Working title: Harvest Time
This is the first 5 days writing. Unedited, and raw.
“It’s way too early, David. Curses on you and your progeny, and your ….”
“Yes, Col, I know.” I said, patting him on the back. “Baby brother doesn’t like getting up. So what’s new?” I finished stuffing the last of my clothes into the rucksack, and swung it over my arm; looking to see if I’d forgotten anything.
“See you downstairs. If you want coffee, buck up.” Colin grunted at me, still bollock naked, and now trying to pee.
I tiptoed quietly passed my parents door. Mum had offered to get up to cook us breakfast, but the look we’d got from dad had made us both tell her not to be so silly.
By the time Colin came down the light had changed from the pre-dawn hint of the new day to come, to enough light to see that the day was kicking off with a typical September blanket of fog.
“Shit, David. Do you think they’ll still want us?” Colin yawned, as he looked out into the paddock, then slumped onto a stool by the breakfast bar. I rolled my eyes at him as I poured the coffee, and loaded the toaster.
“Na mate, they’ll all go back to bed and forget the harvest for another year. Duh.” Colin yawned again, then broke into a grin. “Sarky git,” he grabbed my around the neck and started tickling, only stopping when I started to squeal. “So, are we ready, oh sensible brother mine?”
“Yeah, I think so.” I panted, determined to get him back, and then decided to follow the old chestnut: ‘revenge is best served cold’.
Our parents hadn’t been keen. After all I had only just got my driving license, and Colin was a dork. Okay, so they hadn’t actually said that, but that was the underlying sense of the thing as I’d understood it. Naturally, Colin thought I was the dork, and secretly, I’d have had to have agreed.
We were twins, though we didn’t look alike. Colin was flamboyant, good looking, and a magnet for girls, whereas I … well, I wasn’t. Not that he rubbed the disparity in. He was pretty much my best friend, too.
It was nearly seven thirty by the time we’d cleared up the breakfast things and were ready to leave. We’d answered an ad in the local paper for pickers on the grape harvest at the vineyard. We’d never done anything like it before, and both of us had leapt at the opportunity. It was cash in the hand, and we’d managed to luck into accommodation too, which was a boon to us the farmer knew nothing about. I’d made the call.
“Hullo,” a friendly female voice had answered, and I’d felt myself blush.
“Is this Graptons?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Umm … I’m calling about the job,” I’d said. They’d been a silence, followed by a cough that had sounded suspiciously like a laugh.
“Do you still have it?”
“Which one?” The friendliness seemed to evaporate, a hard edge taking its place.
“Yes, there are places left. Two to be precise, no more; no less. Two to live in.”
“Live in?” I asked, “but we’re local: from Rye.” She sniffed.
“Two only … to live in … no charge.”
“Umm … no charge … okay,” I said, knowing Colin wouldn’t object.
“Good, Thursday at eight, then.” There was a pause, and the friendliness was back. “That’s eight in the morning.” She chuckled, then hung up. I’d looked at the phone in astonishment, before replacing it on the hook.
That was a week ago, and as I closed the back door and carried my pack through the thickening fog to the car, I wondered again why they wanted us to live in. When I talked it over with Colin he’d leered, and said we’d probably have to look after the farmers daughters, and tend to their every whim. He’d actually said ‘quim’ knowing I’d blush. And I had. Colin’s an utter bastard when it comes to pushing my buttons.
I slung my rucksack in the back of the clapped out old Ford Escort that Colin and I shared and pulled open the drivers door, trying to keep the squeaking of the rusty hinges to a minimum.
“Shhh, unless you want Dad to wake up,” Colin said in my ear making me jump. He patted me on the back then slung his bag in the back and slammed the boot.
“Ooops.” He scooted around and got in the passengers side, gently pulling the door too, as if the boot slamming had happened to someone else.
“You arse….” I said, getting in and shutting the door. We held our breath, waiting for the bedroom window to fly up, and dad to bellow at us. I let off the handbrake, and waited whilst the car coasted down the drive onto the main road before turning the key.
It was an old ritual, learnt from the Irishman who’d sold us the rust bucket.
“Now lads,” he’d said, eying us both over like a horse thief would stud stallions. At least that was how Colin put it on the way home. I’d just been over enamored with the thought of transport of our own, and hadn’t given a tinker’s cuss what sales techniques were used to persuade us.
“Now lads,” the man had said again, patting the bonnet of the car; and this time I’d picked up on the broad southern Irish accent, “she’s a darling, that’s what she is, and as ya know – or if you don’t, just take O’reilly’s word for it ….” He paused portentously, slipping his thumbs through his braces. “Ya have t’ treat women wid silken gloves.”
“Uh huh,” Colin had replied, as I’d been sitting in the drivers seat, running my hands around and around the steering wheel. “So what’s the scam then, Mr …?”
“O’reilly, m’boy. And what scam would that be, then?” The man had sounded upset, but as the headlight switch had come away in my hand as the back of the drivers seat collapsed, I hadn’t cared a jot. It was our first car, and I felt a connection with her.
“Come on David,” Colin said, “we’ll go look at the other one.”
“Hmm?” I’d replied, “What?”
“The other car, dolt, we should go and look at the other car!”
“Now then m’boys,” O’reilly sounded pained, this is the special deal I’ll do yas ….”
“Ready?” I said.
“Yep” Colin replied: and we linked pinkie fingers as I turned the key. Miraculously she turned over, and started. We set off.
“Lights?” Colin said, wiping ineffectually at the inside of the windscreen.
“I’ve got them on,” I replied. “I told you we should get fog lights.” I was nervous, having never driven through fog before. It seemed to billow, some times thinner and almost non existent, then suddenly thickening until it was difficult to see much past the bonnet.
We crawled through Rye, and up the hill to Rye Foreign, where the fog seemed to ease.
“What’s the time, Col?” He looked at his watch.
“We’ve got half an hour. Still it’d be nice to find out where we’re staying before we have to start plucking.”
I giggled. “It’s picking, you oaf,” I said, turning onto the winding county road that led to the Vinyard.
“Alright, smarty pants. So I’m not up on modern grape picking terminology.” He wound down the window, then hurriedly wound it back up; stopping the blast of cold air. “Christ, it’s cold.”
“You did bring thermals, didn’t you?” I said. The fog was getting thicker as the road followed the contours of the land down into the valley, and it was getting hard to see the central white lines. I slowed down a bit.
“Yes, I brought bloody thermals, David. God man but that’s boring. We should be … oh, I don’t know … drinking a bottle of vodka, or smoking pot or something.”
“Like Jack Kerouac would have, I suppose.” I said snidely, clamping my teeth together nervously, and thinking of pulling over.
“No not like Jack Kerouac, ‘cause he’s dead. I meant like us, David. You and I should be … doing things other than grape picking. Ya know? Doing great, and noble things.
“I don’t know what, but I have the fe ….
“Jesus Christ!” I swore, slamming on the brakes to avoid the back of a stationary bus. The car lurched fast towards the verge as the worn out brake-pads shrieked in misery. We shuddered to a halt by a five bar gate.
“Hell … I don’t …!” I looked over a Colin just as he looked at me. His mouth was opening and closing more like a goldfish out of water, than my brother; and I must have been doing the same, as he started to laugh.
“Close one, David.”
“Too close for comfort,” I muttered, watching my hands as they shook. I couldn’t believe how close we’d come to being scraped off the back of a bloody great bus, and I wanted to cry. I wanted to be hugged and told it was all alright. I wanted …. “Ready?” I said, offering up my pinkie finger.
For the second time the car started without a problem. Colin got out, guided me back onto the road, then got back in.
“So, let’s go slower, then David, okay?”
“Yep, I said, looking at him and pulling out from behind the bus.
The fog seemed even thicker as we pulled into the car park at the vineyard, which was empty except for a small tractor. I pulled into one of the marked slots, turned off the engine, and pulled on the handbrake. Sighing, I buried my head in my hands.
“I don’t want to do this, Col. I want to go home, and back to bed.”
“Me too, me too: but it’ll be an adventure. It’s our first job, and they’ll be lots of girls.” He started humming and opened the door.
Colin’s got a good voice, and can hold a tune. I know it, but I refuse to let him know I know it. It’s what brothers do.
“What’s that then?” I said, starting up one of our regular arguments. “One of James - I’m so MOR it should be tattooed on my arse - Blunt’s?”
“Ha ha ha, David. You know it is.”
“Poor old Simona, then.” I said as I pulled my pack, and Colin’s bag out of the boot, and shut it. He frowned at me.
“If you don’t ….”
“Kidding, you big lummox.” I said. “Let’s go and meet the veritable Rowena.”
We trudged along a paved path that ended at the vineyard shop. The fog seemed to be thinning slightly, and I saw a shadowy figure standing watching us in the distance.
“Hello!” I called out, but the figure didn’t move. “I guess they’re not too friendly with strangers here, Col.” I said in an awful John Wayne accent. He grunted, still miffed at my James Blunt crack.
“So let’s go introduce ourselves, then.” He said, and set off into the fog. Sighing, I followed him, knowing I’d have to bounce off his gregarious sense of humour if I was going to get to know any of our fellow workers in the next few weeks.
“You’re the live in’s.” A tall woman, standing with hands on rather ample hips, sunglasses nestled in her long dirty blonde hair, said.
“I erm ….” Colin deferred to me, so I stepped forward.
“I’m David, and this is Colin,” I said, then, rather unnecessarily, added: “we’re twins.”
“So you are, so you are, and that’s a rare treat.” She said. “It was you I spoke to?”
“Yes,” I replied, unnerved at her piercing grey-blue eyes. She seemed to be cataloguing my body parts, and then examined Colin with equal interest before pulling a fob watch out of her leather jerkin, and glancing at it.
“My name’s Rowena,” she said, putting the watch away, “and as the others aren’t here yet, I have time to show you your room.” Without another word she walked off, Colin and I following her like a pair of lambs going to the slaughter.
“Whadda ya think then, eh?” Colin whispered as he nudged me, and made a very rude gesture. I felt myself blush.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Oh, I dunno! Not your type, eh, David? Perhaps she has a younger brother, then.” I dropped my rucksack, and punched him hard on the arm.
“Fuck right off, Colin!” I spat, as I bent down to pick my rucksack up, only to be flung to the ground by his boot on my arse.
“Can’t ickle Davie take a joke, then? Aww didums, precious.” I rolled over, and looked up at him, from where I’d landed. He’d been teasing me about being gay, seemingly for ever, but he’d never gone this far before, and especially not in public. His face was twisted, mean and angry, and as I saw him loom above me in the fog, I had absolutely no idea where the vitriol had come from. I blinked my tears away, and silently held out my hand. After a moments pause his face seemed to melt back into it’s usual good natured expression, and he frowned as he took my hand and pulled me to my feet.
“I’m … I’m sorry, Davie,” he said, using the diminutive as he’d always done while we’d grown up. “I don’t know what came over me. I think this fog has me really rattled.”
I nodded as held my hand, then pulled me into a hug. “Don’t ever leave me, Davie,” he whispered as he crushed me, then he let go, clapping me on the back.
Rowena, who had watched us bicker without comment, led us back past the vineyard shop, and then turned abruptly left, down an old gravel path, that had clumps of weeds and moss valiantly growing through. The path meandered around the back of several large steel storage tanks, and I’d come to the conclusion our accommodation would be a shed, or at best a caravan, when to my utter delight, as we rounded a warehouse with rust streaked corrugated sides, a tiny whitewashed cottage appeared, surrounded by a picket fence. She stopped and turned to us.
“The door’s open, make yourselves at home, and be back where you met me in … oh, say half an hour.” She winked at me, and as usual I felt myself blushing. Blushing was a curse I’d had since puberty, and one I’d often wished would go away, along with my other problem.
“Thanks, Rowena,” Colin and I said in unison, to which Rowena curtseyed.
“Narry a problem, sirs,” she said, adding: “You can call me Row, if you’d rather.” Then she walked off, leaving us standing by the gate.
“And this is it included?” Colin said. I shrugged.
“She said it was when I phoned. Said it was part and parcel with the job, but it can’t be … can it?”
“Well we’re not members of the grape pickers union, are we doofus? So I’m guessing there’s a catch.” Colin pushed the gate open, “let’s ask before we begin.”
“Okay,” I said, following him up the path. We stopped at the front door and looked at each other.
“Remember ….” We both spoke and stopped at the same time together. We did that a lot. Our parents told us it was because we were twins, and I never doubted them. Colin on the other hand, did. When we where ten he’d tried to persuade me that he was the real boy and I was just a robot copy, and for a split second I’d believed him … until he cracked up and had fallen to the floor in hysterics.
“You go first, then,” he said, his hand on the door knob.
“I was going to say ‘remember Hansel and Gretel’” I said, and he nodded.
“Yep, me too. It’s weird, but it looks exactly like the illustration in the book.”
“Exactly.” I said, “in fact identical.” I nudged him. He turned knob, and with a squeal of distress the door opened.
“Hullo?” Colin called, and we waited for a reply before walking into the tiny living room. With a sigh of relief I put my rucksack down next to a wing backed leather armchair, which was one of a pair next to a neatly laid fireplace.
“No witch then.” I said, as Colin claimed the other chair as his by flopping down in it.
“Nope, looks like we’re witchless, brother mine,” he said. I was aware he was watching me as I wandered over to a wooden door, lifted the latch, and opened it revealing a staircase.
“Hmm … that means,” I said, crossing the room and opening the door’s twin, “that this is the kitchen.”
“Coffee?” Colin said with his best ‘I want, and I want now’ tone. He knew he was on a winner, as neither of us had had our second cup of the morning.
“Good idea that, Col. You go put our stuff upstairs, and I’ll put the kettle on … deal?”
“Yeppers, deal.” He sprung to his feet, grabbed his bag and my rucksack, and disappeared up the stairs. I went into the kitchen and explored. Kitchens are the heart of a good house, and this one was, like the rest of the cottage, cosy. Around the small scrubbed pine table in the middle of the quarry tiled floor were four mis-matched chairs. Along the outside wall, and under the window was a single sink, a drainer, and a small worktop; underneath which lay a fridge and cupboard space. On the opposite wall was a small Reyburn stove, a larger work top and more cupboards. I made a mental note that we had to go shopping, then I opened the fridge. It was full of all sorts of food. I blinked, closed it, then opened it again. It was still full.
“Colin!” I shouted, “There has to have been a mistake. We’re in the wrong house, an ….” I stopped as he appeared in the kitchen door, he was trembling, his face white. “What’s wrong, Col?” I said as I strode over and pulled him into a hug.
“I … I saw a ghost,” he mumbled in my ear. I pushed him away in disgust.
“Don’t bloody start, alright? I’m not having you winding me up, brother or not. Especially around people I don’t know, you know wha ….”
“I’m not, Davie,” he said, “I really saw a ghost.” And I believed him. We had a pact: that come hell or high water, once challenged we were honest with one another.
I followed him upstairs as he explained.
“I put your bag in there,” he pointed from the landing, not wanting to walk any further, so I put my head around the door. My rucksack was on the floor by the bed, and the other thing that caught my attention was the light pink colour of the walls.
“Pink, yeah, thanks Col.” He sniggered.
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist, seeing as how you’re ….”
“Don’t go there, brother.” I warned. “Then what?”
“Then I put my bag in there,” he pointed to another door. Cautiously, I peered around it to find a room the mirror image of mine, except with light blue walls. I grinned. It figured.
“And then what?”
“And then I went to look at the bathroom.” His voice was trembling as he pointed to a closed door at the end of the landing. I walked over to it and was about to put my hand on the handle when Colin said: “don’t Davie.”
“Why?” I asked, my hand hovering.
“’cause it was shut in my face by a woman who was wearing a smock.”
“Yeah, like in the old oil paintings of the harvest, we saw at the Tate.”
“They wear them for fishing, too.” I said, my hand now clasped around the handle. I gulped, took a deep breath and opened the door. The bathroom was paneled in white painted wood, the bath, Victorian with claw feet, had a shower curtain which was closed. The tap on the sink was dripping, so I shut it off, then in one quick motion, pulled the shower curtain open.
“I swear to you, Davie ….” Colin had his hands cupped around his coffee and was looking at me with pleading eyes.
“I believe you, Col, I believe you,” I said, taking a sip of my coffee. There was something about fog that always rattled me. It had an unearthly quality to it, and that was if I was at home. Here, starting a job, in a strange place it was somehow even more unearthly. I shuddered. Colin chuckled.
“Don’t you start, Davie. It’s the fog isn’t it?” I smiled at him.
“You, too?” He nodded. “And there I was thinking we were too old to be freaked out.”
“Never too old, Davie.”
“And what’s with the Davie all of a sudden, Col?” I watched him as he put on his thinking expression. My brother was highly intelligent, but some things, made him ponder, and anything with an emotional content was high on his list.
“I dunno, Davie,” he grinned at me, and winked. “I know you want to be all grown up, and be David, but here … I … do you mind terribly?” I shook my head.
“No, Col, I don’t. I feel it too.” The mantel clock in the living room chimed the half hour, causing me to look at my watch. “We’d best get a move on, otherwise we’ll be sacked before we begin.” I finished my coffee, and rinsed the mug out, dealing with Colin’s at the same time. I was concentrating on leaving the kitchen spick and span, and nearly missed his reply.
“I don’t mind if we do get sacked,” he said, almost under his breath.
By the time we got back the fog had thinned, and visibility was better, revealing a farm yard with a pair of wooden huts, a tractor shed, and a barn, The tractor from the carpark, was now sitting to one side: two large wooden bins on its rear forks. There was a crowd of ten or so people milling around Rowena and I made sure I was a step behind Colin as we approached.
“Ah, there you are, boys.” She said, and various conversations stopped as everyone turned to look at us. “Say hello to the boys, guys and girls. Tey’re staying in the cottage” She spoke lightly, but I sensed an underlying command.
“Hello!” They all said, and then one by one the conversations started up again.
“Right!” Rowena said, “now for those of you new at this, you take a bucket, and a pair of snips, and follow the tractor.” She walked over to the tractor and got in, a small brown dog leaping in after her. I watched as she picked the dog up, and kissed it on the nose, before gently putting it on a folded blanket next to her.
“That’s Henry, that is,” said a worried looking woman in her middle years, looking at Colin and I as we stood not knowing what to do. “Don’t worry, boys, Rowena said I should give you a helping hand on your first day.”
“Thank you so much … umm …?”
“It’s Catherine … or Cathy if you prefer. I don’t mind which.”
“Oh right, Catherine,” Colin said. “I’m Colin, and the quiet, shy one is Davie.”
“Hullo, Catherine,” I said. The description that sprung to mind was ‘weathered’. She had a friendly looking face, with graying brown hair, and eyes that twinkled, though the lines on her forehead were more furrows. She reminded me of my grandmother, though I didn’t think she was that old.
“I don’t mind, dear. I don’t mind at all, for a grandmother is a goodly person.” She said, looking directly at me.
“I … umm … I …,” I didn’t know how to react until she laughed in good nature.
“So then: buckets and snips. Row has them on the tractor, so all we have to do is follow her and not get lost in the fog. If you get lost it can often be hard to find your way back.”
“I should say!” A man around Catherine’s age walked by at a clip and I realised they’d all set off following the tractor.
“Should we?” I said, and Catherine nodded.
“I know where we’re going, but it’s good to get into the swing of things. It’s Pinot Grigio in the far field today.” She said set off with Colin and I following meekly, like lambs. “Come on, walk with me, not behind me,” she said, and we caught up. “So what brings you two handsome boys here?” She asked, her eyebrows raised.
“Money, I guess,” Colin answered, his sneakered feet sliding around in the mud. Catherine tutted.
“Row can get you both some Wellington boots,” She said. “Remember the little adage: ‘Rain or shine, Ice or fog: until the grapes are in, the grapes are out.’”
“You mean we pick in the rain?” Colin sounded appalled, and Catherine laughed good naturedly, both loud and hard.
“Oh yes, that’s exactly what I mean, blood or no blood we pick.” It was my turn to be appalled.
“Blood?” I said. I’d always been terrified of blood. The sight of it making me, more often than not, faint.
“Yes, which is where I tell you all about snips.” She reached into her pocket and brought out a red handled pair of secateurs. “These are lethally sharp, and I jest not, boys.” She took off the rubber tie that held them closed, and they sprang apart. “Last year we had a worker who cut off the tip of his little finger.” I winced, and almost decided to quit on the spot. “Oh, don’t worry, Davie. Quitting’s not an option for real men, now is it?” She smiled at me as my eyes slid past her to catch Colin rolling his eyes. I laughed, then coughed.
“Sorry, Catherine, but it sounds so … melodramatic.”
“As well it should! But do be warned, you will cut yourself on the first day or two. Everybody does.” She held out her hand, and I could see scars running around two of her finger tips. She smile benevolently. “First aid is supplied.” I gulped.
We followed the tractor up and down three large grassy fields each with row upon row upon row of vines, the rows disappearing to their vanishing points in the far distance. Catherine kept up a running commentary of the types of grapes in each of the fields, and it didn’t take me long to guess she wasn’t just casual labour like the rest of the crew. We were the stragglers, and we’d almost arrived at where Row had parked the tractor when it occurred to me to ask about the cottage.
“Cather ….” With a look of shock on her face she walked briskly away and started talking to an old man with a flat cap. Colin, who had been checking out the grapes, had missed the exchange, so I gave the idea of talking to her up as we went to claim our buckets and snips.
The bucket were yellow, black and blue. Some pickers took two, others only one, so Colin and I followed their example. Then we were handed our snips. I took off the band that held them shut, and ran my finger across the blade. Catherine had been right, they were sharp. Razor sharp.
“Gloves?” Another middle aged woman was handing out surgical gloves from a cardboard box.
“Erm … why do we need gloves?” Colin asked, as I listened, intrigued.
“You don’t, is the short answer. But they make it much more comfortable,” she said, handing us both a pair. “Much more comfortable. believe you me, young man. My name is Delia, by the way. I gather you’re the two in the cottage, this year.” There was something about the way she said ‘this year’, that made the small hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I glanced at Colin, and knew he felt the same.
“Why?” Colin asked, and I let out a subconscious cheer.
“Because the grape juice gets all over your hands, and it’s incredibly sticky. Honestly, these gloves are ….”
“No, sorry … I meant why did you gather we were the two in the cottage?”
Delia laughed. I’d like to say she cackled like a Witch, because that’s the feeling I was getting off her, in waves: but she didn’t. It was a pleasant, warm laugh. Very much the sort of laugh one’s favourite aunt would have.
“Silly boy, or should that be boys!” she said, nodding at me. “I know because Row told me; and because you’re the last to arrive. The last to arrive always, always stay in the cottage. It’s the way it’s always been done at Graptons.”
“Oh,” Colin said and sniggered. “Sorry, Davie and I were ….”
“You’re telepathic?” Delia interrupted, sounding excited, “goodness me, we’ve never had a pair of twins before, you see, and I had no ….”
“No,” I stopped her in mid gush. “I’m afraid we’re not, though ‘cause we’re twins we think alike and often guess what the other’s thinking. It’s not telepathy, though. Sorry.”
“Oh, well, never mind.” Delia said, looking disappointed. “Though it’s an exciting subject, isn’t it? The paranormal. Ghosts, and things that go bump in the night … you know.” It was obvious she was off on a favoured subject, and I was about to leave Colin to her gabbling, when Rowena blew the tractor’s horn.
“Righty ho! Time to get to work,” She said, clapping her hands as she stood on the tractor’s running board. “So, then; Same pairs as yesterday, except David can work with Gentry, and … well, Colin with Delia, seeing as how they’re thicker than thieves already.” They all laughed, but I was in shock. I knew Colin could cope without a problem, but I was shyness personified. I hated meeting people: hated it. It was hard enough with Colin at my side, but on my own.
I shut my eyes tight and started shivering; hoping that it would all go away and become a figment of my imagination. I also assumed the hand that landed on my arm was my brothers.
“Don’t worry, lad.” The voice was old; the tone kind; the person speaking: right by my ear. I jumped, and shrieked like a little kid. Knowing it caused me to blush, too. The hand patted my arm as I opened my eyes, and saw a pair of pale blue and rather rheumy eyes creased in a smile. It was the old man I’d seen Catherine talking too.
“I’m Gentry,” he said, and you and I’ll get on like a house on fire. You see if we don’t.” He patted my arm once more, as if to say ‘no worries’, then stepped back. “So you’ve got your bucket and snips, ready for the off?” I pulled myself together, and nodded, then saw Colin talking to Delia. He smiled at me and winked before picking up his bucket and following her. I tried to smile at Gentry, and failed.
“I … umm, I’m sorry about jumping,” I said.
“Don’t worry m’ boy, I was like you, once, long ago.” Gentry said shaking his head. “Life teaches you all sorts of lessons, and self worth was one of the easy ones.” He picked up his bucket which was black. “Come on then, or we’ll be late for tea.” That made me chuckle. We hadn’t even started, and already we were talking about tea.
I followed him and the others over to the rows of vines, where we all split up, one couple per row. Gentry led me on to the very end row which was nearest the field boundary with what seemed to be a dark and forbidding wood. Colin and Delia were six rows away, with the five remaining couples taking the rows in between.
Gentry dropped his bucket by the first post, which was as thick as a sapling, and I followed suit. I couldn’t see any grapes, just a rather leafy plant that grew along wires stretched between posts some twenty feet apart.
“Where are the grapes, Mr. Gentry?” I asked, “And what do I do?”
“Sensible questions, m’ boy,” he said with a chuckle. “deserve a sensible answer. So, put your gloves on, and watch.” I struggled to get the thin rubber gloves on, watching him as I teased my fingers and thumbs into what amounted to a row of conjoined condoms designed for pigmy shrews. Gentry started plucking leaves off the vine willy nilly, revealing bunches of small, plump and juicy green grapes. Once he’d cleared the leaves between two of the posts he came back to where I was standing watching at the end. He raised an eyebrow, and smiled.
“Gloves on?” I smiled back at him.
“Yes,” I said, showing him.
“Good, now then once you’ve plucked a stretch, you pick ‘em, or rather snip ‘em.” He got out the red secateurs, put the bucket by his side, and started cutting the bunches of grapes off the vine, and throwing them in the bucket. I watched as he went ten or so feet, and the bucket was full. “See, it’s easy, but you have to watch what you’re doing. It’s very, very easy to cut yourself. And I know you know how sharp they are, David.” As he said my name, a shriek came from up the rows, a shriek of pain that I knew came from Colin.
I was about to run to him when Gentry grabbed me by the arm, stopping me. “There’s nothing you can do, David. See?” I stood back from the end of the row to see Delia escorting Colin, whose hand was dripping blood, to the tractor.
“I should ….” He shook his head, and held my arm tighter, as I struggled to go to my brother.
“No, you shouldn’t. If you ever plan to be able to stand on your own two feet, you have to let Colin take care of himself, and he has to do the same for you.”
“But he nee ….”
“No he doesn’t m’ boy. Delia will fix him right up.” I watched the reactions of some of the other pickers, who were watching, as Colin and Delia vanished behind the tractor. A youth two rows up seemed to be licking his lips, and as his partner said something he burst out laughing.
“But it’s not funny,” I said, turning to Gentry, who was wearing a dreamy expression, his tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth. He blinked, then smacked his lips.
“No, it’s not funny. Then Giles is a strange lad, as I’m sure you’ll find out.” He let go of my arm. I shook it, as his grip had almost stopped the circulation, and it was beginning to feel numb. “So … where were we. Hmm? Oh, right. We take the full bucket over to the collection bins, and empty it.” He gave me an appraising look. “Then what, eh? Can you guess, David?”
“Repeat, and repeat until we get to the end of the row?” I said, and was rewarded with a grin.
“Yes, correct m’ boy. You pass with flying colours.” He picked up his bucket and walked over to nearest bin which was near the tractor. I was tempted to go and see how Colin was doing, but just then he and Delia came around the tractor and walked slowly back to their row. Colin had his head down, and didn’t look at me.
I watched Gentry as he emptied his bucket, and then had a quiet word with Rowena. He wandered back, chuckling. “Your brother was wounded on his first snip. I dunno, talk about bad luck.”
“Is he okay?”
“Yes, I told you he’d be fine. And best for you that you didn’t go rushing after him like a pansy.” I looked away up the rows at his words: too angry to respond, too frightened to know what to say. I wanted to scream at the injustice, I wanted to tell them all, let them know who it was that was working with them, and living in the cottage. Instead I clamped my teeth together, and turned back to see Gentry plucking on the other side of the row.
“What are you doing?” I asked, my tone frigid.
“We work on either side of the vine,” he said. “That’s why we work in pairs, David.”
“Oh,” I said, and walked up to the first post and started plucking leaves.
Some half an hour later, when I hadn’t said a word, or replied to any of Gentry’s conversational overtures, he poked his head through the vine. I couldn’t help but laugh at the apparition of his head floating in a sea of vines.
“I’ve upset you,” he said, “though I’m glad I amuse.”
“No, I was just having a quiet time,” I lied, “And your head is very Gilliam.” He frowned.
“Yes, Terry Gilliam. You know, Monty Python.” His head vanished, and I could see him watching me through the vines we’d just de-leaved.
“Python … right, yes,” he said. “Hmm, so you see things in terms of … well … other things, then?” It was my turn to frown.
“I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Shrinks call it transference, or in special cases sublimation. Do you know what they are?”
“Seeing heads surrounded by grape vines and thinking of cartoons?” I said, giggling. He chuckled.
“It’s nearly time for tea. When we get back remind me to tell you why I’m here.”
“Why not tell me now?” I asked, looking at him through the leaves, and feeling the snips snap shut far too close to my fingers. “Shit!”
“What?” He sounded worried.
“I nearly took of my fingers.” I said, the fear evident even to me.
“Then it’s lucky it’s nearly t ….”
“TEA!” Rowena called from the tractor.
“Tea,” Gentry finished. “I hate it when she does that.”
“What do we do for tea?” I asked.
“We have fifteen minutes to walk back to the farmyard and have tea. Then we come back.”
“But it took us almost ten minutes to walk over here!” I said. “That’s … well, that seems daft.” Gentry shrugged.
“That’s what we do.”
While we’d been picking Rowena had brought more bins, and had distributed them amongst the rows, so we didn’t have to waste time walking to empty our buckets. So whilst Gentry walked off with the others, I emptied our buckets and then hurried after them.
I caught up with Colin, Gentry and Delia half way back.
“How are you doing, Col?” I said, looking at his hand. He had a ripped glove on, but bulging underneath it I could see a plaster wrapped around his middle finger. He didn’t reply, so I looked at his face which was wan and expressionless. “Oh Colin, do you want to go home?” I said, my hand on his arm.
“Of course he doesn’t,” Delia said, clapping me on the back. “It’s a bit of a shock when the snips have at you the first time.” She laughed, and edged herself between us. “How are you getting on with the old bugger?”
“Okay,” I said, as Gentry winked at me. “Okay. The umm … ‘old bugger’ seems fine,” I stuck my tongue out at him, and he laughed. Colin said nothing, and kept staring at his hand, which worried me.
“So the … where do we get tea?” I asked as we entered the farmyard. Gentry raised an eyebrow -- which I was learning, was one of his stock expressions -- as we all trooped into one of the two wooden huts. It had a row of pegs from which hung various bags, coats and hats, along with two large scrubbed pine tables surrounded by a motley collection of mis-matched chairs. The background hubbub seemed to increase as the other pickers all sat down.
“Get tea? You bring your own … in a flask,” Gentry said, walking over to a peg, and taking a battered green thermos out of a bag hanging there.
“Oh … we didn’t know,” I said.
“’s no excuse.
“Okay, so we’ll pop back to the cottage, then,” I said, beginning to get peeved with his attitude. Though it hadn’t been hard work, I was knackered, and badly wanted a cup of hot tea.
“Uh uh,” Gentry said, shaking his head as he filled a plastic mug. “No time. It’s only a fifteen minute break, and we’ve got head back in a minute.” I’ll share with you, just be prepared tomorrow.” He offered me the mug, and I took it with surprise.
“Thank you, Gentry.” I blew on the hot liquid, then took a sip, watching Colin as he meekly sat beside Delia, and pleased to see that she was sharing her tea too.
“We’re not unkind, David,” Gentry said as saw where I was looking. “And don’t worry. Colin will be fine, just as will you be, too: once the snips have had a taste.
“Once the snips ….”
“Tea’s over!” Rowena stuck her head through the door, interrupting my thoughts and the question I’d been about to ask, as we all got back to our feet.
“Lunch is an hour, which is enough time for you to go back to the cottage,” Gentry said as he slid the flask back in his bag.
The rest of the morning went by in a flash, and I was grateful, as I walked back to the cottage with Colin, that I’d managed to avoid the snips. I’d come close to being cut twice: the first time Gentry had warned me to pay attention just as I’d been about to cut off the tip of my forefinger, the second time I’d been talking about music and had cut through the edge of my glove at the second knuckle of the same finger. I’d cursed at the snips, and Gentry had looked at me, his head cocked over to one side.
“They really want to blood you m’ boy,” he’d said. “Strange, I wonder why they’re so keen?”
Colin had been more than quiet on the walk back, and I was getting worried about him. He was the mirror to my nature’s shy reticence: normally extrovert, bold, loud and funny. As he pushed open the front door I bopped him on the shoulder, and realised it was like we’d swapped places.
“’sup Col?” He shook his head, and beat me to the fridge.
“Cheese and Ham?”
“Mmm, yes please.” I sat down, lay my head on the table, and shut my eyes. “I’m bloody knackered, Col. How ‘bout you?”
“Yes, I am.”
He was my twin, and I knew him better than I knew myself, and he’d never -- even in terminal throes -- sound as disinterested as he’d just sounded. My eyes leaped open, and I sat up and looked at him: he was shaking.
“Col?” I said as he put the cheese and ham on the counter and closed the fridge door. Then he turned to me as I stood up, and flew into my arms, sniffling.
“Col?” I repeated, unsure how to help as I was unsure what was wrong.
“I’m frightened, Davie, really frightened, and the fog won’t go away.”
I’d forgotten the fog. It had become part of the greater background that I took for granted. Yet as Colin mentioned it I felt a shiver run down my spine.
“Col, mate, the fog’s just part of the weather. A pain in the arse, sure, but nothing unusual for the time of year.” I crushed him against me: willing all the bad things to go away. Then I gave him a kiss on the cheek and let him go. He took a step back, blinked a couple of times, then returned the kiss and sniffed. I sat him down, gave him a sheet of kitchen paper, and watched as he blew his nose.
“All sorted, mate?” I asked with alacrity I didn’t feel. He shook his head.
Although I was only ten minutes older than Colin, it was a ten minutes that gave me a huge responsibility. I was the older brother, and Colin treated me as if those ten minutes gave me a special insight into how he should deal with his problems, and what he should do when he hit a rocky patch with his girlfriend. It was a ten minutes that was often a curse, as I was, if anything, less likely to know the answer to any given problem than he was. Out of the two of us, I was the kid, and it was ironic that I knew it and he didn’t.
“So tell me what you’re frightened of, and I’ll make the sandwiches, okay?”
“Okay, Davie, and thanks” He smiled, the tone in his voice almost back to normal, which cheered me up no end as I started to make lunch. Then I stopped.
“Look, Col,” I said, pointing through the window. It was a shaft of sunlight: pure and bright, and it blazed through the fog like a spot onto a darkened stage illuminating a great oak some fifty feet away in the cottage’s back garden.
“Wow!” Colin said in awe. Then as we watched the light became fainter and fainter until it vanished. I could feel Colin’s spirit being crushed as the light disappeared and he sat down again.
“Do you want to go?”
“Hmm … what? Sorry?” He was looking at the sticking plaster over his finger, and teasing the end away.
“I said, do you want to go? ‘cause if you do, let’s just forget this grape picking and let’s go home.” He stopped playing with his plaster and looked at me, a smile flowering on his face.
“You mean it?”
“Of course I mean it, doofus.”
I’d just finished the sandwiches, so I slapped them on a pair of plates, added a couple of juicy tomatoes and handed him his. He took it, put it down and I could tell his mood had changed again.
“I should stay, Davie. But you should go.”
We arrived back at the farm yard just as the rest of them were coming out of the wooden hut.
“Good lunch?” A chap walking in the same group as Delia asked. He was wearing a beanie, and seemed a bit older than us. I was about to answer when Colin beat me to it.
“Yes thank you, Charlie, you?”
“Yeah, same ol’ same ol’. I could do with a juicy steak.
“Me too, and I was ….”
Gentry pulled me aside, and I lost the thread of Colin’s conversation.
“Good as sandwiches can be,” I said, and he caught my bitter tone.
“Problems?” He asked, his voice oozing kind consideration.
“Yes,” I said, sighing. “It’s Colin, he’s got ….” I snapped my mouth shut. I’d know Gentry for less than half a day, and I had been about to spill my guts to him. About to tell him all the problems I had with my twin, about to tell him personal family details that no one had any right to be knowing. “Sorry, Gentry. Maybe later.” I added feebly.
We walked on in silence for a while, though it was a companionable silence, and not uncomfortable. Colin was back with Delia, and they seemed to be walking in silence, too.
“Gentry, could I ask you a question?” He glanced over at me. We had just entered the field we’d been picking, though we were still several hundred yards away from the vines.
“Why hasn’t the fog burnt off?”
“Fog? I … erm ….” He laughed. “Do you know, I’d hadn’t noticed it. I mean now you’ve mentioned it it’s there, but before I just … I mean … I don’t know.” He sounded perplexed, and I felt he meant what he was saying.
“Oh. So umm … how long have you been picking, then?
“Yes. Before Colin and I turned up, how long had you been picking?”
Before he had a chance to answer we arrived back at the vines, and milled about picking up our buckets and snips. I tried to put my gloves back on, but it was hopeless. They were far too manky, and I ripped them.
“Damn!” Like magic Delia appeared and handed me a new pair.
“I saw Colin had ripped his, and thought you’d probably be in the same mess,” she said. I thanked her, and put them on, awkwardly. By the time I’d finished everyone was back on their vine, so some five minutes late I joined Gentry, and started plucking leaves on the next segment.
It must have been a post prandial depression, because Gentry was silent, the snipping of his snips, and the occasional flashes of his clothing the only indication I had that he was picking grapes on the other side of the vine.
I’d got into a rhythm to see how fast I could work, and was congratulating myself on my speed when he spoke.
“David I ….”
And I screamed ….
Gentry's voice had queered my concentration just enough that I’d taken my eye off my snips, and that was all the excuse they needed. I’d had a plump bunch of grapes in my left hand and had just got the stem in between the blades when he’d said ‘David’ and my eye had wandered enough so they managed to catch the tip of my left hand index finger. As I screamed a spurt of warm blood spattered the glove and my wrist, followed by another and another as the vines seemed to sway ever faster. Now they were no longer in front of me, instead they were above me: along with Gentry’s horrified face … and then Colin was there and I knew it was going to be alright.