As they neared the end of a row and approaching the barnyard, Don said with unusual zeal for their condition, “I got an idea!”
“What?” Rich said barely raising his head.
“Let’s finish the row and I’ll show you,” Don said.
They picked up the pace and finished the row. Don climbed over the fence. Rich followed him. As he got closer to the barn, he began taking his shoes and socks off. Rich blindly did the same. Don suddenly sprinted toward the water trough, leaped, curled into a ball, and landed in the water with a mighty splash. He dunked his head under the water and lifted it out and said, “Come on in the water’s great.”
Rich ran full tilt, jumped, and landed buttocks first in the trough with an equally mighty splash.
They sat at both ends of the trough facing each other like men in a rowboat. They laughed and splashed each other.
“What a wonderful relief!” Rich said.
They relaxed with their arms dangling out the trough.
“I don’t want to leave,” Rich said.
“Your Uncle Bob better pay us good,” Don said.
“I wish I’d found out how much he was going to pay before we started,” Rich said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Don said. “The going rate is two dollars an acre. That’s fifty bucks. Bob will probably pay us forty. I can live with that. That’s twenty bucks each.”
“Yeah,” Rich said confidently, “we’ll get at least that.”
Rich gazed over Don’s shoulder. The Larsen house was visible in the distance through a break in the trees, that followed a creek and divided Gardner’s farm from the Larsen’s. The house stood singularly peaceful – a peaceful gray against a blue sky and buffeted by a willow, a pine, and two maple trees. Inside was discord and rage.
“What’s wrong?” Don asked.
“Nothing,” Rich said and continued to gaze.
“Your mom and dad?” Don said.
“What?” Rich said.
“Your mom and dad?” Don said.
“My mom and dad what?” Rich said.
“Is that what you’re thinking about?” Don said.
Rich hesitated. “Yeah, and Uncle Bob. I don’t know how much longer I can take it.”
“What’s going on?” Don asked swirling the water with his finger.
“Do you know that besides my mother wanting to kill us all a while back, a few years ago, my dad had me hold a razor to his neck, and ask me to cut it open. There’s something wrong with this family. I could be the one causing it.”
“How’s that?” Don said incredulously.
“I screw things up,” Rich said. “Give me five minutes alone in a room with Castro, Khrushchev, and a loaded gun and the Kennedy’s will be vacationing in Havana over Christmas.”
“It’s not you,” Don said sympathetically. “I ain’t tried to kill myself.”
“After today you may want to shoot me,” Rich said and smiled.
Don winked and said, “Getting’ kind of friendly with me aren’t ya?”
“Friendly?” Rich said. “What do you mean?”
“Playing a little footsy,” Don said.
“Footsy, what do you mean?” Rich said clueless.
“Rubbing your foot against my leg,” Don said.
“Not me,” Rich said.
Don’s eyes widened as he raised up from the water like a breaching whale from the deep, “Snake!” He screamed. “Ole man Gardner put a snake in here!”
They scrambled from the water trough with water spraying like a fountain in all directions. The snake hung on the side of the trough, dropped to the ground, and slithered away to underneath the barn.
“Besides ugly old women, I hate snakes the worst,” Don said.
They looked at each other and broke into uncontrollable laughter, holding their stomachs and rolling in the grass. Miss Gardner returned and coasted to a stop in the driveway. She looked at Rich and Don with the greatest of suspicion. The two boys were barefoot, soaked from head to toe, and laughing as if they broke into ole man Gardner’s bottle of Old Grand Dad.
“Ain’t gonna get nothing done rolling around in the grass like a couple of hyenas,” Miss Gardner said.
In moments, they were back to the weeding and shortly were nearly dry.