Jan Elman Stout

I was reluctant to return to Kenosha to help my older sister Janie sell our family acreage. Poking dry soil only generates dust. But I was raised right.

From Brooklyn I’d imagined our fields flecked with white clover, like a Bundt cake speckled with powdered sugar. Instead, our land was choked by burdock, barnyard grass, and ragweed. The push mowers Dad collected and raced at the local track were hidden in the brush, rusted and corroding. Rotting wooden steps propped against the trailer groaned when Janie descended and sat next to me in the grass. She’d sprouted gray hair since I’d last seen her. Only the big sky remained the same, tracking our every move.    

“Janie, remember how you poked holes for me in Mom’s Mason jar lids when we chased fireflies?”

“I remember you freed them. You’d read letting air in the jar killed them faster.”

She crossed her arms. Her eyebrows knitted.  

“You’re not smartest,” she said. “Just lucky.”

In sixth grade I’d won the spelling bee with the word ‘yield.’ Three years before that, Janie had forgotten the ‘h’ in ‘spaghetti.’ Mom said we were equally smart. Dad said my word was too easy.

“Remember in late summer how the crickets chirped all night? I loved when you coined it ‘cricket symphony in the key of life,’” I said.

Janie’s arms loosened and I touched her shoulder.

I wanted negotiations with the buyers to go smoothly before I headed back to Brooklyn. I’d researched market value and thirty-two acres could pull in $100,000 if we were smart.

“Dad once said this place would be mine after he and Mom passed. Since I never left them.”

I uprooted a handful of grass.

“I wish he’d listened when I told him that planting white clover as a cover crop would yield healthy corn at lower cost,” I said.

We were bequeathed equal shares of land. I hadn’t told Janie yet, but I’d already decided she could keep the lion’s share of our earnings. She’d have to move off the property but she could buy a decent place and have money left over.

“Your idea was stupid,” Janie said. “Dad said the clover would outcompete the corn.”

“And the farm failed.” I hadn’t meant to say this. They’d done their best.  

“Dad hated working the line at Case after. Couldn’t say the name and meet our eyes.” Janie sighed. “You didn’t know, what with college and all.”

I wished they’d taken my advice. The clover would have reestablished itself annually and given the soil all the nitrogen the corn needed.

“I’m sorry, Janie.” 

I tried to hug her but she leaned away.

I wondered if we’d lose touch after the farm sold.

“I never told you,” I said, “but when I was little I thought the crickets’ chirps were the sound of the stars twinkling.”

Janie laughed. “Boy, you and your ideas.”

I looked at the unbroken sky, no clouds to shade us, same as I’d remembered. 


Jan Elman Stout’s fiction has been published in Literary Orphans, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Pure Slush, Jellyfish Review, MoonPark Review, Crack the Spine, and elsewhere. She was finalist in Midwestern Gothic’s 2016 Summer Flash Fiction Contest. Her flash has been nominated for Best Small Fictions 2017 and 2018. Jan is submissions editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. She lives in Washington, DC. Jan can be reached on Twitter at @JanElmanStout.