It was late August 1965, and the child was looking out the car window, relieved that the trip to town had not included a stop at the beer parlour. The sun was high and the smell of turning leaves and fresh-cut grain blew in the open windows. The mood in the front seat was jovial; they were buying a new farm machine from their neighbour, Mr. Myschuk. They had been in Henry Stevens' office at the bank in Bowsman for a long time that morning, but her father had left with the money in his hand.
Halfway home, the road was almost blocked by an oncoming, self-propelled combine. Through the dust, the machine and driver were barely visible as the big Plymouth prepared to pull over.
"What the...???" her father howled incredulously "That's my Goddam combine!"
He threw the car into reverse, wheeled around and leaped out.
"Morris, what is wrong? Why you stop in the road?" the combine driver shouted, looking down from his high red perch.
"You know Goddam well why! You were sitting right there when I made the Goddamn deal at Mike's!" roared her father. "You knew I was buying that combine at noon today, you thieving prick!"
"I don't know about no deal. Mike say he selling, I have money, I need combine so I buy..."
"Piss off, you Goddamn lying bastard!" Morris raged back to the car, wrenched the key violently in the ignition and slammed the car into gear.
The girl shrank against the door as the vehicle fishtailed wildly and then settled back on the road, loose gravel flying. They roared through the countryside cloaked in a swirl of prairie dust, barely making the turn on two wheels as the car screamed into the yard.
The sudden braking sent the child onto the floor and her mother into the dash, but neither of them spoke a word. She tried to stay in the back seat so she could sneak away later into the yard but his yell of "Get the hell out of that car and get in here" brought the little girl scrambling into the house.
She quickly ran upstairs and pulled the curtain across her door.
She climbed up onto the bed and grabbed a comic book from the well-read stack.
"Just pretend nothing's wrong," she said over and over to herself, but her heart kept pounding fast and hard in her chest.
Downstairs, the unmistakable clinking of glassware meant that drinks were being poured.
"Please, make them have just one," she begged God silently. "Please make them just have one."
Several clinks later and a cautious creep halfway down the stairs let her know that her prayer would not be answered today.
The liquor was already sculpting his storm of anger, twisting it into a tornado of rage. She could hear him ranting and swearing. In the background, the softer, indistinguishable words of her mother were miserably failing to defuse the situation.
She curled up on the bed and squirmed uncomfortably; she had to go to the outhouse.
You weren't supposed to use the chamber pot in the daytime and never for what she needed to do, but she would have to go through the kitchen to get outside. That would mean walking past her half-drunk father and getting dragged into the whole mess. She curled up again and tried to think about the Little Lulu comic in her hand, but it was no use. She really had to go, right now.
She quietly pulled the pot from under the bed and lifted its lid. She would just have to try and sneak out to empty it later after they had passed out. She was carefully sliding it back under when the sound of a chair scraping across the kitchen startled her. The pot clanged against the metal bed frame. The sound was louder than a dinner gong.
"Little One!" he shouted, suddenly remembering her presence in the house. "Little One, get down here right now!"
The words froze her and made her stomach hurt, but there was absolutely no question of not going and she trembled as she descended the stairs.
"Get in here! You're a smart little girl, I want your opinion. What do you think of a neighbour, a neighbour who..." The distant sound of a tractor claimed her father's attention.
"I hear him! I hear the bastard," he cried, jumping up and knocking over his chair.
He grabbed the .303 and the loaded clip from the gun rack, stormed out the door and jumped into the car.
"Where are you going? What are you doing, Morris? Stop it, Morris. Get back here!'" her mother scrambled behind, the child in tow.
"I'll kill him! I'll kill the double-dealing little prick," he swore, throwing the rifle on the floor and ramming the keys into the ignition.
"Go with your father! Calm him down!" were her mother's unbelievable words as she shoved her into the back seat, the door slamming just as he accelerated.
In two minutes they reached the road that turned left toward town, but her father plowed the tank-like '58 Fury straight ahead, knocking down part of Myschuk's fence and roaring across his newly swathed rows of grain..
"Oh please, oh please God, don't let him kill Mr. Myschuk," she prayed in white-faced terror, her blond head bobbing as the car bounced over the deep ruts and furrows toward the man obliviously circling his field.
"Daddy," she began.
He'd forgotten she was there.
"Stay the hell in the back seat and keep quiet."
He gunned the engine, shooting forward and pulling in front of the startled neighbour roaring, "Myschuk! You crooked prick!"
"Morris! Morris!" cried Mike Myschuk in surprise, killing the ignition and stepping down, his arms waving. "What is it Morris?"
Door swinging wide, her father charged from the car, the steel-blue glint off the long barrel a brilliant menace in the sunlight. "We had a deal, you Judas bastard," he said almost softly, pointing the rifle straight at the farmer's chest.
Myschuk paled to chalk under his deep red tan as the sound of the rifle cocking cracked in the still air.
Falling to his knees, his frenzied hands signing the cross, his terrified eyes streaming tears, he begged.
"No. Morris. Please, Morris, please no."
The finger on the trigger tightened and squeezed.
No shot rang out and no one moved in the surreal silence. A dark stain slowly spread down the front of Mike Myschuk's pants.
The child's breath seeped out and her small body collapsed back against the seat. Her father returned to the car in silence and drove quietly away while from out of the window she watched the trembling, weeping figure kneeling in the field grow smaller and smaller.
This is the last of six 2012 non-fiction contest winners. All six stories can be found at winnipegfreepress.com.