Sunday Stories features original fiction every weekend by Langley writers.
Written by Ryan Uytdewilligen
(continued from previous publication on Sunday, Feb. 23. Read last week’s installment here)
Frank and Ellie were sure to give the truck driver a courteous wave; even a couple vocalized “thank-a-millions” and a “so-long” as he pulled away. Ellie blew kisses at each hog, waving and shouting as she jumped for joy, reveling in her fortunate hours spent rolling around with them in piles of hay. Both smelled of swine and manure; Ellie was practically covered in it, but the girl had so much fun chasing the animals and pulling their little tails, she didn’t mind a bit.
Frank took one look at the gates ahead and instantly went for Ellie’s hair, licking his palm and trying his hardest to straighten what he could.
“How do I look?” she asked.
“Never mind how you look, just mind what you say. We’re asking for work and they’ll be watching us, so let your Pop do the talking, all right?”
Ellie nodded as Frank swept the dust and dirt and hay and excrement off of his clothes. He removed his hat and straightened the thing up as best he could. A quick check of the piece of newsprint in his pocket that read Wanted: Experienced milkers, calvers, and drivers needed for work on large scale dairy operation immediately—2240 Hollis Rd—$20 a week, and they were good to go. Frank nodded to Ellie and Ellie nodded to Frank.
“You got bear?” Frank asked, knowing full well the answer. Ellie grinned and waved bear all throughout the air. “Good,” he continued. “Good. Good.”
With that, Frank cleared his throat and pressed the little green button on the wooden intercom box. He had never seen one before, but he read about them in a magazine. Possessing such a futuristic gizmo told him all he needed to know about Martin Brothers Dairy. A golden sign swaying above spelled that very name in large letters, in case he needed more to go on to form an opinion.
“Hello,” beckoned a flat voice on the end other of the intercom line.
“Hi. Yes. This is Frank “O’Neil. I’m here… here with my daughter Eleanor O’Neil. We’re just… I’m just… I’m inquiring about the advertisement I saw in the newspaper.” Silence. Frank wondered if he needed to hold down the green button again or if speaking into the contraption actually did the trick. He delivered his entire spiel once more while pressing all of the buttons underneath. “We’re looking for work,” he added.
“I heard you the first time,” the voice on the other end said. “I’m sorry, but all the jobs we got here have been filled.”
Frank’s feet stumbled, but he didn’t fall down. His throat gulped down a large portion of pain, but he didn’t choke. He looked back at Ellie, who was still busy watching the truckload of hogs finally disappear out of sight. She was mostly oblivious to the intercom conversation.
“There must be something that you can do? We came a long way just to find work.”
“I’m sorry, but you should have called ahead,” the voice snapped instantly back.
“Well…” Frank mumbled, looking his faded paper up and down, “there was no number.”
“There was no telephone number to call. The advertisement only gave the address,” Frank responded.
“That’s ‘cause we don’t have a telephone line running all the way out here – it was cut last Tuesday. Closest phone’s in town four miles to the west,” the voice explained.
“Then it seems to me I did the responsible thing. Look, we’ve been on the road for two days now, just to put our names in for a job. Least you could do is grant me an interview of some sort… seeing as how there was no number and all,” Frank fumbled out of his mouth.
“I thought you said I didn’t have to work,” Ellie said, now a full member of the conversation.
“You said we, but I ain’t working.”
“It’s just a phrase. Make ‘em think they’ll get two workers for the price of one,” Frank laughed, looking his messy daughter clinging tight to her old ratty bear up and down. “It’s all about making yourself look presentable.”
The voice didn’t return on the intercom box. Instead a loud buzz swung the gate open automatically. Behind it, rows and rows of dairy barns came into view with storage tanks on the side of each one and a fleet of milk trucks parked all down one allotted side.
Both Frank and Ellie’s eyes were wide open; they couldn’t believe the automatic gate first of all, but the dairy ahead truly was a spectacle to behold. With one more look at each other, Frank stretched his hand out for Ellie to grab. She did, staring ahead at the sprawling farm she now hoped to call home.
They stepped forward with the gate closing firmly behind them.
# # #
“Well I wish I could help you two out,” Douglas Martin sighed. “But you’re just too darn late.” He was a portly fellow who seemed as though he drank nothing but cream. He had a cigar between his lips and overalls that accentuated his sagging belly. He cleaned his spectacles constantly with a filthy handkerchief and wheezed between every third word. He waddled from one end of the room to the other, attempting some movement perhaps to shrink down his weight; whatever his pacing was for, it wasn’t helping.
“But Mr. Martin,” Frank begged.
“No, no, no, no. I won’t have any gravelling and whining in this office now,” he interjected with a raised hand. “We put that add out more than a week ago now and had folks like yourselves coming from all corners of the country. True, we turned more than a few away because they just didn’t have the experience, but we’re all finished hiring now and I’ll have to, I’m afraid, see you on your way.”
Frank and Ellie could barely hear a single word Douglas Martin said. A girl one or two years younger than Ellie ran about the entire office, playing with as many dolls as she could possibly fit in her arms. She had at least twelve scattered all across the floor. Each one seemed to be part of her little production and each one had its own unique voice that she was sure to perform at the top of her lungs. Even Ellie couldn’t stand the fact that she would run in between them while Mr. Martin tried to talk.
To make matters all the more confusing, a tray of chocolate chip cookies sat atop the desk in the dairy owner’s office. Between every sentence or so, Douglas Martin would pick a new cookie up and chomp away while he was still spitting out instructions.
“Now I don’t like being the bearer of bad news,” he continued, swigging back a glass of milk that he filled from a pitcher placed next to the cookie tray. “How about I gives each of you a cookie before you get on your way, huh? How does that sound? And you, fellow? How about a coffee? Can I get you a coffee?”
Frank shuttered at the mention of the word coffee. “No, no coffee.”
As Douglas smiled at Ellie and turned to retrieve a cookie, the energetic little girl’s dress caught on the handle of the cookie tray and took the whole think with her. What was left of the treats all when bouncing across the floor, breaking into small pieces and landing in bits of mud tangled in the carpet.
“Oh, now look what you did,” Douglas mumbled. “How many times have I told you not to play in my office.” The girl continued to bounce around, throwing her toys all about and creating an absolute racket.
“Do you think there’s any chance at all that you might be hiring in the near future?” Frank inquired.
“What’d’ya say now?” Douglas replied.
“I said, any chance there might be an opening here in the future?”
“Huh?” Douglas said again, leaning his right ear towards Frank so he could hear him over all the screams and shouts and giggles and stomps.
“I need work Mr. Martin. Don’t you see we’re desperate here?”
“The whole country is desperate,” the man replied, sucking back a good drag of his cigar and leaving a mouthful of cookie crumbs behind on its soggy end. “Desperation does not yet call for handouts and an outpouring of pity.”
“Say that again, please,” Frank asked.
“I said this isn’t the time for handouts and pity.”
“Yes, it is a pity.”
“What’s a pity?”
“I grew up on a dairy Mr. Martin. I know how to milk a cow just as well as I know how to walk,” Frank assured.
“I wish I could help you out, but there just ain’t no space for you. Come back next year, we’ll see what we can do for you then.”
“When next year?”
“I said come back and try again next year.”
“OH FOR THE LOVE OF… JOANNE, WILL YOU PLEASE QUIT THAT RACKET AND PLAY SOMEWHERE ELSE SO THE TWO OF US CAN HOLD A CONVERSATION.”
The tears were turned on at full capacity the moment Douglas Martin raised his voice. The little girl – Joanne – sobbed as if the world was coming to an absolute end; and that, was even louder than the noises she made while playing. Of course, Douglas whimpered as if he was going to shed a stream of tears himself. He rushed over to the girl and tried his best to rock her back and forth and hold her and hug and shush her – none of his efforts made a difference.
“I’m sorry. Uncle didn’t mean it. You can play. You want to keep playing, right? Play anywhere you like!” Even Douglas holding up a variety of different dolls to sway Joanne’s attention failed to consul her. She cried so deeply, Frank feared she was going to start to drown in her own tears.
Before he was able to turn to Ellie to tell her they should leave in that moment, Frank found that his daughter had stepped forward and approached the emotional scene.
“Hey, it’s okay. You don’t have to cry,” Ellie said to the girl. “My name’s Ellie, what’s yours?”
“Jo-Jo-Jo-Joanne,” Joanne sniffled with a quivering voice.
“Nice to meet you Joanne. Would you like to play with my bear,” Ellie asked, holding up the dusty creature. It was that gesture that stopped the flow of tears and actually cast a small smile on Joanne’s face. She gripped the bear tightly with both hands as she wiped her face with her sleeve.
“What’s its name?” she asked.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t have a name. I’ve just been calling him bear. You can give him a name if you like.”
“Really?” Joanne said, regaining the energetic twinkle in her eye. “How about… Timothy?”
“Timothy… I like it,” Ellie said.
“Can I keep him?”
Ellie could have used that moment to create a scene, even let the tears in her eyes flow like a river. She could have snatched the bear back, or worse yet, entered into a physical fight with Joanne. In fact, all of those scenarios were what Frank was waiting for.
Instead, a single tear formed in the girl’s eye as she pet bear for the final time. She smiled as she stood up and let out a little sigh. “Yes,” she said. “Of course you can keep Timothy.”
Joanne shrieked as she clutched bear against her chest, laughing and wiggling as she prepared to send him on a loud and chaotic adventure around the room. Frank stared at his daughter while Douglas stared at Frank.
“Maybe… maybe we have some work on the dairy that needs a few extra hands after all. Why don’t the two of you follow me? I’ll give you a tour.”
# # #
“Ellie, why? Why did you give bear to that spoiled rotten little girl?” Frank inquired as the two of them slowed their pace to trail far behind Douglas Martin, too immersed in his dairy barn tour to notice his words were falling on deaf ears. Ellie smiled as the dairy cows they passed in the pens, concluding that it was absolutely pigs that she preferred. “We went to the ends of the Earth for that thing! I don’t understand.”
“She was crying Pop. She was crying and she couldn’t stop no matter what Mr. Martin did. I thought, someone who’d have themselves a cry like that must have a real rotten life,” Ellie explained. Frank was speechless. He had a thousand words ready in his head to correct Ellie and set her opinions straight, but no word could trickle past his tongue. They kept walking on past the dairy cows in silence. “I just wanted to cheer her up. You and I have got it good, haven’t we Pop? We don’t have a reason to cry like that… so… so whatever’s bothering that Joanne, well, I sure hope we’ve helped her a little by giving her bear.”
“Yeah… we got it good Ellie,” Frank flubbed out past his own trickling tears, placing his hand on Ellie’s back as they walked along. Frank looked up at all the workers in the distance; the milkers and calvers who were covered head to toe in mud, cream, and sweat. Not one of them stopped to have themselves and conversation with each other. Not one had a smile on their face.
“You happy you got the job?” Ellie asked.
“Oh… I don’t know Ellie. I was wonderin’ what you’d think about the two of us sneaking off and getting back on the road?”
“But we need the money! Pop, all you been sayin’ is that you need the job!”
“We need each other Ellie. And as long as we have each other, we got everything the two of us will ever need.”
Frank stopped moving. He tipped his hat and turned towards the barn door, ready to bolt straight on out from the dim, dark place. Before he could, Ellie grabbed on to his hand and pulled him close. Frank lowered himself down to the ground so the two of them could meet eye to eye.
In the corner of his vision, Frank saw that Douglas and noticed them stop and began tromping back their way. Beyond all the ruckus his steps made and the cattle mooing, Frank could clearly hear his and Ellie’s stomachs rumble.
“Dinner first,” Ellie suggested.
“You’re right. Fill up. That’s the smart thing to do. You still feel like milk and cookies?” Frank asked.
“For desert,” the girl replied. “We should ask and see if he’s willing to cook us up a steak.”
Frank laughed, messing up Ellie’s hair with a rub of his palm. “You? You wouldn’t even eat a grasshopper and now you’re talking about eatin’ a whole cow.”
“Everything all right?” Douglas asked, huffing and puffing from the tour.
“Yeah,” Frank said, rising to his feet and grasping his daughter’s hand, looking back at the illuminating light – the only light – from the barn’s exit. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
This concludes the short story Bear by Ryan Uytdewilligen. Stay tuned for new stories by local authors – published by the Langley Advance Times, Sunday, March 8.