Charlie was headed to the Gulf. Since the hurricane, he had heard, the jobs were there for the taking. The kid who pumped gas at the Shell back in Red Bank had been down for a week in March and told him all about it. Places were cheap, the water was warm, and the girls were looking for action. Good thing for Category Five hurricanes, he said, and it struck Charlie that this was a hateful thing to say just as he realized it was exactly where he needed to go.
Lucy’s farm was only a stopover, a place to hide out, save up some money, and then get back on the road. Goats, Charlie figured. How much work could they really be? Getting out of Red Bank — that had been the hard part.
He was wrong, it turned out, on both counts. The days at Lucy’s felt like a broken record, a never-ending limbo. He just couldn’t seem to get anything right. Not to mention the weather, which looked like it was there to stay. Triple digits for a week, hot as the hinges of hell, and going on forty-five days with no rain.
People were saying it was the worst drought in a century. Charlie, wrestling with the crazy-wheeled wheelbarrow, already sweating at seven-thirty in the morning, figured it had to be the worst drought in a million years. The pastures were as scorched as a space shuttle launch site. The low hills in the distance sizzled in the sun, too much to look at. All across the state, fields were going up in ?ame. One spark from a mower blade hitting a rock and the whole thing would go. Lucy reminded him several times a week that the tractor was strictly forbidden.
As he hefted each bale of hay across the field to a hay rack, the goats followed him, ripping off mouthfuls with their square little teeth. When they ran, their heavy udders tangled in their hind legs like big rubber balls. Sometimes they tripped, landing on top of them with a bounce, and Charlie would wince, afraid that one would pop like a balloon, spraying hot milk everywhere. The goats had yellow snake eyes and were the colors of stones: some brown, some gray, some white, some striped, sedimentary. They moved as one body. The kids, miniature versions of their mothers, scrambled to keep up and got punted around in the confusion. When he finally managed to get each bale forked into the big slatted hay racks, three or four goats leapt into each one and bedded down.
Lying in your food while you eat it, Charlie thought, stopping to catch his breath. Not such a bad idea.
This is an excerpt from the article published in the March/April 2009 issue of Orion. Purchase this issue, take advantage of our free trial offer ($19 for six gorgeous issues) for the print magazine, or subscribe to the equally beautiful digital edition ($10 for six issues) for the full text.