The farmer is so normal and the setting so pastoral. How can he inflict such suffering?
|The piles and racks of rusty red scrap iron and steel was brutally hot in the summer sun. It was the jagged and hard-edged artifacts of generations of farmers on this land.
Jack stood solidly on both feet, facing the scrap iron, arms folded across his chest and cap tilted back on his head. There was the sound of flies buzzing in the still air, and the sun shone on the blond curly hair of his arms. The John Deere cap shaded his pale blue eyes, narrowed as he studied the iron. He focused his creative mind on the task of selecting the pieces he could use to build shackles to control her.
The pile on the ground was made up of many odd shapes he had salvaged over the years from various dead machinery on his farm. There were chunks of indeterminate origin, some very heavy, others quite thin. The sharp-toothed, jagged gears stood out. Their rusted mean teeth held a hard viciousness.
The rack on the second level was laid with angle iron. The pieces varied from a couple of feet long up to 12 feet, and were all bent longitudinally at 90 degrees. The bend gave the angle iron much more strength than a similar flat piece.
The third level was laid out with lengths of strap iron. It ranged in length like the angle iron, but was flat, and usually not more than 2 - 3 inches wide. Sometimes it could be up to 3/8 of an inch thick, but usually it was measured in sixteenths or less.
Jack enjoyed pitting his restless mind against the challenge of bending odds and ends of scrap iron to meet his creative needs. He strode forward and picked up a piece of strap iron about 5' long. It would be perfect for creating a series of bonds for her. He carried it through the heat into the shop.
The shop’s big door was open wide, but there was little air movement in its dark, cave-like interior. It was the size of a 2 ½ car garage. The heavy, dank smells of oil, grease and fuel hung in the air. One side allowed a car, truck or tractor to be pulled in where he worked his mechanical magic. The rest of the building was full of tools, power equipment, and workbenches. It felt more like a safe home to Jack, than anywhere else.
He had an affinity for engines since he was small. Neighbors were well aware of his skill, and frequently brought Jack their broken-down equipment for repair. He was very creative, and was able to use parts he had scavenged from old machinery to keep others running. He examined the problem and then his mind quickly leaped to solutions using completely unrelated parts. If a disc blade broke, or the hitch got bent, he was the one to fix it. Jack was a true craftsman, and creative inventor, with a welder and an acetylene torch.
The work bench was made of 4" thick planks, worn smooth by countless hands run across its surface and the grime ground into the grain. Jack placed the iron on it and took off his gloves. He pulled the torch near and unwound the hoses attached to the acetylene tank and the oxygen tank. The sparker, which ignited the gases, hung from the valve on the oxygen tank. The heavily tinted goggles were draped across the other tank. He reached for a different pair of gloves and eyed the iron carefully. His gaze went from end to end, with a deep frown upon his face. Then he grabbed the white chalk and scratched two lines across the iron. One was about 12" long, the other about 6".
The big vise was bolted to the bench. Its unforgivingly harsh jaws of steel worked on a worm gear to come together. Anything placed between the crushing force of those jaws was immobile. Jack grabbed the big lever and cranked it around, spreading the vise open. He placed the strap iron in the vise, and turned the lever to close its jaws. The stark white chalk lines stood out past the end of the vise.
He turned on the gas tanks and pressed the valve lever on the torch so that the gas whistled out of the nozzle. He flicked a spark next to the stream of gas, and it ignited with a whoosh. He watched the yellow flame as he carefully adjusted the flow of gasses. When it burned blue-white with a red base, he was satisfied. He placed the goggles over his eyes with one hand and bent to the metal.
He squeezed the lever on the handle and the intensity of the flame increased. He hit the first white chalk line with the flame, and soon sparks jumped and the fire began to cut through the metal. He separated the piece and cut on the second line, producing another section of strap iron. Jack checked the edges; they were rough and jagged. He ran his finger over it and shook his head. That would never do. She might get hurt.
The grinder right behind Jack needed to be plugged in. Then the rough grinding wheels at the ends of the electric motor spun at several thousand rpms. His practiced hands held the rough end of the strap iron against the wheel. Sparks flew down to the floor in a steady stream and the wheel ground off the uneven clumps and chunks of iron left from the cutting. He kept it up, grinding and checking for smoothness and grinding again until he was satisfied. Jack did the same to each end until they were all rounded off and smooth enough for a baby’s toy.
The man carried both pieces the few steps to the old drill press. He selected the appropriate bit and laid the iron beneath it. He turned the wheel to lower the bit until it was firmly centered in the small white chalk circle he had drawn near the end of the iron. He turned on the power and the drill slowly worked its way through the metal, leaving a half-inch hole. He repeated the process in each end, and then in the ends of the shorter piece. He picked up the pieces and returned to the work bench.
Long lines ran from near Jack’s eyes to the square of his jaw. When he smiled his friendly smile, the lines curved up to join the smile on his mouth. There was a collection of spider webs at the outside corner of each eye. When he squinted at the iron all the creases on his face drew up tightly. The deeper his concentration, the deeper the lines.
He turned to the acetylene torch again, going through the same process of preparation. This time the flame was not as hot, and he didn’t wear goggles.
Jack heated a 4" long section of the iron until it was red hot. He quickly removed his goggles and shut off the flame. He picked up the 5 pound ballpeen hammer he had placed at hand earlier, laid the strap across the rounded top of the vise, and began hammering it into an arc. Quickly the iron cooled, the dark angry red fading to rust red. Jack repeated the action of heating the iron, beating it with the hammer, and heating it again. As the iron’s semi-curved form began to emerge, he sometimes stopped and held his hands out in front of himself and look at the shape he made carefully. The fingers of his right hand and the fingers of his left hand met, and thumb to thumb. He seemed to study the empty space between his hands more than the shape itself.
Jack’s hands moved with a habit born of thousands of repetitions. His mind wandered as he worked. He thought about their new preacher at church. The old one had been okay, but he didn’t really understand about farm life. The new one was a farmer, and preached on the side. Jack liked him, felt like he could relate to him, and enjoyed his preaching. He thought the preacher was good with the children too, and that was really important to Jack.
Jack continued the heating and pounding process with the iron until he had 2/3 of a 18" circle with 2" flanges on each end. He pushed the goggles up on his forehead, then held up the semicircle and again examined the space. Then he ran his right index finger around the semi-circle. It was quite smooth and well-rounded. Then he laid the piece down, circled his hands like before, and held them over the work. It was significantly bigger than the space between his palms. He checked the work and nodded his head in satisfaction. He never needed to measure any more. He could eyeball his work to the sixteenth of an inch. He knew the size he needed for this job by heart. Jack knew how his hands went around her neck.
Those hands were strong and powerful, with square fingers. The grime that was part of his work stuck in the lines of his hands. His knuckles were blackened, and the curves and whorls of his fingerprints were fouled with red rust. Jack took pride in his hands. He groomed them very carefully before he went out on a social occasion. He scrubbed them clean with a small brush, and used his wife’s manicure tools to clean underneath his nails and file them. He felt it was important for a man to have decent hands.
The other piece of strap iron, much shorter, went through the same process of rounding, including the flanges on the end. Jack then laid it down in the gap left in the bigger piece. It was a perfect fit, flange to flange.
He pulled off the goggles and slung them back on the oxygen tank, and wound the hoses around the two-wheeled cart that held both gasses. He pushed his cap back on his head, exposing his pale forehead. Like most farmers, Jack was deeply tanned on his arms and lower face. But he always wore a cap so his forehead never saw the sun. When he was dressed up for Sunday church the startling contrast of his lower and upper face matched most of his neighbors in the pews.
Jack grabbed his gloves and went out of the shop and around the corner. His eyes were on the ground along the side of the shop, where a chaotic mixture of long-unused bits of machines littered the ground. He knew exactly what he was looking for and exactly where to find it. He walked directly to an 8' length of chain. It was heavy enough to pull a tractor out of the mud in a wet field. He picked up the end and, dragging the rest through the dust and heat, he returned to the shop.
Humor was an important part of Jack’s life. He was not very good at telling jokes, but being such a good listener also made him a good audience for his friend’s jokes. Whenever he moved a chain, he thought of Bill’s joke about trying to push a chain. Jack has a big grin on his face as he walked into the shade of the shop.
The man placed the larger section of the iron hoop he had created in the vise. Now he reached behind him and flicked the switch that turned on the welder. It was a dark red steel box that began a hard hum. It was 3' tall, 2 ½ ‘ wide and 2' deep. The box was filled with electrical wires, switches, transformers and cables. There were many numbers, dials and switches on the front. It squatted heavily underneath the wooden work bench.
A thick, heavily insulated wire led from the box to a large alligator clamp with cruel teeth. A second, similar wire went to the heavily insulated handle that held the welding rod.
With the dexterity of countless repetitions, Jack slid his hands into a different pair of gloves, more heat resistant than the others. He reached for the frightening, Darth Vader-like welding hood. The 2" by 4" rectangle of glass in the front for the welder to look through was so dark one could only see when actually welding. The hood covered the entire front of his face. Jack tipped the hood back on his head so that he could see to complete his preparations.
Normally this was the time Jack would warn his children, who often came out to the shop to watch him work and hand him tools, to be sure to look away. Watching welding could damage their eyes permanently. But he knew no one else was at the farm right now. They all had plenty of work to do, and that’s where they were.
Snap! The alligator clip dug into the end of the hoop. It completed the electrical circuit. He inserted a welding rod into the welding handle. He grabbed the end of the chain off the floor next to him and laid the end link on the larger section of the hoop. He tapped the welding rod onto the iron and sparks jumped. Satisfied, he moved the rod into the place where the link and the hoop met. He lowered the hood and began welding the two together.
Echoes of intense electrical power reflected jagged white lightning on the dark green hood and black glass. Blue-white sparks jumped; the machine darkly hummed; Jack breathed carefully, not wanting to interrupt his concentration. He stopped, lifted the hood and inspected the work. He adjusted the position of the chain, lowered his hood, and began again. The curly blonde hair that covered his arms waved gently in the small, powerful, electrical storm he directed.
Soon Jack stopped. He examined the bead of welding he had drawn. It was a thing of beauty. The terrible heat of the welding had melted iron to iron through a straight bead covered with soft waves of welding rod. He smiled in satisfaction. He struggled with depression, but work done well like this made him feel more competent and in control.
There were wooden shelves nailed against the wall, filled with nondescript odds and ends. Jack rummaged through them until he found the two things he was looking for. He came back with a strip of foam rubber and black electrical tape. He cut a piece of the foam and fit it to the inside of the hoop, then taped it in place. He did the same on the shorter piece, leaving the flanges bare. He went to his collection of nuts and bolts and came back with two half inch bolts, one inch long, and nuts for each. He put a bolt in the hole he’d drilled in the flanges and finger-tightened it. He did the same on the other side, so that he had a complete circle, heavily padded with foam. Again he held his circled hands directly above it. This time they matched up perfectly. He nodded and a tight smile flickered across his face.
As he worked, Jack’s mind wandered to his family. He knew that his wife and children worried about his depression and that they did their best to please him and remove any causes of worry from him. He remembered the work they did so he wouldn’t have to. It did pain his arthritic shoulders and he was glad he didn’t have to do all the feeding and field work. He loved his family very much and felt blessed to have them. Jack realized he was standing still, not working. He blinked his way back to the present.
In his mind’s eye, the man could see the collar around her neck, and the chain bolted to the post in the center. He knew he didn’t need to put a lock on the collar. Tightened well with wrenches, she would shred her fingers and thumbs on the sharp corners of the bolts trying to get it off, and still fail. The blood would have the added effect of making her fingers slippery, and further thwart her attempts at freedom. So far, so good.
Suddenly his dog, a Border Collie, began barking and running toward the road. Jack looked out and saw a rooster pheasant launch himself into the air well ahead of the dog, who stopped in frustration, or maybe he remembered how hot it was. At any rate, his dog came back to the shade of the shop and walked over next to Jack. Jack gave him an absent-minded pat on the head. The dog, satisfied, wandered to a spot in the shade and laid back down.
Jack thought about pheasant hunting season coming up in a month. All of his wife’s relatives would come, as they did every year. They loved the hunting. Jack didn’t care for it much, but he didn’t mind guiding them. He did like their company. They were a fun bunch, and they always provided more than their share of food and any other needs, so they weren’t a financial burden. There was one guy though, a niece’s husband, who was a menace with a gun. He was careless and dangerous. Jack had always emphasized safety to his children. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt. Farm animals, even pets, had their jobs. They weren’t house pets, whether cats or dogs, and they weren’t coddled. Cats were to keep down vermin on the farm, and they did it well. Dogs were for livestock work and guarding. In a really hard winter, Jack would buy some cat food, while the dog got the scraps from the meals.
Jack went through the same processes to create wrist and ankle shackles. He welded one chain loop to each so that he could bolt on more chain if it suited his purposes. Jack was always careful to pad them well. He didn’t want any cuts or bleeding.
The sun was straight up in the sky now, and heat waves rose from the iron pile. This time he retrieved a cast iron rod about three feet long. He brought it into the shop and stood looking at it for some time as he imagined how to use it for the purpose he had in mind. He seemed to come to a conclusion, and used the torch to cut 6" off. He shaped two more round shackles as he’d done the others. These were slightly bigger than the neck collar. Jack welded one to each end of the 2 ½' rod, then added the padding. A shackle would clamp around each leg just above the knee. In his mind Jack could see how well this would work to hold her legs far apart.
The need for various kinds of penning and sorting livestock equipment had necessitated Jack using his skills regularly. It gave him satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and pride in his creative abilities. He knew that others respected him for what he could do. If his neighbors had been asked, they would have said that Jack was skillful, a hard worker, and a good father and husband. Of course, in this part of the country, he never would have asked, and his neighbors would not have said those things to his face. They were all supposed to “just know” these things about one another.
Jack put bolts and nuts in the holes on all the shackles, hoisted the one with the 2 ½' bar up on one shoulder and the 8' chain from the collar over the other, and grabbed all the other bonds in his hands. He strode off into the sunlight to the barn.
There was a big wooden box he had built, Jack deposited everything in it. He was in a special room he had created in the barn. It had been a large stall in the back of the barn. He had taken out the gate and used ½" plywood backed by 2x4s to make a solid wall there. Jack pushed at the wall and didn’t feel any give. He knew he’d made it well. A farmer had to be a carpenter too, and he’d put his skills to use many times for his family and for neighbors.
Jack was a daydreamer, especially when he was doing something that didn’t require his full attention. He could see the tiny church they attended, and remember that his wife’s birthday was next week. At church, on the week of their birthdays, people put in the same amount of pennies as their age. It went into a container with a metal bottom so the coins pinged when they fell. This was all accompanied by a lot of laughter, since every counted the pings! Jack so enjoyed church. He enjoyed the social aspect, the pastor, the singing, and even serving as congregational president.
The neighbors Jack enjoyed most were Roman Catholics, a think he wife did not care for. She’d been brought up to feel that Catholics were not really Christian, and that their religion was suspect. It was that whole pope and Mary thing. That didn’t bother Jack. He could, and did, get along with almost anyone.
There was a little more inspecting to do, but Jack heard a car pull up. He knew it was his wife, back from town, and she’d have groceries to bring in. He tried to help her out as much as he could, because she had a bad ankle. Broke it years ago. Jack moved off to the house. He always tried to be a good husband and father. He could come back out here and finish up later.
“Here honey, let me give you a hand. How did it go today? Did you get that part for the baler?” Whenever anyone traveled the 20 miles to town, they always checked first to see if there was anything Jack needed for the farm. 20 miles wasn’t a distance to take carelessly. Cost too much in fuel. It was important to be a good provider, and that required a level of frugality.
They both carried in groceries, leaving the baler part outside. Later he would take it to the shop and perform the necessary repairs. “I think I’ll take a break. Do we have some lemonade?” He sat at the table, chatting with Ellen as she finished putting groceries away and he sipped on the lemonade and ate a few cookies.
“I guess I better get back to work,” he told her. “I’ll fix the baler and a few other things. What time is supper?” Ellen told him, and Jack started out the door, but then stopped to say, “Where is Marie? What time will she be home?”
“Softball practice ends at 8:00, so she should be here by 9:00. Do you need her help?”
“Well, I might. I can talk to her at supper time.” Jack went on outside, picking up the baler part as he went, cheerfully whistling the melody of an Andrews Sisters hit, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”
It was 5:00, so he still had 4 hours till supper time. He could make the repair on the baler and still have a couple of hours left to create some electrical systems for the room in the barn.
Jack had five children, 3 girls and 2 boys, ages 15 to 3. He treasured each one of them, except Kathy, the oldest. He was never sure that she was really his daughter, though she certainly looked like his side of the family. In the early years of their marriage, his wife had an affair. He was crushed by that, but somehow they had gotten past it. They were married for 18 years now.
His thoughts turned to Marie. She worked hard, she loved sports, and most of all, she loved pleasing her dad. She had such a kind heart, and really wanted Jack to be happy. At 12 years old, she was focused on him, and would do anything for him.
Sweat beaded on Jack’s forehead and trickled down his face as he finished the baler work in the heat of the late afternoon. He moved into the shade of the shop and sat down on a stool, took the handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped the sweat off his face. He reached for the water bottle he’d brought out and drained it in several large gulps. At least the work he had to do know was not strenuous. He could sit on the stool in the shade and work on the electrical ideas his had.
There were several dead cars in a neat row out back. Jack had salvaged a lot of equipment from them, and that included electrical wiring. Some of it laid in a pile on the floor under the work bench. He picked up a coil of white wire and looked it over closely. There were no bare wires or cuts, so it looked useful.
Jack stripped the ends of the wire so about 2" of bare wire was exposed. He picked a tiny clamp for the project.
Jack had wired his house, this shop, and other buildings on the farm. Cars, trucks and tractors always seemed to have problems with their electrical systems, and he’d trouble-shot and repaired more than he could count. Electricity was no secret to him, but simply one of his many talents.
It was time for a little soldering. Jack rolled the torch over and got some soldering wire from the myriad of nooks and crannies in the shop. No one else could find anything in the shop, but to Jack, this building was home, and each item in it had a story.
There was a windshield wiper motor that had come off a Rambler from the ‘60s. He had a plan for that. There was a starter motor from an old Ford, a fuel pump from an Allis Chalmers tractor, and so much more.
Jack put the little clamp in a smaller vise, and picked up the torch. This time goggles weren’t required. He soldered the electric wire into place against a bolt.
In all, Jack soldered 6 lengths of wire to 6 clamps. Each length was about 8' long. Then he clipped similar lengths of wire to 4 small alligator clips. On the other end of some of these wires he soldered round ends large enough to fit over the terminal posts on a car battery. Others, in pairs, were inserted into a common plug end for a wall socket. These would all serve his purpose well.
With each wire carefully coiled, Jack put them into a cloth bag and walked out of the shop to the barn. He went again to the specially made room and big wooden box. He spun the combination, unlocked the box and looked over the equipment already there. Finally, he placed the cloth bag into the box, clicked the padlock shut, and checked his watch.
It was 9:15, so he left the box and headed for the house. He left the barn and saw his older daughter’s car parked in the yard. Then he heard her voice calling, “Supper time! Supper time!” That was good. She was home.
As Jack, Ellen, Marie, Kathy, and the other 3 children visited over the meal, Jack turned to Marie. “I’ll need your help after supper, out in the barn.”