Hitting the Hay

The man had been traveling for a long time, and the dirt that covered his skin had long since caked his open sores. The dull pain had been numbed by fatigue.  The only indication that still remained of the 6-inch wound in his left leg was a curiously persistent itch. The man idly scratched, and his fingers came back bloody. He continued to walk.

The road he walked down bordered a small creek that had run dry in May and would not hold water until October. The fences on the side of the road seemed mismatched, and the grass that grew at the bases of the posts was brown and limp.  The trees looked thirsty.

The man saw a farmhand pushing a loaded wheelbarrow up the road, and fell into a steady limp about 40 feet behind him. After about 20 more minutes of walking, the laborer turned off of the road towards a small, shabby farm. The man walked past the gap in the fence, then doubled back and squinted at the farmhand, now laboriously unloading his wheelbarrow into the yard. Pausing to pick a bug out of his teeth, the man slumped against the fence. He took a pipe out of his pocket and shoved it, empty, into his mouth.

Several hours after the sunset the laborer extinguished the candles hanging in the farmhouse, and the man stood creakily up, wiped the chewed-on pipe against his filthy shirt and put it back in his pocket. He limped slowly up to the farmhouse. The heavy sound of livestock breathing drifted out of the open windows of the barn and across the field. The man eased the door of the farmhouse open and ventured into the darkness, feeling carefully with his feet for any irregularities in the dirt floor. He spotted what he believed to be a cupboard, and pawed at the rough wooden door, eventually finding a splintery handle. Inside he found flour, butter and eggs, along with a sturdy metal bucket. He took the bucket and began to slouch away, then returned for the eggs.

Outside, he scanned the yard carefully until he saw a glint of metal, and walked over towards it, clutching carefully to the eggs. Placing the bucket on the hard-packed dirt and shoving the eggs into his various frayed pockets, he began methodically working the water pump, breathing heavy against the pain in his arms and chest. Once the bucket was filled he picked it up above his head and slowly poured it over his hair and shoulders, enjoying the shock of the cold water. He then replaced the bucket, and filled it up again.

Carrying his bucket carefully, he followed the sound of sleeping animals to the barn. Opening the door, he waited a long time until he was able to distinguish the stalls that were empty. He grimaced, feeling his leg more than usual, and walked over to the nearest vacant stall, placing his bucket down behind him before undoing the latch. Feeling in the dark, he found the hay on the floor of the stall and eased himself down onto it, reaching backwards to catch the lip of the bucket with his finger and drag it towards him. He picked it up and took a sip, then leaned against the hay with a sigh, placed his pipe in his mouth and, ignoring the scratch of the hay on his back, fell deeply asleep


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