Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Mr. Sneed Fails To Pray

Pickem Sneed picked. First he picked Arkansas cotton, then he picked Washington apples and pears, and in California he picked all manner of crop, apricots, peaches, plums, apples, pears, oranges, grapes, berries, tomatoes and later, picked his own land, picked his own crops, and picked his own pickers. Pickem said, “My Daddy named me Pickem, my Mama made me strong, and I just tried to keep up.”

So it was that one early misty morning 85 years after old Mr. Sneed aptly named his son, Pickem picked his way across the open area between the faded and chipped green clapboard Sneed home and the well-tended, just harvested Sneed family peach orchard. Pickem toddled gamely along a worn dirt path along side his ’72 Dodge Dart parked dangerously close to the back porch, turning sharply past the overgrown, rusted disk harrow with a bent towing shaft, and then switching back to pass between the pile of scrap metal on one side and the pile of scrap lumber on the other. What his stride lacks in force he makes up in purpose, using diminished gait as a means of carefully perusing his reserves of spare parts, reminding himself with some pride, of what he does not need to purchase to keep things running on the farm.

At the edge of the yard, he pauses next to his old Massey-Fergusen tractor, resting his hand on one of its great rear tires. He looks out to the orchard, calculating the amount of this fall’s pruning versus the time it will take to gather the wooden props that held up the weighted down branches before harvest. The props lie in neat piles along the orchard’s rows. Today he will begin picking them up and loading them in a trailer pulled behind the tractor. As a young man, this chore would have taken him no more than two days. Now, he must plan for almost twice that.After the props, comes a week of irrigation and then the pruning. His sigh is frustration with his speed, not his strength.

The tractor is parked on a narrow dirt road that divides the house, the old barn and a young almond orchard from the peach orchard on the north side of the property. While his holdings extend well past these 15 acres of peaches and 5 acres of almonds, this is all he works these days. Pickem leaves the rest to his son, spending an hour or more each day with him reviewing the details of every piece of land the Sneed family owns or manages. He looks to the east, down the track and sees something piled on the almond (south) side of the dirt path.

At first he thinks his wife has spilled the laundry basket there, but can think of no reason for her to have ever brought it out past the clothes lines and poles he only just re-built for her along the side of the house four springs ago. He walks to the pile of laundry slower than usual. The clothes cover the figure of a body, smaller than he thought at first and more awful because of it. He stops a few yards from the hand, a dark child’s hand attached to a child’s narrow wrist reaching out of a dirty blue plaid shirt. Pickem focuses on the hand, wrist and shirt because he cannot think of the awful truth of the body they are attached to, so unnaturally bent and twisted.
He whispers because he cannot, no matter how hard he tries, speak calmly, normally, in the face of this absurd and terrible waste, “That shirt’s too worn, boy. Tell your mama to get ya’ a new one.” Then he sees his own hand reaching out to the boy’s from too far away to ever touch him and he recognizes his own fear shaking there in the morning air. He wishes he could pray but fails, saying, “Please Mama, let this be a memory. Not real. Not on my place. Make it a memory, Mama. Please.”