Pamela Carter Joern
Pipe Dreams
(Jake, 1947)

When Jake wakes in the morning, he tries to remember why he should get up. There's no
field waiting to be plowed, no irrigation tubes to set. He’s sold the machinery, all but the beet
loader he built with his own hands and the cultivator he not only built but owns a patent for.

“Jake, I got your eggs frying,” Alice yells into him.

He doesn’t like her eggs. She flips them over instead of drizzling bacon grease on them. The
yolks get hard, and he can’t stand a hard-yolked egg. Early on, he thought he might get used
to them, but he never has. Not in ten years of marriage. It’s a little lie between them, and not
the only one.

“Jake,” she calls again.

He sits up. Right where his feet should go, there’s a worn spot in the linoleum straight
through to the backing, the pattern skirting under the bed. He slides his overalls off a nail and
steps into them. Buckling the straps, he looks at himself in the mirror above Grandma’s old
dresser. He spits on his fingers and wets down the few stray hairs that cross his balding
head. He bumps Alice’s green plastic jewel box and topples it over. Folded clumps of waxed
paper spill across the dresser. Alice collects hanks of hair, hers and her sisters’ when they
were kids. The boys’ right after they were born, blond curls soft as duck’s down. As Jake
fumbles to pick them up, he wonders why she’s never cut a hank of his hair and wrapped it
in waxed paper like a mummy shrine.

This is the old Larabee place, where they’re living now. It’s nothing but a house on a
lonesome stretch of ground. No running water. No electricity. Still, they were lucky to find
it, else they would have had to move to town when their lease ran out.

“Jake, your eggs are getting cold,” Alice yells.


Jake leans on the edge of the bed and looks out the window. A field from a neighboring farm
edges the yard. Maybe in the summer it will be full of alfalfa, and he can smell the sticky
purple blossoms. Or maybe corn. If it’s a quiet night and there’s a breeze, maybe he can
hear the cornstalks rustling like his mother's black taffeta dress.
Excerpt: The Plain Sense of Things