Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dust Bowl

"Wind's pickin' up again."

"I'm standing right here beside you, ain't I? Don't I know it is by myself? Law."

"Alright, alright, calm yourself. Ain't nothin' to get worked up over, I was just sayin'."

"Well, keep your sayin's to yourself. I get tired of your lip."

They fell into a weighty silence. Jim tipped his hat low, bending in the chair to hit the spittoon just right of his foot. He wanted to point out that with the wind gaining in strength, they ought to go gather up the horses, cows, and chickens into the barn and get the doors closed, a dust storm could happen in a matter of seconds in this little hollow. But with Amos, any suggestion was taken as a threat against his intelligence. So Jim, patient soul that he was, kept his lips tight (except for the occasional spit) and waited for instructions from his brother.

Leaning up against the wall, Amos stared out over the plains. They're parents had left the farm thirty years back, and both boys worked so hard at running and maintaining it, they completely forgot about the other parts of life. Now, nearing 50, and Jim easing on up to 45, he regretted every missed opportunity in his past. Janie Evans was his sweetheart at age 22. And he stopped taking her to the barn dances and fairs many years back. He had more important things to attend to, with the passing of his folks and a younger brother and a baby sister to watch. The sickly cows, pulling and tugging at sparse blades of grass, their milk far from frothy and plentiful, made the pain in his stomach twitch and worsen.

"Maggie's out back feeding the chickens. Run and tell her to get 'em in the coop, you know she won't figure it out for herself. Sick little girl. Then get back over here and help me with the bigger stock." He pushed off from the doorway as Jim headed through the old plain wooden house.

Slick, the dappled sire of the bunch, fathering more foals than believable, lumbered over and nudged Amos under the arm. Slick was born from Angel, the first horse Amos' father had ever owned. He was special, the one thing that made a profit on the farm, with his colts coming every six months out of one of the four mares, and the one thing that Amos found as a comfort. He rubbed the stallion's black diamond on his forehead, pushing the stringy hair away.

"Get on in the barn, Slick. I got your women comin' in after ya." The massive horse lumbered in, slowly, deliberately. He knew what was coming.

Jim came running from around the back of the house in a huff, out of breath and red in the face.

"Amos! Amos! Maggie ain't back there. I checked all over the back and into the little thicket and in the house. I can't find her. And the wind is pickin' up and you know her. She can't make it home in a dust storm."

Maggie had been born touched. She developed slowly, then got to a certain age and stopped developing altogether. She never mentally passed the age of 1o to Amos, though her body was now in the late 30's.

"We have to find her Amos, the animals can wait. You know we can't leave her out there alone. She'll die."

Amos felt a moment of guilt staring at his brother. Jim was sincerely worried about Maggie's well being. The only thing Amos felt was anger. Her death would mean his sacrifice would be for nothing. Somewhere along the line, he had forgotten the important things in life. And for this, he envied Jim.

"Saddle up Slick and the red mare. We'll ride out until we find her."