ALL IN THE SOIL - MICHAEL J. SOLENDER
"What's the matter, hon? You did great! How many people take 6 ribbons, including 1st runner-up Tomato?" Vern Erickson was trying hard to comfort his wife of 20 years, but June was having none of it.
It would be a long and quiet ride back to Red Wing from St. Paul. June didn't even want to take in the Midway this year. There would be no Dinky donuts, no special milkshake, no deep fried Snickers bars and no Tilt-O-Whirl. Vern always loved the Minnesota State Fair. Not this year.
His mood was inextricably linked to that of his spouse, whose vegetables, specifically tomatoes, did not impress the judges sufficiently for the blue ribbon. Her foul mood had left a stink in the air greater than if her 2nd place tomatoes had been rotting for days in the July heat baking their Dodge Caravan.
"I just don't get it. I have no idea how she does it. Three years running now the blue ribbon and that farm never produced as much as a string bean before they moved in! Jan isn't out there half as much as I am and yet..her tomatoes..." June was on tilt. She never cussed, at least not out loud. But she was having very impure thoughts regarding her neighbor, Jan Nygren, at that moment.
Nygren, an interloper from Wisconsin, had moved onto the Swensen farm after Janey Swensen ran off. Or so the tale went. No one knew for sure because she was never heard from, leaving Ole to sell the farm and move back to Oslo to live with his mother.
That was three winters ago and, the very next summer, there was Jan, with her Super Sweets taking best in show on her first ever entry! It was unheard of.
"It's all in the soil," Jan told June three years ago. "I really don't have that much to do with it! We're simply blessed with great soil."
"Great soil, what a crock..." June's voice tailed off just as Vern was pulling onto 94.
"Honey, her soil is the exact same as ours. We subdivided that land 4 years ago when Ole and I bought out Sven.
Sven Larsen inherited 180 acres of prime dairy farm from his father. He was getting on in years, was all by himself, and had rented out 80 acres each to Ole and Vern, keeping 20 acres for himself but even that was too much. The year before Janey left Ole, Sven decided to sell 90 acres each to Vern and Ole as long as they each agreed to let Sven keep a trailer on an acre of unfarmable land up toward the road, between their new property lines.
When the Nygrens bought out Ole, they honored the agreement and it wasn't but one year before Sven left a note, went hunting and never came back.
They found his shotgun and some bloody gloves but never found Sven. At least not all of him. They did find his charred torso at the Lasco County incinerator a week after he disappeared.
It was still an open homicide but the Sherriff had all but given up finding the perpetrator. They did find some of Sven's bones in the ash. It had been burning extra hot that night with all the trash from the festival and all.
The Nygrens wanted the extra parcel and Vern and June were only too happy to let them have it for the $3,000 offered.
June and Vern turned onto their private road after the drive and, upon entering the house, June immediately began gathering up some empty jars and started to head out the back, marching over to Jan Nygren's garden plot.
"Honey!" Vern hollered out the back. "Whatcha doin?"
The Nygrens were still in St. Paul. Jan had told June they were staying an extra day.
"I'm getting some soil samples," June hollered back. Vern watched as, sure enough, June scooped up three jars full of rich black Minnesota dirt. June spun on her heels and came back to the house.
"Whadya gonna do with that?" Vern was perplexed.
"I'm sending it off to the Ag center at the Yoo," June huffed.
The University of Minnesota was only too happy to provide soil analysis for the state's farmers upon request; it was a public land grant institution, after all.
June had been sending her soil to the University for years to get the composition mix just right as she used the results to blend in the most beneficial nutrients for her prize-winning tomatoes. She had to find out what was in Jan's soil. In 12 weeks time, she would have the report and a definitive answer.
Jan Nygren waved to June as she hung her wash out on the line adjacent to her garden. It had been a week since she'd taken the blue ribbon and June could only now just bear to look her in the eye.
Jan waved for June to come over, she motioned that she had something for her. As June approached the garden, she felt her legs buckle and give way as the ground opened up beneath her. Within seconds, she found herself at the bottom of a ten-foot deep hole, each of her ankles broken.
Jan peered over the edge of the well-dug snare that moments earlier had been covered with a thin sheet of cardboard and the barest dusting of earth that offered a most effective camouflage.
June, her ankles throbbing and beginning to go into shock, couldn't even get a scream out as Jan began to shovel in granulated lime and black dirt on top of her. It both blinded and began to suffocate her.
"What's going on? What's happening?" June finally gasped out.
"Honey, I'm just fertilizing for next year's crop," Jan said blithely, continuing to entomb June in a mix that would erode her flesh and bone in a matter of days.
Vern filed a missing persons report with the Sherriff and, for weeks, they looked all over the county for June Erickson.
Jan Nygren had been particularly neighborly, bringing several meals and pies over to Vern in his time of despair.
The fall was particularly cold that year. After two months time, Vern had given up on the notion that June would return or even be found. The gossipy town folk had likened her disappearance to an eerily similar vanishing of Janey Swenson, who once lived on the adjacent property.
On the first Monday in December, Vern Erickson brought in the mail from his rural roadside box. Inside were two bills, a letter from his sister, a request from the Salvation Army and a letter from the University of Minnesota, Agricultural Center.
He opened the letter form the University first.
The requested soil analyses of the submitted samples were normal for the region in every respect save one. The submitted soil showed an unusual amount of bone meal and calcium. The report offered that these nutrients were "particularly good for the growing of high acid crops such as tomatoes".
BIO: Michael J. Solender lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife Harriet, where they obsess over their garden. He hails originally from the sometimes frozen tundra of Minneapolis, MN. There, he ignored (only once) his mother's advice to pursue a career in medicine and became a Corporate Klingon. A recent Corporate Refugee, Solender is a freelance writer whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is a contributor to Charlotte ViewPoint. His micro-fiction has been featured online at Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, A Twist of Noir, Thrillers Killers 'N' Chillers, 6 Sentences, Powder Burn Flash, and Flashshot. He blogs at Not From Here Are You?
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