The Canola Violence

By: Erika McDonnell

Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia


The canola fields were a haven. Like warm butter on toast, the yellow flowers spread brightly across the earth for as far as the eye could see. Luca liked to run among their tall stalks, creating waves of sunshine. The big house was ideally located right in front of the largest field the Harveys had to offer, so when Momma called for Luca to tidy his room, wash the dog, or have a shower, he would hide among the canola. He could hide for hours, content to lie back and gaze upwards, pondering the clouds that dotted the blue like cute cotton swabs in a school diorama. It would be a long time before Momma came toting a whip-like dishtowel, her tool of choice to get her son back in the house before the summer thunderstorms began.

“I’ll never ruin the fields,” Luca often said at dinnertime. To this, Momma and Poppa would shake their heads, a sad smile uncomfortably plastered on their faces because the future was inevitable; Luca had to follow in the footsteps of generations of Harvey men. For canola was no haven—it was survival. Deep down, the doe-eyed nine-year-old knew, but he remained adamant about refusing his fate. After all, who could say no to this boy—a vision of innocence with cherubic cheeks and wispy brown locks—but God Himself?

Sometimes Momma and Poppa would watch their son prance about the fields from the window above the kitchen sink.

“Walter, we’re going to have to put an end to this somehow,” Momma said one day as she passed a plate to her husband for drying. He took it, ran a dish towel across, and placed it in the cupboard above his head.

“It’s fine.” Poppa dried another plate. “You know, I’ll take him out with me tomorrow for the swathing. Lionel’s youngest, you know, Peter? He’s just one year older than our Luca and he’s got no problem. He’s practical, understands that canola’s a business and not a fucking Von Trapp pansy-fest.” Momma gritted her teeth; she didn’t like when Poppa swore, but she had learned not to say anything. After all, he was her husband.

“Alright. Here, take these knives. They’re the last of the dishes to be dried.” Momma wiped her soapy hands on her apron, her eyes always on Luca who was running swiftly through the canola, his brown head bobbing among the yellow. His eyes were wide and bright, his cheeks rosy with joyful adrenaline. Momma gripped the edge of the sink so hard her knuckles went white.


Poppa was sliding the knives into the drawer one by one and he didn’t stop or look up to answer. “Yeah?”

“We’re going to break his heart.”

The knives stopped and Poppa looked up, his watery blue eyes meeting his wife’s own anxious ones.

“That’s life, Susan.” And the knives picked up again.


Luca bounced like a hare through the sea of canola. He relished in the sensation of the stalks and flowers as he whipped by, feeling entirely in his element. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the real hares snuffling around and he could hear the whooshing wings of twittering birds passing above. There was something wonderfully invigorating about being the fields and, for a moment, Luca wished he could run forever, far away from Momma and Poppa and the swathing and the life of a Harvey.

A rut in the ground brought Luca to an abrupt stop. He tumbled face first into the dirt, bending some canola with him. His first instinct was to cry, to holler out for Momma who would come running with a wet cloth to clean the scratches, but he caught the words on his tongue. Luca didn’t want to give his parents any reason to forbid him from frolicking about the yellow. Already, he could hear Momma saying “It’s dangerous” with downturned eyes, and that would be that. Poppa would be ecstatic. Instead, Luca rolled over on his back and lay flat against the uneven ground so that he could look up at the bright blue sky framed by yellow above him. Beads of crimson blood formed along the scratches that now adorned the sides of his face, but Luca couldn’t have cared less. All he was feeling was the warmth of the Earth on his back and the sun on his face.

“Luca!” A little golden body flitted above the boy, who smiled easily.

“Hi Marigold,” he said. Luca slowly lifted up his small arm, letting his hand flop forward, his pinky finger extended. Marigold moved to sit on the small finger, her minuscule legs dangling as if perched on a branch. Luca was always amazed at the weightlessness of his fairy friend. “How are you today?” Luca brought his arm to rest on his stomach now, and Marigold lightly stepped off to take a seat.

“So fine, so fine! The sun is shining and the birds are chirping, so everyone is happy,” Marigold said in her sing-song voice. She paused before continuing, “Do you know when the swathing begins?” A cloud crossed over the sun.

Luca scooped Marigold into the palm of his hand and slowly sat up. His face was solemn.

“Tomorrow, I think. Poppa hasn’t said much about it, but I heard him talking on the phone to the others.”

“And there’s nothing you can do to stop it?”

“You know I can’t, Mari. He prides himself on our family’s history in canola. Though I mourn it, I am small.”

Marigold stood up and clenched her fists, her face scrunching up in frustration. “But think of the animals, the earthworms, the canola spirits! We are all smaller, but we breathe and exist, so why should we be sacrificed to your giants?”

Luca sighed. He loved Marigold, but their conversations always ended this way: hopeless. He was hopeless in thinking he could properly explain the situation to the fairy, and she was hopeless in thinking that he could stop Poppa and the others. As usual, all Luca could reply with was a meek, “I’m sorry.”

Marigold grumbled. “This isn’t fair. They act as if we are a fairytale, mere figments of imagination.”

But you are, Luca wanted to reply. Instead, he changed the subject and the two began discussing the sky.


Poppa was on the phone again, finalizing tomorrow’s swathing so Momma could sit peacefully on the front porch and keep an eye on Luca. He was no longer bobbing around like a gazelle in the canola; in all likelihood, he was now lying flat on the ground staring up at the blue sky. He did this sometimes when he got tired. Momma couldn’t understand how her nine-year-old son could find enjoyment in doing absolutely nothing, but then she didn’t really understand anything her son did. Everything he took pleasure in was so contrary to the rest of the Harveys. Once, Momma had dared ask what he thought about when he looked up at the sky.

“I don’t just look up at the sky, Momma. That’s boring,” Luca had replied as he dipped his grilled cheese in ketchup.

“Okay, then what do you do if you’re not looking up at the sky?”

“Well, I discuss things.” This answer took Momma by surprise and also made her a little nervous because she didn’t know anybody who frequented the fields except for the Harveys themselves. And they preferred to avoid her oddball son. Luca went on, seeing the look of confusion on Momma’s face: “…About the world. About the canola. About life. With Marigold.”

Momma took a sip of her coffee. In the back of her mind, she wished she’d made it Irish. “Who’s Marigold?”

“She’s a canola fairy.”

“A canola fairy?” So it was an imaginary friend.

In between bites of grilled cheese, Luca explained. “Yes, she protects the things that live in the canola fields, like the spirits and the animals. It’s a hard job, ’specially when you’ve got Poppa and his friends going through and harvesting everything.”

“So what does Marigold look like?” She was humouring him now.

Luca smiled, pleased that someone was interested in a part of his life for once. “She’s beautiful, Momma. She’s tiny and gold, and her wings are like the sun’s rays. She wears little dresses that the canola spirits make for her. I think you would like her.”

Momma couldn’t help but smile back at Luca, though it was tinged with something akin to sadness, for canola was no haven, it was survival, and the future was inevitable.


The next day was the swathing, so Poppa got Luca up early and Momma was already busy in the kitchen. She had prepared a thick stack of pancakes and fresh berries, hot coffee for her husband, and a milky hot chocolate for her son. The swathing required lots of energy.

Poppa took two large strawberries and a swig of his coffee. “So,” he said with his mouth full, “big day, huh Luca?”

Luca merely grunted in response as he pushed a soggy portion of pancake around his plate, which was bogged down with maple syrup.

“You reply to me, son,” Poppa ordered. Momma froze at the griddle. This is not a good way to start such a day. 

Luca looked up and stared his father straight in the eye, where there was fire. “Yes, it is a big day.”

“Son, this is your future and you must embrace it like I did, and my father before me. This is our role in the world, and we must fulfill it. So today’s the day you join me for once. Peter’s there with his poppa, and you’re gonna be there with yours. So it’s going to be a good time.” The way Poppa phrased it, there really was no choice in the matter; this was clear to both Momma and Luca.

“Yes, right, I’m going to embrace my role in the world and destroy something beautiful. After all, that’s what we do best, isn’t it?” Luca stood up, chair grating against the floor tiles, and stormed out of the kitchen. He marched to the entranceway, fetched his coat and thick boots, and slammed the door open.

He yelled, “So what are we waiting for? Let’s get on with it, if you’re so keen.” Within seconds, Poppa was up and standing and at the door with his son. The fire still flamed in his eyes, but there was a confusion, perhaps even a hesitation. Luca was past outright refusal, but that was all Poppa knew of his son’s nature: refusal and stubbornness. When that was all gone, what was he left with except for a nine-year-old he didn’t know at all?

But now was certainly not the time to contemplate Luca. Now was the time to teach Luca the ways of the Harveys and, by extension, Poppa had some hope that Luca would come to understand what it was to be a Harvey instead of some canola-loving pansy.

Momma watched from the kitchen window as her boys went out to meet with the others, including Lionel and Peter. She watched them until they disappeared from her sight, but she knew what they were doing. They were getting the swathers, probably explaining the important parts of the machines to Luca, and maybe a bit to Peter in case he hadn’t remembered everything. They were getting gloves, the maps of the fields, and planning out who would go where and what would be cut. Then Luca would join Poppa in one of the swathers, Peter in another with Lionel, and the rest would hop in, well, the rest.

Actually, she could hear them now, the swathers. They rumbled by and traversed the canola fields, splitting up and heading to their designated sections. Luca and Poppa took the section directly in front of their house. When she saw this, Momma turned away and got her knitting. She didn’t want to see Poppa growling at Luca and as much as she disagreed with her son’s antics, she didn’t need to see him as he cut down his favourite place or his imaginary friend.

She didn’t need to see it because she heard it. The wails were loud and heart wrenching, as a mother might scream for a lost child, and they sliced through the shrill tone of the swathers, the thick trunks of the trees that lay at the edge of the Harvey property, and they most definitely infiltrated the walls of the big house. Momma’s ears bled as she felt the sound of her son’s loss as deeply as if it were her own. Regret filled her; guilt shrouded her; grief clung like burrs.

Luca’s innocence was broken, and it was murderous.