The two men leaned against the fence staring silently over the long shadows of the corn as another September day waned gently into dusk.
After a bit one of the two pushed himself away from the fence and strode to his car, a non-descript oversized four door American sedan, a throwback to days when gas was $0.69 cents a gallon, not the $1.75 it had jumped to in the past year.
The man walked around to the rear of the vehicle and the creak of the trunk’s hinges, testifying to a disdain the man had for maintaining that particular vehicle, broke the songs of the meadowlarks in the cornfield. In the stead of their warble another sound, the soft rustle of ice could be heard as the man fished around in a cooler that was stored in the trunk. The hinges whined again, more pitifully this time, as the trunk was closed with a hollow “thunk’ and a click as the lock sprung back into place.
The man walked back around the car, returning to his station along the fence. Holding one beer in the crook of his arm he cracked the can open and solemnly, almost as if it was a ritual offering, handed the first beer to his companion. Then with equal care he opened his own can, deliberately lifted it to his lips and drank deep. He did not hurry.
Then, balancing the remainder of the beer atop the flat stub of a fencepost he wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve, adjusted his cap so that it further hid his eyes in shadow, and drew in a long slow breath.
“Yeah. Chelsea was never the same after that, he began. It was one of those farm accidents you hear about. Story goes he was working in the field pulling the discus with the tractor- something jammed I hear tell. Said he climbed down from the tractor and could see whatever it was jammed up inside the discus so he used the hydraulics to raise the the works up a bit and had got himself up underneath the whole darn mess.”
“Seems he was yankin’ on whatever it was jamming things up when whatever it was came loose. Trouble was ,it took with it the hydraulic hose that was keeping the discus raised up and the whole damn thing came down on’em.”
“T” tell you the truth, he was lucky – it could have sliced him into little pieces; instead it just sliced into his shoulder – yeah it’s true – sliced into it like you’d slice into a drumstick you wanted to separate from a thigh – but that’s better than getting sliced through the neck or the back or both legs I reckon.”
“Anyways he was lucky twice for being stupid. You know what they say about fools, drunks and children… he coulda been pinned neath it all night. Wouldn’t of mattered if he’d been able to holler till he died from losing all that blood.”
The man fell silent – imagining perhaps the scene he was describing. Wondering if he would have given up or screamed and screamed and screamed… after a few moments, he went on.
“That no good 500 pound wife of his can’t even get out of her own chair without help, let alone go out inna the fields to see what the noise was about. No sir. He could have screamed til he died with her in the next room and had no help – none a’tall”
“Ray, the other ranch hand forgot his thermos. That’s what saved him. He come back fer it, and noticed that the quonset hut was still open and that the tractor was out. He thought that Jackie’s kids might of come down and been messing with things like they did time to time but then he saw it settin there in the field with the sun goin down and it didn’t look right”.
“That’s what he said, he said it didn’t look right. So he went over to check it out – ta see what why it was laid up just so and when he got close first thing he noticed was a big cloud of flies like something was dead. Damned peculiar he told me…”
“Then that big black and white mutt that only Chelsea could come near stands up in between Ray and the tractor and growls real low and mean like. “Like he meant business” was how Ray put it.”
The other man leaned forward against the fence, cradling his beer in both hands, his head turned to focus his attention on the first man. Like his companion, his eyes were deep in the shadow cast by the wide brim of his hat – a straw cowboy hat that was stained dark from more then one day’s honest labor. The orange-red sun came through the weave of the hat in a pattern leaving a cross-hatch shadow across the lower half of his face, like some sort of weird transparent bandanna used to conceal the features with just the barest hint of the whites of two eyes peering out from the darkness above.
“it’s a good thing we still carry guns out in these parts”
“Yup. Ray said the same. Shot that summbitch right between the eyes – nothing else he could do I reckon. He said he felt bad about it later but as he figured, it was the dog or it was him, never mind Chelsea – he hadn’t even got up close enough to the tractor to get an eyeful of that mess yet…”
“Was bad I hear.”
“Yup. Ray said that too. Said Chelsea was out when he walked up. Said he thought he was dead. Said there was so much blood on the ground – he told me he didn’t know a man had that much blood in’em – told me no way he thought a person could have that much blood drain out and still pull through.”
“From the way Ray tells it he was going to walk back to the office and call the police to pick up the body; he wasn’t even going to touch it, says he can’t stomach the sight of blood and he’s something mighty averse to touching something dead – even if that something was someone he knew. But then he said he got this feeling like he needed to do something – to say something – like something was missing or needed to be put to rights before he left him there.”
“It’s damn weird. You know I’m not a spiritual man, haven’t seen the inside of a church since the day I got married – can you blame me all the favors that woman has done me over the years – no I’m not spirtual t’all but I think that was the spirit talking or something akin to it.”
“Anyways, Ray says to me – I felt like I had to do something – compelled to do something but I didn’t want to touch him you understand – I didn’t want to touch him something fierce. Finally, I pulled my gun out from my belt – it was still warm from shootin’ the dog – I pulled it out and I put the barrel under his chin and kinda lifted it…”
“Nearly blew his head off too is what Ray tells me. Said he was lifting his chin up the guy opens his eyes. ” “Damn good thing I had the sense put that safety back on after – otherwise his problems woulda been over and mine would just been getting started. I closed my finger on the trigger hard – scared the crap outta me it did when he opened his eyes.” Is what he said.
“It woulda scared me too. Woulda gave me nightmares for ages what it woulda done.”
“That’s what Ray said it done did to him too. Said he still couldn’t sleep a night without thinking about it. Figures it’d be the only man in town with two different colored eyes – same as that damn dog of his that Ray shot. Ray said he never noticed if afore that moment. He said first thing came into his mind was that he was seeing the devil up close and personal-like. Said it was closest he’d been to peeing hisself, said it made him want to go back to church.”
“Did Ray what?”
“Go back to church? I mean before today? Did Ray ever go back to church before today?”
“Not that I can recall. Maybe for a wedding or a funeral but I don’t think in the end it changed him much. Aside from more nights up watching the television til the sun come up.”
“So what do ya reckon they’ll do with the farm now?”
“That’s the question, ain’t it? That’s the $25,000 question.” The man sighed heavily. “I seen that crook of a developer pokin’ his head around a few times and I seen that sneak they call “Stevie” out here too. Wish the lot of them would stay back in the city far as I’m concerned. They’re gonna fill her head with nonsense and she won’t listen to reason what I figure is gonna happen.”
“They’re all in it for theirselves ain’t they?”
“Well, we all are – but some folks can be in it for theirself and not take advantage of nobody else neither but not those city people. They’re all the same near as I can tell. Like rats worried someone else got a bigger piece of cheese.”
“Hell. In the end don’t matter anyway. We all end up in the same ground under the same sky with someone rememberin’ us in ways we maybe wish they wouldn’t. Far as I’m concerned you do your best, you don’t take unfair advantage, you put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages and you treat folks with respect. You keep your word when you give it and you hope for the best.” The man said that last softly – it came out but barely as a whisper.
His friend couldn’t tell what he was thinking – the man’s face was a blank mask under the hat in the waning light. Finally, the other man, the one in the cowboy hat turned towards his friend and said “Yeah, Joe. I know. I’ll miss him too.”