We had finished up at the Bagby place and I thought we were through for the day but Ronnie and Jim said no, we had one more job to do.
“It’s almost dark,” I said. I didn’t know if you could rig up a light on the truck and bale hay at night that way, but I’d had enough.
“It’s a little job, a piss ant farm,” Ronnie said. “We’ll do it quick and get paid extra.”
“Why—is it supposed to rain tomorrow?” I asked. I knew some farmers would pay you more if they needed to get their hay in the barn before it rained.
“Naw, the guy’s rich,” Jim said. “He’s payin’ us extra because he can afford it.”
We were almost back into town, at the five-way stoplight by the cemetery. Instead of going straight to my house, or the left fork back to Ronnie’s house, Jim took a hard left, past the Holiday Inn out towards where the new subdivision was going in.
We went past the country club and turned into a driveway that led to a new house. I recognized it because it had been a farm when I was growing up; our neighbors knew the people who lived there, we went out there to ride an old horse one time.
The house that used to be there was just a farm house; the new one was a fancy suburban one, although there was still a barn out back. A man came out to greet us on a tractor; he had a teenage boy riding behind him on back.
“Glad you all could make it, follow me out back,” the man said. He turned the tractor around and headed out behind the house where there was a field of baled hay to be taken in.
“See, it ain’t so much,” Ronnie said. It was still work, but I could tell it wasn’t going to be that hard, maybe three truckloads. Still, I would have rather been home.
The boy got down and came over to where we were so that there four of us working; two bucking the bales, Ronnie on the truck bed stacking them, Jim driving. The boy didn’t say much, just smiled a goofy smile and said “Let me help” after he jumped off the tractor and came over.
“You take the left side,” I said. I’m right-handed, so it was easier for me to be on that side. Once we got goin’ I could tell the boy was right-handed too; he had to turn around to sling the bales on the truck going against him, which slowed him down as the motion of his swing carried him away from the truck as it rolled through the field.
The kid slowed us down but after a while I just ignored him; I figured he’d get the hang of it and any help would get the job done quicker. He was fatter than all of us and wasn’t really prepared. He wore just a white t-shirt; I liked to wear sleeves so my arms don’t get all scratched up—besides, it was getting cool as the sun went down. His gloves were cotton-like and didn’t look like they were going to last long. I learned to get leather gloves the hard way, the first day Ronnie and Jim took me out. My hands were so cut from the twine the first morning I could barely hoist a bale by noontime. The farmer gave me a set of his gloves when we broke for lunch and I made it to the end of the day.
We got the truck loaded and I got in the cab with Ronnie and Jim. The boy got on the back of the tractor again and rode back to the barn with the man.
We got the first load into the barn without much trouble; the loft wasn’t big, I guess because the man didn’t have that much land. You didn’t have to haul the bales very far across the floor, me and the boy would just grab them off the loader, turn around and stack them.
We didn’t talk much while we were working in the loft; at one point the boy asked me if I played football and I said yes.
“I’m going out this year,” he said with a big grin on his face, as if I was supposed to be impressed.
“Is that so?” I said and just kept working.
“I’m trying to get in shape. I’ve heard it’s tough.”
“First week is hell,” I said. I didn’t want to seem soft, but I figured a guy like him would just waste everybody’s time going out. Might as well try and discourage him.
When we were done the boy rode out to the field on the back of the tractor like before. I guessed it was only going to take one more run, and by the time we got out to where the man’s property ended I could see it wasn’t even going to be a full load. We made the turn and headed back towards the barn; there was still maybe fifty bales scattered around to get.
“I’m goin’ in—nice to meet you,” the boy said as he ran off and hopped on the back of the tractor. I looked at Ronnie but his face didn’t even change, like the loss of one pair of hands was no big deal. Of course it wasn’t to him, he was stacking, not bucking.
The boy caught up with the tractor and hopped on behind, like before. What would have been an easy finish was now twice as hard, and I resented it.
“What’s up with him?” I yelled up to Ronnie.
“I guess that’s all he’s gonna do—you can finish up, we’re almost done.”
I wouldn’t have minded ordinarily, but for the kid to just pick up and leave like that made me mad.
“Who the hell is he?” I shouted at Ronnie.
“That’s his boy,” he said, nodding off towards the tractor. “He don’t have to work, you do, so get busy.”