Once again, the sun was their persecutor. It was now some time between three and four, the warmest part of the day. The sun stared at the boys like a huge evil eyeball, boring shafts of white-hot rays deep into their bodies. They pulled the weeds and roots up with mighty tugs and those that broke off at the root, they dug out with a hoe. Their shirts lay on a row of bean plants like the wreckage of a sunken vessel.
Privately, Rich questioned whether this was an attainable task to complete in one day. They had much more to do and working slower by the minute. An occasional breeze passed by and offered only temporary solace, but the sun and heat returned with renewed strength and intensity. They sang songs and helped each other with forgotten lyrics. And the ones neither remembered were improvised. Some clever and funny. It made the job somewhat tolerable and the time passed mildly enjoyable. As the senses dulled some things became funny that were not. At times they became so weak from laughter, they fell back trying to dislodge stubborn weeds.
“What time do you think it is,” Rich asked Don, who was on the other side of the row of bean plants.
He squinted at the sun. “It looks to be five or so.”
“I think we can do it,” Rich said, trying to bolster confidence.
“I wonder when Miss Gardner’s going to feed us?” Don asked. “I’m starved.” He tapped his stomach.
“When we get to the end of the row, let’s go to the house and find out,” Rich said.
Rich and Don worked to the end of the row and slowly climbed over the fence. They stopped at the pump for water and trudged to the house. From the kitchen window, Miss Gardner saw them. She walked out the back door and waited for them to move closer.
“You boys done for the day?” Miss Gardner called. “Can’t see how ya got anything done. Out there actin’ like a bunch hooligans and don’t climb the fence anymore, you’ll break it down.”
“We’re not leaving until it’s done,” Rich said.
“That’s crazy,” she retorted. “I hope you’re not planning on me a fixin’ ya somethin’ for supper.”
Don and Rich looked at each other incredulously, with hollow eyes and empty stomachs.
“This business of you workin’ on like this, ain’t my idea,” Miss Gardner said.
“You’d have to feed us tomorrow,” Don said hoping she might understand the reasoning.
“That’s tomorrow,” Miss Gardner said.
Rich whispered out the side of my mouth to Don, “You want to draw a picture?”
“Can ya give us something?” Don asked.
“Well I suppose,” she said with her hands planted on her hips. “I’ll give ya a couple of apples.”
Miss Gardner walked back into the house, retrieved two apples, and handed them to the boys. They took bites out of them and walked away.
“You could at least say ‘thanks,’” Miss Gardner said indigently.
They forced a ‘thanks.’
“Can I use your phone?” Don asked.
“It’s not long distance is it?” Miss Gardner asked.
“I don’t know anybody long distance,” Don said.
“Sure, go ahead, but don’t tie up the line too long,” Miss Gardner said.
Don leaped onto the back porch and inside the house.
“Kick off yer shoes,” Miss Gardner said.
Don opened the door and flung his shoes outside. He was back in a minute. They walked back to the field.
“I called Mom,” Don said. “She’s going to have something to eat for us.”
The field with fought with a vengeful vigor. As the sun dipped halfway below the horizon, mosquitoes swarmed like attacking fighters on the Pacific Fleet. They smacked and cursed. When the final row was near the sun’s glow from below the horizon beamed radiant and pure. They hurried to finish.
And at last, done!
The bikes wobbled because of their exhaustion and lack of strength to steer steady riding back to Don’s house.
Don’s mother prepared a big meal and they ate well.
Rich hoisted his bike in the back of Don’s dad’s truck and he drove him home.
Rich was so sore that it was difficult to sleep.
The next morning he ached from the exhaustion of the previous day. His eyelids felt as though they were lined with sandpaper. His skin was still warm and muscles were tight and sore. He walked downstairs, one step at a time.
The clock above the TV read 10:40. Rich got a drink of water at the kitchen sink and splashed his face.
Uncle Bob was not home. Rich was anxious to get paid. He thought that the longer the transfer of funds occurred from the actual work, the less important the value of the work might seem, especially to Uncle Bob.
Peddling the bike to Don’s house helped loosen the muscles, but the eyes still had sand in them. He rolled to stop in front of two opened garage doors. In the garage, Don slept in a chaise lounge. The sound of the bicycle tires rolling on the gravel woke him.
“How ya feelin’?” Rich said.
“Like crap,” Don said.
“When I rode past the Gardner’s, I saw Uncle Bob’s car there,” Rich said. “Ya want to go get our money?”
Don’s head rolled to the side. “There is no amount of money that could make me feel better.”
“I’m hoping for twenty-five, but I’ll settle for twenty,” Rich said.
“Give me a hand,” Don said extending his hand for Rich to hoist him up. He straddled the lounge chair and struggled to his feet. “Have you ate yet?”
“No,” Rich said.
“How about a leftover piece of chicken from last night,” Don said as he walked through the breeze-way that led into the house. Rich followed and they ate some chicken with a couple of slices of bread and butter.
They mounted their bikes and peddled to the Gardner’s.
Uncle Bob was hooking a wagon to a tractor. The boys dismounted their bikes walked toward him. He looked up and grabbed a rag from the seat of the tractor and wiped his hands. He smiled broadly.
“That’s good,” Rich said to Don without moving his lips as they walked toward Uncle Bob.
“For us or him?” Don said without moving his lips.
“I should have found out how much, first,” Rich said.
“Don’t sweat it,” Don said.
They moved within earshot.
“We got it done,” Rich said.
Uncle Bob tossed the rag toward the seat of the tractor.
“Yep, it’s all done,” Don said.
“You had to have missed some rows,” Uncle Bob mumbled.
“We worked from sun up to sun down. We worked our butts off,” Rich said.
Uncle Bob was unimpressed. He lifted his head and stood on his toes to spy above the fence row and into the bean field. He walked to the fence and leaned over, scanning to his left and right and out into the field. He pointed to the middle of the field. “You missed one.” One weed stood about two fingers’ width above the bean plants.
Rich lifted himself over the fence and ran out to the weed He snatched it up like grasping the neck of a serpent. He held it victoriously overhead and ran triumphantly back to Uncle Bob and Don. Don stood behind Uncle Bob restraining his laughter. Uncle Bob marched alongside the fence like a general inspecting his troops. Don marched behind him, mockingly, with his hands clasped behind his back. Rich restrained his laughter. Finally, he walked back to the tractor and wagon. He was silent but looked as though he had at least some traceable brain activity.
“Is it good enough?” Rich asked and glanced at Don.
Don shrugged his shoulders.
Uncle Bob squinted his eyes and pursed his lips.
“What could he possibly be thinking?” Rich thought. “Was he trying to figure out how to divide the money between us? How hard can that be? Maybe it’s forty dollars and one penny and he doesn’t know what to do with the penny. I’ll help. I’ll help!”
Uncle Bob tugged his wallet from his back pocket. It was thick, tattered on the edges, and worn shiny in spots. He opened it up and fingered through it like going through a file cabinet. He fingered back to the currency and began thumbing. He paused and contemplated. He dislodged with great care a five dollar bill and handed it to Rich.
Rich examined it, and pressed and rubbed with his index finger and thumb to see if another bill was pasted to it. That was it – a five dollar bill. Rich tried to hide his dismay before it reached to anger. He looked at Don. He was expressionless. Rich looked back at Uncle Bob and waited for a smile or a laugh. Rich looked at his wallet. He wanted to grab it and take what was rightfully Don’s and his.
“I ain’t got change for a five,” Uncle Bob said dully. “You’ll have to get it broken someplace else.”
Rich stood motionless and speechless and so did Don. Rich was still waiting, now, uncomfortably for the smile or laughter. Uncle Bob folded his wallet and tucked it in his hip pocket.
“That’s it!” Rich said.
“Yup, that’s plenty,” Uncle Bob said. “In my day we’d been grateful to have that kind of money.”
“It ain’t your day,” Don said. “And I ain’t grateful.”
Uncle Bob simpered and walked back to the tractor hunched as if he were going to be struck.
“Wait a minute!” Rich said and Uncle Bob continued walking.
“Did you hear me!” Rich shouted. “Wait a minute!”
Uncle Bob stopped and turned only slightly.
“What really bothers me, is you got that smirk on your face like you got away with something.” Rich marched toward him.
Fright or surprise flashed in his eyes. He seemed to move back.
“You think you really got away with something.” Rich crinkled the five dollar bill and tossed it at him.
Uncle Bob winced and watched it fall to his feet.
“Pick that up,” Uncle Bob demanded weakly.
Rich spoke through his teeth. “As long as I live, I will never work for you again. I’m through with you.” Rich walked away expecting him to follow. His fists were clenched, determined to use them if he were touched. Rich got on his bike, aimed it toward the road, and waited for Don. Don walked by the crumpled five dollar bill leaving it on the ground and got his bike.