The glint of sun “rouged’ the dappled sky, patting color to the grey clouds. But the early makeover could not take away from the fecklessness in her depth. She was feeling the nip of depression; teething on her internals. Anxiety suffocation. The auction would begin around 9:00 a.m. She had never been to one. Today she had no choice. It was March. A year now since she arrived. The farm lacked feed for Jim, Grpa’s horse. The green in the piggy bank leveled at sparse.
It had not been a tough winter, outside of ordinary, but it had frayed and strained nerves with its long grey days attended by dreary fatigue that seemed to envelop everything. March added rain, sleet and damp snow, covering what little snow remained. Hay was at a premium. A scarcity vexed by a wet summer allowed only two cuttings instead of three; the first crop ruined and the second one left with inadequate drying time prior to baling. Animal pasture was limited too as puddles dappled grass. The result produced price shock and winter fodder ‘dried up.’ This March auction was critical.
Jim was old. He had been pressed upon Sarah when Grpa had died and willed her the farm. She had ridden him when she was little and had childhood affection. Jim, however, was and always would be Grpa’s. The two of the them together dignified the simplistic love of man and animal. Gpa had entered Jim in the County Fair a time or two with no false presumptions. He ‘placed’ once, but that was the only top shelf trophy. Did not matter. Least ways to Jim. Twenty-nine years together. Grpa lost his teeth first.
When she morphed to adulthood her artistic and scholastic endeavors took her ‘off the farm’ and settled her down on the East Coast where she pursued an Art History Major, graduating from New York University. She went with Grpa’a blessings and some financial help. Sarah stayed East after cap and gown year and though her income was sparse relative to the environs, she was content. She nanny-ed and taught at a private school. She was entranced with the lights of the City, the multiplicity of life. Her roots were cast aside. Until she was “summoned” home. It was Spring.
She had come home to care for him. It was he who had raised her after the accident. Sarah had healed. Her parents died. Grpa still worked the farm some, a ghost of himself. Sarah helped where she could. She struggled, with the chore life and caring for Grpa. It was not “her,” nothing of his life ran through her veins. She liked the innate beauty, her youth recalled, but chores sucked the beauty away. She much preferred her pastures and cows on canvass, not close up and personal. Though there was no specified time frame left, it was expected his life would evacuate in a year or less. She had taken leave from her teaching assignment a couple of months early and the family where she took care of the little one wished her well and picked out another nanny. When she arrived, the appearance of Grpa startled her. But he kept up, just much slower. They worked the cows into mid summer, then both realized it was time for the animals to depart. She was thankful that he was lucid so to help her with arrangements to dispatch them. Except Jim. In a quiet moment, speaking in whispers while on his bed, set in the living room, he had asked Sarah but one thing. To care for Jim until he too passed. That was his only wish. Everything else was Sarah’s to make final decisions on. Sarah loved ‘Pa. It was natural to say yes, but deep down she hoped the old fellow would catch the same train Grpa was going to take. At the same time Sarah could hope. A sadness sank deep. A weary push/pull on her heart. More than a few nights Sarah cried softly toward his end.
Grpa passed that September, when the beginnings of color splashed on the varied foliage. Where the solitude of that summer had freshened her soul during the trying time, the colors specking that Fall in increasing arrangements, variety and realness, rubbed raw. It also confided memories. She had forgotten the Season of Color’s aptitude what with her world being the assorted spray paint decoration on rail cars and buildings. But income scarcity compounded with her anxiousness to have the settlement concluded prior to the intervention of snow and cold allowed her concern to accelerate. The rhythm of her life drummed harder toward the muses of the East. It was time.
When he passed she thought she would ‘close up shop’ soon after the burial, but the estate sale was delayed, the paperwork stalled. All of the animals were dead or gone, except Jim. Finding a home at this time of year and the given hay shortage were becoming a burden she did not expect. When she approached the locals, they wished her well, but no one offered stall space. His age produced no usage. A large ‘lawn ornament.’ Some suggested she should put him down. He was total expense. But she could not make such a move. Not with the freshness of death lingering. Her promise. She was stonewalled in her pursuit and shackled to the promise. Such then prevailed a destitution which would not be concluded until Jim was gone. Would he really care…now?
Her going home to care had strained a relationship; then shredded it. She was hurt, but the break was not unexpected. She found strength in the old farm and the ‘songs’ each day provided, chores excepted. While caring, she tried some part time fillers until it became apparent that she was not able to do both. Her Grpa needed her more on the constant. Since the passing, the quietness of the country ‘refrain’ had started to produce a tautness of uncustomary inability which she applied being busy to help buffer. She abhorred loss of control and the pieces of her life now were interacting to produce doubt. The Farm had become an anchor. Money was shorn tight and would not be freshened until the sale. Sarah became hesitant and doubtful. The kaleidoscope of the City’s clamors were missed. She knew that she needed to do something, but the immediate grappled with her. Besides the liquidation of the Farm, she felt the pang of caring for Jim, with nothing really available…or happening on either end of the rope.
Sarah went out by the lean-to and found Jim behind it, out of the wind. She slogged over to him and rubbed his nose. He pushed on her hand. The brown milky eyes stayed constant to her face. Bending, she touched his nose with hers. A sigh slipped through her lips. Turning, she let her hand slide softly off his nozzle and headed to the old truck, head tucked in a hooded sweatshirt layered under a canvas coat. Oil stains for decorations. Grpa’s.
Jones was at Hidleberger’s early. He took a styrofoam cup and poured dark black coffee into it. It had been a while. He looked around but did not recognize anyone. He was not noticed. Even Lucy behind the counter did not recognize him nor acknowledge, though to her credit she was busy getting the bidding numbers organized to the auctioneer’s clipboard. Jones was a wiry, small and leathered man, cloaked in pants and coat long in the sleeves. Not typical farm attire excepting the hat. An insulated ball style cap. A green stained John Deere with ear flaps untied and the tips limply curled down. Jones exited quietly. Age was a benefactor now.
As he stepped away, his hand crossed over his chest to retrieve a cigarette from the left breast pocket. Cupping his hands, He lit it, allowing the smoke to exit his nose and side of mouth. Ready now to confront the dampness of the morning with nicotine and caffeine coursing arterially. He wore no gloves over veined calloused hands. With the cigarette in the left hand and coffee in the right, he proceeded to examine the hay for sale, slowly making his way down past the various stacks of square and round bales, sectioned in lots for separate bidding.
Sarah hooked up the 10 foot trailer to her Grandfather’s twenty year old pick up. The lights had quit years previous. The drive to the auction was about fifteen minutes. She reached in her purse and took out a pack of nicotine gum, extracting one as she pulled slowly out of the drive onto the county road. A cigarette would have been grand.
They slowly arrived in pickups and older cars. Hooded sweatshirts were common along with canvas outerwear and blue jeans, usually over cotton long johns. They were mostly men, with a lady or two among them, mostly wives. Lucy was behind the desk in the office preparing the necessary auction bid sheets and numbers. She was a fixture to all.
The selections were not good. Fair or Utility at best. Older hay drug out of back lofts and sheds long stored. No Premium or Good to be found. The hay either old or moisture molded. They examined each stack quickly, conclusively, but with little haste. The bidders would winnow out the ones they desired and focus on these, while maintaining surveillance on what was happening with the whole. The need to adjust quickly might occur. Individually and in twos or threes the bidders made their decisions. The auction should not demanded extreme pricing, but given the scarcity and the need, the outcome would depend on the set minimums, if any, and the pursuant bidding pressure.
Sarah drove in, turning into the left corner of the lot. As she exited the truck, she pulled on a white stocking cap under the hood and neck wrapped a red scarf to block the stiffening wind. She ducked under the strap of her purse and began walking toward the mingling crowd. Quiet banter could be heard from small interacting groups amongst the bales. She was noticed with slight nods.
Sarah saw the sign for the office and made her way to the three steps leading to the door. She was just about to enter when three men came out. Backing down, she let them pass, then moved quickly to get in before others came. The smell of burnt coffee and ‘farm odor’ greeted her. She glanced at the clock. 8:45. Fifteen minutes. She had cut the time close. She approached the desk. Lucy greeted her with a quick hello and took down her name on a line with a number, handing her a white cardboard square with the same number on it, her bid number.
As Sarah slid out the door, by-passing a group at the bottom of the steps drinking coffee, she moved quickly to the end where the hay would be auctioned last. Not as many people so she could see better. It was where the smaller square bales were. As she inspected, walking faster than she wanted, she heard the horn signalling the start and moved slowly up the line to where the auctioneer began to sound out in rhythmic cadence the bid pricing. She could not truly follow what he was saying except a price shouted out here and there. The men around would slightly raise a hand if they were in engaged, until all were bid out except one. The auction per hay group did not last long. The pace unnerved her. Sara wondered if she had enough money for anything! She took what she brought out of her purse and slipped it in her mitten. Tension increased as the men moved quietly down the aisle, each seemingly knowing exactly what they were doing and what they wanted. No real notice of her. It was all business.
She knew good hay. Her Grandfather always had ‘put up’ good. These were of no such measure. She knew she should pick out a couple stacks to perhaps try some bidding, but only one looked to be anywhere close to what she could spend, especially after she saw the cost of the early action. She pulled out her bills and slipped them inside her left mitten. $80. These bales, sordid as they seemed, were going for a market price of 6-10 dollars per bale. The rolls higher. She saw that she really had only one block that might give her a chance. She went ahead of the bidding, to it, and waited.
Jones had seen Sarah earlier, shortly after she had exited the office. A girl was different yes, but her youth attended him more. He smiled. He kept her in sight as he worked the edges of the moving group. When the auction got to Sarah, perhaps half the bidders were left. The stack was not the last, but there were not many more. Jones stood a person away from Sarah, listening. He scanned the group and ‘took in’ the mix that was left. Perhaps a couple might be interested in bidding, but Jones had made up his mind.
He looked at Sarah and quickly surmised the need, the anxiousness, the ‘wishing I was somewhere else but desperate look.’ The lot seemed too small for most. He weaved away from Sarah and in a low bass echoed, “let the youngun have it, let the girl have it.” He angled through the men and though they heard him remained properly expressionless. “Let it go, let her have it.” He worked the whole, then stood near her. And waited. Her attention was totally focused on the ‘Cantor.’ Jones was invisible.
The auctioneer opened up and began the staccato chant, a price at which he had sold the previous batch. $6.50/bale. No takers. He looked about, at the bales, and then dropped to the basement level.
Sarah jolted to attention when she heard $3.00. The starting number had chinked her heart. Now she swallowed, took a quick shallow breath and raised her hand. An emphatically “$3.00” blew past her, then a quickly resounding, “now who will make it $3.50?” the voice was all steel, not tinny. She was startled. Sarah raised her hand again. “We got $3.50 who’ll make it $4.oo?” Sarah felt a hand on her elbow and a low voice spoke gently into her ear. “You’re bidding against yrself.” Crimson flamed across her face. She looked at her feet then to her elbow. No one there and no face looked at her to acknowledge. The megaphone voice kept calling… “$3.50… $4.00? $3.50…$4.00….” Was it echoing? Not a man seemed interested. They stood stolid but uninspired. The auctioneer could see that some reckoning had happened. He truncated the bidding. “Sold!”
As the group milled to the next, a man came up and gave Sarah a slip of paper on which her bid of $3.50/bale was written. She had bid and won 20 bales of hay, twice! And she was the only bidder. Stunned stiffness slowly ebbed, replaced with thankful relief. She took the slip and her money inside the office, not wanting to face any rebid! The business end was concluded quickly. Exiting, she headed out to get the bales loaded on the trailer and truck. The auction was concluding as she placed the last of them in the trailer. It was just past dinner time. Work to be done for all as they left Heidleberger’s lot. Milking for most. Sarah drove slowly. She rubbed her forehead and felt an ache in her shoulders. Tension still gripped. But she had done what she needed to.
Realizing a voice saved her from making a complete fool of herself, she smiled when she thought of the men who had not bid. The ride home had her in puzzling thought, trying to attach one of many faces to a voice. She just had no idea. She had been so preoccupied. She wanted to think it was Grpa. She smiled with that thought.
Jones had started back shortly after Sarah had rung her bid. He walked down the right side of the road in a slow easy shuffle. He wasn’t quite sure where he was going. But it did not matter. The freshness felt good to him. The smells,sights and Heidlebergers had give a harmony to his frustrated mind.
A truck pulled close. He heard his name ‘Jonesy’ spoken out. The man reached across and opened the passenger side door. Jones took the proffered ride. He was not sure where he was being taken. They drove past farms and fields. Jones looked at all, seeing with depth but with little understanding.
The truck rolled up to the red brick building and the driver got out. Jones started to slide out his door as the man came up to him and smiled. Then he gently walked Jones inside the building where many people in wheelchairs, walkers and crutches milled about. The man went to the desk and informed a blue clad lady about his ‘friend.’ The lady placed her hands on her hips and gave out a large laugh/sigh. “Oh Jonsey, where were you off too?? You know you cannot leave the building like that. You’ll get lost! Then what would we say to your granddaughter if that were to happen, huh?!”
Jonesy was not sure where he had been, but he felt good. He looked at the lady and smiled. “I was with her this afternoon.”
That evening, Sarah stroked Jim as he ate. A small tear formed in her eye. She would be back in the City soon.