As he left the office, Hugh mentally scolded himself. He was still half a week behind, but he must drive far into the state. A rush job: they talked about it since last year, but they could not agree with the management of the reserve. These guys can infuriate anyone. Put a substation for them so that they can hang lightbulbs along the walking paths and a lantern near the boat station, but do not touch the ground, because there may be ancient Indian burial grounds.

Finally, the decision was made, but, unfortunately, after half a week had passed. Of course, for Hugh, this work will be profitable; due to the urgency, he will be paid at a double rate, but Saturday and Sunday will pass by, and he will not see Lucy. But she agreed to meet him on Saturday evening at the bar to chat and dance. Now she will have to call, apologize, and ask to postpone the meeting to another week. What if the girl refuses? So until the end of my days, I will stay a bachelor, thought Hugh.

The guy, with annoyance, threw the unfinished cigarette in the urn, got into his Ford, and drove to the garage to the tractor. 432F: this is not some cockerel which stumbles on every piece of gravel. How much land has been turned over with him? Only God knows.


The head of the automotive and tractor department of the power supply company entered the office of the chief engineer and sat down on one of the chairs along the wall.

“So, we decided unequivocally: send Hugh Chambers?”

“Yes, Chambers on Caterpillar 432F. This tractor hs a bucket instead of a shovel: it can both smooth and transfer. He himself is a young man, unmarried. So if anything happens, and work is delayed, it doesn’t matter. If the weekend works, we’ll pay.”

“And how should he spend the night there?”

“Take a tent or a tractor. The cabin is large; there’s a lot of places. It’s summer; not cold. I told Chambers to take some food with him.”

“You warned him to get to work faster before the authorities changed their minds? We are not leading the line, we are designing—they are silent, as soon as we begin to install the substation—ah, there was a ancient camp of the Michigamea, ah—here is a burial place of the Tamaroa.”

“There’s a knoll right in the middle of the lot.”

  • The Indian community also gave the go-ahead. Until all these friends change their minds, send Chambers in; let him go and let him work. And the sooner the better. By the way, what is the condition of his tractor?”

“It is good. He has a new one, and exploits it carefully. Last week, we gave him a whole day for preventive maintenance. The service was called; the oil was completely replaced, the hydraulics were cleaned, all connections were stretched and sealed. The soil there is loose and the knoll is also small, so it should work well. To Kankakee Cut-Off we will deliver a tractor on a trailer, and he will go further himself: there is not more than twenty miles. Not far there. If we send a regular excavator, then we need a dump truck for it. This will cope on its own. Where necessary—level the soil, where necessary—we will transport. His shovel is roomy; he takes more cubes of soil. He will be able to dig trenches for the foundation.”

“That’s good. As soon as Chambers is finished with work, the builders will go there; from that point forward, together with the line master, Chambers will be supervised by a civil engineer. All, go, send, so he quickly left and got to work.”

“Yes, he’s probably already left.” The head of the department got up and went to his office.


At the construction site, Hugh arrived late. Initially, he was detained when loading the tractor on the trailer. The long vehicle—which delivered the electric supports from the factory—did not find a better place to stop between the trailer and the tractor, and while the dispatcher drove him off, they lost more than an hour of time. At the entrance to Rockdale, they were stopped by a traffic policeman. Although the caravan was headed by two engineers from the autotractor and construction departments, the picky policeman carefully read all the accompanying documents, checked the attachment of the tractor to the platform, and asked several questions about the technical characteristics of the Caterpillar. Finally, his curiosity was satisfied, and the officer let the column of cars go, wishing her a safe journey.

A small hitch came with the linear master. He lived in town, not far from the construction site, and, so as not to lose time waiting for the convoy, he went about his business. An engineer called him when they drove past ExxonMobil Joliet Refinery and Styrolution. Although the master cut all his affairs short and rushed to them, they had to wait no less than half an hour.

It took a lot of time to unload the tractor from the trailer. A car loaded with a nine-ton tractor could not be driven on the sandy soil: it could slip and sink into the ground. Therefore, the tractor was lowered from the platform on a small asphalted ground near Kankakee Cut-Off, and the trailer immediately went home. Hugh moved on his tractor behind the cars of engineers and craftsmen. The speed was small, so he had to move for quite a long time. Finally, a glade appeared, indicated by pegs. Everyone got out of the cars and once again checked its location on the map and construction drawings. Hugh listened attentively to the engineers and examined the terrain; for some reason, he pressed the adjustment pegs deeper into the ground, and only after that said he was ready to work. The master and the engineers shook his hand, got into their crossovers, and drove away. Hugh was left alone.


The evening descended quickly and suddenly. No sooner had Hugh put up a tent and made a fire than the stars poured out in the sky and a bright moon lit up the neighborhood. The majestic plains whispered something to the shore with its waves, a fish splashed in the dark, and reeds rustled in the backwater. Light slumber began to cover a tired guy. But with someone’s steps and sudden coughing, his beginning sleep was alarmed.

Hugh opened his eyes and, peering out of the tent, looked around. The flames of the fire almost went out, and the glowing coals did not give light any more; the dark red heat did not bother his eyes but did not allow him to make out the surroundings, although everything around was lit by bright moonlight. Hugh climbed out of the tent and walked over to the tractor. He did not expect that any of the people could appear here; the glade was too far from the towns and enterprises. There were no nearby roads: bikers and tourists will not climb, and there was no engine noise. Hugh walked around the tractor from all sides, but found no people or animals.

But who could be brought here? he thought. In dreams, miracles can happen. On the hard ground for sleep, the devil knows what can be seen. I’ll go to the tractor.

He scrambled up the steep ladder into the cabin and gladly sprawled on the wide and cushioned seat. His hand habitually turned on the radio. A pleasant male voice quietly, with a slight hoarseness, sang:

Yellow River, Yellow River is in my mind and in my eyes.

Yellow River, Yellow River is in my blood, it’s the place.

Got no time for explanations, got no time to lose.

Tomorrow night you’ll find me

Sleeping underneath the moon at Yellow River.

Wonder what color the water in the plains is? thought Hugh, plunging into a deep sleep.


He woke up early and looked at the clock: it was not yet six. The bright morning sun penetrated through glass into the tractor cabin. Hugh regretted that he had set it up badly the evening before; it had to be put under the trees. There was now a shadow and he could sleep longer. It does not make sense to move—until it starts, until it warms up, until it moves—the whole dream will pass, he thought. I’ll go, I’ll dip into the river, have breakfast, and get to work. And then I will meet with Lucy sooner, Hugh mentally presented his coveted, but inaccessible girlfriend.

He descended the ladder to the ground and, following yesterday’s barely perceptible tracks, went to the river. Crushed grass led him past the snout of an extinguished fire; Hugh had already passed it, but something pushed, made him wary, and looking back at the ashes, he realized that someone’s footprint clearly stood out next to an extinct bonfire on a small patch of sandy soil where there was no grass. Hugh returned and began to carefully examine it; neither the master nor the engineer were here. He perfectly remembers how yesterday, already at dusk, he himself chose a place for a fire, pulled out dry grass, broke the firewood himself, and put it all in a pile.

The footprint was some kind of unusual—elongated and flat, without a heel, narrowed to the toe, but the sock itself was not printed—that meant that it was bent upwards. Hugh walked around the ashes, carefully inspecting the soil under his feet and around it, but found nothing more like it. Maybe some of the teenagers or the unemployed? a thought flashed through his head. Did they think of something to profit, but saw me and disappeared? But how did they get here? He recalled yesterday’s cough and the steps in the darkness, then shook his head, grinned, and walked to the river.


The tractor did not start very long. At first, the starter did not want to come to life. Exhaust splattered with gray smoke rings fired a rifle salute, but the engine did not start. Hugh sweated. What kind of adversity? His good morning mood had been replaced by anger. Was it possible someone was poking around in the unit at night? No, all components and parts are in place, and they can’t remove anything from the tractor without making noise. I would have heard it. Who needs it?

He again examined the starter and found that the fuel line was blocked. A piece of plastic film completely filled the tube and blocked the path of fuel. Hugh pulled a piece of wire out of his tool bag, disconnected the hose, and passed a wire through it. The polyethylene flap fell near the legs. The tractor driver blew the hosepipe and put it in place.

The starter wound up with a half-start. But now the main engine began to work badly. It ceased to keep rotation frequency and then, for no reason, suddenly increased the rotational speed so that it seemed to explode. Hugh figured it out and adjusted it. Uniform bass claps were like balsam on his agitated nerves.

The guy wiped his wet forehead and decided to plunge into the river again before work; the sweat soaked his singlet and stepped out in spots on his shirt. Hugh took them off, hung them up on the bushes, remained in his jeans, and headed for the shore. But before he could even make a dozen steps, the tractor, so peacefully and evenly rumbling its engine, roared menacingly and, jerking itself, slowly followed him to the cliff edge.

Hugh abruptly turned and rushed towards the tractor. He was no sense of danger. If only I can make it before it falls off a cliff. If it falls into the water—everything, the end. The tractor will break up so that we cannot repair it, thoughts whirled through his head. Huge rotating wheels splashed air into his face; Hugh, neglecting the danger, took aim and leaped onto the ramp, a huge jump. Hands clinging to the railings with all his might, he pulled himself up and, stepping over the stairs with his feet, reached the door. The steep bank was rapidly approaching.

Hugh pulled the door handle, but for some reason it would not open. He jerked it again, again, and again, and only when there was no more than thirty feet left before the edge, he realized that the door was opening the other way, but he forgot about it in excitement. Throwing the door wide open, he tumbled into the cabin and, falling on the seat, frantically grabbed the control levers. Before the cliff, there was no more than six feet. Hugh pulled one of the levers with all his might; the tractor turned abruptly and moved in the opposite direction. Clods of earth, falling from under the rear wheels, dropped into the water. A large tremor shook Hugh’s body; sweat poured over his eyes and pierced with small needles into the skin.

Hugh muffled the engine, wiped his neck, face, and hands with a cloth, and fell out of the cab. Gee! How was it shaken up while we got it here from the base. I need to carefully examine what else could have become loose? His thoughts about bathing were gone. He pulled out the tool bag, lifted the casing, and carefully began to inspect all the connections and components of the tractor.


The work was started only in the afternoon.

The glade for the substation was small. Within a couple of hours, it was turning black with a freshly exposed layer of earth. Cut ground in small shafts lay along its perimeter, and only a low hill was still piled up almost in the center. Hugh walked around from all sides, trying to figure out where to start. It was all the same. He climbed into the cabin and, driving up to the knoll, captured the first scoop.

By evening, the top was removed. Twilight slowly approached the site, and the tractor driver again began to overcome his annoyance: if he had been sent on Monday, he would have done everything by Friday and could now return home. And so now he still has to stumble here. Goodbye, Saturday and Sunday!

Recalling the early morning dawn, he put the tractor under the trees and turned off the engine. His 0singlet and shirt were lonelily hanging on the bushes on the opposite side of the site; Hugh took them off and headed for the river. After such a day, it would not hurt to take a good swim and think about dinner. Gradually, night fell. The starry sky and the crackle of the fire evoked thoughts of the eternal. Hugh did not notice himself falling asleep.


He woke up from the feeling that someone was looking at him. Without rising, he opened his eyes and saw a translucent, vaguely obscure figure located on the other side of the fire. A light chill crept into his soul. Hugh jumped up and rubbed his eyes. The figure swayed and dissolved in the dark of night.

The guy threw an armful of brushwood into the bonfire. A flame flashed, illuminating the neighborhood with a pale flickering glow. Hugh circled around the fire, peering into the darkness of the night. He clearly remembered the slanting gaze of narrowed eyes, a liquid mustache, the same beard, and a hatchet-tomahawk hanging on the side of the body of a night guest. His tiredness was gone. The guy threw down brushwood and sat down next to the fire. It was still long before morning, but in the east, a narrow strip of dawn had already begun to break through. He smoked a cigarette and climbed into the tractor cab. The soft seat again threw him into a nap, and a heavy, pre-dawn sleep swept the tractor driver.

He awoke to the sound of a car coming up. The engineer had arrived; he came alone. Looking around the glade with a critical eye, the man grunted displeasure:

“You haven’t done enough…for the whole day, you could have done more.”

“The tractor hates me. For so many miles brought: shaken. For half a day, I pulled and adjusted the tractor. Today, I will finish the work.”

“Okay. I will be with the master. Before leaving, I look again at the platform.” He got into the car and drove away.

Hugh had breakfast, started the tractor, and moved to the hill. This time, the equipment functioned normally, the work went on, and by lunchtime, a small, dug-up hillock remained from the knoll. The tractor driver bathed in the river, enjoyed a snack, and stretched out in the cool shade. It’s going to rain, he thought, peering into the bottomless, overcast sky. In the distance, lightning flashed. I need to finish the work and go home; I do not want to knead the dirt in the rain. Hugh threw off the rest of his afternoon nap and climbed into the cabin, laying his hands confidently on the controls.


For all installments of “Brooch,” click here.