Lancelot and the Big Bang
by Rick Beck
Lance sat staring out the windshield at the gray wooden structure as Bang got in the car.
Not knowing how else to comfort his friend, Bang asked, "Where to, boss?"
"Back through town."
"Town? There's a town around here? Why didn't you tell me?"
"Very funny. The way we came in. Go that way."
"You were raised here?"
"Yes! I lived my entire life in that house until I went away to school. There and out at Gran's."
"Wow! You lived in one house all your life. Look, I'm sorry about your Grandfather."
"Thanks. You never expect it. I went away two years ago and I expected everything would be like it was when I came home. I wanted you to meet him. He was something," Lance said as they reached the edge of the town.
On the far side of town Lance had him turn onto an even smaller road than the one they had come in on.
"The first memory I ever had was of holding onto him on the back of his tractor as we drove across the cornfield at planting time. I spent all my weekends with him while I was in school here. Helped him on the farm. The last summer before college I lived out there and helped him bring in the crop. I should have known then it wouldn't be long. He was seventy and I did most of the work. I never figured that would be all there is. He'd always been there. I don't have a memory of him not being there."
"I don't know what to say," Bang said.
"You're doing fine. Just let me be for a while and just drive," Lance said. Though Lance looked out the passenger window, Bang saw the tears on his cheek out of the corner of his eye.
The day had turned gray and it was late afternoon; everything seemed bleak as they drove. Lance had Bang stop at the entrance to the driveway. He hopped out and yanked the for-sale sign out of the ground and threw it in the ditch across the road.
Bang maneuvered the Vette around the potholes in the dirt road that led up to a house surrounded by row after row of new corn that was several feet high.
"He planted," Lance said. "I'll harvest for him. It won't go to seed like my old man would have it."
"What if it's sold?"
"It won't be sold. My old man never gave a fuck about my grandfather or this farm. He won't have the final say," Lance said in a mean tone of voice.
"Brenda seemed to think he did."
"Brenda wouldn't ever mount a fight against her brother. She's too nice. He's a prick. Let his sister raise me. Sad son of a bitch. He tries to sell my Gran's farm I'll kill him."
Bang listened to the words. He knew the shock of his grandfather's death was new to him, but the words were as coarse as any he'd heard. He knew only too well how fathers and sons could come to bad ends. It was only the hope that one day his father might relent and ask him to go home with him that kept him civil. He knew that as fathers went, both he and Lance had gotten losers.
There was the tuition and bank account and credit cards, but he figured that wouldn't have changed even if he told his father not to come back. That would have been letting his old man off easy, and if there was one thing Bang wasn't about to do, it was let his father off easy.
Lance opened the house with a key on his ring. Once he stepped into the kitchen, he stopped and touched a horseshoe on the back of the door. He stood looking around the quiet room. It was obvious he was seeing something Bang couldn't see, and he stood respectfully behind him as Lance touched different items and looked at others.
They walked through the bottom floor of the house but never went upstairs. He stopped and looked at pictures in frames on the tables he passed. He stopped in front of a big-framed portrait of an elderly woman. It dominated one wall in the living room and there were smaller pictures of children around it.
"That's Granny. Miss Sally, he called her. She died when I was real young. This is him over here. This was taken when I was ten or eleven. It was when I started taking to the farm and wanted to be out here with him more than over with Brenda. It was just Gran and me in those days."
"That's you?" Bang asked, picking up a picture with a young boy in it.
"Yeah, skinny fuck, huh? I was scrawny back then."
"You were not. You were cute," Bang giggled. "You were always little."
"Shut up! I'm not little. Let's go. We'll come up tomorrow and I'll check the equipment. I'll stop at the hardware and get some new locks in case the old man took Gran's keys."
"Yes sir, boss," Bang said as they walked back through the house.
"I'll keep that sorry son of bitch off here if it kills me… or him. He ain't selling this farm. My Granddaddy would kill him. We've owned this land for five generations. Gran was mighty proud of that history. He loved this land."
"Don't! You don't know. I'll take care of it, that's all. You don't have to stay if you don't want, but I got to do what I got to do."
"Your Gran's dead. You aren't doing it for him," Bang said as he slid into the car and locked eyes with Lance as he sat down.
"I suppose not. I suppose this has been coming all my life. Sooner or later I had to fight him. There isn't any other way. He won't win, Bang. We may both lose in the end, but he won't win."
"I don't doubt it a bit, Lance."
Dinner was ready when they got back to the house. Brenda was delighted and Millie was too. Roy was quiet but he seemed comfortable with all the turmoil going on around his table. Bang had four biscuits with dinner, then asked for another one smothered in butter after he had pushed himself away from the table five minutes before. Brenda laughed at him and jumped up to get him another biscuit.
"That was the best meal I ever had," Bang said, sounding every bit as sincere as he felt.
"Come on, your mother must have cooked for you," Brenda laughed.
"Some. A long time ago. Nothing like this. That roast melted in my mouth. I don't eat beef."
"His people divorced when he was real young," Lance explained. "He was in boarding school until he went to college.
"Oh," Brenda said sadly. "Neither of them took you?"
"Nah, they fought a long time over me. They both wanted the other one to be blessed with their only begotten son."
"Oh my God," Brenda said, raising her fingers up to her mouth as though someone had just shaken her down to her substantial foundation.
She wiped her hands on a blue flowery apron that had replaced the soiled white one she'd had on earlier. She stood and moved over behind Bang after a minute. She put her arms around him and gave him a big hug, holding it and making Bang blush again. The situation felt awkward to him, but he knew he liked the woman. He could feel her kindness oozing out through her comforting arms. He started to think perhaps Lance had had it a little better than he.
"It was a long time ago, Brenda. You better let him go or he'll blush to death. He's not much on affection."
"You going to be around us, you got to get used to being hugged. I hug all my children and if you're around my table for long, they'll be coming your way too. You've been warned. I'm glad you brought my Lan home. He's found a good friend. He was never much on good friends after that Boyd boy went away to school. You never had no friends like that again, Lan. You two were inseparable."
"Well, Bang and I are separable and that's ancient history. I don't know where he went. Who comes back here?"
"You came home," Brenda said.
"Yeah, but I belong here. Craig Boyd never belonged here. He couldn't wait to get out'a here. I knew I wouldn't see him again."
"Isn't he the one taught you soccer?" Roy asked.
"No, I met him playing soccer. He taught me how to drink and he taught me about girls. He had these movies up in his room. I think I was twelve when he let me watch one. I almost puked seeing what chicks and dudes do together."
"Lan, that's enough!" Roy ordered.
"You asked, Roy. Craig was two years older than me. You think he didn't teach me stuff?"
"Could have fooled me," Millie said.
"Shut up, little girl. You don't know anything. You still mooning over Cheater Wilson?"
"I never!" Millie said.
"Oh really. I think I recall you asking me to set you up at the harvest dance before I left."
"He's old," Millie complained.
"He wasn't so old back then."
"I suppose not," Millie said with a twinkle in her eye. "He married Faith Daniels. They got two kids."
"He's my age," Lan said. "I can't imagine having kids. I don't even want to have kids."
"Lan, what a terrible thing to say," Brenda said.
"I don't want kids," Bang said. "I wouldn't want to take the chance I might make someone feel as bad as I felt. I wouldn't want to risk it."
"Yeah, I understand that," Lance said.
"Lance Harris, all the love and devotion we gave to you. That's a terrible thing to say at our table."
"You gave in to him, woman. I wanted to belt him around a little but you wouldn't let me," Roy lamented. "Now he's learned to cuss. Lord knows what else he's learned in the big city."
"More a quiet suburb, Roy," Lance said. "It's got nothing to do with how you raised me, Brenda. I know how lucky I was not to be farmed out somewhere. If it was just you guys then I'd probably want a passel 'a kids. You should have a passel more. Kids know they're loved here. But as much as I appreciate all you've done, it doesn't change the fact my old man never wanted anything to do with me. It doesn't take away that hurt."
"Your father is no good," Roy said. "You're lucky he didn't try to raise you. He'd probably have killed you or you would have starved or worse."
"That's my brother, Roy," Brenda objected.
"Yeah, and you're lucky I didn't hold that against you, woman. The man's no good. Any man leave his own kid to someone else's care isn't worth a bucket of warm spit in my mind."
"He's still my brother and I won't have him talked about in that way."
"You going to see Shelley?" Millie thankfully broke in.
"I suppose. We haven't written. We broke up when I left. I told her not to wait."
"She's living over by Lincoln. I have her number."
"I just got home, Mil. Let me take care of business first. I can see Shelley all summer."
"I'm glad you liked the food, Bang. It's worth all the effort just to hear that. Lord knows these folks don't mention it much."
"Too busy eating, woman. What's to say that I don't say with my fork anyway? How much do you see me leaving on my plate?" Roy said.
"Guilty conscience, Roy," Brenda kidded.
"Not so much as a hankering for that apple pie you baked this morning. The kids going to churn some ice cream?"
"You're kidding," Bang gushed. "Real home made pie and ice cream!"
"Used to be my job, churning the ice cream," Lance said. "That's where I got all the strength in my right arm."
Bang had a second slice of pie and more ice cream after Lance had left the table. It was only Brenda and him as she finished the last of the dinner dishes. Everyone else disappeared into another part of the house and she sat back at the table with Bang.
"Lance has never been too fond of many boys. You must be a fine one," Brenda said with her back turned. "Craig was a fine boy. Lan was heartbroken once he left. I always worried about him being older than Lan, but it never seemed to matter. They were like peas in a pod. Lan stayed over his house many a night. It's good to see he's made another friend like that."
"I don't know about that. I do my best. I'm not used to being close to anyone. We argue as much as anything."
"You brung him home to us. That's all that's important. You know you're welcome as long as you want to stay. I think he needs a friend like you."
"He wants to stay on his grandfather's farm."
"Oh, Lord, that boy has wanted to get into it with my brother since he was ten. I hoped it wouldn't come to this, but I guess I knew it always would. That's the only man I ever wished dead. God forgive me for saying that about my own brother."
"That sounds strange coming from you. You're his sister. Lance sure doesn't think much of him."
"That man has shared his misery ever since Lance's momma died. He's a miserable excuse for a human being. I do love him because he's my blood, but he's no good."
"How is it he got married in the first place?"
"He didn't used to be that way. She got some kind of a blood infection. She was gone before they knew it. He blamed the baby. That little tiny tyke and he blamed him. Never forgave him, and the hostility has just grown the older Lance got. We named him. Man didn't even care to name his own son."
"Isn't the farm half yours? He was your father too."
"He called and said he was selling it. That's all I know. I don't want to start it again with him. It's probably best Lan goes and stays at daddy's, cause I can't let my babies be exposed to that man. I won't stand for it. Lan is good as my own, you understand, but he can't bring his war to my house. I won't allow that. He needs someone like you. Maybe you can reason with him. Get him to let go before someone gets hurt."
"We don't reason much. He just gets mad and I just get mean. The best I can do is give him moral support. From what he said, no one is going to talk him out of this."
"I know. Don't think I haven't thought about it. That's another reason we didn't let him know his grandfather had passed. I was in no hurry to get things stirred up. There was a chance it would all be over before he got back. I guess it wasn't meant to be that easy," Brenda said.
"Isn't there a will or something? He can't just sell something that's in someone else's name. He can't just assume ownership. I know that much. Even if there is no will, you are equal to him as far as dividing up the estate. He can't sell if you don't allow it."
"I don't know. I don't care. I don't want the farm. Lan was the only one took to farming. His daddy couldn't wait to get off that place. Roy tried to help pa a couple of times but he hated it. I couldn't make him do that. Man shouldn't do anything he hates doing. Never! Thank heavens Lan started going out and helping Daddy. He'd have been dead a long time ago if it hadn't been for Lan."
"He feels pretty strong about doing this. I don't think anyone is going to stop him. I'll stay as long as he lets me if you want."
Brenda didn't have an answer for that and Bang went in search of Lance, who was making arrangements for them to have a place to sleep. After they got in bed Bang made the inquiry of Lance.
"Wouldn't your grandfather have a will?"
"I don't know. Grandma might have had one done up. He was mostly a farmer all his life. She took care of most of the paperwork for him."
"You said she died when you were young."
"Yeah, but I remember that part of it."
"Someone had to take care of business all those years after she died."
"I suppose. Brenda and Roy did some of it. Never anything about a will."
"There should be a will. Your father can't sell a piece of land he doesn't have clear title to. Brenda can stop any sale by claiming her rights under the law. At least for the short term. Court could order a sale if there needs to be a distribution of the assets, but that all takes time. Could be a year or more."
"Bang, we're not lawyer people. We pretty much take care of our own. Lawyers don't know what this is about. All they know about is getting some of it for themselves."
"The law's the law. Sometimes lawyers need to set everyone straight. I'm trying to help here."
"Well, don't. Leave us be and we'll sort it out. This isn't any of your affair. Brenda isn't going up against her brother. I know that much. She'll let him do what he wants rather than risk a fight over something neither of them wants."
Bang felt like he was swimming upstream. He knew there were ways to stop Lance's father, but he also knew that if someone was determined enough to have their way and no one mounted an organized opposition to stop them, the more ruthless would get what they wanted, even when they were wrong.
Bang thought that good people, like Lance's Aunt Brenda, were at a distinct disadvantage when they came up against not so good people. The theory that the meek might one day inherit the earth was a fine thought, but there wasn't going to be anything left for them by the time the greedy and the powerful got done with it. The meek would inherit the same dirt they'd always been left to harvest, and little else.
"You sure you're up for this?" Lance asked, taking the box of food out of the back of the Vette. "You don't have to stay."
"Well, I'd do just about anything for some more of Brenda's cooking."
"I ain't Brenda and cooking is hot dogs and hamburgers. I fry a mean egg under the proper circumstances."
"Yeah, I know exactly what that means. That means heartburn and stomach aches and then a trip to Brenda's for real food. That's the only reason I'm hanging around. Don't get the wrong idea."
"Suit yourself. It's two months until the crop comes in. Stick around and I'll show you what work really is. Fifteen hours a day and that's if I can get some hands to help us."
"You seem happy, Lance. I've never seen you seem happy."
"I don't know. No happier than usual."
"No, no. You're downright happy. You're beaming. You like being out here."
"I reckon I do. Lots of fond memories of that old man and me. It was just the two of us most of my life. I'd be way happier if he were here. I guess he was about my best friend in the world until you came along."
"Paul?" Bang asked, watching Lance closely. "That little chubby boy?"
"Craig. His name was Craig. He was good company. Craig taught me how to shoot on goal from the outside. He taught me how to fake and dribble inside. He was a good friend."
"How's your leg?"
"Fine," Lance said, ignoring the pain while forsaking the cane.
"You might be able to fool Brenda, but you can't pull that on me. If you don't take care of it you won't be doing any harvesting. You'll be lucky to be able to stand up in two months."
"Don't worry about it."
Lance grew quiet and tried not to look at Bang, but Bang knew the truth. Along with that happiness came the wincing and the strain on his face when he had to stop to regroup, the pain becoming too much.
"Coffee?" Lance asked, sorting through the boxes that ended up on the kitchen table.
"Yeah, sure, if it's anything like the nectar Brenda fixes."
"Good luck! More like dish water but it's warm and full of caffeine. You sure you don't want to stay over there with them? You can drive out in the morning if you insist on staying. They'll make room for you. Brenda likes lost causes."
"Nah, I didn't come here to spend time with them. I told her I'd take care of you."
"You, take care of me? This is my turf. You might know your way around the university, but I know about farming."
"I don't think that's what she meant. She's worried about you getting in over your head. I'm sure she'd rather you be over there. They are nice people."
"You're rather fond of her kitchen yourself. Never realized how much I missed all that. People I know. I was around a lot of people at school, but I was always alone, you know," Lance said, scooping coffee into the basket of the percolator. "Even the jocks were different up there."
"You sure that thing makes coffee?"
"Yeah, I seen my grandfather do it every morning I was out here. He lived on this stuff."
"I think three or four of those scoops might be enough for that size pot," Bang said with alarm.
"You think so? One more maybe. Don't want weak coffee. Gran hated when the coffee was weak down at the diner."
Bang went to the refrigerator to put the milk inside.
"Jesus! There's stuff growing in here. No one cleaned it out after your grandfather…."
They looked at each other for a few seconds and Bang didn't say anything else. He got the box they brought the food in and loaded it up with the garbage from the fridge.
"Anything that ain't meat we compost at the rear of the first barn. I don't know where the livestock is. We give the pigs that other junk. They'll make short work of that. I didn't see any of the animals. Wonder what's up with that."
Bang cringed thinking that he saw Lance's father's hand in the mystery somewhere. Even the little Bang knew about things that grew in the ground told him that the corn hadn't been planted that long ago. That meant the land was being worked up until his grandfather died. That would indicate his death was relatively sudden and he'd been hard at work up until the end.
They opened up the house and hung out all the bedding on the clotheslines behind it. Lance opened the barn and replaced all the padlocks on the chained equipment with new padlocks he'd bought at the general store. He knew where all the old keys were, but the new keys went on his key ring. He was marking his territory and Bang thought they were in a war that hadn't been declared yet.
After all the minor work was done, Lance started all the machines, pulling several at a time into the space behind the house. The din was incredible once it broke into the silence Bang was beginning to enjoy. The larger machines belched rich black smoke into the clear air. Lance stood admiring them, touching the tires reassuringly like they were living beings. Like he'd seen his grandfather doing in summers past.
"I guess you never forget. I thought that maybe I'd forgotten how to run them. It's like I was never gone, you know?"
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