protagonist, we see the world through their eyes. We understand how they think; we see their strengths and their weaknesses; their memories become ours.

In “Brothers,” BD Feil gives us full access to Barney, who lives and works on a farm. Feil is a poet, as well as a fiction writer, and the attention to the line means that every word carries meaning. The way that Barney thinks is reflected on a textual level in the prose. One thought carries us to the next. Ideas and images recycle and reappear. Barney’s thoughts and memories pull us through this stunning story, and Feil beautifully captures this man and his world.


LAST.

Barney looked over to the far feedhole where Luther pitched hay slow and steady with his head down and it was the way he worked at everything. Light from the stalls underneath floated up like batter into the dark loft and it reminded Barney of breakfast. He yelled over to his brother and it was too loud as always but by now he had just the one good ear and either way he liked to hear his voice bounce up into the big open rafters and come back to him like a choir on the wind.

You hungry?

Yeah. Luther did not lift his head and did not alter the rhythm of his pitch.

Good hungry?

Good hungry.

Barney speared his fork into the hay mound behind him and it stuck there and he climbed down the ladder. If this were a time past which Barney was pretty sure it wasn’t he would have slid down on either side and bypassed the rungs. But this was now and he was older and he tended toward the gut. Maybe he was just old. Old. He and Luther both. Or maybe that was just him. Luther just seemed the same mostly. It was Barney who got hungry first in the morning and so it was always up to him to ask first and it was up to him to go in and fix it.

He pushed on one of the big sliding barn doors and it rocked forward on its track and he squeezed and popped out down the earthen ramp. Between the barn and the tractor shed the wind from the long flat fields hit him hard. If he had the money he would build something between the two buildings so he wouldn’t be cut in half every time. Like he always said he was going to do. Like he never did. Once he planned to park the combine between them in winter but Luther said Well, if you want to be hunky or That would be too hunky or just Hunky and whether that was a real word or just one of Luther’s he never stuck in college long enough to find out. So he never moved the combine and then it wouldn’t start anymore. There it sat in the tractor shed. So that was that. He stomped up the three steps to the kitchen door and then slipped off his muckers in the mudroom. Should it be flapjacks this morning? That might have just been the light in the loft making suggestions. Luther had been known to complain about flapjacks so he wasn’t going to make that mistake again. Flapjacks went out with Dad and he had no way to ask Dad anymore his secret to flapjacks. That was the worst part of getting old. Thinking you’d like to ask something of your father and then not being able to ask. There was a little milk left in the jar and three eggs left in a styrofoam carton which meant the eggs weren’t theirs and hadn’t been for how long. He got these at the gas station down off the interstate when he got a case of beer even though Luther said he didn’t need beer. When was the year he and Luther ran down the last laying hen and had it for dinner? He broke the three eggs into a bowl and forked the yolks then started whisking them but without much thought. He looked out the kitchen window between the barn and the tractor shed on through to the long stretching fields.

The winter would not stop and now Barney was afraid it could not stop and something else had taken control. Some other thing was sneaking up. March now and more flurries and ice-wind and he felt it all in his hips. They were down to their last dozen milkers but he was pretty sure they could hold on until spring if it was ever going to get here. Then that thought was blown away with a big gust outside that rattled the window and tightened the skin on his forehead. This old house was a sieve. What chance had an old oil burner against all the holes? And when was it Dad put in these windows and still no way to ask. He whisked faster then slowed to nearly a stop and looked toward the barn and wondered if Luther had started in on the milking yet or was he waiting for breakfast first? March and more snow and his father’s Frostie Root Beer thermometer hanging off the kitchen window hadn’t even reached Old Man Frostie’s nose and that was freezing. When did Dad get this thermometer? The windows? And what about the flapjacks? Time was playing on him and his body and his bad ear and the pains and now he was irritated that all source of reference had gone with Dad. But why should he still set his heart by it? Barney could feel the other thing taking over. It was on each successive gust of flatland wind and the thing was coming for him. But it wasn’t dark and stormy as you would think. It was full of brilliant light and truth. Still. Barney was a little bit afraid.

He cooked the eggs and stared down into the pan the whole time and didn’t bother frying up bacon or making toast. Then walking out across the barnyard with the plate in front of him like he was in some sort of procession he thought well it didn’t matter anyhow because they had no bacon and was pretty sure there was no bread. The wind blew and he walked with purpose and this all had the feel of a ceremony now. He didn’t walk back up the ramp and go through the main doors but walked around to the side door of the barn that led into the milking stalls. He stopped just inside and listened. There was a rustle from the cows but no hay dropping down from the feedholes in the loft above. Barney shut the door behind him to the cold and the wind though he could never really do that in this leaking barn. Every other light bulb was out and all of them covered with mealy cobwebs. And when did this happen? Wasn’t everything clean and new when he left? The stalls stretched up one side and down the other and it was hard believing Dad ever had sixty milkers. Barney remembered a lot of creative shifting of groups from pasture to stalls to pens to keep the herd going and producing when he was a boy. One group milked and one was let out to pasture and one was fed outside in the troughs under the forebay. It wasn’t even a dozen now. Who was he fooling? It was six. He was down to six. And they weren’t even lowing in complaint to be milked. What complaint there was was mostly due to hunger.

He turned his head to his good ear and listened for up above but by this time he wasn’t expecting anything. If it wasn’t the first time it was the first time in a long time but he thought he should check anyhow. The some other thing was here and the light bright and the air clear. He set the eggs down on a stool and that’s where they found them the next day and they were the only thing they found. Still on the upright stool as if the fire knew they were already cooked. Barney walked up the steps to the main floor and walked under the loft and then stopped and turned and looked up to the stretching openness. He stood quiet and heard the wind outside and looked around the big open space at the walls and studs and girts and beams waiting for a sound but knowing. Knowing now. There were things set between the wall studs on the girts from years before without thinking and then left that way and they had grown into the studding of the barn. Oiling cans and rags and boxes of nails and an old horseshoe. Either they were forgotten or placed where they could no longer get in the way or just put there so they wouldn’t be thought of again. He once saw a pipe of Dad’s on a girt in the loft and wondered later if he had set it down when he sensed his heart attack coming. His father was always the conscientious farmer and worried about a lit thing around the hay. But when Barney thought about it more and climbed back up to find the pipe he couldn’t and he swore he searched on every girt. So he chalked it up to Luther finding it first.

He heard nothing but the wind and not Luther. That’s about what he expected because the other thing waited outside. He started up the ladder but then stopped. He looked through the rungs to the far wall where the rear door stood leaning. It wasn’t as big as the two main doors but it had come off its track a long time ago and he had buttressed it from the outside with what lumber he could find. He could see gaps of light from the brightening morning around the edges and where there was light there was wind. Even when there was no light. There had been no way he could get the door back on its track alone and now he didn’t count Luther. And that some other thing was here and it was the truth. Barney inched up to the floor of the loft and looked over and saw the light still shooting up through the feedhole and his pitchfork still upright in the hay pile.

He climbed down and squeezed through the big main doors again and walked back into the house but this time didn’t take off his boots or even stomp much on the back steps and for this he felt a little awkward and a little guilty he had to admit. He had to admit. He found the shotgun in the pantry and stuffed a box of shells in his coat pocket and tracked back across the kitchen floor and out the door and wondered what Dad would say to such a mess if he was still alive. The shotgun was loaded before he got in the barn door. He shot each cow dead between the eyes and each time before he pulled the trigger he said out loud Forgive me Dad. The old milkers hit the floor with a thump and a truth that was bright and startling after the first one and just the way it was and always had been after the last one. And that was the fifth one and here he didn’t even have six left after all and he was a fool.

Barney lit the hay at the far end of the stalls from an old newspaper he found stuffed between wall studs and climbed the three stairs to the main floor. He walked back under the loft and turned and lit another chunk of newspaper and climbed halfway up the loft ladder and tossed the newspaper up into the loft. Then he squeezed out through the big main barn doors again and walked down the earthen ramp loading his shotgun one more time. The wind hit him hard again and he cursed it for the last time. He walked behind the tractor barn where he wouldn’t have to watch the barn begin to catch. But he knew he would soon smell it and soon after that neighbors from miles away would see the smoke and set the alarm. He sat on the wide old tree stump that he had sat on for all his life. And sure the wind came straight from the north at him and it was cold and clear and all the time it was the thing he feared. Not necessarily the light. But not necessarily not the light. But the wind. The wind was always at him even if it might be a kind wind he could call a breeze. He exhaled and he was very very tired and he gave himself over a minute to relax and take a moment and let the shotgun muzzle rest back on his shoulder right next to his good ear at an angle just so. The wind whistled over it like an empty pop bottle on a good day.


SOMETIME.

Nothing happened much on these flatlands except a general dwindling like groundwater that ran off to somewhere. And maybe it just ran back down into the old black swamp that everything sat on. Barney never asked Luther if he felt on the short end of the stick like he sometimes felt himself. The brothers just didn’t talk about everything under the sun like that and in fact they never talked about anything much too close to the bone. It seemed Luther was in control of most of his situations social or otherwise and if he wasn’t then he didn’t need to be. This was just one of the many ways Luther seemed like the older brother even though he was younger and by a few years. Even when Dad died they didn’t share their feelings but pushed on with the farm and planned for the shorts and for the longs. But it seemed it was always Luther who felt free and happy to bring up Dad. Any memory of Dad. It was too sad a thing for Barney.

Barney and Luther buried him two roads over at the little church whose steeple you could see from the loft clear day or no. It was Luther who visited the graves and sometimes made Barney go too and maybe bring flowers though there were maintenance men from the church to tend it all and full and paid for eternity and usually the church supplied flowers on Easter and Christmas. Still. It doesn’t hurt to stop in Luther would scold him. Luther always seemed given to the finer thought and the more eloquent phrases like poetry or country lyrics. He was one to look across the far fields into the veritable teeth of the wind without malice or curse or flinch. He was full of the wistful and had a way toward life that Barney with his grumblings and his urges lacked. But Luther was a hard worker. Any son of their father had to be.

But there were those urges that came on Barney and those urges had to be fed like the livestock. Luther was usually nowhere to be seen then as if he was privy to Barney’s inner workings and made himself scarce and ran way up ahead. Barney drove their old pickup down their drive to the township road and that to the county road and that to the interstate ramp where he would usually stop for gas and a case of beer before getting on the highway. He started out north and passed the state college on the left where he took classes many years before and tried not to look at the buildings from the interstate because it would be out of sadness and it would ruin things. He pretended he was leaving home and he was free but he didn’t know from what and where he was heading but he pretended it was a long way from home. Somewhere between the big cities he exited the interstate and found the old state routes that were once the only roads. And on these old routes old low-slung motels where vacancy signs were always lit but never with the complete letters sat lonely in their own wind. Some were of concrete blocks and some vinyl siding trying to look new and some were not trying and with still the original asphalt shingle siding. And on halfway warm and urgeful days if he jumped back and forth enough across the state line Barney could find a walker along the berm dressed in too little. Sometimes they exchanged needs in the cab of the pickup but rarely. More often they took it to one of the motels. More often as the trips north piled on top of the years Barney learned the ways of the motels which were needy in their own workings. He’d check in by the hour rate and take the key from an always exhausted clerk who would not or could not look at his face. Then he’d lay down on a bed lower than the low ancient motel with the door slightly ajar and the window curtains full open. It wouldn’t be long before someone would pass then pass again and then maybe to be sure pass one more time and then come in and shut the door and draw the curtains. And it was always Barney who talked first though it was the only thing he said.

Call me Bernard, ok? And then one need was exchanged for another. Call me Bernard, ok? If the other was a talker the exchange would not last long because talking wasn’t the urge Barney looked to trade. Call me Bernard, ok? He got plenty of talk at home with Luther.

He drove back south on wide meandering paths to let the seediness wash away because part of him saw it in that way. Dry away or fall away in a series of right angles away from any traffic. He drove in anything but a straight line. Sometimes he stopped and got another case of beer and set it on the cab floor to keep him company or sometimes he got a bottle of pop and mixed it with Canadian whiskey from another small bottle he bought. He sipped it steady all the hours it took to get home because he was purposeful and greedy and withheld these hours away from the day. If it was summer or close enough he opened the truck window to dissipate the seediness and hung his arm out and let the pop bottle whistle on the wind. And he felt good after a while. He came into home from the west or sometimes the south but never from the north. Again he couldn’t say why unless it was to show Luther he hadn’t been north though they never talked about north and there was never a chance of Luther following him north because there was just the one pickup. But somehow Barney was afraid Luther would know the meaning of north where he had been. They were not ones to argue as brothers and it seemed to Barney they spoke in sentences aimed at each other that never quite met up on the ends. Luther always had that way of running on up ahead. Sometimes he was nowhere to be seen when Barney got back and sometimes he was at chores with head down and at it. Mostly he was about where Barney had left him and seeming not to care much where Barney had been or maybe not knowing he had left. Barney’s urges were his own.

Things slowly slipped away like dust through the fingers. A hog here. A sheep there. Never replaced. Then there were no sheep and no hogs and what Barney and Luther had left were some layers and the dairy herd. They planted enough for good forage and kept Dad’s two pastures for grazing which they reseeded alternately. In the rest of the fields they planted soybeans because soybeans were what was selling then. But then fuel shot up and then even soybeans barely paid. They put off painting the barn one year and then the next and soon Dad’s farm became another page of the same old story. It even got hard replacing the milkers. A section of the far field was broken off and reparcelled for house lots and that bobbed their heads above water for a while until it needed to be done again in five years. But nearly every day Barney could hear Luther singing to the cows in that beautiful tenor he had and that Barney always wished he had for himself and sometimes Luther sang in words of his own. Deep down Barney knew his brother was wasted on that dying thing that was the farm and that Barney could not even out for them. The math was just too tight no matter how hard he tried year after year at Dad’s desk in the dining room and no matter if Barney tried holding his forehead gently in his fingertips like Dad did he couldn’t do it. Nothing seemed enough.


ONE TIME.

It was a fact that sometimes when Luther said something that sounded like all of wisdom itself it felt like Luther was the oldest and Barney couldn’t possibly say anything back. From the time they were very small they would sit on the old wide stump behind the tractor barn which was wider around than any tree still standing. When they got older and taller with hairs and smells growing out of them at odd places to rival the cows they nursed bottles of Frostie dangling between their knees and now and then when rascality was on the wind they would sneak a cigarette bought from kids at school in town.

Then Luther would say something like music. Whole lot of lonely blowing across the field.

And Barney would think a while and take a drag and either say nothing back or what he always said. You oughta write country songs or such.

Maybe I will someday. But what would you do without me?

And Barney would scoff and snort. I swear.

They sat that way for years. Mostly Luther making observations. Mostly Barney considering them and scoffing.

One day washing up after dinner Dad stood at the sink with his back to Barney and spoke.

I was thinking of enrolling you at the state college. The Agriculture School. Your grades are good enough. Bring back some new ideas. Meet new people.

What about Luther? That was what Barney said.

But his father didn’t reply and didn’t turn from the kitchen window. Barney could see he was looking out to the fields maybe or out to the barn maybe. Maybe looking for Luther himself. Dad washed the dishes slow and started drying them slower and Barney could see his father’s elbows and arms working as he sat at the table with his homework.

Like I said you need to meet new people. Get new ideas.

So he went for a semester and kept mostly to himself. And then in the happenstance with which these things come about Barney met one of those new people his father wished on him. He bumped into her after class and set her books flying. As he was kneeling to help pick them up he thought Oh this is one of those life’s events. This is one of those things that come along. And he grew a bit afraid of the light. They began studying together in the library. It seemed Barney couldn’t help but feign trouble with the class they were in together. Well he didn’t know why. He liked spending time with her. Her name was Sue. It was like he was another person around her. It was a general education course in world literature and though he had little real interest in the stories beyond descriptions of the farm life of Russian peasants he enjoyed all of Sue’s attentions. She was an English major and seemed to like the idea that she was his tutor. Barney noticed the increasing closeness of their chairs at the study table. How she would smell a bit different from day to day as if she were trying new things. Her easiness at changing the subject away from world literature. Her questions concerning his life and the farm’s life. And her interest in him seemed genuine and felt. He could smell a change on the wind and it was the same wind that blew down around the farm but at the same time a different wind.

What does your name come from?

Come from?

Short for.

Oh. Bernard. On my birth certificate it says Bernard.

Anyone ever call you Bernard?

No. Should they?

I dunno. I like Barney well enough.

Do you want to call me Bernard?

His Ag classes held his interest. He was interested in it all and was gathering new ideas but he didn’t know about new people. Apart from Sue. One day after class she asked him to a movie on the weekend aside and apart from the school week. She probably felt his shyness up to now and his unsuredness and probably she was tired of waiting for him to ask. And then she kissed him on the cheek and walked away. He said Yes. He yelled Yes after her down the sidewalk and didn’t have time to think much. But while driving home he got off the highway so he could think longer and slower and what he thought was he didn’t know what to think. One thing was gathering and bringing home new ideas. Another thing was new people. Still another was Sue. The world he came from was a tight world of himself. Of Dad. Of Luther. It was the chickens and hogs and sheep and crops and the machinery. Most of all it was the dairy herd. But maybe Sue was what Dad meant when he said new people. Maybe he meant he was to leave himself open to such things. To Sue. It was always so hard to tell what Dad meant to say when he said it with just his back. To bring someone from the outside into his life. He never brought kids home from school. Luther was always enough. Then there was Luther himself. Not all family members are easily understood by outsiders and what you might see as normal and just the way things are is not the same from the outside. How to explain Luther in a way that made him stay explained. A brother can’t do that. A brother least of all.

Barney didn’t meet Sue for the movies. He thought it out on the slow ride home. He didn’t go to the library again. He avoided her looks in class and he could feel her hurt on the side of his face like standing too close to a burn barrel on a cold winter night waiting for a calving. He stopped going to classes and finally just said I quit to Dad when asked why he was still at home one day. I quit. His father didn’t say anything. Not with his back to him at the sink or in profile at his desk in the dining room they never used for dining with his forehead in his hand and his pipe going and working out the numbers of the farm. Luther didn’t notice other than to say Oh you here? He kept singing to the milkers in that clear voice of his. Luther’s voice was always so clear that Barney heard it on the very wind itself.


SOMETIME ELSE.

When they were kids Luther would run far up ahead and Barney would follow and it was only when they were both tired out and breathing too heavy that they sat down on the old wide stump behind the tractor barn together and that was long enough for Luther to say something about the steady wind blowing across the fields or some turn of phrase about the weather or the sky and it was always all very clever and prodigal for a boy his age or any age. Then he would be off on a run again like that. And sometimes Barney would be left too tired and still resting on the big round stump big enough for a kitchen table. It took a day of running to tire out Luther and some days not even that. He could flit forever down the access roads alongside the fields or in the pastures or up in the loft exploring or sitting impossibly on some impossible girt or even way up dangling from a beam.

But everyday Barney went in at the dutiful time to help his father with dinner because his father by that time was all things since by that time it was just them and Barney’s mother only a shadow on the ground. Dad milked the herd and brought in the crops and cooked the meals and Barney helped with it all when he could and when he was able. He supposed Luther helped too. In his own way. But Barney was the oldest and knew his father relied on him. On top of everything else his father had a way with calving. He was called out across the township when things were feared difficult at other farms and when the vet was unavailable or too steep for some. He was called Mr. Doctor by some. Herr Dokter by one farmer not as removed from the old country as others. Dad came when called though his respect for vets was deep and for all things learned. He never lost a calf it was said. He had the hands it was said.

Tell me about our names again.

Most all of Barney’s reminiscences of his father were of his back. Bare-boned images without much meat. Flashes of memory. At the kitchen sink. At the stove. At his desk in the dining room with the pipe clenched in his teeth with his brow held lightly in his fingers. On a stool milking or on a bucket waiting for a calf. His back was slender and wider at the shoulders and his arms and elbows moved in and out at his side.

Our names?

About mine and Luther’s names.

Usually there was a stutter of whatever Dad was at. Maybe a stopping of the hands and the arms and for a moment the elbows holding perfectly still.

Dad thinks with his elbows have you ever noticed that Barney? Luther noticed things and hit on them and it left Barney thinking. And then Luther would be up and running again.

But his father would start in again like he was doing before. But not like before. Now with a more careful movement like walking on ice and maybe a bare rounding of his shoulders as if a slightly heavier load had been placed there because he was just one man and here was this one boy with all these questions.

You know. Where our names came from.

And Dad began because he felt he had to or felt something was owed to Barney. Well you were named after your mother’s brother Bernard. Her older brother. They were the last two left after the flu epidemic. And then he went to the war. He didn’t have to. It was late. He was the sole supporter of the family which was your mother who was still in school. But he did because he felt he should. So she went to live with her Aunt Lois. Bernard died when his ship went down in the Pacific and the war ended very soon after and we got married and you were born. She always called you Barney because they always called her brother Barney. All of them. Her mother and father and her little brother and sister. Before they all died. So she called you that. It gave her comfort.

And this gave Barney comfort though he couldn’t say how. But then there was a letting off like that ended the story for Dad right there. So it was up to Barney to nudge him along further.

What about Luther?

A bit of a sigh came from his back and elbows but Dad went ahead anyhow and Barney thought well Luther should be in here to hear this.

Luther was named for my brother. He went to war, too. He also didn’t come back.

And then Dad went on with the living. The flipping of the fried potatoes in the cast iron pan. The moving down to the next cow with his stool. The rising from the overturned bucket with his pipe still in his mouth to check if a calf had shifted inside its mother. Whatever he was doing and wherever they were when Barney felt the need to ask the question which must have seemed always to Dad because Barney was nothing if not persistent. But Dad never dwelt much on the name Luther. And Barney couldn’t tell which Luther that was. His brother or Dad’s brother.

Then Barney usually went out to find his brother and he usually did. Barney and Luther walked for hours along the high-crowned township roads balancing as perilous as they could over the deep ditches on either side or daring each other up higher into the loft or tormenting and chasing the chickens in the yard. Barney ran one way in a circle and Luther always the other. Clock and counter so the chickens were beyond confusion. And then some days Dad piled them into the pickup for a drive. He said it was for ice cream but then Dad would turn into the little white church two roads over and the cemetery next to it where Mother was buried. They got out slowly and Barney would never look at the gravestone long beyond his mother’s first name Beatrice. The rest he couldn’t take in or wouldn’t take in. The dates and the sentiment Dad chose for underneath. Barney just wandered away. At first Dad called for him to come back and sometimes sternly. But after several visits it became a given Barney would just wander the cemetery reading the other stones and adding up and subtracting the dates to see everyone’s ages when they died and if they were young enough for ungrasping grief and how old they would be now if there had been no second date after the dash. He left Dad and Luther behind to ponder Mother’s stone and wait to be happy again when it was all over. Dad might start talking to his mother or say something to Luther or sometimes slip into prayer and Barney would just stick his fingers in his ears and keep them there for however long it took until they could leave and hopefully Dad would remember the ice cream.


FIRST.

What Barney remembered earliest was memory standing at the edge of the strawberry patch wanting desperately to go in and feast but memory knowing it was not allowed. Some time before in a time that was lost he had wandered in and sat down in the middle of the vines and feasted on ripe red things and broke out in terrible hives and they rushed him into town to the hospital. This would have been the first memory but it had never stuck as some things do and some things don’t. So now it was just standing and longing. He was never sure if he was actually standing on the edge of the strawberry patch that same morning his mother went down but there they both were. Somehow he had joined them and they sat comforting each other inside ever after.

He looked over maybe from her wail or maybe from some other sense and saw Mother go down on one knee in the gravel barnyard and then stagger over to the edge but not quite make it to the grass. He always thought after if she could have just made it to the green. He ran over and she told him to Get Dad Get Dad Get Dad or if she didn’t then Barney knew anyhow to do it. He looked up in the loft and then down in the milking stalls but no Dad. He looked far into the pastures and there Dad was shooing cows toward the barn. Then they were back by Mother like that and she was now laying full on the ground and had pulled part of her clothes off below and they were torn and stained dark and Barney didn’t recognize it as blood until years later.

Don’t breathe too fast Bea. Don’t breathe too fast.

Afterward when he and Luther would run hard or climb hard or face into the hard wind that was everywhere around them Barney would warn Luther to take it easy and rest else he would start breathing too fast. But to little notice. All his mother could do was breathe and puff and scream that it was coming and it was here already and this was it. Barney was very small and by the addition and subtraction he would do later in his head not yet four and barely three. As his mother lay on the ground all he could think to do was walk round and round with his fingers in his ears. Then Dad grabbed and scared him and set him by Mother and said I gotta call town. You stay with her. Talk to her. Sing to her Barney. But nothing came out of his mouth. He never did have Luther’s beautiful pure tenor. Then Mother screamed again that It’s here It’s here. And something was and her screams brought back Dad at a run. The thing that came was purple and wrapped about the head in what looked like rope to Barney. No amount of rubbing and slapping on its little back could make it move or get a sound from it though Dad tried and tried. It was purple and it was quiet and it was waiting.

They buried it in the same plot with Barney’s mother at the little white church two roads over. He could always see the steeple from the loft before he burned the barn to the ground except for the plate of eggs sitting on the stool. Dad brought in many calves after that. He never lost one and Barney always thought wasn’t that something and people around always said the same thing. If his father had regret around his eyes in pitching hay or tending the cows or washing dishes or just looking into the wind that always blew Barney could never really say.

As the ambulance rocked down their gravel driveway carrying Barney’s mother and the purple still thing a gust of wind from across the fields took his father’s hair up and out and mussed it into a knot without any regard. Barney always remembered that as the most uncaring gesture he had ever seen by nature or beast or man. And that was something. Right then Dad should have been left alone and quiet with the thing he was left with. And only later Barney knew to call that thing grief. Instead he was left with the ever-present wind and with Barney. Then his father spoke without being asked and that might have been the last time that ever happened until Dad died of a heart attack in the loft after setting his pipe on a girt. And it was in a very matter-of-fact voice that wasn’t meant to teach or impart wisdom but just relay a fact to Barney.

So you know he said. Just so you know Barney. We were going to name him Luther. The baby. Your brother. We were going to name your brother Luther after my brother Luther. Just so you know.


BD FEIL is a fiction writer whose stories have appeared in Mississippi Review, The Literateur, The Linnet’s Wings, Mulberry Fork Review, The New Guard, and many other places. BD Feil is a poet whose poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Slice Magazine, New Haven Review, New Plains Review, Connecticut River Review, Broad River Review, Summerset Review, and many other places. BD Feil currently writes from Michigan.

Author’s Note

Much has been written of the unreliable narrator.

Maybe too much?

What is objective, after all? Any narrator worth their salt has their own cutlery to grind, if only a butter knife. Surely, within every narrator there’s a degree of unreliability, large or small. From the first-person “madman” often employed by Poe, to the third-person free indirect voice used by Jane Austen and by later modernistic writers. And here, in the accompanying story: “The winter would not stop and now Barney was afraid it could not stop and something else had taken control.”

In the most unhinged narrations, adversaries are everywhere and in every thing, even the inanimate. Danger is mistaken, invented. The order of events are not quite as they should be. The motives of other characters and even the characters themselves are often fabricated. Setting is perhaps fluid and shifting. The not-quite-reliable narrator can be said to not see the forest for the trees.

But in this trek through the woods, whether mad dash or pleasant stroll, shouldn’t the trees themselves be meticulously described, be startlingly clear and alive, nearly hyper-realistic, even in memory? Especially in memory. Within the narrator’s narrow vision, that particular line of sight through tall greenery, certain items and events have lives of their own. Their images remain, long after the narrator passes through.

The wind between buildings. A plate of eggs sitting on a stool. A misplaced and found pipe.

Insignificant things in themselves maybe, everyday things possibly, but while other aspects in the narrator’s world –setting, character, plot – waver and fade, here are realistic renderings, hard stamps on the narrator’s mind.

A kiss on a cheek. Dates on tombstones. A fringe of green grass meeting hard gravel drive.

These motifs move beyond metaphor. Maybe they’ve leapt into myth. Of course, that’s all in the eye of the narrator. They continue to needle, haunt, nag. To the rest of us, the details remain very real, very lucid. Long after events have passed, long after this poor soul of unreliability has vanished, their concreteness breathes on.


BD FEIL is a fiction writer whose stories have appeared in Mississippi Review, The Literateur, The Linnet’s Wings, Mulberry Fork Review, The New Guard, and many other places. BD Feil is a poet whose poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Slice Magazine, New Haven Review, New Plains Review, Connecticut River Review, Broad River Review, Summerset Review, and many other places. BD Feil currently writes from Michigan.