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.”