All he had left was the land, and it was his forever.

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A VG Serial: Hills of Eden

Episode 5

He stood on the steps of morning. Stood on the bare lean brink of it and looked at the wet green field beyond the fence that kept the cows away from the house. The field was dulled by morning dew because the sun had not yet risen above the horizon, and its green was soft, like fur, and quiet like a thick pale-green quilt atop a featherbed. It was so quiet he could hear his heart beat and his stomach fluttered at that moment as it always did early when the smell of dew and grass was strong on the light air and before the sunrise that he knew would come.

The house was still asleep, but a comfort to him, big and white and two-storied with a front porch that looked out over the big field and the barn. There was a back porch that gave them a view of the small quarter-acre garden and the chicken coop, the outhouse beyond. He had built these things, built the fences, the chicken coop, the outhouse, and his wife had planted the garden after he plowed it with the mule pulling a moldboard plow, the blade slicing into the earth and turning it over, peeling back the clods that leaked fat earthworms and the white grubs with little brown eyeless faces.

He smelled the garden, too, and heard the General, the little bantam rooster with the golden epaulets on his shoulders. He heard the General crow and heard the whip-flap of his wings as he stretched and boasted of his dominion over five banty hens.

The farmer laughed and walked to the gate, vowing to fix its sag one day, and he opened the gate and walked through it, down the little path he had worn through the grass. He strolled to the barn, past the pond and now the smell of musty hay and manure was strong in his nostrils and the cows made burly throat sounds and amplified them with their chests. He spoke to them and they followed him as he strode past the fence and they stood there, lowing and watching him with rolling round eyes. They slabbed heavy tongues over their lips as he pulled the hay down from the stack of bales and broke it up into biscuits and began tossing the flat chunks over the fence, walking along it and spreading the hay out so the cows could all get to it.

He had grown this hay, too, in the other field, and baled it, trucked it here to his barn in the wide green pasture. There were only a few cows here now and they had been certified free of contamination. The milk cows had been sold off according to government edict and the farmer and his wife now bought their milk in town like everybody else.

He went inside the barn where it was dark and the musk heady as October wine and he dipped a large empty silver-shiny can into the bag of oats. He put the oats in the feed bin for the mule and the mule munched on the grain, pushed the feed back and forth and nibbled with worn-down teeth that showed his age to be nearly thirty years.

He filled the stock tank for the mule, and stepped outside just as the sun made the sky red and the rim of it came up over the creek and the Blue Hole beyond the far pasture. There was not much else to do. There were five cows left, three calves, one old bull across the road in its own pasture.

The tractor, the stock trailer, the newest pickup, had all been taken away, sold at auction. He did not go to auctions anymore. He had nothing left to sell. Soon, the sheriff, or someone, would come and take away the rest of the cattle, too, and maybe even Jules, the mule.

The farmer laughed, thinking about that, but there was a sadness in the laugh and he stopped laughing because he did not want to be sad. He walked through the feeding cows, the calves, and over to the pond. A bigmouth bass struck at a nymph and the water boiled for a minute. A frog plopped into the water and then another as he walked around the edge of the pond just to get the feel of it, just to feel part of it and he stood under the lone poplar tree for a minute as the sun rose higher and made the field lush and green, made the dew sparkle like diamonds, made the earth give up its fragrance. And the field looked as it had when it was brand-new, when the first good grass had grown and before the lightning took out the big black walnut at the edge of the field. He had used some of that fine wood to make furniture and he had used the cedars to line the closets and he had made a chest for his wife, planing the wood down thin, boxing it in with walnut. The aroma of the dead cedar, he believed, would last forever.

The children were all grown and gone and did not know what was happening here, and he did not tell them when they called and his wife did not write of these things in her letters, but told them about the cats and the chickens and the garden.

Well, he was not going to be sad about it. Not this morning. They could come and get the house and everything in it and he would still have this, all this, the morning, the few cows, the mule, his health, a wife who loved him.

There were others worse off, he told himself.

He walked back up to the house, wading through the field now so that his pants legs soaked up the dew and his stride left a swath through the pasture that was like a trail. When he looked back, he could see the path he had taken and he had to shade his eyes from the sun.

But he could see it all and he felt good about it. He felt better about it than he ever had. The land was sweeter, the morning brighter, because he could look at it as something that could never be taken away from him. He was part of it and it was part of him and it was like a song you learned and never forgot. You could hum it whenever you wanted to and you could sing the words and the song and the words were part of you and could not be taken away.

That was the way it was with him that day. He was not in mourning, but in the farm’s morning and he would always have this in his heart, as part of him. The sheriff could not repossess it or sell it off, and the bank could not write it away on papers and stamp it into oblivion.

This was all his and it would always be his because it had become him. There was soil under his fingernails and it would never go away, could not be washed away nor dug out.

He turned away from the sun and sloshed through the high wet grasses and as he neared the gate, he saw his wife step onto the front porch and wipe the wood slats of the swing. She waved to him and he waved in reply.

The sun was warm on the back of his neck and now he could smell the coffee and his stomach churned with hunger.

It was all his, he knew, this life, the land, all that he had done and made, and built and grown.

It would be his—forever.

Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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