Thursday, November 11, 2010

#amwriting Fragment, "Penford's Rear"

NOTE: Here's a bit inspired by the film "Babe." I still hope to have something along these lines completed within the next few years; that may be my next target after I've got Considering How to Run a bit more polished. So many ideas, not enough gumption to finish any of them . . . 

Aside from beer at breakfast and the occasional watermelon during the summer, Penford wanted but one thing out of life, and that was to be remembered after he was dead.

His cow - a rather surly Guernsey named Mahan - gave nothing but the sourest of milk and kicked at him every chance she got whether Penford’s hands were warm or not. His chickens lay eggs under the henhouse and abandoned them to rot and skunks. Wool from his sheep was so matted and filled with twigs he was only able to sell it to a man in Willoughby who turned the stuff into scouring pads.

But Penford knew his skills at animal husbandry were wanting and managed - more through sheer determination than through any modicum of skill - to keep his operations from falling into the total chaos which would have made him posthumously famous as the worst farmer in the entire valley. That post was held by ancient Bill Handy two miles down the road, who managed after eighty-five years behind the plow to raise nothing but seven miles of rather rickety barbed-wire fences and to send three yokes of oxen to their maker with the most unkind feelings towards man ever conceived by any beast.

Penford wanted to leave his name to something, preferably something which didn’t give twiggy wool or rotten milk or rot soon after he’d put it in the root cellar. His land would outlive him.

Penford Meadows. He rather liked the thought of people mentioning the area by his name years after he’d passed on. Penford Slough. He had a slough, small though it was. Penford Reach. His land reached from the county road to the power line gangling between Willoughby and Chase.

But the land was already referred to as Penford’s Rear.

That unfortunate name – entirely his fault – came from his favorite retort to nearly every inquiry, question, criticism or comment given him.

“So, Penford, I hear your pigs escaped and made that wallow at the baseball diamond!”

“My rear.”

“That corn over there, Penford? Thought corn was supposed to be tall and yellow, not short, viney and orange.”

“My rear.”

“The idea of the collection plate, Penford, is that parishoners place money on it, not take from it. That’s the rector’s job.”

“My rear.”

Penford did not suffer from overpopularity. Many of the boys in town and at least half of them on the farms secretly admired Penford for his oafishness, his laziness, his ability to arrive at church wearing stained overalls and his incredible appetite for raisin-filled cookies at after-service functions. With the allure of the mountain man slowly fading in the area after One-Arm McGillicutty gained his nickname and lost an arm after falling drunk on the railroad tracks the night before Groundhog’s Day, the boys – in the words of Mrs. DeWitt, the vicious schoolmaster who had laboriously tutored Penford seven years of the third grade before she gave up on him and sent him back to his farm – “needed another questionable soul to imitate.” The Martin boys had gone as far as building a secret den in a cut on the ditchbank between the Martin and Penford properties where they could lie with a spyglass and take notes on Penford’s slothful habits and midnight trips to the privy until Mrs. Martin discovered Mr. Martin in the den with the spyglass trained on the upper windows of the home of Widow Hovarth.

But then Penford is much busier than any of them realized. Oh, he’s no Caractacus Potts or Arthur Hoggett. He didn’t spend his time inventing things, nor did he train animals best adapted for the frying pan for other tasks. He loved his farm, but knew of its faults.

“Penelope, don’t pout. Do not pout. Come out of those reeds right now and get into the pond. Be reasonable. I will not stand for this,” Penford said.

A duck poked her long neck and beaky face out of the reeds and shot daggers at Penford, hands on knees, bent over the lip of the small pond at the near corner of the pasture.

Penford smiled. “Now see, there are no other ducks about” – indeed, he’d spent the better part of an hour rounding up the other ducks and stopping them up in the henhouse with the chickens. Neither species was too fond of the arrangement, nor each other if the row of hisses and shrieks and clucks and the clouds of feathers flying from the henhouse vents meant anything, but his duck experiments with the reluctant Penelope required solitude.

The duck peeked out of the reeds again and waddled a few inches into the shallows.

“That’s the girl. A few inches more and we’ll see how it works.” Using a shepherd’s crook, he coaxed the duck out of the shallows and into the pond, where she bobbed and slowly leaned onto her side until, paddling with her feet, she managed to propel herself a bit lopsidedly about the pond. With her beak turned back she worked at tearing the bubble wrap from her back. Penford swatted her rear gently with the crook. “That’s not on, Penelope. That wrap’s there for a good reason. Just give it a minute to see if it works.” But she’d managed to break one of the rubber bands with which Penford had attached the wrap. With a few vigorous flaps, Penelope flew from the wrap, whirled and triumphantly settled onto the pond, glaring fiercely at Penford.

Then she promptly sank like a brick.

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