Alice dipped an arthritic hand into the enamelware pail and dusted the ground with milled corn and wheat as hens pecked at her feet. Her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother used this same pail to feed the heirloom chickens that surrounded her. Roger, the rooster, strutted circles around the small yard outside the tool shed turned chicken coop, his head jutting forward with each step like a herky-jerky interpretive dance. Exhaustion washed over Alice, added weight to her arms, pulled at her eyelids, and drew her attention toward the large farmhouse. Home. On this small scrap of Iowa land, she’d created her own nest over thirty years after inheriting the rundown homestead from her maternal aunt, Vera, after cancer had stolen her life. The exhaustion was a daily battle. Her aging body couldn’t keep up with her chores and her projects. She ached for a nap even at sunrise.
This plot had sustained and provided for her simple life. Vera had been quite a packrat and packed all of the outbuildings, attic, and basement with old washbasins, furniture, and other junk. In recent years, Alice supplemented her meager income by dusting off all the old junk and selling it as vintage or mid century modern or whatever the trending Instagram hashtag was that week. She also leased the majority of her fields to the local seed company. Granum paid a tidy sum to plant the fields with test crops and provided all the feed for the animals. Semi-retirement just kept getting easier.
Alice set the pail down on the stoop leading into the farmhouse. The wraparound screen porch had become her workshop. Last week she stripped and refinished an oak table that she hired a couple of boys to drag out of the attic. She restored it to the same glory as when it was delivered to this homestead a century ago by Amish men in a wagon. Over the weekend, she sold the table to a West Des Moines doctor to put in his conference room.
The wraparound porch was lined with filing cabinets and tall tool chests with pull out drawers and rows of galvanized buckets brimming with every type of nut and bolt and random piece of scrap metal. They were her clay, her paints, her paint brushes. She used them to create her art. Her last piece was a giant labor of love, she was looking forward to a smaller project that didn’t require ladders or large equipment. But she was still looking for that spark that made her light the acetylene torch and start creating. Every impetus of inspiration began with the simplicity of sorting materials. She picked a galvanized bucket of metal scraps collected from a fire truck that served New York City during the city’s darkest days in 2001.
She held up a piece of brass to the morning light filtering in through the screened in porch. Five inch circle of brass with screw fittings. Maybe held a fire hose. Pulled it onto her wrist like a bracelet. The bucket held at least ten more of these brass rings. A flutter of energy rose from her belly and into the mind. She moved the bucket of brass onto the stoop next to the chicken feeding bucket.
The day was still young, but her knees weren’t and Alice settled onto the porch swing. From this vantage point she could see the land sloping toward the Possum River and flanking Blue-winged Teal Wildlife Management Area. Over the tops of the cottonwoods that flourished in the floodplain a grey water tower perched atop a hill marking the nearest settlement: Cardinal Creek, a small enclave of survivalists parading as Christian nutballs. The water tower was the sole evidence that life prospered beyond her 200 acre plot.