Slim reached the scoop into the feed bucket once more, bringing out another handful of feed and scattering on the ground at his feet as chickens moved closer, pecking up the dried pieces of corn and seeds. One squawked at another as she apparently drew close for the first chicken’s taste but Slim hardly noticed as he went on dishing out the morning’s meal; his mind was still on his dream.
He finished up, replacing the rusty pail and scoop along a shelf above the feed bin, skimming his eyes over the cows who seemed to be content as they chewed their hay – ends sticking out of their mouths comically – and then the cud it produced. Slim had already milked the cows for the morning and the creamy product was cooling in the farm’s bulk tank, which often seemed much too big for the amount of milk the cows actually produced. Regardless, the cows would remain content, swishing their tails behind them, until late in the afternoon when Slim would milk them once more.
The farm was smaller than it once been, and it has once been something pretty grand, Though Slim. According to Mrs. Anderson they’d once had sheep, horses, pigs and turkeys, not just the cows and chickens. Slowly they’d had to either butcher the animals for food or sell them off in order to make ends meat. Slim knew the last of the pigs had gone only a few short months before he’d arrived. He imagined it was a difficult thing to do – saying good bye to the animals – even if they were only livestock, Mr. and Mrs. Anderson must have grown attached to some of them.
The farm was also in worse condition than it probably ever had been. Slowly, Slim planned to fix that. Today he would work on the picket fence, less apart of the functionality of the farm than the wire fences which surrounded the pastures and land but that wasn’t its purpose. It was a now-off-white picket fence meant more to symbolize the farm and its lands, though it did do a bit to set it apart and establish boundaries, especially in front of the house near the driveway and road.
Starting at the front, so that as the day moved on he’d be out of the line of sight and away from any cards which might be using the road, he began repairing the fence. He hammered and pulled nails, salvaging what wood he can and adding flat pickets from the surplus pile he’d found in the barn a few days prior. Though the fence was more complete when he’d finished the front side, it still needed a fresh coat of paint and Slim didn’t know where any of that could be found.
As he moved his way around the farm, the white picket blending in one with the other and his movements becoming robotic, Slim’s mind once again drifted to the gruesome images of his nightmare. He’d had many nightmares since that day, but none so horrific as the most recent one. It pulled as his heart in ways he could not imagine and he could not deny his guilt, though having his past actions confront him in such a manner was still unnerving.
Slowly, he finished his work around the property. As the sun rose higher in the sky, his supply of new pickets dwindled. The back wall of the fence – parallel to the road – was a simple barbed wire fence, so he’d be able to skip over that whole side as well as most of the south side of the fence which was also wire fence which curved outward but he had nearly the entire North wall of fence to finish so he began nailing together remnants where he could. Though he wanted to do a decent job, Slim didn’t feel particularly ambitious. Besides, even if he wanted to finish with new pickets, Slim knew it wouldn’t be worth it to bother Mrs. Anderson who wouldn’t have the money to purchase more, anyway.
He worked his way further back, then trailed the outskirts of the farm, along the wire fence, making his way to the North boundary of the lands. It was ane easy enough task as the farm was only about a quarter mile long, now, and contained roughly half the acreage it has once occupied. Slim tried to block the images from his mind and focused on the natural scenery which surrounded him: fields, the forest to his side, birds in the sky flying past weightless clouds of white and it helped, for a while.
Shortly, he reached the last wall and began working his way toward the end of his job, back toward the road. He nailed loose boards back into place and occasionally replaced pickets which had fallen free completely. He guessed that while someone, probably Mr. Anderson, had taken more care of the upkeep of the fence near the house and road, that person hadn’t been as conscientious about the state of the fence toward the rear of the property. Slim pried nail loose with the claw of the hammer and reused them when possible. He didn’t want to be wasteful nor did he want to carry dozens of rusty nails back in his pockets either and it didn’t pay to leave them around for someone to step on, though he doubted anyone – besides the deer – came around here often. Here and there, Slim could see animal tracks – rabbit and deer mostly – and sometimes small areas of the fence almost seemed chewed through. Not surprising, he thought.
As the road came into clearer view and the sun was dipping lower into the sky, creating a colourful sunset across the horizon, Slim neared the road once more. It was free of traffic and quiet, except for the sound of a lone cricket chirping periodically, waiting for his friends to join him as the night set in. Finally, Slim rose and brushed the dirt from his pants, though the knees were probably stained for good. He hooked the hammer in the carpenter’s loop on his pants and headed back across the yard. Though the fence was done, for now, time had slipped away from him and he still needed to milk the cows once more before day’s end and clean the barn.
He tossed a few handfuls of feed to the once-more hungry chickens and let them squawk over their claims as her hurriedly headed back to the cattle and began hooking them up to the milking machines. The cows were used to the routine and more than a few were annoyed that he was late as coaxed them to cooperate and slipped the cup over the utters of each cow and let the machines do their work.
Soon, the barn was filled with the wrring, sucking and humming sounds of the machinery as Slim grabbed a shovel and began soon the scraping of metal against cement also filled the air as he shoveled the manure from the main walkway into the grates on either side. Slim next pushed a broom over the floor before finishing up by spraying down the cement with a pressure hose of a sanitizer solution, finishing up just in time to unhook the milking machines from the cows and lay down a fresh layer of straw for the night.
And so it went. Between milking and feeding – the fields were all sold off or weeded over by now – Slim would fix things. It was never much, just a squeaky hinge here or a broken door there. He patched up areas of the barn roof he could access easily enough, fixed the mailbox so it stood erect once more, and secured the stoop at the door of the house. Occasionally Mrs. Anderson would comment on the work or request something to be done but she was always humble about it, as though she should be the one to feel indebted to Slim and not the other way around. Things began looking better than they were, but not as good as they once were. Slim was motivated but not overly ambitious and the daily tasks of a farm were often enough to exhaust one.