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  • Writer's pictureBulb Culture Collective

Have a Little Farmhouse in your Soul by Mike Hickman

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

The fingers paused in their rhythmic swaying. Tom’s eyes, aching from the repetitive tick-

tock movement, fixed as best as they could on the woman’s nails – unpainted, chipped,

unselfconscious. He didn’t dare blink, although he had nothing to fear from Eileen. Where

those fingers of hers could take him, however, was quite a different matter.


“And now we need a safe place,” she said. “Somewhere to go when things

get…difficult.”


Tom had downloaded the EMDR handbook from the internet. He’d wanted to know

what he was getting into with this Eye Movement Desensitisation thing. So he’d been

expecting something of this kind; he’d thought about where he might go. Seville, for

example. He could feel at peace there. Blue skies and oranges. And – whatever else you

might expect to find if you truly believed you could escape.


“Somewhere you can return to,” Eileen said, and Tom focused back in on her fingers.

There had been something about the side-to-side swish-swiping that had him thinking back to

a time – perhaps the first time in his life – when he’d been able to lift his eyes up, out, away

from himself and his problems. Fields, he thought. Wheat, he thought. And there were no

more visions of oranges.


Once, Tom had been trusted to thresh and sort. Peter had driven him out to the barn in the

Mule – the same Mule Tom had managed to reverse back through the hedgerow the previous

day whilst it was carrying the water butts back from the poo pots experiment. Peter had

shown him the pedal-powered threshing machine and the grain sorter and he’d said, “I’ll be

back somewhen around four. You fill the bags over there and then, when you’re done, you

sort them. Capiche?” Peter’s favourite word was coupled with his usual snaggle-toothed

smile.


And that was even after Tom had driven the Mule back through a hedge. “Never

driven, huh?” Peter had said, not surprised, not asking the question that others would have

asked, and definitely not judging. “Well, I can’t see you doing much damage out here. No

roundabouts, for starters.” And then three fully-laden water butts had tussled with the laws of

physics, emptying themselves over the man who had so kindly let Tom take the wheel.


But here he was, still with the “capiche?” and the snaggle-toothed smile. And now he

was letting Tom thresh and sort. On his own. Unsupervised, with only the dust motes

catching in the sunlight and the birds in the rafters above him as witness to his endeavours.

Peter wasn’t to know that Tom didn’t have words for most of this. Damn it, Tom hadn’t

given any thought to where wheat even came from before this job. The bread at home on the

estate came from the corner shop, reduced to clear, and was always, always stale.


“Have you got somewhere,” Eileen asked, her fingers still at the three o’clock position.

Tom’s eyes were watering and yet he didn’t blink.


“Yes,” he said.


“Somewhere you feel safe?” she asked.


“Yes.”


And he had always known this, hadn’t he?


Even that was Peter’s doing.


The job itself had come about because of snaggle-toothed Peter. “At a loose end?” he’d asked

that night Tom had been babysitting for him and his wife. “I might be able to wangle

something for you on the farm, if you’re interested?” He hadn’t said that Tom didn’t look the

type to get his hands dirty, even to be out in the great outdoors. He hadn’t commented on

Tom’s essential laziness. Or uselessness. Or anything of the usual kind.


Peter had trusted him, even as Tom had known that he’d realise soon enough. He

would quickly come to understand the kind of person he was dealing with. And then it would

be as it always was; as he’d been told at home it would always be. His kind of help would

never be needed by anyone.


“What can you see?” Eileen asked. A faint scent lingered around her. Something floral. Not

remotely like the farm but still, somehow, helping to take him back there. He hadn’t expected

the sour milk of the dairy or the pungent whiff of the silage. He hadn’t expected the down

and dirty of the poo pots experiment – and hadn’t Peter grinned when he’d explained that

one?


And more than any of that, he hadn’t expected that he could manage six hours at the

threshing machine. With break for lunch, of course. Peter had seen the processed cheese

sandwich Tom had brought with him in the re-used Tesco deli bag and, without even a word,

he’d supplemented the meagre pack-up with a pork pie from his own lunchbox.


“What can you see? Tell me,” Eileen said and she moved her fingers and he tracked

his eyes back onto her eyes. But he didn’t see her. He saw Peter. The man who’d clapped him

on the shoulder when he’d seen the fruits of his day’s work, like that was a thing people did.

The man Tom had lost touch with when he’d gone off to Uni with his rucksack and his

reduced provisions from the corner shop and the promise ringing in his ears that he’d be back

home on the estate as soon as he was rumbled for his laziness and ineptitude. There would be

no more thoughts of him getting above himself. Of trying to get away.


“I see the reason I’m still sitting here,” he told Eileen, “even with everything else

that’s happened.”


And, when Tom closed his eyes later in the session, when he had to retreat to his safe place

and centre himself, he saw the Mule sitting there outside the barn at finishing time. And he

heard Peter offer him the opportunity to take the wheel all the way back to the farm.


“Capiche,” Tom said to himself with a smile. Because he had.


Originally published by Dwelling Literary, 2021


Sometimes Doctor, always writer, Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. Since 2020 he has been published in Agapanthus (Best of the Net nominated), EllipsisZine, the Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, Sledgehammer, and Red Fez.

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