Read an Excerpt from Emily Franklin’s Prizewinning Story, “Qualities of the Modern Farmer”

Forthcoming in AJ XX

The field at night smelled partly like pie baking in the end of summer, scent elbowing its way through the grass alleys, and partly like something dying. The last thing Miller made before testing endless pecan recipes was a dessert: baked damson plums, brown sugar scorched on top, with a heavy slop of cream. He’d scooped the wilted fruit into a chipped mug for his father and brought it upstairs to the side bedroom and stood there bedside with his knuckles burning as they pressed into the mug’s too-small handle.

There was his father, sheets shitty and damp, food in his beard though he hadn’t eaten in days. At the end, Miller had frozen chicken stock in an ice tray and held a cube in his fingertips as his father tried to suckle it. The season was just starting then. Out the window Miller had watched the green nudging him, the nuts whispering to him that this was now his, every last bud on all twenty-nine hundred trees, the largest farm in Walbarger County, everything needing his supervision.

“Who’s there?” Miller asked, getting up from his folding chair. He knew it could be someone or nothing. Around harvest, the pecans seemed their own society, able to communicate with odd twisting sounds, the lazy breeze loping between them, creating conversation that Miller struggled to understand.

No answer. Miller swallowed more Nubit, toyed with the idea of bottling it for retail, creating small armies of snack mixes, liquors, and oils. Hadn’t he dreamed of working a cash register as a kid? He could set up a shop in one of the outbuildings, do it up with curtains and a sign out front, take the farm to the next level with tours and products for shipping. Just as fast as he’d designed the store in his mind and typeset a brochure, he imagined standing up, setting everything down—gun, Nubit, even his coat—and walking away from the place for good, away from the life he’d inherited under duress.

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