"Not a patch on touch ... Nothing to beat touch," one said, and the other confirmed it.
"Would you like a go on it?" Bugler said then to each of them.
"I'll pass," Joseph said, but added that Breege would. She shrunk back from them, looked at the machine, and then climbed up on it because all she wanted was to have got up and down again and vanish. Through the back of her thin blouse one hook of her brassiere was broken and Bugler would see that. A red colour ran up and down her cheeks as if pigment were being poured on them. It was like being up on a throne, with the fields and the low walls very insignificant, and she felt foolish.
"You're okay ... You're okay ... It won't run away with you," Bugler said softly, and leaned in over her. Their breaths almost merged. She thought how different he seemed now, how conciliatory, how much less abrupt and commanding. His eyes, the colour of dark treacle, were as deep as lakes, brown eyes, wounded-looking, as if a safety pin had been dragged over them in infancy. He saw her agitation, saw that she was uneasy, and to save the moment he told her brother that the bloke he bought the tractor from was a right oddball.
"How come?" Joseph said.
"He said that if I couldn't start it, I was to find a child, get the child to put its foot on the clutch, but tell it to be ready to jump the moment the engine started."
"You won't find a child around here," Joseph said, and in the silence they looked as if they were expecting something to answer back. Nothing did. It was as if they were each suspended and staring out at the fields, brown and khaki, and nondescript in the gathering dusk; fields over which many had passed, soldiers, pilgrims, journeymen, children too; fields on which their lives would leave certain traces followed by some dismay, then forgetfulness.
"You'll come in for the tea," Joseph said to lighten things.
"I won't ... I have jobs to do," Bugler said, and turning to Breege, thinking that in some way he owed her an apology, he said, "If ever you want supplies brought from the town, you know who to ask."
Copyright (c) 1999 by Edna O'Brien. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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