FeatureFebruary 24, 2011 at 4:40 am

Fiction Issue Runner–Up: “Crops”

There was a day that year when I couldn’t remember if my father was a Catholic. I was with my older brother near the bridge on the river that separated our end from the North side. The rain had melted away most of the snow but the cold still worked its way into the collar of my jacket. A barge was pulling through and we stood on the bank to watch it pass. The railroads used the bridge and when a boat came through it swung its long metal arms to the side in a low, arcing twist to open up the channel.

“He’s Catholic.” Travis said. “Trust me, he is.” Our father would sometimes go with my mom on Sundays but I never saw him take communion. He liked it better when they did the service in Latin, he said.
After the barge passed the river was still. There were jogging paths along the banks that wound into campus about a mile down but we walked back on the side streets to get to the labs. Travis was like my father and went into molecular biology. After graduate school he came back to do research at the university. The two of them worked on the same project and Travis was living with us while he looked for his own apartment on the other side of town.

When we got back to campus we entered the biology building through the glass doors under Bellman Hall. Most of the researchers had left for the day and a fluorescent hum crept from the ceilings out into the hallways. Travis led the way. My father wasn’t there but I had asked Travis to show me what they were working on. He told me they were studying crops and ways to accelerate the germination process.

Travis was better at explaining these things. When I asked my father about his work he could tell I didn’t really understand. My questions were too simple. His voice dropped softer and more reserved as he would attempt to re–explain himself. He encouraged me to study what I liked though, and I wanted to major in History. When he read my papers he would leave me notes next to my teachers’ comments that said “this is good” or “I learned something new here.”

My father’s office was on the second floor of the building. His desk was covered in small piles of paper with yellow notes on top. A computer sat in the corner but my father preferred to work with the old ones on the fifth floor, Travis said.

“He’s, you know, stubborn like that.” Travis opened the blinds then pulled them closed again. My father had been at the university since the early 80s and was appointed head of his department the year I was born. He won grants for his research and taught a class each semester.

I sat down in the chair opposite his desk as Travis looked through the stacks of paper. The books weighed heavily on the walls around us and the shelves sagged down near the center. “Is dad ever going to retire?” I didn’t mean to ask so directly but I kept my voice steady as I talked. Our father was almost in his sixties and mom had already stopped working.

Travis didn’t answer at first. “He probably can if he wants to, soon. It depends, I guess.” He paused. “But I don’t want him to just yet.”

I looked across the desk at him. “I enjoy working with him,” he said. He was still for a moment, then passed me a stack of papers filled with charts that showeed the progress he and my father made. I asked him to wait for me to read the synopsis before he explained it all to me. I don’t remember everything he told me afterwards, but I remember feeling like we were getting somewhere.

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