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The Short Form

“Two Back, 1973”

Andrew Malan Milward


It wasn’t until some weeks later, with winter nearing, that Don McCarthy came by Cannery’s and things began to change. “Well ain’t much else can go wronger. Show me what you’re thinking,” McCarthy said when he found Cannery scrawling in charcoal on a tablet of white paper, sketches of his barn. In addition to the general air of haplessness about him, Cannery’s friends teased him for the interest he’d always taken in drawing. He’d been the one from the group to sketch passing fancies during class, daydreaming, or to stare off at sunsets during peak harvesting, losing precious hours of light. They couldn’t understand why he wasted his time in such idle foolishness. But McCarthy wasn’t chiding him now, rubbing his chin as he examined Cannery’s plans. At the next game of cards, their first since the drought, with the men reduced to betting matchsticks, they resolved to begin work on Cannery’s barn. Wasn’t much else to do with things the way they were, they said. Cannery thought their pledges kind but wasn’t expecting them to actually show, so when he saw Frighton and the others through the kitchen window the following morning, just able to make them out—ghostly figures, the whole lot of them—as they trudged through the early dawn towards his house, tools in hand, pulling carts of lumber, he was surprised, running to grab his tablet from the bureau. “What do they want, Robert?” Trudy said, over her shoulder, cracking an egg into the black skillet. Cannery brushed past her through the salt and sizzle of the kitchen to the door. “They’re here to help with the barn.” Trudy watched the white of her egg brown, the yolk harden, thinking, the barn?

We read it in The Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Originally published in Fugue: 33.