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Steve Robertson

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“Them horses in the barn needs hay. Get butt up thar in the loft ‘n fork some down to ‘em. ‘N throw some feed in fer the chickens while yer at it.” Clem wasn’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but he was filled with goodness and kindness. He had the physique of a stud horse and a handsome face that could warm the heart of an avowed spinster. He kept his long, raven black hair combed in the style of his true hero, Elvis. His nose and facial features were reminiscent of Roman statuary.
Ma Tucker, Clem’s mother, adored her big old boy, but she was a firm believer in the time worn adages, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and “Spare the rod and spoil the boy.” The horses and chickens needed feeding and Clem should have done it without having to be told. “I’m getting’ tard ‘a tellin’ ya ta do things ya should ‘a done already.”
Clem hung his neatly combed head. “Yes’m,” and slunk out to the barn to find the pitchfork. He had always loved the barn. It had been his playground practically since birth. The fragrant spongy hay was wonderful to play in and jump in. The fragrance of the big burlap bags of animal feed filled the air. And even the odor of horse manure wasn’t unpleasant. The offal of herbivores didn’t possess the acrid stench like that of carnivores. And the rustic aroma of the leather saddles, reins, halters and other tack added a punctuation mark to the ambiance of the barn.
This time without being told, Clem stopped by the kitchen on the way out to grab the bucket of swill to slop the hogs. He’d been yelled at enough for one day. Clem liked the hogs. They had a voracious appetite similar to his. They were carefree and whiled away their time either basking in a cool bog of wet mud or happily roaming around grunting and oinking; wagging their curly little tails with pleasure. They were smart, too. Clem, however, had learned over the years to not get close to them emotionally. They were being raised to slaughter for food.
After pouring the swill into the feed trough for the hogs, Clem filled the empty bucket with cracked corn for the chickens. He stepped through the door of the chicken wire enclosure and spread it on the ground for the voraciously pecking hens. Clem was unaware of a pretty set of sky-blue eyes that were watching his every move from the second-story door in the barn that led to the hay loft.
Clem rarely wore a shirt and the pretty blue eyes were devouring his rippling muscles and Romanesque, albeit hillbilly, good looks. They followed his motions as he closed the door to the chicken pen and strode over to the barn. He grabbed a pitchfork and climbed the ladder to the loft.
Janie Mae Hickenbottom was seventeen, a year younger than Clem. She was a true country girl beauty and a tomboy as well. Janie Mae kept her long blond hair braided in pigtails with pretty red ribbons securing the ends of each. Her unblemished, attractive face was nicely tanned by the South Georgia sun and her body was what the local men described as being “as fine as a brick outhouse.” Now in the backwoods where they lived, outhouses were traditionally drafty, smelly, dirty, cobweb filled wooden affairs. In comparison, a “brick outhouse” was truly a magnificent structure.
The youngsters had known each other practically since birth, but lately looking at Clem or talking to him had started giving her flutters in places she never felt before. Janie Mae slipped out of sight as Clem climbed the rungs of the ladder up to the hayloft. She was fraught with excitement from her voyeuristic experience of watching him without being seen.
The sweat on Clem’s back glistened as he pitchforked a load of hay down to the floor of the barn for the horses. There was quite a pile, which he would later distribute to each of the various stalls, and he climbed back down the ladder. When he was out of sight, Janie Mae crept over to the ledge of the loft so she could peek down at Clem. She wasn’t prepared for the rotten board that gave way, tossing her down from the loft. She fell into the pile of hay, literally landing at his feet, startling him so bad that he was afraid he’d messed his pants.
Clem jumped back and in doing so, landed with both feet in a pile of fresh horse manure. Now there are two varieties of horse manure piles. There are the dry types that are hard and light, and sail like organic Frisbees when the farm kids toss them. The other variety is the ‘new’ freshly excreted stuff—slippery, smelly, slimy, greenish brown stuff—the kind that would ooze up between bare toes and squish beneath bare feet. That was what Clem landed in.
Both of his feet immediately slipped from under him, and he crashed down, legs over caboodle as he landed smack dab in the middle of the fetid pile. Clem’s vociferous oath matched what he had just landed in. Janie Mae’s pretty blue eyes were now the size of hen’s eggs. The heap of hay had softened her landing and she was unhurt, however, she was scarlet with embarrassment. The sight of Clem emerging from the fly infested pile of dung, caused her to begin laughing uproariously. Clem, muttering to himself, began wiping off the manure with some of the hay. Janie Mae’s laughter was infectious, however, and he found himself snorting and hooting as well.
“Dang, Janie Mae, ya skert the crap outta’ me. ‘N ya done made me fall in a pile ‘a crap. What in the world ya’doin’, anyway?”
Having been exposed, Janie Mae was taken aback and stumbled around for words. “I wuz watchin’ ya’ Clem Tucker. Yer sure a fine lookin’ feller.” Her bright blue eyes were fluttering sexually as she flirted, and her heart was about to pound out of her chest. Rare were the occasions she had felt like this.
A lump rose in Clem’s big throat. All of a sudden, he was feeling arousal he hadn’t experienced before. Both youngsters’ eyes were riveted on each other. It was Romeo and Juliet, Bonne and Clyde, or Anthony and Cleopatra. In that instant, they were deeply in love in a way that can only happen in adolescence.
In a trance, as if drawn by an invisible magnet, eyes closed and lips touched. And then the realization as to what had just occurred came to both and they quickly stepped back in embarrassment. Slowly they walked out of the barn holding hands and after another kiss, Janie Mae left to go back to her house. They were both thinking they had just experienced the first most magnificent kiss of their lives and it smelled like horse manure.
Clem finished distributing the hay to the horses and washed up in the horse-watering trough so he could go in for supper his Ma had cooked. When he got in the house, his Pa, Jeremiah Tucker, and his Ma were already at the table. Ma was dishing up mashed potatoes and green beans on her plate next to her pork chop. Clem sat down and began to load up his plate with vitals.
Jeremiah took a huge bite out of his pork chop he held in his hand, and then pointed it at Clem like he was holding a gun. “Boy, I seen ya a’smoochin’ with Janie Mae out’n by the barn a while ago. Ya cain’t be doin’ that no more. Her Ma used to be married to my brother. You ‘n Janie Mae is cousins!”
Clem was stunned. He looked as if he’d been hit twixt the eyes with a fence post. His ma couldn’t help but notice and it bothered her to see her big boy, who was obviously in love, struck such a dastardly blow. For the moment she kept quiet.
Clem could only mutter an obligatory, “Yes, Pa,” before staring down at his plate and finishing his food. He was overwhelmed with confusion. How could this be?
Later, Pa had retired to the living room to watch wrestling, and Clem was taking the dinner dishes out to the kitchen for Ma to wash. Ma could hold it in no longer. “Boy, ya don’t need to be so down in the dumps. He don’t know it, but Jeremiah ain’t yer real Pa. Ya can kiss on Janie Mae all ya want…”

       Web Site: Ranch Boy Books

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Reviewed by Carolyn Kingsley 7/7/2007
Great! You done it again.

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