© 2021 Stephen R K Fender

The Beginning

Birth

Joseph was born in a farmhouse that decorated a little corner of a quaint English village that itself decorated a little corner of the latter part of the 1970’s. His mother Jenny screamed when Joseph popped out and made Polly the dog, bark. Joseph’s father Bran, a farm worker and tractor driver, had been summoned from the fields to witness the arrival of his third child. He was not particularly bothered to see the event but was curious to find out if his prediction that his next child would be born a runt was correct. After the birth, as Bran returned to his field, he felt satisfied that his new-born son was, without any doubt, a runt. The child was small, frail and covered in fine black hair. The other children, Muriel and Ebenezer, were playing together in the untidy garden as the skinny midwife weighed, cleaned and dressed their new-born brother. Ebenezer wanted to know what a baby looked like. “Like a human,” his sister suggested. “A what?” Ebenezer was only three. His sister was five. She began to explain what a human was but then Ebenezer wet his pants. Muriel was about to shout at her brother when she realised that what the dry, dusty soil they had been playing in needed, was a bit of moisture. After adding her own pee to the dust they were able to construct a rather exciting mud-castle.

As Joseph grew accustomed to being the other side of his mother’s belly, the sounds, smells and activities of a rural summer spilled in through the open window. Insects, cows, tractors and birds engraved their trails upon the surface of each moment as it meandered by. An elderly couple, out for a picnic, stopped at the top of the bridge over the railway that cut the farm in two, and wondered if life could get any better.

As Jenny lay in her bed encouraging Joseph to find a use for her nipple, she could hear Bran’s tractor making its way up towards the kiln where he had several maintenance jobs to carry out. She began to reflect on how close she felt to her husband. She accepted his need for solitude and would always watch him from a distance, as he worked. Sometimes she would become jealous of the land, at the way it gave Bran such a sense of contentment and meaning. He seemed to understand the whims of the seasons better than those of his wife, but she would tell herself that, at night, as darkness buried the day, he would turn to her for comfort. Bran knew of Jenny’s feelings but not of any words that may have reassured her.

Marriage

Jenny had met Bran when she was just nineteen. She was on her way to a party when her old Morris Traveller broke down and Bran had stopped to help. He was on his way to the river to photograph a heron when he saw the Morris parked untidily on the grass bank. Jenny was standing beside the car and smiled as Bran passed-by on his bike. He knew nothing about engines but needed a wife. His mother had been nagging him that very morning. ‘All the good ones will be gone before you make up your mind,’ she had said. Bran wasn’t much interested in having a wife. He loved tractors and trees and planting things and birds and men.

It wasn’t only Bran’s nagging mother that made him stop his bike and help Jenny. Bran’s good friend Arnie owned nearly nine-hundred acres of farmland and needed another tractor-driver. He had an empty house and decent wage to offer. Only married couples were able to apply as Arnie’s wife had insisted that the new employee’s spouse would need to cook and clean for her. Bran rarely met women. Especially ones that were young enough to be single and available. Finding Jenny stranded on a grass bank was an ideal opportunity to begin the process of finding a suitable partner.

Jenny was also looking for a partner. She wanted to move out of her parents house as soon as possible and was on her way to a party to try to find one. She wasn’t fussed about what he was: teacher, pilot, lorry driver or even solicitor. She knew of an eligible taxidermist but he lived with his parents and had no house of his own. When Bran stopped his bike she felt relieved as her concern at that point, was the party. But as Bran approached her looking very single she began to feel that cupid may have had something to do with the engine failing and nothing to do with the fact that the alternator had been playing up for days.

Bran found it all quite easy: the courting, the proposal, the wedding and even the speech. But not the touching and those particular bits Jenny meekly offered him. ‘I want three children,’ she announced, ‘and a big vegetable patch where I can grow sprouts and turnips.’ The thought of ripe turnips bulging from the dirt like purple and white pregnant bellies was exciting enough to enable Bran to complete the task of satisfying his new wife’s expectations.

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