For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

“The Mud Below”

Annie Proulx


Como Bewd, a grizzled man wearing a kidney belt, pointed this way and that as Leecil and his brothers worked the calves from pasture to corral to holding pen to chute and the yellow-hot electric branding iron to cutting table, where the ranch hand Lovis bent forward with his knife and with the other hand pulled the skin of the scrotum tight over one testicle and made a long outside cut through skin and membrane, yanked out the hot balls, dropped them into a bucket, and waited for the next calf. The dogs sniffed around, the omnipresent flies razzed and turmoiled, three saddled horses shifted from leg to leg under a tree and occasionally nickered.

Diamond glanced again and again at Como Bewd. The man’s forehead showed a fence of zigzag scars like white barbed wire. He caught the stare and winked.

“Looking at my decorations? My brother run over me with his truck when I was your age. Took the skin off from ear to here. I was all clawed up. I was scalloped.”