Deep summer meant thick fields of grass and calloused hands wrapped tightly around the ash handle of the sling blade. I hated the sling blade. I loathed the high grass of the fields.
I remember the arrogance of the man. He was perhaps fifty, fairly tall to a child of twelve, and land lord to my little brother and me. I remember, most vividly, my hatred of the man. We lived under his roof. He was my uncle.
I remember the cold winter day our mother stood beside her gray car and tried to explain her reasons why it was necessary for us to remain behind in her sister's care. "It's only temporary. Farm life will keep you busy. Mind your manners and behave. Your aunt and uncle are doing us a huge favor."
Then she was gone.
The farm stood close to a railroad. I remember the stand of hardwoods and the tattered fields of corn and how the land sloped away from the house and I remember the hog pens and the house garden and how hobo's had marked the back door with their jackknives. I remember, that first winter, how the old man stood on the lower stoop and pointed towards a tract of land and said, "When the grass turns green it'll be your job to cut it. Every week, you cut it. You understand...no work, no food. For either of you."
Soon winter turned to spring and then summer. He took a slingblade from the barn, said, "Sharpen it then get on that field." I remember he kicked a chicken from his path and walked away to his bottle.
The first day was painful only for my lack of technique and style. I became friends with rhythm.
I still remember the day he walked out and stood close and said, "It's the chicken poop. I spread a heavy load on this field. Gotta let it dry, can't dump the wet stuff. "Yep, the chicken s*it makes the grass. Can you smell it?"
"What the hell is wrong with you. You mean to tell me you can't smell that fine fertilizer? You dumb or what?"
I kept the blade on the move. My senses were attuned to the ripe odor of green grass and the south wind and faint odor of oil and creosote from the tracks. I seem to even remember the scent of sweat and loamy earth. I'd never admit the undertones of chicken crap...because I remembered I hated him, and the farm too.
He bent and took a handful of dirt and squeezed, held it tight, then took the back of my head in his meaty paw and with his left hand shoved the dirt into my face. "Now, can you smell it? Ain't that nice?"
I spit. Wiped my face. Held the sling blade tightly. Eased it back. "Go ahead, boy. Try it. I asked you if you can smell that chicken s*it, and you'd better answer me."
"You a tall boy for your age but I'll still cut you in half if you don't answer me."
I took a step back and said, "No. I can't smell it."
I really do not recall his punch. I remember I awoke in the field. He stood above me with a huge grin on his face, bottle in hand - my uncle.
I remember the ring in my ears, how my face hurt. A bit of blood on my fingers. He said, "Come here." I went. "Now, do you smell the chicken s*it?"
I wanted my mother, I remember that. I remember the high clouds as they scuttled high on the south wind and I think I remember a flock of birds but I'm not really sure of them. I remember hate filled my heart. Hatred grown from the lack of a father, and my mother's absence. Hate so vibrate it painted my soul.
"Yes, what, boy?"