by Fred Cheney
From the window of the barnloft, the girl watched him hunt in the big field each morning. Watched, as he succeeded at once and went home early. Watched, as he watched and only waited, and went home hungry.
The girl became fascinated at his patience, his stealth, his timing when he succeeded, and at his stoicism when he failed—out maneuvered, out smarted, out hunted and unfed.
He generally had the field to himself these mornings. The hawks usually came later in the day when the warm drafts were there. And the shrike, with its penchant for stunning its prey and then impaling it on barbed wire, was gone for the season.
The low, horizontal rays of the October sun turned the fox into an orange ember as he crouched and watched and waited. And from high in the barn she watched. And she waited.
And in that low, searing sunlight, when he leaped high over the tall grass to come straight down on a field mouse, or when he sprinted to catch a pheasant before it flew, those times took her breath away. Those times, when the drama of life and death played out before her, those were the times she felt most alive.
Then the girl would go back into the house where life was lived on another level, where her job was to take care of Tucker.
At eleven, Tucker was two years younger than the girl, and in the country tradition, had been growing early into manhood the summer before. Working in the fields and washing up outside with the men, laughing heartily when they laughed, removing his hat and dragging his forearm across his sweaty brow as they did. Only now there was no sweat, and no forearm would lift, not since the accident with the baling machine.
The doctor said he’d get back some use of both shoulders and arms, that he’d walk bent to the side some, and sooner or later he’d regain his spirits and talk to them again, and perhaps go back to school. Said that he was lucky to be alive.
The accident affected the whole family. Papa had to lay off their two hired men to pay the hospital bills. Now, he and Grampa worked so hard no one saw much of them. Momma had gone back to her old job as a bookkeeper at the grain elevator four days a week. On the fifth day she stayed home to watch Tucker, and the girl got to go to school, got to see her friends, and got to bring home assignments for herself and Tucker.