Dale Hanson muttered curses to himself as he walked across the farmyard, crossing from his house to the shop. The bright sun and cloudless blue sky were not enough to cheer him up. With the warm almost-spring air, he hadn’t bothered with a jacket, and now he was chilly as well as aggravated. He cursed the cold, too.
In one hand, Dale was carrying a black rubber pipe as he used the other to open the shop door. Inside, his son Jeff and the Hansons’ farm employee, Mark Edwards, were perched on chairs near the coffee machine.
“You guys both hanging around in the yard?” Dale called out to them, grouchily. “I thought we were going to get some of those lentils hauled out today.”
“I decided to try and hold off on that,” Jeff said. “I’ll see if they won’t wait a few days. You want a cup of coffee?”
Dale nodded. “Might as well. I’m not in any rush to get back to the house.”
“The contract I signed said they’d take them in January,” Jeff said. “But Walt said they didn’t have room for them back then. Same thing in February, when we would’ve had plenty of time to get them moved. So now that the road bans are up, he needs my lentils right away? Do you know how many more loads we’d have to haul to keep down at legal weights?”
“Yup,” Dale said, bringing his black pipe closer to the coffee machine on his way across the shop to set it down on the workbench.
“Oh geez, Dad!” Jeff was horrified. “The stink!
“Whoa! That’s bad!” Mark chimed in.
“What have you been doing?” Jeff asked.
“Maybe Donna stopped doing the laundry,” Mark suggested, not serious at all.
“Keep joking, you two wise guys. We’ll see how much help I am when your sewer systems go on the fritz.”
“Don’t come closer. You smell awful,” Jeff said.
Just then, one of the Hansons’ cats sauntered up close to Dale, as if it were planning to rub up against Dale’s leg, as it often did. But the cat looked up at Dale, made a face as if to complain about the smell and walked away, head in the air. Jeff and Mark burst out with laughter.
“Oh yeah, keep laughing,” Dale grumbled, thinking to himself that the cat’s behaviour probably had more to do with the way Dale had needed to kick the cat out of the way of the truck the day before rather than the way he smelled now, but he didn’t think explaining that would help his case.
“I don’t think I can finish my cappaccino with this stench in the air,” Mark said. “You’re sucking all the good air right out of the room!”
“I smell pretty good compared with the house,” Dale said, setting the rubber pipe down on the workbench and coming back to the coffee machine to make a cup for himself.
“Smells like the inside of a cesspool in the basement. I’ll be surprised if this stench doesn’t kill Donna’s plants.” Dale looked down at his sweater. “And I’m going to have to throw out all of these clothes.”
“What’s going on?” Mark asked. “How exactly are you fertilizing all those plants?”
“Very funny,” Dale said. “Damn sewer pump’s not working again. Woke up to a basement full of raw sewage.”
Jeff groaned. His own house was relatively new and he hadn’t had a lot of problems yet, but he knew how much work it could be to keep the sewer system in Dale’s house running. The house was just old enough that all the parts were coming to the end of their lifespans.
Jeff hated fixing sewer systems as much as anyone, but he couldn’t stop himself from offering to help his dad.
“We’ll come over and give you a hand. We’re almost done with the air seeder anyway.”
“As much as I’d like to see you two oafs in the basement instead of me, it’s a one-man job. I know what’s wrong now. I might as well finish the job. I already smell like…Well, you can tell what I smell like.”
Dale’s coffee was ready to drink when Jeff’s wife Elaine came into the shop with their six-year-old daughter Jenny trailing behind.
“I got wet boot!” Jenny announced to the room.
“The kids can’t stop breaking that thin layer of ice on the top of the puddles,” Elaine explained. “Jenny got in a little too deep. We’re on our way back to the house for dry socks.”
“The sound of breaking puddle ice is the best sound in the world, isn’t it Jen?” Mark said. Jenny grinned back and walked closer to the men, happy to be the centre of attention.
“Wow!” Jenny yelled. “What’s the horrible smell?”
“That’s your grandpa,” Mark told her. “He’s trying out a new deodorant.”
Dale just shook his head.
“Sewer again?” Elaine asked her father-in-law.
“I have the day free if you need someone to go to town for parts,” she offered, partly to be helpful, but also because Elaine knew by now that it was good to be as far away from the farm as possible when Dale was in the kind of mood he got into when he had to fix his sewer pump.
“Thanks Elaine, but Donna’s already on her way,” Dale said.
“Mom knows when to get out of the yard!” Jeff said.
Dale knew this was a joke too, but he wasn’t in the mood to joke about his wife.
“Donna’s already been talking about moving into Dad’s place in town, since we haven’t sold it yet. If I can’t keep the damn sewer system operating without stinking up the whole place every two weeks, the call of big-city plumbing systems is going to lure her right off the farm.”
Jeff thought about this. “Do you really think Mom wants to live in town?”
“I’m not sure she knows what she wants to do,” Dale said. “I don’t blame her for wanting to do a little less driving, though. She’ll put another 200 kilometres on her car today just driving back and forth to town to pick up parts before this is done.”
Dale sniffed at his jacket.
“After today, I won’t blame her if she wants to move farther away than just Dad’s condo. Might take a day’s drive to blow this smell out of my head.”
Mark picked up the dog’s tennis ball and started a silent game of catch with Jenny while the rest of the Hansons considered the situation.
“I know she’s looking for more things to do, but I’m not sure what I’d do without Donna around here,” Elaine said, thinking about all the times her mother-in-law had offered to drive the kids to dancing or hockey over the winter.
“I’m not ready to move off the farm yet,” Dale said. “Though I see there’d be some benefits to living in a condo where I’m not responsible for the sewer.”
“I’ll come over and give you a hand,” Jeff said. “Maybe we can get a head start on clearing out that stink before Mom gets back from town.”