Jillian sat at the kitchen table, math homework in front of her, watching the bright green tractor riding up and down the fields. The dark ground behind the tractor stood out in sharp contrast against the winter grey soil of the field, slowly preparing the whole field for the new corn seeds. Half the field was already black as the tractor worked its way back and forth like a typewriter on the field. It wasn’t until the tractor momentarily vanished behind a dilapidated house in the middle of the field that Jillian broke out of her out of her trance. She turned to stare down at the math paper, only to be confronted by swimming numbers and symbols. She sighed deeply, turning her gaze back to the abandoned old house.
“Mom, why do we have that house in the middle of the field anyways?” She turned to the other woman in the kitchen, her hands covered in flour up to the elbows as she kneaded a loaf of bread. Her mother looked up at her startled, broken out of her own trance.
“What was that, Jilly? The old house?” She quickly glanced out the window herself.
“Yeah, why’s it there? None of the other farms have broken down old homes in the field.”
Her mother gave her a sharp glance. “Don’t you have homework to be doing?” she asked. Jillian covered the offensive numbers with her sleeve, hoping to look casual.
“I’m almost done.” she lied. “Come on, there has to be a story here.”
Her mother fixed her with a steely gaze as she shaped the dough into loaves, covering them with a dish towel. “I suppose you have been working hard. You see, that house used to belong to your great grandmother, Jilly, your dad’s Nona. His Poppa made the house for her when they were married, as a wedding gift, but he died when your dad was still young. He was in a terrible car accident, with his daughter and her husband in the back seat. It left Nona to take care of their children and farm herself. And she did it too, though the farm was much smaller back then. She used to pick the corn herself with your Dad strapped to her back, and Uncle Todd and Auntie Eda following behind her with wagons full of corn.”
Jillian looked out at the house with it’s dirty white siding in the field. “So why don’t we still live out there then?” she asked. Her mother shrugged.
“Well, when I married your father, your aunt surprised us both by buying this half of the farm and your uncle built us a home over here. That house was a little small for us all. Nona insisted on staying over there though, said she had no place in a new couple’s home. She stayed out there until one night, a fire started. It didn’t get a chance to do much damage, but Nona was old… She had that cough the rest of her life…”
Jilly’s mom trailed off to silence as she looked out the window. After a few seconds, she seemed to shake it off and continued her story. “Anyway, we talked about just tearing it down a few times, but it’s just hard. It still feels like her when you go inside. So we left it.” Her mother leaned over the counter, tapping the math papers with her finger. “Now back to work. Nona didn’t raise any slackers, and I don’t plan on it either.”
Jillian cut across the cornfields on her way home, backpack weighed down with heavily with books. The tiny corn plants were sprouting all through the field by now, but Jillian had eyes only for home as she trudged along. She passed by the ancient farmhouse, just in time to hear the old structure let out a loud creak. It sent a chill down her spine as she stopped in her tracks, turning to give the old building another look. It let out a second creak under her gaze, with the faint song of chimes in the wind.
A bush had sprouted up in the door well, but the doorknob turned easily as Jillian slipped into inside. Sunlight streamed in through the broken windows, illuminating the small wind chimes that hung from scorched frames. The chill ran back up her back and out her arms as she took in the blackened walls and dusty rugs. Jillian licked her lips nervously, before forcing a smile onto her face.
“Hello Nona,” she said into the empty space, pulling a notebook out of her backpack. “My dad said you used to be pretty good at math. I was wondering if you could help me out.”
A breeze blew through and sent the windchimes dancing again. Feeling a little foolish, Jillian sat down with her notebook on the floor. The numbers were still there, still teasing her with their silly notation. But she almost thought she could see a pattern forming. Maybe with a few tweaks and nudges…
As she worked through the math problems in her notebook, Jillian barely noticed the faint sound of a cough.