They pushed hard on the peddles of the bikes and rode back to Don’s house. Rich got off the bike and let it fall to the gravel. Don rolled his bike into the garage and leaned it against the wall. Rich stared at the open fields of green corn and golden wheat all waving in the warm breezes, being parted into repose and springing back to standing at attention.
Don stood beside Rich, watching the same thing and both feeling useless and used.
“We’ll bounce back, just like that wheat,” Rich said “If you want, I’ll get the five dollars from Uncle Bob,” Rich said, “and I’ll make up whatever you think is fair. I should have agreed on our wages first.”
“I don’t care what we would have said,” Don said, “he’d found a reason not to pay us what it was worth.”
Rich picked up a stone. “We risk our health!” He hurled it. “What kind of person is he? I can’t believe he’s my blood.”
“You know something,” Don paused until Rich looked at him. “We lost twenty bucks, right?”
“Right,” Rich said.
“Guys have lost thousands of dollars to learn the same lesson that only cost us twenty. I don’t want anything. Somehow, if you give me the money the lesson won’t mean as much to me,” Don said resting his hand on Rich’s shoulder.
Rich shook his head at the ground, grinned, and chuckled. “I’ll get that money to you someday and you’ll remember the lesson too. Think of it as a diploma with a picture of Jackson, only it’s worth much more.”
The next morning Rich woke and felt much better. He walked down the steps without pain. Mrs. Larsen was hurrying around the kitchen before going to work. Rich got two slices of bread and dropped them into the toaster and poured a glass of milk.
“Ya work till five?” Rich asked.
“Five-thirty,” Mrs. Larsen corrected curtly. There was something bothering her. “What happened between you and Bob yesterday?”
“I threw his lousy five dollars back at him,” Rich said.
She stopped everything she was doing and dug her fists into her hips. “What!”
“I threw his lousy five dollars back at him.”
“You better show him the respect he deserves,” Mrs. Larsen said.
“What respect!” Rich said.
“Don’t get smart young man,” Mrs. Larsen said. “You’re treading on thin ice as it is.”
“Mom,” Rich explained, “Don and I got up at four in the morning. We worked all day in a hot sun until past nine at night and he gives us five dollars. That’s not five dollars a piece, but to split. That’s not even sixteen cents an hour. Who works for that?”
“What!” Mrs. Larsen said. “He never told me how much money was involved. He said you and Don did a little work for him the other day and you threw the money back in his face.”
“The money didn’t hit him in the face,” Rich said. “That’s where I aimed it, but it hit him in the chest. He told me to pick it up and I told him no. If you don’t believe me stop by and talk to Don.”
“Nevertheless, you should not treat him like that,” Mrs. Larsen said.
“I know,” Rich said with no intention of changing.
“I’ll talk to him,” Mrs. Larsen said.
“I don’t care if you do or not,” Rich said. “I’m not working for him again. I’ll do work on our farm, but not for him. This isn’t the first time he’s pulled something like this, it’s just the worst thing.”
“I see what you mean,” Mrs. Larsen said and continued her work in the kitchen.
Rich buttered the toast and spread jelly on it. Mrs. Larsen grabbed a can of dog food from the pantry. She opened it, emptied half of it into the dog dish, and set it on the back porch. The remainder of the dog food she dumped into a Tupperware container, snapped the lid, and placed it in the refrigerator.
“I got to get to work,” Mrs. Larsen said as she washed her hands at the sink. She gave Rich a kiss on the cheek and gathered her things together. “At three turn the oven on to three hundred degrees, and take the meatloaf out of the refrigerator, and put it in the oven. Open a can of corn and put it on the stove. Have a quart of boiling water on the stove when I get home.”
“Gotcha,” Rich said and Mrs. Larsen rushed to the car and sped away.
Rich walked to the garage and got the mower. He pushed it to the barnyard. He mowed for about two hours. Uncle Bob pulled his car into the driveway beside the garage. Rich wanted to avoid him. The very presence and thought of him repulsed Rich. Rich viewed him as ignorant and insensitive.
Rich finished mowing the barnyard and pushed the mower into the garage. He sat on the porch, waiting for Uncle Bob to leave. Uncle Bob sat in the living room watching Concentration. Rich grew impatient and wanted to go to his room. He dashed from the front door to the stairs.
Uncle Bob sprung from his chair. “Fix me something to eat,” he mumbled.
“Huh,” Rich mocked.
“Fix me something to eat,” he mumbled emphatically.
“The audacity of such a demand!” Rich thought. “I know he thought Mom talked to me and straightened me out, he feels comfortable ordering me around.”
Rich stood in the middle of the opening between the dining room and the living room. Rich was the one who was confident after the conversation with his mom. Although Rich was taller than Uncle Bob, he was older and stronger and perhaps he might try something physical. Rich’s strategy was to wait until the last possible moment, then avoid a physical confrontation by running. Rich surveyed a clear path around the dining room table, through the kitchen, and out the back door. He planned on pulling a chair in the dining room and one in the kitchen in his path to slow Uncle Bob.
“You don’t show any respect for your elders,” Uncle Bob said.
Rich trembled but stood motionless.
“Are you going to fix me something to eat?” Uncle Bob said.
Rich’s jaw tightened and he swallowed. He breathed deep through his nose. He said calmly and resolutely, “No, fix it yourself.”
Uncle Bob walked toward Rich but looked beyond him and into the kitchen. As he passed by, Rich readied himself, but nothing happened. He decided not to go to his room, and make it appear as though running away. Rich moved to the living room and sat on the couch. He heard Uncle Bob rummage around in the kitchen – cabinet doors opened and shut, silverware and dishes clanging. The refrigerator door opened and Rich heard the familiar snap of a Tupperware container opening. Rich smiled. He waited a moment and spent the time thumbing through an old edition of The Ohio Farmer.
Rich strolled through the kitchen. Uncle Bob sat at the table chewing like a cow. On the table before him was the opened Tupperware container, with half the dog food missing, a plate, a bottle of catchup, and an opened loaf of bread. Two bites were missing from a dog food sandwich, firmly clutched by his two grubby hands.
“Sandwich spread good?” Rich asked.
“Yeah,” Uncle Bob said with a full mouth.
Rich pushed open the back door, walked out, and poked his head back in the kitchen. “Make sure ya save me some of that. I’m going to make me a sandwich later.”
That assured Rich he would eat it all.
Rich did what his mom asked to do for supper. He sat the table also.
They all sat down together. Mrs. Larsen immediately thought something was wrong. Rich sat at the table. He normally ate in front of the TV in the living room. Mr. Larsen was quiet. He just got up from a nap. They filled their plates and began to eat.
Uncle Bob had terrible eating manners. They border lined on the bazaar and noxious. Bread was bitten off, lodged between his lips, and sucked into the mouth. He constantly chewed with his mouth opened, making smacking sounds that were heard a room away. He sipped everything and always sucked his teeth. The sounds annoyed everyone; Mr. Larsen on occasion stormed from the room, Mrs. Larsen spoke out, and Rich filled his plate and ate in the living room.
“Did anybody feed the dog?” Mrs. Larsen asked.
“Not me, Mom,” Rich said politely.
Mr. Larsen said, “Not me.”
Uncle Bob mumbled with his mouth full, “I didn’t.”
“Well, what happened to the dog food I left in the refrigerator?” Mrs. Larsen asked.
“Dog food?” Uncle Bob said after a pause.
“I left a Tupperware container with some dog food in it,” Mrs. Larsen said.
“That was dog food?” Uncle Bob said after a pause.
Mrs. Larsen glared across the table at Rich. He smiled. She smiled.
Rich stood, picked up his plate, and took a step toward the living room. “Now that’s worth twenty bucks,” Rich said to his mom.