Driving the truck around is cumbersome, and slightly embarrassing, today, because it’s still stacked with a tower of hay. The bales are packed so tightly that I can’t get my fingers under the twine, and those suckers are heavy: One bale probably weighs around sixty pounds or more.
My back still aches from the fall off Junior two weeks prior, and I have procrastinated the unloading.
I need a break, so I trundle my mountain of stacked timothy into town. I consider stopping at the Tee Pee for ice cream, but I decide I don’t want to park my hay wagon in sight of the evening crowd. I head down to Wazz’s party store to pick out a movie.
Driving back to camp, I spot a dirt bike on the road behind me. I figure the rider can’t see around my load to pass, so I pull off to the side. It flies by, buzzing down the road like a self-important hornet.
I realize that I am exhausted. This summer trip North is not going well and Drummond is not serving up its usual peace of mind. Even the horses aren’t helping with that.
There is too much stress; too little sleep, too many family problems. There is a hitch in my abdomen. For days, I have tried to have a satisfying inhale, a healing lungful of air. But it never comes. It stops just short, my muscles tighten, my fibers taut as wire.
I’m a mess.
I get to camp, and there’s the dirt bike, heading my way. I wait for them to pass. But the driver stops, motioning me to turn in.
So I angle the lumbering harvest up the short camp road and park it by the horse trailer. The bike follows me in, so I now know who the rider is.
Amanda had told me that our cousin Autumn had a new motorcycle.
“Is that who I think it is?” I roar, as I climb out of the truck.
“Yes, it’s me! I just came to hug Trudy.”
“She will love that!”
My mom and dad adored Autumn. Her baby picture still sits in a frame on the shelf in the trailer. “Autumn Bailey, almost 3, Summer of 2005,” my mother has written on the back. In a pose that I now find hilarious, the photo shows her wearing a huge pink bonnet, like a mid-eighties Strawberry Patch kid.
It’s not that Autumn isn’t growing into a pretty young woman. It’s just that Autumn doesn’t know it. Her skin is as flawless as a newborn’s. Her eyes are round, wide-set and bright, and her hair is straight even falling rumpled from the helmet, the indescribable color with tints of auburn that people pay big money for salons to splash on their heads.
Autumn plays on the boy’s football team. Today, she is wearing her football jersey and her feet are covered in mismatched boots. One is an old leather motorcycle boot, covered with stainless steel spikes and accents, and a plate that goes up almost to her knee.
On her right foot is an ordinary hiking boot.
“Wouldn’t you know it,” she says, pointing to that side. “When I ride through a puddle and have to put my foot down, it’s always this one.”
She looks up at the truck. “I see you’ve been busy.”
“Not me. The farmer. Now I get to be busy. Let’s just say it’s been an exercise in procrastination.”
She flexes her bicep and points at it. “Let’s do it.”
“Are you serious?”
She holds out her arms. “Really? Look at me.”
There are twenty-two bales left on the truck, each weighing over sixty pounds. Autumn climbs up and throws them all down. We can’t lower the tailgate, which is jammed, so she lifts the last row up over the edge and tosses them.
Then, she helps me shove and roll and stack them into the small space Dad had delegated for them, now around the lawn mower.
During the grunting, pushing and sweating process, we have to stop working because we are laughing too hard to lift anything.
I ask her about football. She says she is about to enter high school and they won’t let her play on the boys’ team.
“There’s baseball, though,” she says cheerfully.
“Oh cool. Girl’s baseball!”
“No! It’s boys! My friend Shauna was going to join with me, but she couldn’t make the tryouts.”
“Oh too bad. Then you wouldn’t have to be the only one.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I want to be the only one.”
I pause, leaning against the truck’s tailgate. This, I think, is the most fantastic thing I have ever heard her say. It reminds me of a t-shirt I have picked out to wear during Clifford’s library visits: “Do Your Own Thing.”
I sneak an admiring look at her, but she is bracing herself against the hay bale, pushing hard, trying to shove it back in under the raised door.
After we roll down the green garage door to close in all that hay, Autumn climbs over the fence and goes to Trudy. She lays her head on the mare’s withers, resting there gently, and runs her hands over the smooth, soft hair on the horse’s shoulders. When Junior comes nosing over, she pushes him away. Trudy stands with her eyes half-closed, appreciating the gesture.
I am touched and grateful beyond words. “I am going to take you for ice cream.”
She shakes her head. “Nah. I gotta fly.”
I follow her to the bike.
“Well, if you ever need some horse love, you know where to be.”
She straps her helmet on and kicks the pedal. The machine coughs, sputters and dies.
She kicks it again and it starts.
“Hey it’s not too noisy.”
Apparently that is not a compliment. “Hrmph,” she says. “Wait until we get going!”
I listen to the fading whine of the bike as it whizzes away. I hear it for a long time, imagining where she must be; passing the farm road, now on pavement, now heading up the hill past the old laundry.
The evening sun warms the withers of the horses, painting strips of light through their manes, and their tails swish like glowing curtains as they munch fresh stalks of timothy.
I stop, hearing the distant bike for a long moment. A mosquito hums by my ear. The horses crunch, crunch and stomp in the stillness.