Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Entry: Short Story July 2 - July 13

Maynard’s Pretty Good Day
Richard Leonard

The chicken feed was disappearing faster than usual, but the hens didn’t seem to be producing any more eggs. Maynard was not worried. After all, it was only chicken feed compared to his other farm expenses. But it was a mystery. The feed bin was emptying quickly. Maynard knew he would soon get to the bottom of it.

He had almost finished his chores, but made a last minute check. He wanted to be sure he had swept out all the other bins. Bin there, done that. Satisfied, he stuffed the check into the pocket of his overalls and filled the feed troughs for the swine. They ate like pigs. Maynard headed for the house.

Entering the kitchen, Maynard found that his elderly neighbor, Zeke, had arrived and was seated at the table with his daughter Molly. They were playing a game of cards. Molly was wearing the pearl necklace her grandmother had given her. Myrtle, his wife, was fixing something on the stove. The pipe had come out, and she was trying to reattach it. To protect herself from dust, she was wearing her stovepipe hat.

“I don’t know why the chicken feed is disappearing so fast,” said Maynard.

“Do you think those wild geese in the meadow are coming in and eating the feed?” asked Zeke.
Myrtle spoke up, but Maynard couldn’t understand her. She was talking through her hat. Besides, a grimy storm window, stored behind the stove, was in the way. Finally, Myrtle wiped off the window and made herself clear. “Yes, Maynard! Yesterday I saw a couple of females come into the barnyard. And then one of the males followed. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

“That would explain what I found this morning,” said Maynard. Reaching into his egg basket, he pulled out a large, gold‑colored egg. “This must be a goose egg. Do you think it’s any good?”

“Put a candle behind it, Molly,” said Zeke, “and see if you can tell if there’s a yolk.”

Molly, standing next to him, tried to lift the egg. “It’s a pretty heavy egg,” she said. “I can’t hold a candle to that.” Before she could catch it, the egg slipped out of her hand and landed on Zeke’s bald head, breaking apart.

“I guess the yolk’s on me!’ exclaimed Zeke. Myrtle wondered if their neighbor had been hurt by the impact, and after cleaning off the mess she examined his head. But there was no goose egg there.

“I need you to get me a chicken for dinner,” Myrtle said to Maynard.

“Give me a hand, Molly,” said Maynard.

Molly gave him her cards. He stuffed them into the pocket of his overalls. Molly rose to follow him into the barnyard, still wearing the necklace.

“Don’t wear those in the barnyard!” Myrtle warned her. “If the string breaks, you’ll just be casting your pearls before swine.”

Removing the necklace, Molly went to help her father catch a chicken. The hens, as if sensing their fate, began crossing the road to get to the other side.

Maynard snagged one of the chickens, but was able to free it from the barbed wire fence. Grabbing his hatchet from the shed, he put the chicken on a block of wood and asked Molly to hold it there.

“Poor chicken!” sighed Molly. “Your head is on the chopping block now!”

Raising his ax, Maynard dispatched the chicken with one fell swoop. Molly released the chicken, which began to run about the barnyard like a chicken with its head cut off. In the process, the hen dropped the dispatch that had been tucked under her wing. Maynard picked it up and stuffed it into the pocket of his overalls.

“If you feel sorry for the chickens, you can’t be my helper any more,” said Maynard sternly to Molly. “Here, put this away.” He gave her the ax.

Father and daughter returned to the house, where Zeke was still talking to Myrtle. She had finished her task at the stove and was now mounting a large number 7 on the kitchen wall.

“What’s that for?” Maynard inquired.

“I was thirsty and just wanted a 7 up,” explained Myrtle.

Bored with the card game, Molly went to rouse the aged Pal, asleep in the corner of the kitchen.

“Let sleeping dogs lie,” said Myrtle. But Molly persisted, trying to get the dog to jump through a hoop. The dog had never done that before.

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” Maynard warned her.

“Good exercise,” said Zeke. “I was thinking of learning that trick myself. But I figured I would have to jump through too many hoops. I calculated it would be about 6,453. And figures don’t lie.” At that point the large number 7 fell off the wall and landed on the floor, where it lay. “I guess I was wrong,” Zeke admitted.

Maynard picked up the number 7, tucked it into the pocket of his overalls, and went back outside for another barnyard chore.

Frustrated with the dog, Molly resumed her card game with Zeke. But in a few minutes Maynard broke in.

“Why did you do that?” asked Myrtle. “You could have just opened the door like anyone else. Now I’ll have to fix that, too.”

“If it’s fixed, you won’t be able to budge it,” Zeke observed.

“Our family finances are none of your business!” Myrtle retorted.

“Never mind all that,” said Maynard. “I just wanted to read the paper for a while.”

Myrtle handed him the morning paper. Maynard settled into the rocking chair and began to read. But in a moment he spoke up again.

“Myrtle, we’re going to have to move!”

Myrtle was wiping the dishes. “Why? Don’t you like this place?”

“Yes, but it isn’t safe. It says here that most accidents occur within five miles of home. So I think we need to move.” He stood up.

“Are you off your rocker?” Zeke asked.

“Oh, give me a break!” exclaimed Myrtle. At that moment the two dishes she was holding shattered in her hands.

“And, look at this!” Maynard exclaimed to Zeke, “These wild geese are such a problem that they’re offering a bounty on them.”

Zeke didn’t answer right away. He was looking at Myrtle, who was on her hands and knees, sobbing. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Things have fallen apart,” she answered. “And I’m just trying to pick up the pieces.”

Maynard helped his wife, and she composed herself. Actually, some of her songs were quite good.

“I think we need to go after those geese,” said Maynard. “Will you go with me, Zeke?”
The old neighbor was still playing the game with Molly. “I’m not sure,” he answered after a moment.

“Why not?” asked Maynard.

“I was looking here for advice on whether to go with you. But it’s just not in the cards.”
But Zeke finally agreed to go. Maynard went to the cabinet and pulled out a couple of the eleven shotguns he and Myrtle had received as gifts when they had married. They often fondly recalled their shotgun wedding.

Just then the phone rang. Myrtle answered it. While she was talking, Maynard and Zeke started for the door, with the dog Pal following.

Myrtle ended her conversation. “Where are you going in such a hurry?” she asked.

“Out to look for geese,” Maynard answered.

“Now, just hold the phone!” exclaimed Myrtle, handing him the receiver.

Myrtle left the room. Maynard stood holding the telephone for a while, but finally decided he had held it long enough. He stuffed it into the pocket of his overalls, and went out with Zeke and the dog.

To reach the woods, they had to follow a long path back through Maynard’s property along the edge of a park. Because the path was often muddy in wet weather, Maynard had laid boards down over it. As he and Pal moved along, Maynard looked back to make sure Zeke was still lumbering after them.

Before long they came to the ruins of an old foundation. Maynard remembered there had once been a few houses here on the boardwalk, at the park place. From here, they could take a chance and head directly for the woods. No one had a monopoly on the short lines. They would Go for it.

As they neared the woods, Maynard thought he saw a goose. He took aim and fired. But it was just a blue jay, and Maynard’s shot only grazed the top if its head. Crestfallen, the bird flew off. Then Maynard spotted another bird, a black starling. The bird did not appreciate the drops of white paint Maynard had sprinkled on it.

Soon they saw the large flock of geese feeding in the meadow at the edge of the woods. Pal took off after them, but found he could not stay airborne, and continued the chase on foot. The men followed.

The geese flew towards the trees, the dog in pursuit. When the men caught up with him he was standing at the base of a tree, gnawing on one of the lower branches. Maynard pulled him away, noticing that the branch was hardly damaged. Then the old dog tried to make noise, but only hoarse whispers came out. His bark was worse than his bite.

“You’re barking up the wrong tree, Pal,” said Zeke. “The bird you want is over there.”
Maynard saw the bird Zeke had pointed out, and raised his gun.

Zeke was alarmed. “Are you going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg?”

At the sudden sound of Zeke’s alarm, the geese flew off again in another direction. Finally he managed to silence the device. Exasperated, he exclaimed, “Maynard, this is just a wild goose chase!”

“True,” Maynard agreed. “Let’s get a few, and collect that bounty.”

The geese were not hard to locate again, for they were making quite a racquet. Maynard thought he could give it to his brother, who played tennis a lot, but he decided he wouldn’t be able to carry it back.

Zeke finally shot one goose, and Maynard two. He couldn’t carry both geese with one arm and the gun in the other, so he uprooted a sturdy shrub, tied his geese at each end, and hung them from his shoulder.

Returning to the house, the men laid their geese in the back of Zeke’s pickup, which he had nicknamed Silence. They rode in Silence down to the village to collect their money.

Zeke handed his goose across the official’s table, and the man gave him a dollar. Maynard then laid the shrub with his two geese on the table. The man also gave him a dollar. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” the official explained.

Maynard stuffed his dollar into the pocket of his overalls. The men rode in Silence back to the farm. Zeke made his way home, borrowing Maynard’s bulldozer to grade the road. He gave it a passing grade, in case of slow traffic. Maynard watched him drive off, emitting a cloud of fumes from the tailpipe.

Maynard was exhausted, and wanted to retire early. But Myrtle dissuaded him. “If you do that,” she explained, “you won’t get the full Social Security benefit.” So he just went up to their bedroom. Myrtle had not yet made the bed, but thoughtfully she had left some lumber in the bedroom along with a hammer, a saw, and some nails. Maynard finished the job and put on his pajamas.

Then he emptied his overall pockets, and contemplated all the stuff he had put in: the check, the hand of cards, the chicken’s dispatch, the large number 7, the telephone, and his dollar. Hanging his clothes on a peg, he stood back and spoke to his pants: “Well, we had some problems today, didn’t we? But, overall, we had a pretty good day!”

Submitted by
Richard Leonard

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