I stare out at the vast acres of farmland, golden sunlight glinting over the fields. Five generations of Schyler owned land. Soon it will be dark, and then the sun will rise, and I will have to tell them what I've decided.
I rub my finger absently over the lip of the window, feeling the old wood beneath, the paint long ago flaked off. This house is as old as those tilled fields. And just as unreliable when it comes to steadily providing for a family. But I suppose that is part of the glory, as my grandfather used to say. To work hard and sometimes fail. To work harder and sometimes succeed.
The house behind me is silent, my grandfather's wake having ended hours ago, my fathers eyes having lingered on my face as my mother dragged him up the stairs to their bedroom. She refused to let him talk to me about it. Said it wasn't the time. Said I knew my mind and didn't need his words to figure it out any further.
I retreat from the window, walking to the old liquor cabinet and peering inside. A half gone bottle of Elijah Craig winks from behind a bottle of bitters. I pull it out and pour myself two fingers, debating for a moment before making it four. I know I don't need it, know it won't help with the sadness, but perhaps it will help with the guilt. Perhaps it will help with the anxiety. Perhaps it will help put me to sleep and I won't have to consider anything more until dawn.
I sit down heavily in his old leather chair, the smell of tobacco enveloping me. I put my feet up towards the old stone fireplace that hasn't been allowed a fire the last fifteen years for fear that the house will catch. Because, and I know this without a doubt, no one has cleaned the flue in just as long. Besides, my grandfather had always replied gruffly, I paid a damn fortune to have that damn heater put in. A heater that did a sorry job of keeping the big, drafty place warm in deep winter. But he never complained again about the cold after he had the silly thing installed in the basement. In fact, after my father's stroke, he hardly complained about the house or farm or damn heater to me again.
And now I knew why.
I twirl the glass in my hand and take a deep sip, the burn satisfying in a way very little has been these past few days.
I close my eyes, memories like an old movie wheel spinning through it as the alcohol settles. My mother's ashen face when we found him face down on the ground five years ago, his eyes fluttering but unable to speak. The ambulance ride in which she hadn't said a word. The declaration that his left arm would never work again. That he would also have a bit of a limp. That sometimes he would have trouble speaking, but he would live. But that part hadn't mattered, not when his livelihood was no longer a viable option. You can't run a farm with half a working body.
I cringe away from the memory of that night. The night before I was heading back to Chicago, back to my job and my girlfriend and my life. He had shakily poured us each a glass of the good whiskey, and I had known then what was about to unfold- had dreaded it as a week slipped by and he slowly recovered pieces of himself from the stroke. Now feeling strong enough to bullhead me into it, apparently.
"You are going to cancel that flight, son," he had said quietly, slowly. His words just a little slurred.
"Dad, I know it is going to be hard. I know you don't want to, but maybe this is a sign. Maybe it's time to finally do it-"
"Don't you dare say it," he had snapped, cutting across me. And just like I had my entire life, I had fallen into silence at his quick anger.
"I am going back tomorrow, dad. You can't change that."
He had glared at me under thick eyebrows. "Don't you turn your back on this family, Daniel. Don't you throw away this legacy, this land, like it's some trashy girlfriend you're done tired of."
I had glared right back. "You don't get to make choices for me, not anymore. I came back for Ma's 50th, not to take up this farm!" I had risen from the table, angry, guilty, furious. "God, I told her! I told her you would think my coming back here was opening that door again." I had picked up the whiskey and downed it in one go, smacking the glass back down on the table. And when I had turned to stalk out of the kitchen, he had tried to grab me. Tried, and failed, his good leg giving out as the other side of his body refused to corporate. And he had fallen onto the ground. And I had left him there. And we didn't speak again for five years.
But I called Ma every day. Found out from her that grandfather had stepped back up to task, having faded into the background these past twelve years that my father had successfully run the farm. That they had actually kept the farm up and running despite their growing frustration and pigheadedness with one another.
But that was all over now. With grandfather dead, that was all over.
I swirl my glass, watching the amber liquid dance, my wedding ring glittering in the fading evening light. Carleigh had said she would do it. For me, she would do it. Move away from the city, pick up this family legacy with as much grace as she could muster, and be happy. But we both knew, even as she said it, that it wasn't true. Maybe for her she could convince herself to be a country girl after living in the city for so long, but we both knew it would be impossible for me. This house held too many scars, this land too many graves.
I raise my glass in silent salute to the photo of David on the old wooden mantle. This was his legacy he was supposed to take up; wanted to take up. All the old songs say it's better to die young then let yourself get old, but God, did he want to grow old. God, did he want to raise a family on this land. And at twenty-two he hadn't gotten close to either.
I tear my gaze from the old photo, glancing around the living room, the wallpaper more faded, the furniture more lived on. Like a warped portal back in time, and I can see myself sitting on that couch at twelve, learning how to clean a shotgun. See myself at fifteen sneaking my first girlfriend into the house. Hear my mother wailing at sixteen when they told her her favorite son was killed in a car crash. Hear my father screaming at seventeen when I told him I was leaving for Chicago, going to get a damn college degree. Hear him calling me a traitor to this family. Telling me that the minute I set foot outside that door, I would never be welcomed back here.
And yet, I sigh, finishing off my drink... and yet.
I get up from the chair, putting the glass down and tracing ghostly footsteps back to the bay window. The sky is a bruise of colors, the lake larks flying low over the golden fields of late September. Someone will need to be here to see to their harvest.
And it isn't going to be my father. And it isn't going to be me.
A hundred years is enough. Isn't a hundred years enough time to say you own something? To stubbornly hold onto a dream, a destiny, and piece of land?
I'll need to hire boys to pull in the final harvest of the Schyler farm. Need to find someone to come in here and fix up this house as best they can. Need to find a realtor to get it on the market. Need to settle my parents into the retirement community just outside of Chicago, where I'll make it a point to visit. Finally introduce them to their one year old grandson. A grandson that isn't going to inherit an acre of land, or an old decrepit farmhouse, or a family legacy that got too tired and heavy to carry.
But maybe he'll build something else. Another family legacy. Become a doctor, or a lawyer like me. These things can come in the shape of whatever we want. All that it takes to make it a legacy, after all, is time.