"Once, on a large farm ten miles from the nearest town, lived a hard-working farmer with his wife, their three little girls, and his children from a former marriage, two boys aged eleven and twelve."It begins like a fairy tale, complete with a stepmother, princess-like half sisters, and two motherless boys. When Elizabeth Bishop adds in oppressive cold and a full moon, the tale quickly turns dark and foreboding. Since their father and the hired man (who usually sleeps in the barn) have gone to town, Cato and Emerson must take his place in the barn and guard against vandals. Cato decides it's a "night for the crumbs" and hides four slices of bread under his sweater during dinner. On the way to the barn, he leaves his trail of crumbs.
"Outside it was almost as bright as day. The macadam road looked very gray and rang under their feet, that immediately grew numb with the cold. The cold stuck quickly to the little hairs in their nostrils, that felt painfully stuffed with icy straws. But if they tried to warm their noses against the clumsy lapels of their mackinaws, the freezing moisture felt even worse, and they gave it up and merely pointed out their breath to each other as it whitened and then vanished. The moon was behind them. Cato looked over his shoulder and saw how the tin roof of the farmhouse shone, bluish, and how, above it, the stars looked blue, too, blue or yellow, and very small; you could hardly see most of them."Inside the barn, the boys are cold and scared. Judd's blankets are nowhere to be found and the farm implements look malevolent in the moonlight. They long to follow their breadcrumb trail home before sunrise. Unsurprisingly, the story ends in tragedy. It is a peaceful tragedy, one that I was not expecting.
Bishop's writing is very visual, allowing the reader to "see" every detail as the story unfolds. Although Elizabeth Bishop is best known for her poetry, I am happy to discover her short stories.
I read "The Farmer's Children"in The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. It also appeared in Harper's Bazaar in 1949. Unfortunately, I could not find the story on the internet.
Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.