Kevin was a farmer. He was a serious man, a proud man, and one not afraid of work. Every morning his grime-caked hands laced up his muddy boots long before the sun fjorded a path through the end of the Night. He went out into his fields and worked them until his back was bent. He touched his plants, trying halfheartedly to get to know them. If it would help his situation, why not try? He asked them (in English) what they needed to grow strong and tall. His balance column depended on it.
But they never answered him.
Albert, Kevin’s brother, lived not far away to the northwest. He tended sheep. All day every day Albert wandered with his flock into the hills. To pass the time, he plucked long grasses and stuck them in his mouth. He let his hands pass through the ends of these grasses, turning lazily from side to side. The grasses felt warm in the morning sun, and tickled his skin almost lovingly.
The shepherd had a squarish head he tilted often to one side, as he did when he watched his sheep. He admired their climbing ability, and their sureness of foot. Some of them could do amazing things when they were allowed to bounce free across the hillsides.
All of the ladies downtown found Albert to die for. His deep, dark eyes hid behind curly locks that hung loosely and untamed over his forehead and into his face like dark tendrils of morning fog in the mountains. They concealed a mysterious place–the land inside Albert’s mysterious eyes–and there were few places many of the girls down in the town below would rather visit.
Albert didn’t seem to care. He loved being in the hills with his sheep, all of whom he knew by name.
“What’s the sense in giving them names if they’re just gonna end up as doner kebap?” Kevin asked, almost angry, whenever he would hear his brother call his sheep.
“I have to, you know,” Albert paused dreamily, looking to his beloved sheep, “keep them together.”
Time passed and Kevin grew bitter. His only joy was opening up his bottle of freshly-distilled Rotgut every evening, which supposedly helped him sleep better. He was plagued by bad dreams. His back, also, kept him awake on many nights, Rotgut or not. Sometimes he thought of the hussy that left him for hours and hours. Sometimes he had ugly thoughts, convinced not only that his wife had done the deed with someone else, but that this someone else was none other than Albert.
He had seen the way ladies looked to his brother. Never once in all his years had a woman looked at him that way.
There was a lengthy list of things Kevin had never experienced. He had never been able to travel; his farm prevented that. He had never been able to afford nice things, and was lucky most months if he could pay the bills. And, worst of all, he had never enjoyed a period where all of the variables had smiled upon him. It was never just moist enough. It was never just sunny enough. It was never peaceful and free from scavengers enough to be able to say: now everything is in place for my crops to grow like never before and grant me the wealth I deserve.
In particularly dark times he even wondered if maybe he was doing something wrong, though thoughts like these were quickly dismissed. They meant he would have to change something in order to become happy. No one wanted that.
Suns rose and fell over his decrepit, sloppy farm. One day at high noon, when the sun was being especially unmerciful, he stopped pushing the plow behind his haggard oxen and put his hands on his hips. He wheezed. No matter how he pushed himself there seemed no end to the plowing. Then his left arm started to tighten, and he collapsed into a freshly cut furrow, there where slopes of moist, overturned earth mixed with fresh ox dung.
When he awoke he was in his house. He lay on his couch and stared up at the cracks in his crumbling ceiling.
How much longer would his house stand, he wondered.
His brother came in and put a fresh, cool, moist rag on his forehead.
“You’re a sight,” he said.
Kevin groaned. “Been worse,” he said.
“If that’s true don’t you think it’s time to change something?” Albert asked. His voice always bothered Kevin. It was quiet and soothing, almost like a woman’s. He had inherited too much from his mother Evelyn.
“It’s just dumb luck,” Kevin said, shaking his head. “It’s so easy. Sow the seeds. Grow the seeds. Harvest the crop. Enjoy. But something’s always going wrong. Not enough rain. Not enough sun. Too much wind. Planted too early or too late.”
“The lightning storm last summer during the drought that burned everything to the ground. Then came the boll worms, the aphids, and the desert locusts.”
“The soil went bad-too much of the same crops too many years in a row. Remember how long I needed to figure that one out?”
“I remember sandstorms. Floods. Cyclones. Wasn’t there also a meteor? And the droughts, all those droughts.”
“I built irrigation canals,” Kevin reminded his brother. “Sure did. But only after two or three crops failed,” said Albert, looking out the window.
He was getting bored again, Kevin realized. His younger brother lacked focus.
“Those irrigation ditches are a pain in the ass to keep unclogged,” Albert looked back at Kevin. “Don’t you think there are just too many signs telling you not to live this way, this latest episode being the icing on the cake?”
“Dad started living this way,” Kevin said coldly. “What’s right for him is right for me.”
“You and your damn sheep can go flock yourselves,” cursed Kevin with as much venom as he could muster, which wasn’t much, given the circumstances. Albert began walking to the door.
“Do you think I’d just give up on Dad’s dreams?” Kevin shouted weakly. “He did something extraordinary! I won’t let him and his accomplishments be forgotten!”
“No talkin’ to you..” said Albert over his shoulder. He opened the door and was gone.
Kevin had to face some hard truths over the next few months. If he wanted the farm to survive, he would have to think of something fast. He did his best to work himself back into working shape, but he was preoccupied. How was he to pay his bills and save the farm? He was not getting any younger and had no one to help him take care of his land. How long could he keep it up before dropping into another furrow and never getting up?
One day the butcher, a man named Dave, came to visit. Even though Kevin didn’t like him–he didn’t like anyone–he enjoyed a visit. It gave him an opportunity to curse his fates with someone who might just understand him.
But Dave was doing well, and wasn’t really interested in Kevin’s sob stories. He had actually come to talk business, and was ready to offer top dollar for a few of Albert’s sheep.
“Have you talked to him already?” Kevin asked him.
“Awww, you know his schedule,” the butcher said. “He’s up in the hills for hours before the sun rises. Sometimes he doesn’t come down at all. Once I saw him in town selling sheep milk, and I told him I wanted to talk business with him but he ignored me.”
“Well, he knows what he’s doing,” Kevin said, mad that he could not find a sympathetic ear. “Don’t know what I should do.”
“Just talk to him,” said Dave. “Maybe you could mention that if he gives me his rebellious rams and curious ewes taking care of the herd will be easier for him. No one running off or getting uppity.”
“Yeah, you’re right!” said Kevin. “He can only benefit. And it’s not like we want the whole herd..” Dave the butcher went away a happy man.
“Why not?” Kevin asked, incredulous.
“Dave’s an asshole,” answered Albert. “He can go fuck himself.”
“It’s better for you,” pleaded Kevin.
“I’ll decide that,” said Albert.
Darren, an angry ram, was making his presence felt. He began butting at all the rams around him. Albert stared.
Kevin followed his gaze.
“He could hurt someone, or one of your precious ewes,” he said. “What’ll you do then?”
“I’ll deal with that when it happens,” Albert answered.
A puffy ewe named Cora skittered over the ridge, too busy to look back.
“She might not come back,” said Kevin.
“And she might just learn something she can use over there,” said Albert.
“Albert, please…,” Kevin begged. “I…”
“This is about the farm, isn’t it?” Albert said, looking in his brother’s eyes. “You need the money to save it, don’t you?”
“Albert, you can’t do this to the memory of our father!”
“Fuck him,” said Albert. “Fuck you and fuck your stupid farm.”
Albert wandered off, his hands reaching to feel the stalks of the grasses his sheep were feeding on. His face rose to the sun, and he basked in its golden warmth.
He didn’t even know why he picked up the rock. He was going to toss it away and go home. But he wasn’t going to toss it away. He could toss it at his brother. But he wasn’t going to toss it at his brother.
“Hey, Albert!” he said, trying to sound friendly. Then he hopped over, more spry than he had been in years, and buried the stone in his brother’s beautiful sun-splashed face. He felt Albert’s hands flay upwards to defend himself, but it was all over. The first blow had been struck. There was nothing there to defend.
Still Kevin kept hitting and hitting and hitting…
He and Dave the butcher became great friends.