Albert's wheat fields wither and die.
|“There is a Reaper whose name is Death,
And, with his sickle keen,
He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,
And the flowers that grow between.”
Albert Hoffman was an uncommon man. His neighbors said he was a simpleton, a man without social distinction or aspirations of ‘fitting in’. They were wrong. Albert wasn’t a simple man.
His unpretentious manner and cavalier attitude seemed strange to the citizens of the small community of Weyburn, but Albert was quite comfortable in his own skin. He asked for nothing and gave the same. He believed in working hard and often repeated the words, “Laziness spawns evil in the restless soul.”
Albert was satisfied with his life, pleased with himself when he could walk through the ocean of ripe grain on his family farm. Like his father and grandfather did before him, he grew wheat on the rolling prairie in Saskatchewan, Canada. Reaping a bountiful harvest and filling his granaries to the top rungs became an obsession that grew stronger with each successful harvest.
The stoic man kept to himself, going for days on end without speaking a single word.He seldom ventured beyond the boundaries of his land, interacting with outsiders only when it was absolutely necessary. On the rare occasions when he spoke to his wife Rose, he called her his “Little Flower”, the mother of his five children. Albert assigned the chore of raising the “Five Sprouts” to his wife, while he tended to his crop.
During the summer Rose spent her days toiling in the garden; forever trying to get the bright colors of old-fashioned long stemmed flowers, larkspur, snapdragons, and poppies to appear in the short growing season. Unlike her husband, she wasn’t blessed with a green thumb. Her flowers would wither and die. Albert would give her his look of disapproval, grunt a few words of disgust and stomp off, seeking seclusion in his tool shed.
The interior of the shed was a cluttered arena of farm equipment. In one corner, a stack of old seed sacks was home for a family of mice. Against one wall, spades, shovels, rakes and other odds and ends gathered dust. Everything in the shed was hidden beneath a layer of dirt accumulated over many years. The one exception was the sickles and scythes displayed on one wall. The tools, once used by Albert’s grandfather, rested on iron pegs, their curved, sharp, shiny blades glistened in the dim light of the dusty shed. Growing wheat wasn’t Albert’s only obsession. Each blade had been meticulously honed to perfection. The wooden handles’ patina gleamed from years of wear and the linseed oil Albert faithfully applied year after year. The sharp cutting tools hung, ready and waiting to be used.
Year after year, the sun and rain ripened the wheat. The children played hide and seek and Rose was ignored. She found solace listening to her mother’s collection of Mario Lanza on long playing records. The tenor’s voice gave her comfort as she day dreamed and gazed upon the golden sheen of wheat that surrounded her.
In 2001 Canada suffered from the worst drought in thirty-four years. Farmers prayed for the rain that never came. The wheat curled against the sun’s heat and died. Without a crop to harvest, farmers went broke, borrowed money putting them further in debt. Albert was no exception. He was forced to borrow money and the granaries stood empty.
Rose began to notice subtle changes in her husband's behavior . He began spending more time with her and the children. He spent less time wandering across the barren fields or secluding himself in the tool shed. She thanked the Lord for the change and put her long playing records away. Children’s laughter replaced the sounds of opera throughout the house and Rose began to smile more.
In late October, Albert rose from the supper table, kissed his “Little Flower” on the cheek and went to the tool shed. Hours later, Rose put the children to bed and waited for her husband’s return.
It was a moonless night when Albert carried a sharp sickle at his side and quietly entered the house. He found his wife asleep, sitting in an overstuffed chair with an open book in her lap. He carefully took the book, closed it and placed it on a mahogany end table. Without making a sound he moved behind the chair, raised the sickle high above his head and plunged the steel blade into his wife’s heart.
Blood dripped from the curved blade onto the worn farm house floor as the Reaper walked to the children’s beds.
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