By the kids’ week-long break from school in mid-February, Elaine was getting a little stir-crazy.
“I know we’re not taking a big holiday this winter, but maybe we could just get out of here for a couple of days?” she said to her husband Jeff. “Maybe Minot?”
It was the third day in a row with 70-kilometre winds, and Jeff was getting tired of trying to work outside.
“I suppose we could take the kids to that hotel with the waterslides,” Jeff said.
“They’d love it,” Elaine said.
“Mark can haul grain on his own for a few days,” Jeff said, knowing the Hanson’s long-time farm employee could manage just fine, even with Jeff’s parents, Donna and Dale, spending a few weeks in Arizona.
“If we stay a couple of nights, we could bring home some cheap groceries and wine without paying duty,” Elaine said. “The savings would practically pay for the trip.” Jeff and Elaine both knew that wasn’t true, but with the soundtrack of the kids’ videogames coming from the living room, howling wind noise outside the patio door, and the prospect of leftovers for lunch in the cards again, it wasn’t hard for both of them to pretend two days in North Dakota was a sound financial decision.
“Connor, Jenny,” Jeff called into the living room. “Turn off that Xbox and pack up your backpacks. We’re going on the road.”
Two hours later the Hansons had packed up Elaine’s SUV and were already pulling up to the North Portal border crossing. “This guy’s going to ask us some questions,” Jeff explained to the kids as they pulled into line behind a van and the kids could see a man in uniform leaning in the driver’s window. “Don’t try making any jokes.”
“Are we in trouble?” asked six-year-old Jenny.
“No!” Connor answered. He was nine and could remember crossing the border for a hockey tournament last year. “They just want to know if we have any food.”
“We could give them some,” Jenny said. “I have half a bag of Cheezies in my backpack.”
“What?” Elaine shouted, wondering how this could have happened.
But Jeff shushed his wife and pulled into the spot the van had vacated while he rolled down the driver’s side window and took off his sunglasses. Elaine made a mental note to ask Jenny about the Cheezies later.
Instead of asking about food, the border guard peered into the backseat and looked Connor in the eye. “Are these people your parents?” he asked. Elaine turned around in time to see a mischievous look in Connor’s eyes. Just in time, Connor remembered his father’s “no joking” warning and nodded quietly.
“They’re taking us to the waterslide hotel,” Jenny volunteered.
This made the guard laugh, and he waved them on through.
Jeff breathed a sigh of relief. Crossing borders made him nervous. But he was far from home free.
“Stop the car!” Jenny shouted from the backseat. “I’m gonna throw up!”
Jenny was right. There wasn’t much traffic on the highway, so Jeff managed to pull over in time.
While Elaine was holding Jenny’s hair back and asking questions about the mysterious Cheezies, Jeff’s cell phone rang.
It was Mark, calling from the Hanson’s yard. Jeff hit the button on the dash to put Mark’s call on speaker.
“We’ve got a problem,” Mark said.
Elaine shouted outside the car. “Watch it Jenny! You’re getting puke on my boot!”
“Sounds like you’ve got more than one problem today,” Mark said. “I’m not sure which one is worse.”
Jeff braced himself for bad news.
“I opened up that next bin of canola,” Mark said. “Number 17. It’s heated.”
Jeff groaned. “Are you sure?”
“Well, it’s solid like a wall, and I can’t ram a shovel through,” Mark answered. “So I opened up the lid. I don’t think the steam coming out is a good sign.”
Jeff groaned louder.
“I thought about climbing in the top to see if I could loosen it up,” Mark went on. “But then I remembered there’s nobody else within four miles of here, and I thought maybe jumping into a bin full of loose canola might not be such a great idea.”
Jeff cursed into the phone.
“Is Dad swearing at me?” Jenny asked from outside the SUV.
“No, honey,” Elaine said. “Though he might be, when he finds out where you got those Cheezies.”
“I’m going to be sick too!” Connor said, clambering out of the backseat to join Jenny at the side of the car.
Jeff cursed again.
“How many bushels were in that bin?” Elaine asked, turning her head to look at Jeff while she helped Connor scramble out of the SUV.
“Forty-two hundred,” Jeff said.
Elaine cursed too, doing the rough math of multiplying $10 a bushel by 4,200.
“Jeff, pass me those Kleenexes from the glove box,” she called.
“Do you think we can salvage any of it?” Jeff asked.
“Can’t tell yet,” Mark said. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. You should see the top. There’s a ring of fungus up there. Kind of like the mould on an old block of cheese.”
“Oh no!” Elaine said, pulling Kleenexes out of the box and passing them to Jenny. “Now I might get sick too. Jeff, can you find me a garbage bag to put these in?”
Elaine helped Jenny wipe her face, then turned back to Jeff. “I thought we had temperature cables in those bins.”
“The remote stopped working,” Jeff said, embarrassed. “The guy was going to come out and help me fix it at the end of the week.”
“I’m not surprised Jenny’s sick,” Mark said over the speaker. “Jody said a lot of kids at school were sick before the break.”
“What?” Elaine said. “Jenny? Connor? Were your friends sick?”
Connor thought about it. “Yeah. Oscar and Jake and Eric all stayed home from school on Friday.”
“My friends too!” Jenny insisted, hating to be left out.
“That canola was dry when we put it in that bin,” Jeff said. He remembered the day they filled those bins. He’d taken time to test the moisture himself.
“Yup,” Mark said. “I don’t know how this happened.”
“We’d better check the rest of the bins in that row,” Jeff said, more to himself than Mark.
There was silence for a few moments. Except for the sound of Connor’s retching.
“Okay,” Jeff said decisively. “Thanks Mark. I’ll be home in a couple of hours. Stay out of that bin. I’m not sure what we’ll do, but we’ll figure something out.”
Jeff got out of the SUV and rummaged around the back until he found a bottle of water and an old plastic bag. Once the kids were cleaned up and back inside, Elaine called the hotel to cancel their reservation while Jeff waited for a truck to go by so he could turn around on the highway and head back to the farm.
“Leftovers it is,” he said.
“Let’s not talk about food,” Elaine said.
The U.S. border guard happened to look up when the Hansons drove by. “Guess that little girl’s not going to the waterslide after all.” he said to his co-worker. “Weird.”