THIS IS THE FIRST EPISODE IN A SERIAL. I HAVE JUST JOINED THE GROUP SO I WILL SUBMIT THE OPENING OF THE BOOK I AM PRESENTLY WORKING ON.
THE RECENT MONTANA RAINS had saturated the barnyard, turning the once firm ground into mud, and the patties of steaming dung into slime. The slightest maneuverer on Timothy’s part was hindered triple fold. He struggled, his arms laden with bundles of straw that were intended to be stretched over the slippery surface. With each movement, his rubber boots dug deeper into the mire: Each sucking step an obstacle to getting the lousy job done.
He heard the snickers close by and silently cursed. More than likely this ‘peach-of-a-job’ was regularly assigned to them, but today, as punishment, it had been assigned to the wayward Son: His penance for yet another act of foolishness. Daily, Timothy’s job description darkened into vagueness, greying the lines of his already questionable future. His father appeared not to be able to separate the job from home life, and his inconsistent, lack of title in the family business, confused Timothy. Was he merely another hired hand, as today signified, or was he the Son and eventual heir to the Bar ‘J’ Ranch? Today he did not feel remotely close to being ‘the Lord of the Manor.’
And then the scene took a shocking turn for the worse. As he turned to identify the source of his ridicule, Timothy lost his balance. One foot stuck in the muck, the straw flew heavenward, and the only direction left available to him was headfirst. The cushioned fall felt soft and warm, which should be a redeeming factor, but instead, it was filled with a humiliating stench that his pride would suffer for a long time to come.
The snickers turned to thunderous laughter and Timothy wished he could simply sink into the earth and have it swallow him up whole. Instead he arose, awkwardly, his floundering efforts deserving of new hilarious eruptions from the gathering onlookers. He turned and scowled at them, trying to play the ‘Son’ authority trump card. It didn’t work, but the stern voice that boomed in a no-nonsense tone, did.
“Did you men run out of work?” Joseph Jones said.
Ranch hands scattered in all directions. Without a sideways glance toward the boss, Timothy slung open the rail door that led from the outside pen and stepped into the horse stall. He stripped off the overalls that dripped with horse dung and threw it in the wheelbarrow along with the shovel: the poop scooping tools. Timothy picked up a clean rag hanging by the trough and ran it under the water hose. It felt good on his face. It had been bad enough that the men had seen his embarrassment, but his father too? That was the ultimate disgrace, the lowest blow to a young man’s ego.
His head throbbed from too much partying, not enough sleep and regret in arriving late to work this morning. Shovelling the barn had been his sentence for yet another red mark on his forever-growing list of transgressions. Timothy was not succeeding in this whole area of ‘bad-boy deception’, but he was determined to figure it out before the punishments killed him.
A FEW MINUTES LATER, JOSEPH JONES strolled into the barn to find his son finishing his clean up. He chose not to mention the spectacle that he had interrupted a few minutes earlier, and attempted the praise approach instead.
“Good job, Son.”
The frown that transcended the space between them was evidence that praise would not be the bridge to reconciliation today. Joseph was running out of ideas. These days, one rebellious action after another had separated him from his son and he was at a loss as to how to reach the good boy that he knew was locked somewhere deep inside the tough exterior. He had prayed for wisdom, but it was slow in coming. Either that, or he was slow in hearing. He could not deny that lately, it took all of his patience just to be in the same room with Timothy.
“You’ve done enough. Why don’t you go get some sleep? We’ll talk later.”
The towel was thrown carelessly over the rail and the job abandoned. Timothy, without a word, headed in the direction of the barn door. He trudged outside, turned to the left and disappeared from sight. Joseph sighed heavily. The atmosphere of doom, left along with his son, but he experienced no relief in his absence. The father in him ached with the separation.
He now stood alone in the newly built commercial barn. He needed only a glance to see that the boy had done an excellent cleaning job, but that didn’t surprise him. He hated punishing Timothy in the same manner he would any of the hired hands that messed up on the ranch. He loved his son and had great ambitions for him. He wondered why the rebellion had only begun to manifest of late. He was a young man now and Joseph had thought that when the teen years elapsed so would the childish ways. He had been wrong. They were both trapped in the heart of the battleground with no victory in sight. And as in all wars, Joseph was inclined to believe that any victory would never erase the scars inflicted on either side. The constant fighting wore Joseph down to near exhaustion.
Joseph recognized that Timothy did not possess a lazy bone in his body; just a lot of unmotivated ones. He had grown up with hard work. Maybe that was part of the problem? Joseph wondered if the boy felt he’d missed his childhood? In some respects that was probably the case. Timothy had grown up fast and rugged, but Joseph had always believed that his son loved the land as much as he did, and their ancestors before them. Yet, these days, Timothy’s intolerance of family was evident in every disgruntled attitude and action that plagued the household. Joseph was not so naïve to think his son would escape this test of life. He understood that young men were full of questions and curiosities, but he could never have imagined, that in the process, their relationship would plunge so deep into the abyss.