Five or So Acres Near Bovina

by SCOTT GOULD

(for SLC)

Funny but I don’t remember the wind blowing that much when Bedford was gone. I don’t recall it blowing at all during those couple of years, almost like there were things more important going on in other parts of the world, and the wind was needed elsewhere. Then Bedford came home and the wind picked up and blew like it was supposed to across the panhandle. I’m not sure anyone else noticed the change in the weather. There were so many other reasons to be distracted in those days.

Bedford came back in one piece, and I did thank God for that. Most people said God didn’t have a thing to do with it. They said it was mostly about him being such a tiny man. His brother even said once that a man small as Bedford was a tough target to hit, especially if he moved fast and low to the ground. “Nazis aren’t used to shooting rabbits,” he told Bedford. “You was something unique.” I was not sure when his brother became an expert on the hunting habits of bad Germans.

Bedford didn’t laugh when somebody mentioned his size. He was very sensitive about his stature. He was small to be sure, and that’s why he wanted big things surrounding him. Big land, big family, big car. The first thing he did when he came home was buy a rusted-up ’39 Dodge Luxury Liner from a war widow over in Friona, the one with the big fender flares and chrome running boards (the car not the widow). The second thing he did was take me to bed. The Dodge threw a rod the first time Bedford took it out on Highway 60 toward Farwell and stood on the gas. I didn’t get pregnant for a solid year.

It was probably my fault for the delay, but I have to say, being with Bedford again wasn’t the good times I’d imagined in my head. He wasn’t what you would consider a tender man. More like, he was a man on a mission, like one of those excursions in Germany and France he told his brothers about. Nothing but a mission and missions have goals, and Bedford was on a mission about babies. In fact, while he was on top of me, he would say exactly that, just under his breath between breaths. “On a mission, on a mission,” he would whisper and I couldn’t concentrate and instead would turn my head toward the window and watch that new breeze blowing, shivering the leaves on the cottonwood that grew on the hot side of the house.

After a few months of nothing but bad baby news, Bedford wanted me to go see the doctor. “It just doesn’t seem natural,” he said to me one afternoon. “I figured having babies would be as easy as shelling peas for you.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was more natural than he would ever guess. I didn’t know much biology, but I knew my own mind, and buried deep in my brain, there was a part of me still trying to figure if I actually wanted to make babies with this man I was married to.

Bedford wasn’t mean. He would never hit me or push me to the floor, probably because I had a good half foot and twenty pounds on him. However, I did foresee a day in the future when he would just ignore me, and I tend to think that’s about as bad as getting a backhand across the cheek. I mean, the worst thing one human being can do to another is just ignore them like they weren’t there. Bruises have a shelf life, but from what I’ve seen, there isn’t any coming back from being ignored.

I knew the second I finally got pregnant. I was standing in the kitchen, washing syrup off breakfast dishes. Through the window over the sink, I could see Bedford had pulled the tractor out of the barn and was hooking up the bush hog. He’d said during breakfast that he was going to try and tackle the five wild acres near the creek bottom and turn them into decent ground by spring. “Can you believe the government is paying people not to grow things? But you got to prove you have acres you could plow if you really felt like it,” he said. “Might be worth the sweat.”

Outside, I heard him cussing at the bush hog like it had a mind of its own. White puffs of breath came out of his mouth a second before I heard the words sliding through the kitchen window. He couldn’t get the hook over the hitch. And I thought to myself, if I used that kind of language, Bedford would make a beeline for the parsonage and tell Brother Shugart that I was suddenly possessed. Little did he know that I could let them fly when I wanted. I don’t think any man should have a monopoly on decorative language.

I listened to Bedford go to war with the bush hog, and I felt something not in my belly but on my ear, like somebody tickled me with a feather across my earlobe, and I turned to see who was standing there playing a trick on me. The kitchen was empty. But I had this overwhelming feeling the room was going to fill up soon. A premonition, you might say. A foreshadowing. Bedford was suddenly in the doorway, a wave of cold air close on his heels.

“What’s wrong with you?” he said, and I suppose I looked like I’d seen a ghost or an angel because he told me my face was white as typing paper. “You okay?”

I sat down at our little table and cocked my head like a dog, trying to remember what the tickle at my ear felt like.

“I can’t get the bush hog on the hitch,” he said. “I got to drive to town and get some axle grease to help it along. I need to get that patch cleared. I’m on a mission.” He grinned at me, and I remembered why I loved him. He could flash that grin at a time when a grin shouldn’t be, and you suddenly felt like the world was a better place. The first time he grinned that grin at me, I was bringing him a menu at the diner and having a bad day, which was mostly every day at the diner, but he turned on that smile and glanced at my nametag and said, “Well, hello, Pauline,” and as they say, the curtain rose on that particular show.

The tickle was gone, but I had no doubt what it meant. “I’m pregnant,” I said to him. “Pregnant, Bedford.”

He lowered into the chair across from me, still smiling. I smelled diesel fuel and manure coming off of him, and my stomach churned a bit. “You sure?” he asked.

“They just told me,” I said, and the word they just came out of nowhere. Probably because I already knew twins were in the offing for us.

“They?” he said and tensed up a bit. He wheeled around, looking for whoever else was hiding in the room.

“This kitchen is going to be filled up with family,” I said, and Bedford was lost among those words, but it didn’t matter. I was just glad he didn’t say something back to me about the mission being accomplished. That would have ruined the moment forever, I’m afraid.

*

That was January, and being pregnant through the winter wasn’t bad. I mean, the weather was terrible like always. Ice storms that bent and broke big limbs off the cottonwoods and chokecherry. I heard them snap in the dark, in the middle of the night, like gunshots cracking in the yard. The noises didn’t wake Bedford. He said he’d learned to sleep through any sort of disaster when he was in the army. But during those first few months, I couldn’t get comfortable. I spent most of February and March rolling around in the bed, searching for sleep, and I wasn’t even that big yet. It got so bad that Bedford started taking a blanket and pillow to the pullout in the living room. I couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like when the weather finally turned hot and my belly bent out over my feet.

The doctor from Bovina made a trip out to the house and told me what I already knew, that there were two of them. He stuck the stethoscope in my ears and I listened to the heart beats, one chasing after the other. Both of them solid and strong. “And the way you’re already showing, looks to me like they gonna be good sized youngsters.” Bedford liked hearing that. He hoped that shortness skipped a generation, but to be honest, Bedford’s parents weren’t imposing folks either. Being small appeared to be a family tradition that never took a vacation.

Bedford had already started talking about the babies to come after these, which made me a little mad. He would go on and on, wondering how long we were going to wait to have more. And how I’d better stay in the baby mood. Hand to God, I had not said many cross words to Bedford in my life. That was not my way. But when he began making plans for other babies and more rooms on the house, what with these two not much bigger than hickory nuts in my belly and me still having to go through the shank of the summer—well, I felt I had to say something. So I told him to shut up.

“What did you say to me?” he said which seemed a little stupid. He heard me just fine.

“You need brushing up on your English?” I said, gilding that particular lily, I suppose, with a bit more sass than it needed. I braced for him to come back at me one way or the other.

I sure wasn’t ready for him to smile. That same damn smile. “Well, I don’t believe you’ve ever told me to shut up, Pauline,” he said, the grin widening across his chin. “I can’t believe you waited this long to call me out, the way I run off at the mouth.” And just like that he had his head laying on my belly, listening for the echoes, and he said, “I’m sorry. I won’t get ahead of myself again. I get jumpy waiting for the next thing to happen. I need to learn to take things slower. You know me.”

Oh, I did. His problem wasn’t being jumpy. Bedford’s problem was he thought the world owed him something, like he’d won some grand bet and was waiting around for the world to pay up. I never really understood what happened in his life to make him feel that way. I mean, sure there were gaps in Bedford’s past that he’d never bothered to pencil in for me. But everybody’s got those blank, private times. I didn’t think it was the war. I didn’t think it was about being short. But one thing was for sure: Bedford walked around most days thinking that the world had some settling up to do.

But I didn’t bring any of that up while he rested his head on the fresh curve of my stomach, his ear pressed to the apron. “The boys are talking to each other,” he said.

“Could be girls, you know. Or one a each maybe. Wouldn’t that be nice?” I said. “Little bit of this, little bit of that?”

“Sorry, but I want boys,” he said. “I’m owed.” And there it was again. Bedford thinking that there were debts to be paid.

“I need to finish dishes,” I said and moved his head away.

He was smiling. “Don’t you go working too hard,” he said. “I’ve got dirt to turn for the government,” and he walked out of the kitchen. I didn’t see him until dark that evening.

*

I made it through winter with no problems. During the day when Bedford was out working on machinery or burning off the big piles of brush he’d bush hogged off those five acres, I walked around our house. Just walked and walked. I would bundle up, wrap myself like a present, with nothing but my mouth and nose showing to the world and walk circles around our little house, always clockwise, the direction time moved. In the backyard, the wind was always at my back, pushing me on. When I’d make the turn for the front, I’d have to lean against the wind. I liked walking in circles. There was never any mystery about where you’d end up. I’d walk for hours, it seemed, until Bedford came home for lunch. I’d stop then and pull out something I’d left in the warmer—biscuits from breakfast, maybe a slice of ham.

I remember the day he sat at the table and told me about the business, about how he’d been talking to Ty Gallman in Bovina about buying into his farm implement company. “Ty is looking for a way out,” Bedford said. “He’s a desperate man. Desperate fellas make mistakes when it comes to matters of money. I could get me a sweet deal here.” I hadn’t seen Bedford this excited since he found out I was pregnant. His knees bounced under the table like a first grader’s.

“He's getting out because it’s a bad business to be in?” I asked, and right away I wished I’d kept it to myself. But it seemed a fair question.

“Well, there you go, raining on another of my parades,” he said, and he wasn’t smiling this time. “Every time I squeeze out a little ambition, you pump on my brakes. I’m getting tired of all that, you know. You’re just mad because all you do is spend the day wearing a path around the house.”

He had a point. I had been the source of discouragement for most of Bedford’s schemes. Like when he wanted to get a loan and buy some train cars full of retired circus animals. He had this wild hair that running a zoo would be easier than coaxing sorghum or cotton out of the dirt. The bank put a stop to that one when they turned him down flat, so it wasn’t all my fault. Then he wanted to start a bamboo ranch because somebody somewhere told him bamboo was the cash crop of the future, but I convinced him he was listening to the wrong voices. He toyed with the idea of raising minks until he found out what it cost to buy the first two breeders. Every time Bedford came up with a scheme that evaporated one way or the other, he hissed at whoever was nearby and said, “Damn world owes me something and I intend to get it.” I couldn’t imagine the world paying him off in farm implements.

“I don’t get mad about things,” I said. “I just try to look at all sides.”

“You can look by yourself,” he said, and stomped out. He didn’t slam the door, just left it open. The wind gusted around the corner of the house and blew a little cloud of brown dust across the threshold. A couple of weeks later, Bedford started working at Gallman’s Farm Implements on weekends, just so he could learn the business before he bought into it, and I kept walking around the house on the days when the weather let me.

*

Bedford’s daddy was our Plan B.

Bedford said every decent mission had to have a Plan B, and he had decided getting me to the hospital was indeed a mission. Bedford’s daddy drove the only cab for hire in Bovina, but from what we could tell, he spent more time at the Palomino Domino Parlor than he did behind the wheel. Probably made more money there too.

“I don’t know how you’re going to get in touch with me,” Daddy Joe said. “I could be driving a fare, you know.” The three of us were sitting around the kitchen table. “I mean, you drive a cab, you automatically got some strange hours,” he went on. “I’ve never been part of anybody’s plan.”

“I seriously doubt you’ll be cabbing somebody,” Bedford said. “The only thing you steer is dominoes and beer bottles.” He didn’t think much of his father’s taxi business. He didn’t think much of his father. But I suppose he thought enough of Daddy Joe to stick him right in the middle of Plan B. I couldn’t argue. The nearest family I had was a great aunt near Clovis, and she didn’t drive anyway.

“What the hell you know? I drove an old woman and her dog all the way to Lubbock and back the other day so she could go the Catholic church and light a candle for the dog which I come to learn was all but dying at the time of the trip. That’s almost cross country. I made a month’s worth in one shot,” he said. “So don’t you tell me I don’t get fares.” This was in early spring. Daddy Joe never wore anything but those tacky, thin tank-top t-shirts, and that’s all he was in, year round. In winters, he just piled lots of jackets on top. He said the lack of sleeves freed up his range of motion. I never did understand why he wanted that much motion. All he did was maneuver a taxi cab and match up dots on dominoes. Not a whole lot of freedom needed for those particular activities.

But I was for sure learning about motion and things getting hindered. I had taken to wearing nothing but loose dresses and Bedford’s old sweatshirts, and even with those adjustments, things were getting tight. And I’d all but given up sleeping. Walking around the house was just about the only thing that stayed the same. Three or four times a day, I’d pull on a sweatshirt and start traveling clockwise, following the narrow little path I’d worn in the ground. Now that the weather was warmer, I noticed how much dust I kicked up. I hadn’t seen much dust in winter. Maybe the cold air kept it down. But these days, I’d toss up dust clouds on the windless side of the house, and when I made the circle and got back around, there it was, still drifting brown in the air.

Bedford was ready to let it all go, but his daddy wasn’t. Daddy Joe never knew when to call it quits. “Damn right you need me. You’ll be down there tossing manure or over at Gallman’s trying to sell some poor cracker a combine he don’t need and can’t afford, and you’re gonna need me.” Daddy Joe looked over at me like we were on the same team, but I didn’t feel like smiling so I just stared at him, pretending he was one of those retired zoo animals Bedford wanted.

“Okay, Pops, you can be Plan B,” Bedford said, and I didn’t know at the time, but Daddy Joe thought that required him to walk laps with me around the house. A couple times a day, I’d hear the cab pull up in the yard, it’s brakes screeching when it eased to a stop, and Daddy Joe would unfold out of his big yellow car and holler toward the door, “Let’s get those babies some fresh air!” and he’d wait for me to show up on the porch. It was nice to have some company. The only times I saw Bedford was breakfast and supper. By then he was too busy eating to talk about my day.

The first time we walked together, Daddy Joe said, “You know we aren’t really getting anywhere.” And I told him that wasn’t the point.

“I’m just trying to keep moving,” I said.

“I hear you. Moving is important for pregnant women and outlaws, and we know which one you are. I get it now,” he said and that was the last he brought it up.

We’d talk about the weather and how it was getting toward summer or the way the yellow paint was peeling on the side of the house that got the direct sun or when the babies were due, which wasn’t until early fall. “You got the patience of old Job,” he said more than once, but I didn’t feel that way. Job was put upon by God, and I didn’t feel one little bit that I was being singled out. I felt lucky, especially when we walked into the sun, and it felt like a warm oven on that side of the house.

*

I was walking by myself when the college boy pulled up that afternoon. I could tell he was in college. He had that look spread across his face, the one college boys get, that says he thought he was smarter than most everyone else. He waited until I came around the house and said he was expected, and I thought he said expecting, so I told him, “The only one expecting around here is me,” and I patted my belly, which by now had covered up any view of my toes.

“I mean, I’ve talked about this on the phone with the man of the house,” he said, and that was an expression I had never cared for. “My name is Don, by the way.”

“When you say this, what exactly do you mean?” I said, and I started walking again. The college boy pulled in right beside me, which made me like him a little better. I appreciated people who didn’t mind moving while they talked.

He explained that he was a student down at Tech in Lubbock. His summer job was measuring land for the new government subsidies. “I get a measurement of your acreage and I give that to the office in Lubbock and they send it on to Washington, and the next thing you know, you got a check coming from the Feds, just for growing absolutely nothing. I don’t really understand the politics of it all that much, but they don’t pay me to understand. They pay me to get the numbers.”

He didn’t look like he was dressed to stalk around empty fields and take measurements. His shoes were polished and I could see a sharp crease in those khaki pants he wore. And the car he drove didn’t have a speck of dust on it, like he’d hand-waxed it that morning. I thought I smelled some cologne. He was more ready for a Saturday night date than he was for marking up acres.

“How long you been doing this?” I said.

“How long you been walking in circles?” he said back with more attitude than I would have preferred.

“Since I got pregnant,” I told him, and he returned the favor of a reply and said this was his first day.

“I mean, I’ve practiced here and there, but I’ve never done it for real, with real numbers,” he said.

I pointed him in the direction of the creek bottom and told him to look for the little man on top of a big tractor. “His name is Bedford,” I said. “He’s the man of the house.”

“Ma’am, I thank you for the information. Good luck with that baby,” he said, breaking off the path and leaning toward his little coupe car.

“Babies,” I said. “We got twins coming. Y’all got any subsidies for more than one baby at a time?” He didn’t answer me, but he did snort out a little giggle and suddenly turned into a twelve-year-old, right in front of me.

A couple hours later, the college boy pulled back into the driveway, and this time he had Bedford in the passenger seat. I could tell Bedford was about to bust with a story, but was going to sit on it for a bit. The college boy’s car had sticky bottom-land mud up to the wheel wells, and I couldn’t see the laces on his shoes for all the dirt. But Don seemed very happy.

He hitched his pants as he walked toward the door, with Bedford on his heels. “Well, ma’am, we’ve got good news for you,” he said. Behind him, Bedford rolled his eyes and grinned.

“What’s that?” I said, and I didn’t get a short answer.

“Well, I pulled out my chains. Chains, that’s how we measure land now in the ag business. You probably don’t know this, but there are four rods to a chain and ten chains in a furlong and eighty chains in a statute mile,” he said and glanced back at Bedford, who instantly wiped the grin away and got this serious look on his face and nodded at the college boy. He took it as an encouragement to continue on. “Which means if you got yourself ten square chains, you got yourself an acre of land. Now, I walked the perimeter of y’all’s bottomland and I took a guess at how big it was, which is something I felt moved to do, guess ahead of time and see how close I come to my guess. And, ma’am, what do you think I guessed for that piece of bottomland, as far as acreage is concerned?” He paused.

“Go ahead, Pauline, take a guess. You been down there a time or two. What you think?” Bedford said choking down something that was either a chuckle or a yell. I hated not being in on a joke.

“I’d say five or so acres,” I answered. Sure, like I didn’t know. I’d heard Bedford talk about those five acres so many times. Those five acres, on and on. How could I forget?

“Ha!” the college boy hollered, then stomped his muddy feet a couple of times. “That’s the same thing your husband said. But I knew he was wrong. Me, I guessed about eight, but I was way off. By the time all the chain was laid, we had ourselves about nine point three acres. I’m going to round up, as a way of a little baby gift, and put y’all down for ten acres. You keep that land free of nothing but dirt and old Uncle Sam is going to pay you for your trouble. How about that?”

“Yeah, how about that, momma?” Bedford said. This time, he was shaking his head.

“Well, you folks have yourselves a good evening. I’ll get this paperwork in tomorrow. I need to go hose this car off before the mud sets,” and with that, the college boy pulled away, his engine skipping when he put a foot into it.

“It’s really only five acres, isn’t it?” I said.

“You damn right it is,” Bedford said. He started laughing while he talked. “That piece of land’s been five acres as long as I can remember. He doubled down on us, and I didn’t have to do a thing but stand there and watch it. And sign the damn paper. Doubled our money. You know what that is? That’s the world, Pauline. That’s the world sending us a rookie summer employee with a chain and he can’t count straight. That’s the world owing me something. That’s the world paying me back.” Bedford was all but hopping around.

“Paying us back,” I said.

“Of course, dear,” he said. “I feel like celebrating. What about you?”

He knew what I would say. I was too big and too tired to do anything but put my feet up and watch the evening settle in, then drift away. The furthest I’d gotten from the house lately was the porch and my path.

“I’m going to pick up Dewey and go by the Spur for a beer or two. But I’m not going to tell anybody what happened. I don’t want to jinx it,” he said and walked by me into the house to change his shirt. “Everybody’s going to wonder why I’m so happy.”

I didn’t mind Bedford enjoying himself. His time was going to be filled up soon with a couple of babies, and he’d already promised me he’d be a good daddy, that he would help out with things. I felt like we’d caught a break. And we hadn’t even asked for it. Maybe the world did settle scores.

*

Unless you lived here, you wouldn’t understand our heat. It isn’t like a sticky blanket settling over you. It doesn’t lay on you and hold you down. That’s because the air here never stays still. There’s always a breeze, and you’d think a breeze might be just the thing to keep you cool. But all the wind does here is shuffle the air around and constantly remind you that you are miserable. Summer here is like living in a furnace and somebody you can’t see keeps fanning the flames.

I took to walking in my bare feet around the house. I liked feeling the ground under me. I tried hooking it with my toes so I wouldn’t lose a grip on the path. Of course, my feet got filthy and I’d have to wash them off in the tub, which was somewhat of a blind feat, seeing as I couldn’t really tell what I was doing. My belly had taken over most everything, including sight of my toes.

One morning, I wanted to walk early before the sun got too high. Daddy Joe was going to join me. He’d called me from the domino parlor and said he needed some air and did I want to wear down some dirt with him. But I couldn’t wait, and that was probably a mistake, but who can see that far ahead? Who can make those kind of predictions about what will happen and what won’t?

Bedford left early for Gallman’s. He told me he’d set a hook in a farmer from over near Dimmit. “All I got to do is reel him in,” he said at breakfast. “He’s got his eye on this International Harvester that will do everything except brush your teeth.” Then he laughed. Bedford had been in a good mood since the afternoon that college boy with the acre chains drove away in his mud-covered car. He was starting to enjoy work at the farm implement place. He liked results he could put in a cash register better than ones he had to grow in the dirt.

I didn’t wait for Daddy Joe. I just kicked off my house slippers and headed outside. I could already feel the heat of the day blowing around, and it wasn’t even eight o’clock yet. The worn path under my feet felt a bit cooler than the air. I was glad for that. Out here in the summer, you look for the little joys. I started walking, took the first turn and came into the shade side of the house, away from the breeze. The air was nicer here, even a little dank, like the inside of a bucket. I’d forgotten that this time of day, when you made the turn around the next corner, the sun was smack in your eyes, and it actually took a few seconds to adjust to the brightness and see where you were going. But I’d walked that route enough, I could do it with my eyes closed, and I have to confess, I had done that a few times when I was sure nobody was watching, just for something to do.

I let my eyes adjust and looked south, toward the highway. I didn’t see a car for miles. Maybe Daddy Joe had decided to save his feet and keep his fingers on the dominoes for a few hours. I could picture him, hunched over the table in his tiny t-shirt, grinning at the patchwork of black tiles. I kept walking.

When I think about it now, I shouldn’t have been out that early. Early is when all the other parts of the world wake up. Nobody ever said to my face that being out too early was the cause of it all, but I knew folks thought it. People will try to find a reason, try to lay blame.

That morning, I don’t know how many times I’d made those turns around the house in the shadows and the sunlight. You can get lulled to sleep, hypnotized I guess. I remember feeling a trickle of sweat easing its way between my shoulder blades, heading south. I remember making the turns from the shade into the sun and closing my eyes, so I wouldn’t be surprised by the yellow light. I knew exactly how many steps until the next turn.

Then, on one pass, I heard two things when my eyes were shut. I heard Daddy Joe’s cab slowing down on the highway to make the turn into our dirt drive. And I heard that rattlesnake. For all I know, I could have walked by him two dozen times before he decided to announce he was ready for business. Of course, I opened my eyes when I heard him a yard off to my right. He was coiled thick and tight as a lariat in the drip line of the roof, in that little divot the rain had made through the years, but he was the color of the dust, so much like dust you had to look hard to make him out. And I stopped walking, stopped right in my tracks.

I can’t say why, but I didn’t run. He was cocked, his rattles buzzing behind him like crazy. Funny, it sounded like a baby rattle. I knew enough about prairie rattlesnakes. You live out here and you learn quick the best thing to do is keep your eyes open and if you ever hear one, walk away from the sound. But for some reason, I couldn’t move. I needed to stay on my path, and there he was, a gatekeeper who wasn’t about to let me pass. I have to say, for a second, while I stood there with the sweat beading down my back and my eyes squinting in the yellow light, I believe I was waiting to die.

Daddy Joe had parked in front. I didn’t even hear his door slam. He came around the house from the opposite direction (counter clockwise, not the direction time moves) and the way he tells it, he didn’t see the snake at first. All he saw was me, and he said, “Pauline, why the hell you standing in a mud puddle?” Then he remembered it hadn’t rained in weeks and that wasn’t any mud puddle under my bare feet. He saw the snake too, and he went running straight at it. The snake didn’t know what to do about a crazy little man in a tank top t-shirt coming at him, so he sidewinded away and disappeared through a skinny crack in the foundation of the house.

I can’t say for sure if my water would have broken anyway, but I have to believe, walking up on that rattlesnake didn’t help hold things back. Before I knew what was happening, Daddy Joe steered me barefooted into the back of his cab, and we set off for the hospital in Bovina a couple months earlier than we planned.

*

You can’t make plans for things like babies or weather or rattlesnakes that mix with the Texas dust. Sometimes, things just happen on their own. I remember feeling those babies fighting for space while I laid in the back of the cab. Daddy Joe wouldn’t turn the radio off, even when I asked him. He said it kept him focused to have music playing when he drove that fast. It felt like a wrestling match in my belly, and the labor pains started when we turned onto the highway toward town. By the time we reached the hospital, they were coming fast, a couple good, sharp pains during every song that played on the radio.

We drove right by Gallman’s but Daddy Joe didn’t even think about pumping the brakes to pick up Bedford. Maybe he knew that Bedford would see the cab flashing by the store, a whisk of yellow going faster than it should. But somebody must’ve noticed, because I had barely settled in a room when Bedford stuck his head in the door and grinned that grin of his. “You do good, now, okay?” he said, which was his way of telling me he was thinking about me.

Everybody wants to lay blame. Everybody wants there to be a reason—one good reason—why a couple hours later there were two little babies, two little slick wet babies, but only one was breathing, only one was the color of a blush and the other was blue as evening, only one moving his tiny hands like a wave hello and the other with a finger under the cord wrapped tight around his neck like he was trying to pry it off.

Bedford didn’t see any of this. Only me and the doctor and those two nurses did. They said there was nothing to be done, said that blue baby could have passed weeks ago, or it could have passed on the way the hospital. There was just no way to know. It could have been the rattlesnake. Could have been the way I was lying in the back of Daddy Joe’s cab. A dead baby is a forever mystery, no matter how much you think you know.

And that was what I told Bedford when he finally came into my room. “There is just no way to know,” I said, and Bedford was more mad than he was tearful. I’d seen that look before. He was mad at the world again.

He kept saying over and over, “I should’ve never measured that land. Should’ve never measured.” Because Bedford was sure that the world taking one of our babies was the world getting even. Getting things back in balance. The world had doubled that piece of land. Then the world cut our babies down by half, put some sort of scales back in balance. “The goddamn world don’t spin too good out of balance,” Bedford said, and I told him to shut up for the second time in a year.

*

These days, I don’t blame anybody. Don’t blame the snake or the time of day or the heat. I don’t understand much about the ways of the world, but I don’t believe it keeps a ledger book of our accounts. People come to grips with their sadness in their own ways. The day after the funeral, Bedford planted and overseeded those five or so acres with sorghum and is waiting for the college boy to come back and inspect the land. I don’t know what Bedford is going to say when he gets asked about that government check we cashed. We can’t afford to pay it back. Bedford said he wanted to bury that baby boy at the edge of those five acres but I put my foot down. He is in a little plot at the cemetery outside the Lutheran church. I grieve my own way too. Me, I have started walking again, always with my shoes on and my eyes on the dust. I cock that baby boy up on my right hip and I set off around my house, this time counterclockwise. But I am not trying to make the world go backwards. That’s silly to even try. I still walk the same circles, but somehow the dirt feels different in this direction.

SCOTT GOULD is the author of the story collection, Strangers to Temptation (Hub City Press, 2017). His work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Crazyhorse, New Madrid Journal, Carolina Quarterly, Pembroke Magazine, Black Warrior Review, New Ohio Review, New Stories from the South and The Bitter Southerner, among other publications.