It shone over Hayfield, South Dakota, and George Angus ran his hand through straws of Hard Red Winter Wheat. Cream colored leaves. He used his hand to shield against the sun and fixed his eyes on the old oak tree upon the hill. Then down again. Frail dryness. Like the touch of Mary’s hand. He looked at his own hands, dry but not frail. Quite sturdy. Sharp lines, trenches from a working life. He ran his palm over his scruffy wide face.
Mary let out Albatross who ran for the field and George. “Honey pie, how are they?”
Albatross barked but wasn’t visible in the furrows except for his wagging tail. He knew where to find George; up on the hill, and there he waited for him. George shielded his eyes and looked up along the trunk of the old tree. The green leaves filtered the sunshine and his eyes could rest for the first time in a while.
“Come here, boy.” George shook him affectionately. “Sweating huh? Yea. We weren’t bred for this climate, you and I.” He gently poured a bottle of water. “Newfoundland and Ireland. That’s where we belong. An ocean apart… Apart. I don’t think I could have coped with that, could you? No of course not. So here we are paying with our sweat. Look at my skin. No not lick. Look. Sorry I’m mumbling. Look at this skin here. I used to be bright white. Now I look like a blushing girl. Like Mary when I asked her to dance. That old Beatles song was playing. Not my favorite of course, but there you go.”
Albatross lay down, still panting. The house needed painting. That cheap paint doesn’t last for many seasons. Her favorite color yellow; the field, the house and the car. Not even the car kept the color with all the rusting. Mary walked out from the porch and kneeled down. Same procedure; grazed the wheat.
George ruffled Albatross’ warm fur. “Yea, it’s good to be in the shade. I have to get going, but you can stay here, buddy. No don’t get up. Alright, then you can follow, but only down to Mary.”
George scratched his hair before putting the cap back on and walked down.
“How is the other side?”
He kissed her. “Our sun is always in zenith.”
“I’m off to help the boys out.”
Albatross tried to enter the pickup but Mary called after him. “I just don’t know how we’ll cope with another season.”
“I’ll talk to Ed. Don’t you worry. I hate to see your face like that. You’re so pretty when you smile. There. Look! You have traces of something there on your cheek.”
“What?” Mary brushed her cheeks. “Where?”
“Dimples. You used to smile a lot more. I remember.” George closed the car door and Albatross barked. “Him too. Now he’s yelling at me all the time.”
“Remember when we got him? A dark monster with wavy fur. Just the tip of his tail dipped in vanilla cream. The cutest thing I ever saw.”
“Yea, he’s a good boy. A bit warm for him though. Be sure to give him water. I’ll try to come home with another barrel.”
He started the pickup and kept his eyes on the heat on the horizon. Jim’s even bigger field isn’t looking any better. Poor Jim. Kids and everything. Down towards those foggy blue mountains in the distance. He turned right, up to the ranch and parked next to Ed’s SUV. Ed was about to leave. “Hey Ed! Everything alright?”
“Still causing this mess. Shining more than ever. You got any work for me?”
“That I do. That I do. Uhm, just. .. Okay. How’s your back?”
“Good. A couple of young guys are working on the new post office. Is that something for ya?”
“Well I’m a married man but it’s always good to have alternatives. Oh you mean the job? Yea why not.”
“Ha! Georgie boy. Hop in. You can leave that rusty fighter here.”
George caught a glimpse of Charity riding behind the mansion before he sat down. Ed drove off.
“Charity looks great. She’s seventeen, right?”
“Yup. And eighteen kinds of hell. Boys sneaking in at night. Nearly pulled my rifle on a boy a couple of days ago.”
“You should get a ‘Beware of the Dad’ sign.”
“Yea and put it around her neck.”
Both of them laughed. Ed gave a quick wave to a passing car. “Jim’s cousin?”
“Yup. He’s back from rehab. Like Jim’s not got enough on his plate.”
“You’ve been sending some money, I heard.”
“Yes. Well they’re starving. I can’t have that on my conscience…” Ed turned left into the town. “You and Mary are alright… right?”
“Yes. Well we’re not super, but we cope.”
“That’s good to hear. You should install one of those water systems. Dry seasons won’t bother you any more. I can probably get you a price of a few hundred thousand. If the bank’s giving you trouble I can be your backer.”
Ed parked the car in front of the building site. He held his hand up to the foreman Duke and waited for George’s reply.
“…I won’t outlive such an investment, Ed. No bank will give me that loan.”
“It’s okay, Ed. Really. We cope. I can take a few odd jobs here and there. We are very grateful for your help.”
“Alright then.” Ed grunted. “Duke, this is George. I think you worked together on-”
“Yea on Four-o-Four. Good to see you again.” Duke shook his hand. “How are you feeling?”
“He’s going to help out today.” Ed faced George. “Also maybe tomorrow? Maybe? Okay. We’ll take it day by day. I need to go. You two have a good one.”
“You too!” Duke led George to the site. “So… George how’s your back?”
“It’s fine. That was a one-time thing. I’m… “George sighed. “It’s fine.”
“You fancy doing some lifting?”
“The more the merrier.”
“Ha! That’s good to hear. You can work with that big fella over there. Carl. HEY CARL!”
Carl lifted most of the heavier stuff and George assisted. A guy came by and hosed the men if they wanted it. Sure, thought George. A new thing, but very refreshing. He had to have a drink. He signalled to Duke who just waved him off. A woman, not from around, walked her dog.
“Excuse me mam.” George removed his cap. “I’m sorry to bother you. Can I have a sip of that water?”
“It’s for the dog. It’s very warm here. I’m sure they have a bottle over there, at the convenience store.” She turned around and pointed at where she came from.
He held his cap tighter, whitening his fingers. “Yes. Thank you, mam.”
Just by the heat on the horizon by the foothill of the foggy blue mountains. Under a cloudless sky. The store was dimmer, but cloudier still. The strength in his fingers faded. The cap fell.
The news caused Ed to turn back. Too late. Dead on arrival.
“Sir, are you Ed Valentine?”
“You’re his employer then.”
“His wife lives-”
“I know where she lives.”
“We tried to reach her but-”
“They probably can’t pay their phone bills. I’ll drive over there.”
Ed tried to collect his thoughts. He drove up to his ranch. Charity rode the Arabian full blood Hippocrates behind the ranch, just at an angle beside Georgie’s old rusty fighter. Ed ran his fingertips along the yellow car body and drove to George and Mary’s. Albatross barked by the dry, cream colored wheat. Mary greeted him.
“I’m afraid he’s-”
She couldn’t say a word at the funeral. Or days after. She kept playing Honey Pie over and over. The grave by the oak tree saves a spot for Mary and was visited every day that summer. By rain.