The sun had hardly crested behind the barn, but Jacob had already been at his chores for hours. The pigs were fed, chicken eggs collected, and now he turned his attention to the horses. Brushing the creatures was Jacob’s favorite part of the day. There was something soothing in those strokes.
Before he could begin the grooming, the stalls needed cleaning. He shoveled the hay, pitchfork after pitchfork, removing the soiled bedding and making way for new.
Beyond the dry noise of the thrush, he heard a rustling.
“Does this mean that you’ve come to your senses?” Jacob asked, not looking up from his task.
“Dad, come on,” his son said, stepping into the stall.
His dad stabbed a stack of straw angrily with the fork, standing it in place. Crossing his arms against his chest, he looked at his child. Somehow, at some point, he had grown into a man. Jacob tried to see the boy he loved and raised, but more and more, he saw only a stranger.
“No, Bradly, I will not ‘come on’,” he snapped.
“It’s my life, dad. I’ll make my choice whether you want me to or not.”
“It’s not the life that I want for you.”
“That’s not your decision. I’m eighteen now,” Bradly said.
“So, what? You think that makes you a man? You just want to run off and become some kind of action hero.”
“It’s not like that. Yeah, I want to travel the world. But mostly, I want my life to have meaning.”
“And mine doesn’t?” Jacob huffed, offended to his core.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I think it is. You see this farm, all I’ve worked for my entire life, your grandfather’s life, too, and you think it’s meaningless. You don’t see the importance of what we do here. This was my father’s legacy. And it’s my legacy to you. What’s going to happen to this place if you’re off gallivanting around the world? Or if, god forbid, something were to happen to you? You’re my only son.”
Finished mucking the stall, he wanted to grab a bale of hay and begin laying it out. But he knew if he were to try, he would fail in lifting it. The rage and strength had drained from him. This recurring fight zapped his reserves. In light of this, he skipped a step. Turning his back to his son, he went to the horse and began to caress it’s soft fur with a coarse brush.
“It’s the Army. I can’t guarantee that nothing bad will happen. But I can believe that it won’t. But I have to do this. It’s my duty. You want me to be responsible, to protect my home, and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.”
His father said nothing.
“I’ll be back. When I’m done serving. I’ll take care of the farm after I take care of my country. Don’t you see, dad? This farm isn’t your legacy, I am.”
Bradly went to his dad, and put a hand to his shoulder. Jacob shrugged it off and kept his head turned away.
“This conversation is over. I’ve already lost your mother. I won’t lose you , too. I don’t want to hear any more about this.”
“It is over,” Bradly said, stepping back, “because I enlisted yesterday.”
“Then I’ve already lost you.”
“I’m not dead, dad.”
“If you go, then you are to me.”
Bradly turned to leave.
“Fine. Good bye, dad,” he said, sorrowfully.
Jacob didn’t look back as his son left the farm. He wanted to run after him, tell him he loved him no matter his choices. But it was too late, the damage was done. Jacob closed his eyes tight to hold back the tears.
When he opened them again, he was sitting in a room that he didn’t recognize. The walls were colored a lazy pink, and he was stationed in a rocking chair that sat near the lone picture window. Outside, he could see a barn. It resembled his, but wasn’t.
“Jacob?” a woman called.
He looked around for the unfamiliar voice. Scanning the room, he saw a middle aged woman behind him. Her uniform matched the walls.
“Bradly?” Jacob asked, confused.
She bent down besides him, squatting at the knees. She placed a hand on his arm, and looked regretfully into his eyes.
“Are you reliving the fight?” she asked.
He didn’t answer.
“Jacob, try to remember,” she urged.
“Bradly,” Jacob stumbled, recalling fractions of his memory, “he, died.” He said these last words in a state of disbelief, as if recalling a bad dream rather than an actual event.
“That’s right, Jacob. When he was overseas on his second tour.”
“Where am I?” he asked.
“This is your home.”
“The farm is my home,” Jacob protested.
“No, dear. Not for many years now. Jacob, you have Alzheimer’s. Sometimes you forget things. But this is your home.”
“Bradly,” he whispered again.
His heart broke, as he guessed it had many times. As he remembered, it was like experiencing the loss all over again. He couldn’t remember if that fight was the last time he had seen him. He hoped not.
“Jacob, would you like to go to the barn? Brush the horses?” the nurse asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I’d like that very much.”