The farmer plodded through the rooms of his home. The sun not fully showing yet, the world outside was washed in dark blues. And in the farmhouse, wisps of cold light stabbed through the windows, fighting to dispel the night which remained. The farmer’s wife, his daughter, and beagle all slept, still. But, he could not, his mind filled with shifting thoughts, parading one way, then another.
The farmer stopped in the downstairs washroom. He looked into the mirror. Touched his hair, thinning always. He picked up a comb from the sink and ran it along his head. An attempt to hide exposed scalp.
The farmer turned from the washroom, shuffled down the short hallway. He stopped in the kitchen, and leaned against the table. It was dark in here, for the shutters were closed. The only source of light, while still very dim, was shining in from the parlor, where the window shades were thin.
The farmer retrieved his coat from the hallway closet. He fit his feet into his boots, lacing them up. He donned his winter cap and gloves, and opened the back door. January morning winds, carrying ice and powder snow, cemetery frost from the land of bear kings, blew across the farmland and bare treetops. The farmer’s cheeks and nose grew red with frostbite before he stepped onto the porch. Crossing the threshold, the porch boards groaned under his boots, but the wind shrieked through the room behind him. So loud, the farmer’s breathing was silenced, his heartbeat silenced. He slammed the back door, afraid the wind in the house walls would wake his family.
The land ahead, the farm, the pumpkin patch of fall waited, blanketed in broken snow. In the mounds of winter ruin, where nothing could be grown until spring, the farmer looked to a scarecrow, hanging from a post in the field. It swayed fiercely in the wind.
The cold clawed at the farmer’s face. Tears formed on the edges of his eyes, his lips burned. He took one step, two steps down the wooden stairs. Another and another, onto the frosted grass. He was dragging himself across his land, beating through the wind, as it threw snow into his face, freezing him until he could not feel. He tromped over the dug-up ground, closer to the scarecrow. It whipped back and forth.
The sun continued to ascend, but the light remained blue, with grey and darkness. The clouds in the sky marched from horizon to horizon.
Closer to the scarecrow, closer.
‘Some days, scarecrow!’ the farmer hollered over the wind. ‘Some days I just want the world to sink!’
He stopped, and leaned down, his gloved hands on his knees. The farmer sobbed to the earth, he retched. He lifted his head, watched the scarecrow perform its wild dance of January. Standing straight again, he slogged on, toward the man of hay.
‘Why?’ he asked the lifeless scarecrow. ‘You want to know why?’
The farmer stood beneath the hay dummy. Its head moved in the icy gust.
‘What is wrong with me, scarecrow?’ he cried out, grabbing the hay man’s sewn hand. ‘Some days I wake up, or I don’t fall asleep at all, and I don’t want to be here!’
The wind ripped into the farmer and the scarecrow.
‘And worse!’ The farmer dropped down, his knees upon the frozen dirt; he clutched the pole that held the hay man. ‘Some days I feel so unlike myself! I wish the world to be razed!’
The scarecrow’s arm blew in the wind, slapping across the farmer’s back.
‘Oh, scarecrow! Don’t feel as if you must comfort me! I’m a bad man, scarecrow! Why, some days I even wish you were gone! This whole forsaken farm! Gone! Away!’
Whoosh! called the wind, the roar of the faraway bear king in tow. The man of hay sagged and rocked.
The farmer pointed his finger to the farmhouse. To the bedroom windows. ‘They love me, scarecrow! And I would give my life for them! So, scarecrow, what? What is wrong with my mind?’
The arms of the scarecrow were raised in the wind, they reached for the moving clouds. They fell and rose, once more, before toppling to its sides, as the hay man shook and thrashed with the ice wind.
The farmer pressed his forehead against the cold post, the scarecrow’s boneless legs drumming on his back. His tears became salted ice on his face.
‘How can I be well?’ He gazed up, into the stolid features of the hay man. ‘Do you wake, do you sleep ever?’
The scarecrow’s head moved with the harshly indifferent air – right, left, right, left, right, left, on and on.
The farmer quieted his cries. ‘Make me well, scarecrow.’ On his knees, so cold he could not recognize cold.
The hay-stuffed head of the dummy went left, right, left, right, left, right, on and then on.
The farmer stood, wobbly on his feet, the wind unbalanced him when he finally gained his balance. He turned away from the scarecrow, trudging back to his home. Back across the reaped land, dressed in snow, sloshing through January, pining for May. The farmer tramped the soil under his old boots, ran for the back door when he reached the grass.
In the farmhouse, the door shut tightly, the farmer leaned his back against it, breathing the warmth of home into his muscles. He breathed and would not stop, he would never catch his breath, his lungs would never get the cold out of them. The farmer collapsed onto the sofa, kicking his boots off, throwing his coat, hat, and gloves on the floor. He held himself, he shivered.
The sink ran in the washroom. The farmer lifted his head, listening. The sink was turned off. From the washroom stepped his daughter, a glass of water in her small hand. At her feet, as always, the beagle, following her every move.
Father and daughter stared at each other.
‘Morning, Papa,’ she greeted him, her voice still tired.
‘Hi, darling,’ the farmer replied. He smiled at her.
‘Me and Benny were thirsty,’ she told her father. The dog wagged his tail.
The farmer said, ‘Okay, hon . . . There’re still a few hours of sleep ahead if you want ’em.’
The girl nodded. She and the beagle turned to go back up the stairs to her bedroom. The girl’s slipper was on the first step, and she looked back at her father. ‘Papa,’ she spoke.
The farmer watched her. ‘Hmm?’
The small girl thought, looked down at the beagle, then to her father. ‘Most people won’t listen . . . Especially, scarecrows.’
The farmer stared. He did not breathe. He watched his daughter, silently.
‘And especially that scarecrow.’
‘That – that scarecrow?’ the farmer whispered.
‘Uh-huh. That scarecrow in the field,’ his daughter said. ‘He’s the silent type. Don’t talk. Probably don’t listen. Right, Benny?’
The beagle, again, wagged his tail.
‘Mama listens,’ the girl went on. ‘I listen. Benny always listens!’ She laughed.
The winter wind sent a tremor through the farmhouse, and howled in the crevices.
‘The wind listens more than that scarecrow, Papa.’ His daughter smiled at him, and made her way up the stairs. The dog chased after. The farmer heard her bed squeak as she crawled onto it.
He lay on the sofa, words sifting down around him. The light grew in the parlor. The farmer sat up, soon stood, and walked up the stairs to the second floor. He sneaked into his bedroom, rejoining his wife in their bed. A few more hours of sleep ahead, surely. The farmer crawled close to her body, and he listened to her. He wished to hear her dreams.
The house croaked and moaned and creaked with the wind, and to that, the farmer listened, as well.