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BETTER LATE THAN NEVER HARVEST


 better late than never cover

 

Life has become financially untenable for 61-year-old Bethany Maguire who has been running her farm alone since the death of her father five years ago.

Her decision to take in a boarder, Ben Gardiner, a middle-aged man who initiates the virginal Bethany to her first sexual experience, proves to be both illuminating and yet disconcerting as she realises how barren and empty her life has been.

 

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ISBN: 978-1-922229-25-0 
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 226
Genre: Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: Stephanie Lynn Ryan
Publisher: Zeus Publications

Date Published: 2013
Language: English

 

Author Biography 

 

Born in Rockhampton, Queensland, Stephanie Ryan moved to Brisbane at a young age where she was educated, married and raised her children during which time she worked, at first part time and then in a full time capacity. 

She has always wanted to write and began with a children’s book, but it was not until three years ago that she began her first work of adult fiction. She has now completed three novels of various genres and is currently working on her fourth novel with the intention of writing many more.

Chapter One

 Part sample

 

It was cold in the valley in winter and Bethany had stoked the fire high last night hoping to make it easier to rise in the morning. She had to get her work done early if she was to make the monthly trip into town before it got too busy. As she drew back the covers, she wished she could spend more time in bed, hugging the feather doona closely around her to keep out the cold, but she knew she must get up and quickly she slipped on her old sheepskin slippers before pulling on her chenille dressing gown.

The dog in the corner of the room lifted his head, giving a little whimper as if to say that he also found it too cold to move, but as she went to open her bedroom door he rose, shaking himself, and followed her down the hall which was chill, despite the extra logs on the fire.

Bethany could not add any wood this morning to stir the embers into life, her trip into town precluding her from this, as she could not risk leaving any heat in the house whilst she was away. Her father had told her many times of the houses that had burnt down when their owners had thought their fires were out and she could not risk that. No, she would bear the chill and throw sand in the fireplace before she left. It had not much life left in it and that should do it.

Filling the kettle, she placed it on the gas stove, lighting it with the gas lighter and taking her bread out of the keeper, she placed two slices in the toaster. Her routine was the same every morning—a sparse breakfast before going out to the barn to commence her duties. The dog whimpered as she took the butter and jam out of the old fridge and she spoke to him sternly.

 

“Wait a second, Buster, I’m coming!”

The dog again settled himself on the floor, his head resting on his paws, his eyes following her every move as she placed a teabag in her cup, adding two teaspoons of sugar. As she opened the cupboard his ears pricked, but he made no further sound as she took out a bowl and, reaching for a battered tin on the shelf, filled the bowl with dry dog food, which she then placed on the floor. But he still did not move knowing that to do so would earn him a further rebuke. Another bowl was filled with water and placed beside the first one and only then did the dog make his way towards the food.

As she placed her plate and knife on the table, Bethany felt the stiffness in her body and knew that although she was fit, she was not as limber as she used to be. She would be 62 years old soon and was finding it just that little bit harder to do the necessary work on the farm all by herself—but there was no alternative. There was no money for any regular help. That had to be kept for harvesting and even then it was a stretch to hire just two men to bring it in. Last year the harvest had not been good and she hoped this season would be better. She really needed the money or she could not keep the property going.

The kettle whistled, breaking into her thoughts, and she poured the boiling water into the cup, placing it on the table just as the toast popped. Taking it from the toaster, she placed it on the plate and sat down watching the dog hungrily crunching the dry food. She smiled wryly to herself as she thought of her mother who had died ten years ago, she would be angry and shocked to see Buster in the kitchen and know that he had slept in Bethany’s bedroom.

 

Her mother had not believed in animals in the house. A country woman, she had thought that a dog’s place was in the yard, but after her father had died five years ago, Bethany wanting companionship, had allowed the dog in. She was lonely and the dog filled the gap, wishing only to be her friend—and an undemanding one at that. No questioning what she was doing and how she was doing it, only asking to be fed, and Bethany was sure that even should she not feed him, he would still remain by her side.

 

Finishing her breakfast, she rinsed her cup and plate and placed them in the sink. Then the butter and jam were returned to the fridge and she opened the back door to let Buster out into the yard before she again returned to her bedroom to get dressed. Her clothes were plain and functional. She had never had time for fashion. Her life had been spent in the hard work of helping her parents on the property. She had no siblings and had never been married, never even had a boyfriend as such.

Andrew Crawford, who had lived on the neighbouring property quite some distance away had, at one time, been interested in her when they were in their teens, but the few kisses stolen behind the barn had amounted to nothing and he had moved away, making his life in the city.

She heard he had become a doctor, it had been his dream and he had really been quite smart so she was not surprised, and when she thought of him as she had known him—blonde hair, brown eyes, slim and rather weak in stature—she knew that was what he was more suited to, not a farmer’s life. When times had become very hard, his parents had sold the farm, so even they did not live in the area anymore. Anyway, that was all like a dream now.

 

Pulling on her leather work boots, Bethany stepped out onto the verandah preparing to make her way out to the barn, the dog joining her after his morning necessities had been performed. As she pulled open the barn door, she was greeted by the clucking of the chickens knowing they were about to be fed, and picking up the scoop, she plunged it into the corn barrel and scattered the corn around, adding scraps of vegetable peelings from last night’s dinner. She would not let them out this morning but they would have their freedom when she returned from town. She had no horse, preferring the motorised form of transport on the property, but she had a goat, which provided her with milk.

After she tended to its needs, she returned to the house, cleaning off the few wisps of hay that had managed to adhere to her clothing and picked up her bag and keys and then ensuring that the fire had no life left in it, locked the house. With Buster by her side, she made her way to her sturdy, old utility and opened the door, the dog jumping into the cabin and taking his place beside her on the seat.

As she looked into the rear view mirror, she studied her appearance, something she rarely did—she had no time for that, but a trip to town prompted her to make certain that she at least looked presentable. Her milky, blue eyes looked back at her as she removed a piece of straw that had somehow become attached to her hair, the colour of which was commonly known as “salt and pepper”, and she brushed it smooth with her hands. It was long, and pulled severely back into a sort of ponytail that rested on her neck. Ensuring that she looked neat, she slapped her Akubra hat onto her head and pulling on her leather gloves, turned the keys to start the ute.

With the coldness of the morning, it took some minutes to start and Bethany had to hold her patience as she tried again and again until at last it sprang into life. The dog stirred with excitement as the ute began to move. He loved a trip in the ute and pushed his nose out of the narrow opening in the window, which was all the gap Bethany would allow as the freezing air flooded the cabin.

The early morning sun was sending golden fingers of light through the tops of the trees as the utility travelled down the dusty track, whilst the denser foliage remained in sleepy shadow to be touched by its rays at a later time, and a feeling spread through her as it always did when she knew she was leaving her home, a feeling of pride in the property, and strangely, of wishing she was on the return trip instead of the outward journey. She was missing it before she had even left and yet her life was lonely out here by herself and she was grateful for the dog at her side, its faithful eyes returning to her again and again as its excitement grew.

Ten minutes had already passed by the time she reached the gate and pulling the car to a halt, she left it idling as she climbed out to open it, cautioning Buster to remain where he was. Then she returned to the ute, passing through the gateway and across where the cattle grid used to be, before again exiting the cabin to close it. Although she had no animals of her own apart from the goat and the chickens, and of course Buster, she could not leave it open for fear of the cows from the neighbouring property entering to destroy her crops and the precious vegetable garden that sustained her.  

Further down the road she stopped again at the dejected collection of letterboxes, each one placed there by its owner, four in all, to enable them to receive their mail. Bethany could see that her box, a small milk can on a post, was quite full with mail poking out the entrance. She had not bothered to collect it for a week and as she entered the ute after retrieving it, she threw the batch of feed catalogues and brochures on the floor to the left of her and placed the envelopes in the glove box without looking at them. Impatient to continue the hour-long trip to town, she would look at them when she returned home.

The road was dusty with many potholes and she was glad when she reached the section that was sealed as she could travel faster and with less risk of damage to the ute. Everyone drove fast in the country wanting to cover the long distances quickly and as she turned into the more used part of the road, a green 4WD sped around the corner narrowly missing her, the driver lifting his hand in apology as he sped past, dropping his far-side wheels off the tarmac and scattering the dust on the side of the road into clouds. Although Bethany was used to this, she felt a little shaken and drove cautiously for a few kilometres before again increasing her speed knowing she would never get to town if she didn’t put her foot down.

As she drove into the familiar main street, Bethany breathed a sigh of relief as she saw a parking space outside the entrance to the large Town & Country Barn. She needed to get some fencing wire and fertilizer and she did not want to have to carry it too far. Of course, if they were not too busy, Fred Baker would offer to load it for her, but by the looks of it, everyone was in town this morning.

Getting out of the ute, she signalled for Buster to get out also and opening the back, whistled him into the tray where she attached a rope to his collar. After tying it to the mesh window guard, and giving him a pat, she entered the wide doorway of the barn. Fred Baker, who had just finished with a customer, saw her at once. He’d always had an eye for Bethany ever since their school days together but she had never shown any interest in him, preferring that ‘nancy boy’ Andrew Crawford and despite the fact that Fred was married with grown up kids, he still had a soft spot for her.

 

“How’s it going, Beth?” he asked, quickly coming towards her.

Although Bethany would never have believed it, she was still a handsome woman. Of moderate height, her body was still good, due no doubt to the fact that she had worked hard on the property and had never had children to play havoc with her shape. Her face was strong with good bone structure, and although her blue eyes were not as vibrant as they were when she was young, they were nevertheless an attractive feature.

Bethany removed her hat and gloves and placed them on the counter.

“Not bad, Fred,” she said. “But as always, things could be better.”

She gave him a slightly grim smile. She would never tell him about the hard times she was having, although she suspected he knew. Everyone talked about each other in a small town and she could not hide the fact that she owed a substantial bill at the grocery store. She was determined to pay a large chunk off that today or they would begin to refuse her any more credit. They had to survive too and even though Barb and David Taylor had known her all her life, they could not afford to carry her for too long.

Fred gave a sympathetic nod at her words. He’d heard similar from the other farmers and knew it must be difficult for her since her father died, but she still battled on regardless. He admired her for that.

“What can I do for you today, Beth?” he asked, knowing that he could not talk for too long without a reprimand from his boss. The barn was busy today and as it was he had skipped a few farmers, turning a blind eye to them so as to serve Bethany.

“I need some fence wire. How much is that now, Fred?” She had to keep to her budget and everything kept going up in price. It had been some time since she had bought any.

Fred took her over to the wire and by the time she had finished with her purchases at the barn and he had helped her load them into the ute, she was considerably short of the money she had planned to pay off the bill at the store. She could already feel the discomfort of having to tell them that she could not pay more and as she pushed open the door, knew that she would have to eat more sparsely this month than she had planned, for she could not increase the bill any more than she could pay off.

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