“Hi Mom,” says Tom when he arrives home from school.
She smiles, but somehow she is different. Something is afoot. But there is always something going on, an undercurrent that is never discussed in his presence. He’s given up trying to figure it out. This evening, like most evenings, he goes directly to his room and changes out of his school clothes. Then he goes out the back door and heads for the barn to begin his daily chores – feeding rabbits.
He hates this life. It’s nothing but work. When the feeding and watering is finished there are nests to prepare for the birth of the young. Then there is manure to haul. Always manure. There is no end to it. He craves his former life, being a city kid in southern California. When school was finished he walked the eight blocks home. Being the first home, he washed the breakfast dishes, earning five cents each day. Then the rest of the day was his.
He is filling a feed bucket with rabbit pellets when a voice interrupts those cherished memories.
“Hi, you must be Tommy,” the stranger says.
Surprised, he whirl about. “My name is Tom,” he says after recovering his voice. “Who are you?” he asks, surveying the middle-aged man reclining on a row of straw bales.
“Folks call me Sally. I’m your dad’s friend. He hired me to help out around here.”
Tom was speechless. No one told him about a hiring anybody, but then who tells an eleven-year-old anything, he thinks as he surveys this stranger in faded jeans and a plaid, flannel shirt. He not wearing socks, and his brown loafers are badly scuffed. His cloudy blue eyes reveal nothing. His hair is thin and gray. Beside him is a pint of Old Crow still half full of whiskey.
“Well,” says Tom, recovering and wondering if this Sally guy picked up on his surprise. “There’s an extra feed bucket by that stack of burlap bags. Use the tomato paste can of pellets, one scoop in each cage. Water is in the hose. Make sure each dish is full. I’ll start on the other end.”
“Hold on here, kid. I’m hired to do other stuff. I don’t feed rabbits.”
What other stuff, he wants to ask, but he doesn’t. He’s insulted by this stranger calling him a kid. What can he know, especially if he’s been nursing on that pint very long? He’s doing adult work here, and he wishes someone would notice. But there’s little use in saying anything, especially to his dad’s friends who are so often full of hooch. Best to let it pass and start his chores, caring for some 900 rabbits.