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Today's Story by Ellen Denton

No cloned crops. Deal?

American Gothic

By the time Jeb Tarkington swung down off his tractor, the sun had long since dipped below the Western hills, but even at twilight, you could still slice the thick, hot summer air with an axe. He looked forward to a cool shower. For now, wiping the grimy sweat from his face and neck with his handkerchief would have to do.

At the sound of the kitchen door swinging open, his wife Anilee tightened her lips, and without a word, pulled a dinner plate from the fridge and walked to the microwave with it.

“Hi Babe, hold up on that food, I gotta get me a shower first.”

“Jeb, this has been ready since two hours ago. You haven’t eaten a dinner with this family since the harvesting season began. When are you going to get with the modern ways like the others have? You- ”

“Anilee, lets not have this conversation for the hundredth time. I said no, and no means no.”

“But all the other farmers have switched over now.  They’re making good money and they spend a fraction of the time that you do in the fields. Their wives are always asking me what’s with you and teasing me about us being Ma and Pa Kettle. The other day, I heard someone whispering about how we looked like those two in the painting “American Gothic.”

Jeb sighed and put his hands on one of the hardwood chairs from the kitchen table. He had built these chairs himself and momentarily remembered the sensations of doing so as he ran his hand along the back of this one.

“I like the feel of the good earth beneath my hands. And I don’t mind the occasional worm in my apple, the wilted broccoli leaf, or the overripe tomato.”

“But Jeb, once the equipment gets put under the soil, you only have to plant one seed per plowed row. They say that-

“Yes Yes Yes- I know- the seeds identically replicate across hundreds of acres and blah blah blah. I’ve heard it a thousand times. There’s just something ungodly about that clone crop stuff that gives me the creeps. If it was just the crops, I could see maybe. But with all the other stuff that’s happened over the last decades… I’m just glad your parents and mine never bought into it. You know what the whole scene reminds me of?  Those old, sci-fi, Star-Trek repeats we’ve seen- that thing called the Borg Collective, or that hive-mind thing that got started back in the early 2000s – Face book, and Titter, I think the other one was called. You saw what ultimately happened with those- what turned up later to be underneath them, and why they’re outlawed now. So no. Call me a dinosaur. By the way, hard work never hurt anyone- that’s the way-“

Anilee frowned. Jeb was surprised to see a single tear run down her cheek. “What?”

“I just- I want us to have a life other than you dawn to dusk in the fields to make a go of the farm. I want our kids to have more time with their dad. It’s like you care more about those crops than you do about us. You- “

“Okay okay! Truce. I’ll make you a deal. By next growing season, I’ll get some Agri-Bots to at least help with the harvesting and planting so I won’t have to spend as much time at it.”

“OH Jeb! I- “

BUT- there’s a but here Anilee: I’ll still be out in the fields working and overseeing everything, and NO CLONED CROPS. Deal? “

Yes. Sold! Anilee threw her arms around him and kissed him.


Jeb and Anilee walked into the one grocery store in town. Amos, the stock-boy, was wheeling shopping carts in from the parking lot. He recognized them and waved a greeting in his usual, cheerful way. He had a mop of red hair and a face full of freckles; he was a good-looking boy. Anilee waved back at him and smiled, but Jeb, as he often did, muttered something under his breath about “ungodly and unholy”. Anilee Shhhed him and they moved on into the store.

At the produce aisle, they ran into one of their son’s schoolteachers, Janet Beckly. Janet and Anilee were working on a PTA project together and the two women got into a brief, but animated conversation about it. Jeb patiently waited, looking first at his wife, then at Janet. Janet was  very pretty, and younger looking than Anilee, despite her actually being almost eight years older her. Her face was framed by a halo of thick, lustrous blond hair. She also had cornflower blue eyes and school-girl skin that looked as peaches and cream, as, well, peaches and cream. He still stubbornly considered Anilee, despite her flaws, more beautiful.

At the checkout counter, the Mitchells were in front of them in line. They were a nice, young couple- newlyweds just married a year. Tommy Mitchell had a mop of red hair and a face full of freckles. He knew it was Tommy, because he wore the requisite identity name tag on his coat, as did Rebecca, his wife, who just like Roxanne the cashier, and the other two girls ringing up customers, had that lovely halo of lustrous, blond hair, cornflower blue eyes, and the school-girl peaches and cream complexion.

The Mitchels finished and left, so Jeb unloaded their cart, and Roxanne started to ring up the items. He had a cold and sneezed loudly into his handkerchief, causing her and the other two cashiers in the rows behind her to look up at him at the same moment, scarily rewarding him with with the dazzling, white glow of their identical, even-toothed smiles.


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