Lancelot and the Big Bang
by Rick Beck
Later that day Bang held onto Lance as they bounced across one of the fields on a Farmall Tractor. Bang had read the insignia before endangering his life by getting on the back of it with a dangerous boy driving. He was grateful when they lurched to a stop and Lance slid onto the ground at the edge of the biggest section of the corn field.
"Smell it," Lance said, inhaling deeply with his hands on his hips.
"Smell what?" Bang asked.
Lance squatted between the furrows, grabbed a hand full of soil and stuck his nose down on it, inhaling deeply one more time. "It's the best smell in the world. God I've missed this. Isn't this great?"
"Soil! This soil! There is no smell like it. There's nothing like being on the land."
There was a reverence to the words. Bang didn't get it. He sniffed and smelled an odor he might associate with manure but he didn't dare say that for fear of violating some sacred trust with the dirt they stood on. There were some things he thought, it might be best not to understand. Lance's reaction told him that this was important, this bonding with the land. Bang reached for his aching back and watched Lance survey every corner of the field.
He wanted to tell Lance that he'd walk back to the house, but once again he thought it might cause trouble. Instead he climbed back on the tractor. It resumed twisting and undulating as they drove up and down the fields, stopping from time to time to smell and to see.
As they meandered back toward the house, a lone figure appeared on the horizon and got bigger as they drove. It was a frail looking black man on a mule. Bang thought he looked too frail to sit up there, but with bare feet and bib overalls, he sat like he was born there, maybe a hundred years ago.
Lance brought the tractor to a halt as he got within a few yards of the stranger. He turned off the rattling engine and the silence took over. There wasn't a sound save the snorting of the black beast that came right up to the machine.
"Mr. Lan!" the crusty old voice said in a long and slow announcement.
"Mr. Rivers," Lance said with deep affection in his voice. He slid off the tractor seat, and then reached for the man's long slender hand.
"Most sorry about your granddaddy's passing. I'll miss that old man."
"Me too, Mr. Rivers. How are you?"
"Tolerable. Rheumatiz is acting up a mite. Fine otherwise, thank you. I figured you'd show up sooner or later."
"Yep! No one else ever came out here. Not until just recent."
The old man seemed to sway ever so slightly with whatever thought that brought to mind. He listed to one side before spitting up a huge gob of dark liquid, then regained traction and righted himself. He leaned forward, placing his hand fondly on the animal's neck.
"Yep! Didn't bother to come to his own father's funeral. You'd figure he'd be too ashamed to come up here. Not that one."
"I guess he'll be back."
"Yep! He smells money he will be. I got the pigs and the milk cows. Rounded up the roosters and the hens all followed after a spell. I been takin' care with them along with the rest. I'll be brining them along directly if you like. I 'spect you be here to stay now?"
"Yeah, sure. No hurry. I'm just settling in. How's the Mrs.?"
"Tolerable when she ain't on me about something or other. I'm a handful. Can you believe anyone'd put up with me for over fifty years?"
"I can," Lance said with that reverent sound in his voice again.
"Your granddaddy harvested for me last year. I was stove up with some kind of flu bug. I didn't think I was going to make it there for a spell but us old buzzards seem to have more life than we're entitled to. Helped him plant in the spring. I could see him failin', Mr. Lan. I would have done it all if he hadn't been so ornery about the idea. He worked this land until he dropped on it."
"Yeah, he would. He told me he would. He told me he didn't want to live if he couldn't dip his hands in the soil every day."
"I found him face down over yonder beyond the barn. I came for coffee each morning. Saw to it he was caught up with his chores. Called his daughter Brenda. They had the doc and the ambulance out before she got here. I understand he died later that night. That was it."
"You were his best friend," Lance said.
"There's a way about life," the old man said, seeming uneasy about what he was about to say. "There are seasons for us. We gets our time in the sun. We gets to make the most of it and then our season ends. I never knew a better man. Never had a better friend. Could hardly ask for no more 'an that. You let him rest now. He did his work here and now he's a plantin' for the Lord. I reckon I'll be beside him again afore long. I knows he'll be a smilin' down on you. Welcome home, Mr. Lan. Welcome home."
"Thanks! I know he thought a lot of you, Mr. Rivers."
"Not an iota ah what he felt for you. He loved you best. You kept him goin' after his Miss Sally died, your grandma. He'd a done dried up and blowed away you hadn't been around."
"I guess," Lance said, growing uncomfortable too. "Maybe he would still be here if I hadn't gone off to school. I missed that time we could have shared."
"Mr. Lan, we can't undo what's done. No sense in iffen too much. What is is and that's all there is."
"Yeah," Lance said pensively.
"Well, I'll just mosey back over to my place. Saw your smoke. Figured it be you. I been waiting for you to come home. Good you're back. Good to see someone that cares for this here ground back on it."
With a single nudge of Mr. River's knees, the mule made a U-turn and rocked and rolled through the furrows as they ambled off into the setting sun.
"Right out of Grapes of Wrath," Bang said. "I feel like I'm in a time warp. There aren't really people like that still left."
"What?" Lance said.
"Never mind. I've got to write all this down. No one would believe any of it."
"What the hell are you running off about?"
"Nothing! Nothing! You go on. I'm going to rest my ass some. I can see the house. I'll be fine. Why don't you whip something up for dinner? I'll be there in half an hour or so. My rheumatiz seems to be kicking up on me."
"Right! You got rheumatism between your ears," Lance said, hoisting himself back onto the tractor seat. "I'll see you when you get there. I'll leave the light on for you."
It was the middle of the first night and Bang found himself standing in the doorway of Lance's bedroom.
"Hey, Lance! Wake up, will you?"
"What the fuck for? I'm sleeping here, asshole. Go to bed."
"Yeah, well, I ain't sleeping there. I need to know someone else is in the world with me. I lived alone for most of a year before you butted into my life. Now, I can't sleep without someone snoring up a storm."
"I don't snore!"
"Bet me you don't. That bed's a brick. I don't take up much room."
"Okay! Okay! You bring your own pillows. I got these covered, and shut up. It's late."
Bang brought the pillows from the other bed and scooted in beside Lance.
"Man, this is soft. You been holding out on me, dude. No wonder you were sleeping so sound. That thing is made out of rocks," Bang said.
"Shut up and go to sleep, asshole. I was just enjoying this. I should have known it was too good to be true," Lance grumbled, hugging one of his pillows and rolling over to go back to sleep.
It was on the third morning while Lance was pouring the first cups of coffee when they heard the car coming up the driveway toward the house. Bang couldn't believe that he could hear something so clearly breaking into the silence.
"Brenda, probably bringing you biscuits. She loves it when someone brags on her cooking. You've made a friend for life. She starts worrying once any of us gets out of sight," Lance said.
Lance stepped out on the back porch expecting to see Brenda. He folded his arms across his chest and stared down at the new white Acura. The person in the car stared back up at him and that's the way it was when Bang came out.
"She bring biscuits?" Bang asked.
"Fucker's got a brand new car. He's never had a new car since back as far as I can remember. Owes everyone in town and don't have two dimes to rub together and he's got a new car."
"My old man," Lance drew out the stern words and he never broke the stare. "Behind the door. Hand me the rifle."
"What?" Bang yelped. "No way, no how. You're nuts."
"Damn it! I'll get it myself if you won't help."
"Get it," Bang suggested. "I don't do guns. I don't do violence."
Lance kept one foot on the porch while bringing out the Winchester 30/30 he'd propped up behind the door with this meeting in mind. He stood back in the middle of the porch and chambered a round to make sure there was a round ready. One shell spun out into the air and clanged down each of the stairs until it came to rest on the last step. The man stood up out of the car and leaned on the door, staring up at his armed and dangerous looking son.
"Welcome home, son. You've grown a mite. I see you're your usual hospitable self. Brenda filled your head with more nonsense about me?"
The voice was like too-sweet liquor and it made Bang nauseated. He wasn't sure if it was the man or the situation. What he was sure of was he didn't want to be in the middle of whatever this was, but found he couldn't leave Lance's elbow in spite of knowing that it would be the smart thing to do.
"Brenda has nothing to do with this. I'm home now. I aim to work the farm."
"I should have known it was you when I found the for-sale sign in the ditch. I guess there is no sense in putting it back up."
"Won't stay up. I'm here now. I aim to stay."
"Nope. I aim to stay right here."
"You are misguided. I own this land and I'm selling it as soon as it's official."
"She'll get a share minus my expenses once I make the arrangements. It'll all be legal. Then you can point your gun at the law when they come to take you off here. I won't fight you. I don't want to hurt you. Our battle ended ages ago. You don't even exist."
"You couldn't hurt me on your best day," Lance spat. "I'm not a little boy any more."
"Yeah, well, when they haul your ass out of here, you'll be hurt. I'll be here; you want to test me. You may as well clear off right now. Save us all a lot of trouble. I'm his son, you ain't. The laws the law. The farm belongs to me."
"You were never his son once you left here. I was the one that worked the farm with him."
"You were a little boy. You didn't work anything. He put up with you because he felt sorry for you. He put up with you to piss me off is all."
"Why did that piss you off? You didn't want anyone raising me? You sure as hell didn't want me. You wanted me dead."
"Not much to want as far as I'm concerned. You'll never change. You were trouble when you came into this world, you're trouble now, and you'll be trouble when you're on your way to hell."
"Your God going to wreak vengeance upon me, father? Is that your wish for your only begotten son."
"God'll damn you to hell. You've been heading in that direction since the day you was born. I got nothing to do with it."
"I didn't kill her. She died of a blood infection," Lance said, sounding almost reasonable for a minute. "That's what killed her. Don't you think I might have missed out on something when she died, father? I wasn't the one impregnated her. None of it was my idea. You did that. You got her pregnant and that killed her."
"You shut up. I know what you did. I know what you are."
Their words were filled with the past and the viciousness that had grown up between them. Bang didn't care much about many people, especially about his parents, but he didn't hate anyone the way these two hated each other. He just wanted to escape and leave it well behind him. If he hadn't been worried about Lance he'd have been gone already. Being gone began to sound good to him.
"Mr. Lan, brung your pigs along. Mr. Harris," Rivers said, nodding at the man next to the car.
It was a severe nod, not at all friendly. Rivers looked up at Lance and down at the gun. He stayed next to the porch and said no more.
"Rivers. I figured you to be dead by now. You was an old man when I was little."
"You'd a knowed if you'd bothered with your daddy's funeral," Rivers said in a cold soft voice before unloading a mouth full of brown liquid that landed a few feet from the car door.
"There was no love lost between me and my old man. He was dead. I didn't see no need to rush to see his corpse."
"Respect," Rivers snapped. "Plain simple common respect."
"Too late for that."
"I s'pose. Shootin' rats this morning, Mr. Lan?" Rivers asked.
"Not yet, but I got a big fat two legged one in my sights. No one'd fault me for killing this rat."
"Some rats needs killin' more an others. That rat's been a hankerin' to get himself kilt for long as I can remember."
River's words were curses that covered even more history than Lance knew. All the kind and gentle people Bang had met when he got there all soured when the subject of Lance's father came up. Bang looked at the man to see if he found horns or something evil, but he looked like an ordinary man.
"The will is probate next week. I'll turn it over to a real-estate broker after that. The will dates back to before momma died. The old man never paid no mind to details like that. Brenda won't fight me and you don't get no say. See you in court, son. Nice seeing you again. Give my sister my love for me. Haven't had time to get out her way in a spell."
Lance ratcheted the Winchester and it belched out another cartridge as he stared at the ejection point. He raised the rifle up across his chest, his finger on the trigger and his other hand up on the barrel. His steady stare made Bang's blood run cold.
"I'm leaving! I'm leaving! Enjoy it while you can. Sheriff'll be along by and by to run you off here. That's all I wanted to say."
He eased himself back into the car with a big smile on his face. He pulled up to Rivers' mule carefully before he made a three point turn, tipping his hat at Rivers when their eyes met.
"Someone should have shot that fella a long time ago. Now I'm afraid he's won. Hard to believe that sack of shit came from your granddaddy's loins. Nothing similar about them two. You, you're just like your grandfather. Not that one. No siree."
"Coffee, Rivers?" Lance said casually as though he'd just stepped outside for a breath of air. He relaxed the rifle down to his leg as he turned to go back in the house.
"Don't mind if I do," Rivers said, hugging the mule's head to his chest. "I'll be right back, Cadillac. You stand easy. I'll bring you a lump a sugar."
Bang shook his head and chuckled as he followed Lance back into the house. Lance leaned the 30/30 back where he got it from. He went about making sure everyone had fresh coffee. There was no sign of emotional upheaval from the confrontation with his father. Bang expected more emotion than that from the meeting.
"I'll go get the pickup later. I'll pick up the rest of the livestock so you won't need to bother with so many trips, Rivers."
"No bother, Mr. Lan. More an glad to do it. I figured I'd give you a few days to get the place back in order. Your granddaddy bought a horse from me this past fall. Spindle's his name. I think he meant you to have him when you came home this summer."
"Really," Lance said excitedly. "I got me a horse, Bang."
"Yes, sir, that be my understanding. I got Jezebel over there. I'll bring her by so's both you boys can ride 'til you got to get off here. I'll keep Spindle after that 'til you gots a new place if you like."
"Why do you ride that mule if you've got good horse flesh over there?" Lance asked.
"Cadillac? I can't go nowhere without Cadillac. He's my partner. I ain't a horse man. Never was. Never will be. Kept 'em for the kids. Rented 'em out during the hard years. No, they're farm animals. Cadillac, we're one and the same, Mr. Lan. Never go nowhere without him."
"I guess not," Lance said. "I think I'd rather ride a horse. I had a pony once."
"Dandy," Rivers said.
"Yeah, you remember her."
"I told your granddaddy about her when you was seven. He wanted her for you right off. Died that cold winter back a spell. Nice pony. Miss Sally died shortly after that. That be a bad year as I recall."
"I was nine the winter she died. Pneumonia they said. Said there was nothing they could do. I always wanted another one."
"Give me a Vette," Bang said. "That's my style."
"Better get some good out of 'em while you can. I s'pect you won't have much time to enjoy it. Your old man lurking around and all. He just be waitin' to lick his daddy's bones. Damn shame. Your granddaddy would never hold with him selling this place. Damn shame you can't have it."
"You never been horseback riding?" Lance asked, pretending not to hear Rivers.
"I saw a movie with a horse in it once."
"It's the greatest. You'll love it."
"My concept of love never included a horse," Bang complained.
"You haven't lived."
"You telling me," Bang said. "I'm a flatlander. Soles of my shoes meets the pavement kind of a guy, up until I became a 'Vette owner."
"I thought it was your father's 'Vette?" Lance said.
"I've been pretty hard on my old man. I think the least I can do is accept the 'Vette as a token reconciliation. I don't want to be so tough on him. We're both adults, you know."
"The gas cards and the credit cards?"
"A 'Vette owner should have the proper backup so as not to abuse the car. I think you'd agree it requires regular maintenance and special care a college student couldn't possibly afford. I guess I've got to hold on to them for the sake of the car. Show it the proper respect. My father would want it that way."
"Of course!" Lance said.
"He a rich un?" Rivers asked while eyeballing Bang.
"Yeah!" Lance said.
"My father's got all the money," Bang said. "I got a big brain."
"Size isn't everything," Lance quipped.
"If you're a horse it is," Bang said.
"How big dat be?" Rivers asked between sips of coffee, studying Bang's head.
"Too big," Lance said.
"Not big enough," Bang said.
"You boys gots me all confused," Rivers said.
"Now you know how I feel most of the time," Lance said.
"A gun! Where did that come from?" Bang asked. "There's no love lost between me and my old man, but pulling a gun on him seems extreme to me. You're off the wall, dude."
"Gran kept it in the closet for varmints. I got it out right after we got here. I figured that varmint would show up if he got wind I was out here."
"That's a hell of a way to talk about your father," Bang objected.
"Don't!" Lance said. "You don't know my father. I don't know my father."
"You got to critique my old man and yours didn't seem all that bad. A bit rude, but he's your father. They all do rude real well. He's got the law with him and he knows it, too. I wouldn't pull that gun when the sheriff comes up here."
"You don't know, Bang, so just shut up. I been here every summer up until I went away to college. I was here most weekends since I was five or six. He never once came out here. Hell, he only showed up at Brenda's twice that I can remember. Both times there was a fight. He never gave Brenda any money for me. Roy was always ragging on him about that."
"And he lives in this tiny town? I thought they run people like that off?"
"They do. He moved over by Lincoln. About an hour from here."
"He's your father, Lance."
"He weren't never no father. He be first cousin to a skunk, you ask me," Rivers said, sipping his coffee and obviously siding with Lance. "Gave your granddaddy nothin' but grief after Miss Sally died. Insisted she left him something. Man didn't even take care of his own son. He ain't no man, only a no account don't take care of his own."
"A gun. Give me a break. You wouldn't have shot him," Bang reasoned, hoping he was right about Lance.
"No I would never have shot him, but if we got close enough I'd kill him with my bare hands. The gun was to keep us from getting that close. He might be a skunk, but he isn't a fool. He knew better than to cross me on this. He may have the law on his side, but he knows I'm right. I've got as much right to this place as he does. I worked it. I lived here part of every year as far back as I can remember. He never did a damn thing for his parents, but steal stuff from them."
"He is the son. You are the grandson. I think that puts him at the top of the food chain no matter the history. Brenda is the only one that might be able to stop him from selling it. At least until you harvest. I don't know how the law works in Nebraska, but it's only logical that a harvest in the field is an important commodity in proceedings out here. I'm sure you can make a case on the harvest alone, especially if he owes money against it. Borrowed to get it planted. Owes on the machinery."
"He be sho 'nough sending the sheriff by if he thinks that be gettin' Mr. Lan off here. Missy Brenda ain't gonna go against her brother. She don't gots no interest in this old place. Never has."
"She might hold up a sale until I can harvest if I asked her."
"Probably the sheriff can't do anything until the will is read. Once it's official they'll probably give you thirty days to get off because you are living here," Bang said. "Law's different in different places."
"I've always used Brenda's address."
"We'll go to where ever you have to go to get this listed as your address. That would give you some consideration. It could buy enough time for you to do what you've got to do before we head back to school."
"I want to bring in Gran's corn. He planted it. I want to harvest it. After that I guess he can have it. I won't even shoot him if that makes you happy, even if I'd enjoy it."
"Makes me extremely happy. When is the harvest?" Bang asked.
"Harvest? August would be the earliest. Depends on a lot of stuff."
"I can't be staying here the rest of my life, you know."
"Never thought you were. I thought you were heading for the Northwest? I'm surprised you're still here."
"Yeah, I'm in no hurry. School doesn't start until September. I'll register on-line. I've got my courses all picked out. Maybe I should consider something in horticulture."
"Thanks Bang. I can use the company. I've never been out here alone."
"Can't leave a friend in need. Besides, I've always liked popcorn. Never had any fresh. Is there such a thing as popcorn ice cream? I bet that would be good."
"It's not that kind of corn."
"I gots to be getting' back, Mr. Lan. Just brung you over them pigs. I'll be going back for them horses. Won't take long. You get your pigs settled in and I'll be back in a spell."
Rivers left and went back across the field toward his place, while Lance and Bang stood on the back porch finishing their coffee.
"We'll go get those pigs settled in. You want to help?"
"Sure. I always liked pigs in a blanket. Do you give them pillows too? I do enjoy my bacon. I guess I best not mention that in front of the pigs, huh?"
"You're a piece of work, Phillips. You're going to stand in the opening while I run them into the pen. If they stop, kick them in the flanks. They'll get moving again," Lance advised.
"Kick them. Won't that bruise the bacon?"
"You let them knock you down and you'll be bruised. Just act like you're in charge. They won't know the difference," Lance said.
"I can do that," Bang said. "Come on pigs. Get in there. You here. Yeah, I'm in charge," Bang said following Lance.
Lance walked away shaking his head as Bang practiced being in charge.
After setting up several fence posts and putting the cross sections back in place, they drove the pigs into the pig pen. By the time they were finishing their next cup of coffee, Rivers was back with the two horses walking behind him as he sat on Cadillac.
"Fine looking horses, Rivers," Lance said.
"I don't fool around with no nags. These are good horses. I bargained for 'em when old man Logan died. Your granddaddy said to pick up spindle if the price was right. It was. Jezebel was always a cupcake. Nice riding horse for kids."
"Just what Bang needs. A starter horse," Lance said.
"You want I should be givin' Mr. Bang a hand while I's here? He might should have a lesson. I gots the saddles on. Figured on them needing some airing out."
"Yeah, come on, Bang. We'll get you up in the saddle. You can ride around behind the house to get your posterior adjusted to saddle leather."
It took a bit of doing, but they finally got Bang in the saddle after making him familiar with all the gear. Lance suggested a trip into town for cowboy boots. Bang thought it would be a good idea because his sneakers didn't feel all that sturdy against the stirrups.
"Where's the accelerator?" Bang asked after Lance walked Jezebel away from the porch.
"You just have to lean whatever way you want her to go," Lance explained. "Give a squeeze with your legs and say come on.".
"You need to be a usin' your knees," Rivers said. "Then be a leanin' forward. Your body does most of the talkin'."
Bang leaned tentatively forward and then turned his knees in just behind the horse's shoulders. She immediately started to walk forward without him telling her a thing.
"Okay! Take it a little easy now. Not too fast," Bang coaxed the horse.
"You ride like you drive," Lance said.
"Where's the brakes? Where's the brakes?" Bang yelled, excited as the horse veered away from the fence to walk toward the barn.
"The reins. Use that oversized brain of yours," Lance said, and Bang pulled up hard on the reins and the horse abruptly stopped. Even at a walk Bang nearly sailed over Jezebel's head. He grabbed her neck to stay on board.
"Damn, that's high performance brakes, all right," Bang said, straightening out the red baseball cap he'd bought near the Gateway Arch on their way west.
Rivers headed on home, and Lance spent half an hour teaching Bang the finer points about sitting on top of a horse and staying there. Bang couldn't wait to get back on the ground again, but he did have a feeling of accomplishment once Lance let him get down.
"Not bad for a first lesson. I figured you'd be loose as a goose on a horse."
"Loose as a goose?"
"Yeah, herky jerky. Spastic like you are with stuff."
"Thank you, Mr. Perfect. I appreciate your endorsement."
"Don't start. I wasn't trying to insult you, Bang. You know how you are?"
"Oh, well, that makes me feel better. You are going to let me know when you are trying to insult me so I can get even, aren't you?"
"You take everything way too seriously. You need to get over yourself. I'm only trying to help you."
"That certainly is nice of you."
"Let's get another cup of coffee. We've got a lot to do," Lance said.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]