With two years working on the Hanson farm under his belt, Mark Edwards was a key member of the team. On Tuesday morning, he was in the yard with Jeff Hanson, calibrating the seeder before they took it out to the field. As Mark climbed up to the cab where Jeff was entering seeding rates into the monitor, he took a second to be happy to have the kind of job where you never knew what would happen next. He tapped on the cab door to get Jeff’s attention, then held out his cell phone.
“Elaine’s got a question,” Mark said.
Jeff took the phone. “Hello?”
Mark could hear Jeff’s wife ask, “Do you want black or gold?”
Mark chuckled as Jeff shook his head. “I don’t care.”
Elaine was in town buying Jeff a new cell phone to replace the one he’d lost the day before.
“It must’ve fallen out of my shirt pocket and onto the ground when I leaned down to check the seed depth,” he’d told Elaine when she came out to deliver supper and pick up the kids, who had spent enough time “helping” Jeff and Mark fill the grain tank with the last load of wheat.
“Tell your mom what happened next,” Mark had prompted Jeff’s seven-year-old son, Connor, and five-year-old daughter Jenny.
“Mark ran over it!” the kids yelled together, Jenny squealing with glee.
“You need a phone,” Elaine said. “I’ll go to town in the morning and get you a new one.”
“I need a phone too,” Connor said.
“Me too,” Jenny added, not missing a chance.
“You’re too young for phones,” Elaine said.
“My friend Oscar has a phone,” Connor said.
“Oscar’s a pretty cool kid,” Mark added, unhelpfully.
Elaine had rolled her eyes. “Nice try, Connor. And Jeff, you’d better find a safer way to carry your new phone.”
On Tuesday, with Jeff phoneless, Mark and Jeff were relying on old-fashioned hand signals and shouting. They’d seen the school bus come to pick up Connor, then watched Elaine and Jenny drive out of the garage soon after, heading to town for a new phone.
It was still a little cool for April, but by the time Elaine phoned home for Jeff, Mark had already worked up a sweat, weighing pails of canola and fertilizer that had gone through the tank, then carrying them up the stairs to dump them back into the tank while Jeff watched the monitors in the cab, making sure the system was measuring accurately.
“If you don’t get it calibrated right, there’s no use having the technology,” Jeff had explained to Mark the year before.
Now, they were nearly done with the canola. “We’re almost there,” Jeff said when he handed Mark’s phone back.
“I hope so,” Mark said, dropping the phone into the front pocket of his coveralls. “Jody’s going to want to thank you for all the muscle you’re building up on me.” Mark had been dating Jody about as long as he’d been working for the Hansons. In January, Connor had asked when Mark was getting married, but when Mark just joked about not being ready to sell his wake boat to buy a ring, the Hansons hadn’t asked any more questions.
Mark set one of the empty pails back under the cart and waited while Jeff started the metering system. When Jeff finished, he shouted from the cab. “Twenty pounds?”
Mark picked up the pail, now full of inoculant, and hung it from the spring scale. Finally, a match. “Twenty pounds even!” he shouted back at Jeff, making a thumbs-up signal, in case Jeff couldn’t hear him over the tractor noise.
Mark carried the full pail up the ladder to the top of the grain cart. On the deck, he lifted the pail over the tank, leaning over to hold it as close as possible, trying to keep the black inoculant dust down. Then his mouth gaped open as he watched his brown leather phone case slip out of his pocket and into the inoculant stream. He hollered out a string of curse words Connor and Jenny would have loved hearing.
Mark considered his options, and glanced ahead at the cab where Jeff was still focused on the monitor. Then his phone chirped with the sound of an incoming text, probably from Jody, and he knew he didn’t have much choice.
He sat on the edge of the tank, swung his legs inside and jumped in, hitting the bottom with a thud.
Inside the tank, he checked his phone first, reading the text on the screen. He grinned down at the phone, then reached up to pull himself out of the tank, eager to tell Jeff what he’d read.
But that wasn’t quite as easy as he’d expected. The last time he’d been in one of these tanks, there’d been enough wheat inside to give him a little height. This time, with only a bit of inoculant in the tank, Mark was right at the bottom, and it was a long way to the top.
He looked up at the circle of bright blue sky outside, then around at the dust particles floating in the darkness of the inside of the tank. Mark hadn’t spent enough time in enclosed spaces to realize he was claustrophobic, but it turned out he was. He slid into full panic mode.
Suddenly he was having a hard time breathing, and a worse time thinking. He reached up frantically for the ladder and started climbing, but his head hit the sharp edge of the metal lid. He fell back to the bottom of the tank. He reached a hand up to his head and felt the gooey warmth of blood.
He needed help.
He banged one arm on the side of the tank, shouting, but even in his rattled state, Mark knew Jeff couldn’t hear him from the cab.
Then he remembered his phone, the phone that had gotten him into this mess. He dialed Jeff, automatically. When there was no answer he remembered Jeff was between phones. Now who? Jeff’s dad had gone to the terminal for more fertilizer. He had no idea where Jeff’s mom was. He tried Elaine.
Elaine answered quickly and a more-panicked Mark hollered into the phone that he needed help.
“Are you calling from a cave?” Elaine asked, only hearing echoes from inside of the metal tank.
He tried again.
“What?” she said. Then, “Slow down.”
Meanwhile, Jeff had finished with the monitor and come to find Mark. Jeff heard the muffled sounds of Mark’s shouting from inside the tank, and raced up the ladder to see what was happening.
Jeff reached down and helped Mark get up the ladder, holding one hand on Mark’s head to protect it from the sharp lid. When he reached the top, Mark stood, panting, on the deck of the grain cart, covered from head to toe in black dust, blood running down his forehead, but grinning from ear to ear.
“She said yes!” he hollered, holding his phone up in the air triumphantly. “I’ve been asking and asking, and finally, Jody said she’ll marry me!”