In this week's story I wanted to focus on voice. It's experimental.
I guess I saw him settling down a few different times before it registered he was there every day. I’d come round the east side of the barn pretty early and see him walkin' through the neighbor’s field with the shovel on his shoulder, strike the dirt with the sharp end so it stood up straight. Then he’d lay down in the grass where I couldn’t see him no more.
After a few times spotting him I started wondering what he was doing there.
So, one day I up and walked over the field to talk to him. Caught him staring at the sky with his hands tucked behind his head.
He scrambled up when he saw me standing there. “This your land?” His voice sounded scared.
“Nope. Belongs to the neighbors,” I says. “I doubt they’ll give you any trouble. You ain’t hurtin’ nothin’. Guess you’re welcome to stay if you can stand the bugs.”
“Aw, only a few grasshoppers. I don’t mind their hoppin’.” He stood there staring at me with his big hands limp at his sides.
“I seen you come out here a few days now,” I says. “Got a good, sturdy shovel there. You lookin’ for work?”
The man shrugged. He was older than me, white hair growing out of his ears. “No sir. Just left a good job shovelin’ a new road.”
“You need a meal?”
“Nope.” The old man wagged his head. “I don’t need nothin’. Just a place to lie.”
“You got a home?”
“Does she know you taking time lying around another man’s field?”
“She don’t know nothin’ about it,” he says. “I tell her every night I go home I’m still out workin’.”
“You lyin’ to your missus?”
“Don’t want her worryin’ about me, see?” The old man blinked pale blue eyes.
I snapped off a blade of tall grass and put it between my teeth. This conversation was getting particular strange. “Well, that don’t make no sense. An able bodied man like you.”
“Not what I seem.” He sat back down in the dry grass with a huff. The sun got higher. A sheen of sweat showed up on his wrinkled up forehead. “The doc told me I’m dyin’. Could go any time.”
“Any time?” I kept on chewing that grass blade, watching him. “That’s a shame. Your missus know that?”
“Nope,” the old man says. “And I’m not gonna tell her.”
“Don’t you want to keep workin’ hard, so she’s can have some money to live on when you’re gone? Instead of lyin’ around in a field wasting your last days?”
“Nope, she has folks. Besides, she’s younger than me, still a pretty little thing. She’ll find another man to take care of her, no question.” He settled back in the long grass again. “I figure I spent enough of my life lookin’ down into ditches. Not enough time lookin’ up at the sky.”
After that I let him be.
In the days after, I knew the old man was there when I saw the shovel stickin' out of the ground. But after a few days, I didn’t see him no more. Checked the paper for the obits, wondering if there’d be a picture. Lots of obits, almost any one of them could’ve been him, except the females of course.
When he never showed up again, I figured he was done diggin’ ditches forever. Someone else had gone and dug one for him.