Every night the bottom sheet came loose from the mattress and gathered around his thighs. Henke had never made a bed until three months before. His wife, Gertrud, had swung her red leather case down from the top of the cupboard, folded her clothes inside and bid him farewell. Her expression had been resolute, her decision final long before.
The bed was not his only problem. There was soiled washing, meals to be made and a farm to run. Henke stared out the window at the barley, his dominion of green stalks. A gunmetal horizon hung over the fields and the air smelt sweet with incoming storm.
The top field was ready for harvesting. Elsa would help him. Since Gertrud’s departure, she was his salvation. Silent, supportive and ever-present. His corporeal sustenance was from cans, his clothes stiff because he didn’t know how to use the dryer. He watched one channel on the television because he couldn’t find the remote. Yet emotionally he was in a good place, thanks to her.
He pulled on his down jacket and closed the door behind him. The machinery shed stood at the edge of the property, its wood painted a pale, flaked blue. Several drops of rain fell as he walked, cold pinpricks on his scalp. Thunder rumbled in the distance. He didn’t mind harvesting in the rain, there was something theatrical about it. Like farming in a Wagner opera, with him in the role of Siegfried humming at the wheel. The barley was a servant, doing the bidding of the blades as he drove.
Inside the shed, Elsa’s red exterior gleamed in the dull light. He climbed up and sat on her leather seat, fondling the steering wheel.
‘Hello Elsa,’ he said, his voice thick with emotion. ‘I missed you last night. Tonight, I’ll sleep here with you.’ Beneath him, he was sure he felt the leather throb in gratitude. He reached out to stroke the glass of her windows and ran a finger over her control panel before turning the key in the ignition.
‘Time for some harvesting, my darling. We’ll drive through the ring of fire in ‘Siegfried’ and you’re in the role of Brünnhilde. You’re perfect for it with your metal exterior, just like her armour.’
Elsa’s motor purred in response as he steered her out into the pelting rain. Henke turned on her wipers and listened to the imaginary orchestra and baritone, the notes of the strings resonant and melancholy against the stirring voice. His chest shook with laughter and he was filled with manic joy. Lightning cleaved the sky in a jagged flash and the barley stalks trembled.