This version of an earlier story is for the monthly Blog Battle Challenge, with the prompt word of ‘proposal’.
Flynn had inherited the family farm and it had never occurred to him to do anything else. His father had been a hard and harsh taskmaster and he found it difficult to recall any words of praise passing his lips. The most he could hope for was the odd grunting nod and a mumbled ‘Not bad’.
His mother was only slightly better, with hugs disappearing by the time he went to school, followed by a relentless set of tasks when he came home. He understood they were hard years when they were trying to get the land into the condition that it needed to be in for long-term sustainability and there was little time for anything peripheral. And as he grew older he imagined that they thought that leaving him the legacy of the farm was, in the end, the only love that counted.
Breast cancer took his mother in her late forties and five years later he found his father dead from a heart attack while repairing fences on a boundary paddock. Flynn made the necessary arrangements and stood dutifully solemn at both their funerals, accepting condolences, but felt nothing. One day they were alive, the next day they were dead. That’s how life worked.
Women rarely entered Flynn’s mind as he managed his farm, alone, with some occasional hired help. Until one day, when he was collecting his mail from the post office, in strode a statuesque female stranger. The coat and slacks could only belong to a city type and her long red hair hung in waves down her back. Her face contained eyes and a fixed smile that spoke of openness while still conveying concealed steel.
Having collected her mail, she strode out again, unfolded herself into a dusty, dented hatchback and sped off. In the background he could hear fragments from the tongues wagging. ‘ Name’s Kate… new schoolteacher … not married … bit of a tartar in the schoolroom I’ve heard but the kids seem to like her … asked for wine in the pub the other day… drives like a maniac’. This woman had certainly entered Flynn’s mind and he was totally uncertain as to how to deal with that.
Up until then, he’d go into town for the mail and shop at random times, when the opportunity arose between jobs. Now he found himself on schedule to be there, coincidentally, when she came into the post office. She’d started nodding to him, as country people do, but with an odd, crooked smile on her face when she did it.
Kate made the first move. Instead of nodding, she asked him ‘I’ve heard that sometimes you graze animals for fee.’ After a moment, from the side of a barely opened mouth, he said ‘What did you have in mind?’
‘I have an ageing horse that I’d like to have close at hand.’
‘Not sure my fences are high enough to contain a horse.’
‘Oh, her fence jumping days are over. Besides, you could ride her. If you wanted to.’
They pretended to haggle over a fee and then Kate said, ‘I’ll bring her up at the weekend.’
And so it began.
After several weekends, he decided he wanted Kate around all of the time but he had no idea how to start that conversation (or any conversation for that matter) and was terrified that even asking would ruin everything. But he felt compelled in a way that he’d never experienced before. So he decided to write her a letter. He knew it was probably the dumbest idea he’d ever had but it seemed the least dumb of the alternatives he could think of.
Flynn was up early and well gone to his work on the farm, as always. Kate found the envelope on the kitchen table, propped up against the tomato sauce bottle that was already attracting flies in the burgeoning heat of the day. Well, that’s a bit romantic, she thought. Hadn’t picked that up in their limited conversations to date. She put the kettle on and added fresh tea leaves to the pot. They were both old-fashioned in that way.
Sitting down at the Laminex table, she opened the envelope and began to read.
Kate (no Dear she noted)
Talking’s never been something I’ve had much use for and the only way I know what I think about anything is if I write it down.
Unless I’m mistaken, and I don’t think I am, you’d like this occasional weekend thing to become a permanent arrangement. I certainly would but I want you to be clear about what that will mean for our future.
I don’t want to marry you but I do want to spend my life with you. Instead of getting rubber-stamped by the Government or the Church, we’ll have this contract and we’ll have each other’s word that we’ll stick to it. Without that, life together would be pointless. And, besides, nothing about me will ever change. There will be no negotiation.
I’ll work hard all the rest of my life to keep a roof over our heads and put food on the table. You will be responsible for the household. I’d prefer you didn’t work but if you do, the household mustn’t suffer. I want plain traditional food. You can eat whatever your like.
If you want children, that’s fine with me but you will raise them.
If you have visitors or relatives to our house I won’t be interested in talking to them. You and the children will be all the society I need except for necessary business arrangements.
I will never say ‘I love you’. I have no idea what ‘love’ is except people say that there wasn’t much of it around in my house when I was growing up. I guess you can’t miss what you never had.
We will be faithful to each other. I know myself well enough to know that will be true for me for all time. If you are ever unfaithful to me, the contract is ended.
I won’t remember occasions like birthdays and anniversaries and I will ignore all attempts to rope me into Xmas.
You must be thinking, “Where are the good things in this contract?”
You will have financial security as long as you live. The farm produces well and is pretty much drought-proof. If I die before you, I don’t expect you to keep the farm and the place will fetch a good price.
You will have a faithful and respectful partner that barely drinks, doesn’t smoke, is rarely ill and will stay strong for years to come.
You will live in a community that has kept its values and its connections tight and in that sense you’ll never be alone.
And we will sit on the back porch at dusk and look over our land and not have to say how much it means to us. We will know what we’ve done together and that’s enough peace for anyone.
So, if that’s a contract you can live with for the rest of your life and never reproach me or yourself for the choices you have freely made, let me know next weekend.
Kate put down the letter, made herself a pot of tea, took it out to the back veranda and sat in her favorite cane chair, gazing at the landscape that could be hers forever.
As she sipped her tea, she mulled over what he’d written, let the landscape in to her mind until the horizon was clear, and mapped out how she would provide her answer.
She returned to the kitchen, poured a second cup of tea, sat at the table and began to write her response to what she imagined counted as a proposal out here. She didn’t bother with a salutation; who else would she be writing too?
I’ve heard people say that honesty can be a weapon. However, in your case I think you’re using it as insurance or, at the very least, assurance that I won’t try to change you.
Life doesn’t work like that. No matter how we isolate ourselves, the world will have its way and we have to deal with the consequences. Even for people like you who don’t follow the news, either the grapevine or the bank will tell them when there’s no longer a market for what they grow or what stock they raise; at least not at a price that they can live on.
You talk about the farm being drought-proof but you know such a thing has long gone and last year was the driest on record. In that sense, I’m not assured by your promise to keep a roof over our heads and provide well for me and any children we may have. To be blunt, that’s the sort of promise I’d expect from a townie, not a farmer.
Like you, I can take or leave marriage. The fact that you want to spend the rest of your life with me fills me with peace and hope. But I won’t have a life without love from my partner and promising to be faithful entirely misses the point.
At the very least, I would expect you to look me in the eye and tell me you love me enough to want to spend the rest of your life with me and promise to let me know if that ever changes.
But here’s the real rub. We (as distinct from me alone) need to decide if we’re going to have children. Don’t worry, I’m perfectly happy to take on the traditional mothering roles but I’m not going to let the cold distance of child-rearing that you inherited from your father and grandfather enter my bloodline.
How you are with others is fine with me. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m not much different. Besides, think of the money we’ll save on presents. But we will talk, especially about the important things and we will talk about them at the time it’s needed, not when it’s too late.
I’m all for meaningful silences but, when they end, I want to know what they mean.
I want this life. Since the beginning I’ve felt I’m coming home when I come here and I feel lost when I’m not. I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, provided you are prepared to accept what I’ve asked for. If that’s too much then it says a lot about our chances of survival.
I believe you are the strongest and most honest man I have ever met and that you have finally met the woman that you need to survive what’s coming.
You can give me your answer when I come next weekend.
And now here Flynn was, sitting on his veranda, waiting for her.
Kate’s traveling car wreck pulled up at the veranda. She emerged, climbed the steps and sat in his Mum’s rocking chair and waited.
‘Not sure where to start’, he said.
She offered no help.
‘I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you’ he blurted, as if fearful that if he didn’t get it out quickly his words would be strangled at birth.
Silence from Kate.
‘I negotiate every day, so I don’t know why I said that I wouldn’t.’
Again, silence from Kate.
‘But there’s one thing. I don’t want kids.’
Flynn’s face froze as he waited for the expected eruption.
Kate laughed and said ‘Thank God for that! The alarm on my biological clock has been driving me nuts but I was prepared to turn it off for you. Confession time. I spend all day with children and the thought of coming home for more was filling me with dread.’
They watched a pair of kookaburras land in the giant redgum that dominated the front yard.
Kate’s voice softened and she said, ‘That’s enough meaningful for one day. Let’s get deep.’
They didn’t make it to the bedroom.