Bob Oaker braced himself against the shed door and grunted when the goat rammed it. He might have shrieked too but he chose to dis-remember that, as it was unbecoming of a man in the prime of his mid-sixties.
But then everything grew silent. All he could hear was the wheeze of his own sweaty breath in the sweltering shed, the dzee-dzee-dzeeing of the cicadas – or grasshoppers, or whatever – and the caw! of distant northern cardinals.
Well, he didn’t know they if they were cardinals. They might have been bluebirds or, well, turkeys for all he knew. He had a bird watching book – a pile of bird watching books – sitting on his study table back at home. Toby Dunsworth, one of the design guys from back at the firm, had come in one day several years ago, raving about his new hobby. He said he loved just getting out there, taking a nice stroll, having a good pipe, and just spotting all the birds in the wild. Like hunting, but without a gun, and best of all Naomi didn’t get on his case about it. Of course if Toby could do it then damn sure Bob could too, and it sounded really good since he had been meaning to get back into the outdoors for a while, and also to take up the pipe life. Kathleen said no to the pipe, but he did order the books, and he was going to become the best bird watcher ever. He’d go down in history for spotting hundreds of new species.
Turned out there was a lot of reading to do and the books were boring as sin. And anyway, having some egghead describe a birdcall isn’t the same thing as hearing it, so reading was a waste of time regardless. But Bob did like the photos, and one of the books had a lovely snap of a northern cardinal on the cover, so that at least stuck in his memory.
It must have been silent for a good hour – well, at least a minute, probably. The shed was run down and he had great plans to fix it up, but first he’d need some tools and paint, and he found this awesome series of DIY DVDs at the library where a guy showed you everything about carpentry and woodworking. Basically, it was all super easy and just by watching them, Bob had already mastered it. But all that would have to wait till he got out. The shed’s door was junk too, filled with great gaps between the boards where the wood had warped over the years. He looked through one.
And the Devil stared back at him, with its hourglass eye.
Bob shrieked and fell on his rump. The goat bleated and scrambled away.
Laboriously, Bob got to his feet and groaned. His knees weren’t quite what they used to be, even though he had started this amazing new regimen where he’d eat a kind of banana/onion smoothie every morning, blended with a secret Vitali-knee Extract filled with herbs and botanicals, all organic of course – except, he’d only had it once, because to be honest it tasted not great and the extract was very expensive which Kathleen grumbled about, and anyway, he could regain his flexibility through good old fashioned stretches which he was planning on starting any day now.
But the goat, at least, was gone.
He saw it through the door hole, at the far end of the overgrown garden. Ostensibly there was a fence there, just as shoddy as the shed. Another project for another day, of course, he just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
“C’mon, you bastard,” Bob hissed through the door. “Escape! Be free! You know you want to.”
The goat leisurely nibbled at some tall grasses and relieved itself. It bumbled around for almost fifteen minutes – Bob checked his watch religiously – until it did finally slip out, bounding off into the distant wilds.
“Yes!” Bob cheered, raising his fist into the air. That’s $500 he’d never see again, but at least the mongrel was gone.
He shouldered the warped door open and stumbled outside, gasping. His clothes were soaked with sweat. The shed had been stuffy but now he stood in the merciless sun’s blistering light. He needed a beer. He needed AC! He shambled down the cracked cobble path and made his way to the run down farmhouse, listing to one side.
Along the way bees attacked him.
He’d been installing their hive earlier, and installing a hive is super easy, especially for a soon-to-be master beekeeper like himself – he’d read the pamphlet and he saw a TV special. The bee guy he bought the bees from had tried to fleece him by coming down and doing it for him, but Bob knew better. Waste of money, that. It all would have worked out too, if the goat hadn’t gone berserk.
So now Bob screamed and ran to the farmhouse, the bees menacing him all the way. They probably weren’t even bees. The shifty bee guy probably sold him wasps. He’d have a word or two with him.
The farmhouse was in marginally better shape than the shed. Everything creaked and groaned, but at least it had electricity and that meant fans. Well, a fan, since he only had the one, but it was glorious. But he was still too hot, so he stripped to his boxers, socks, and Crocs.
And, oh, what sweet ambrosia that cool air was! What a breath of fresh life, which caressed his worried skin and gave succor to a tired body that had seen so much. A body abused by the rigours of the sun, branded by fields of heat-rash. But even these battle scars cooled under the gentle embrace of that divine breeze. Yea, even those little black dots rejoiced in–
–Bob glanced down at his gut. “What the hell?”
A couple of the little black dots moved. They had legs. They were ticks.
Bob screamed and leapt to his feet.
He tore through the cramped living room of the farmhouse and somehow ended up in the bathroom. Just as well, as he had been thinking of taking a shower, and no time was better than right now. Maybe he could drown the little bastards, or failing that, himself.
A cold shower did wonders for him, though he started sweating as soon as he finished. But he did spend a good hour plucking the little monsters off his flesh. Fifteen. Fifteen! Nobody had ever told him there’d be ticks in the wilderness.
He returned to his fan just as the sun was beginning to set. He looked outside his kitchen window and saw his garden. Raised planters filled with tomatoes and peppers, a long strip of cucumbers and another one of gourds – and the world’s biggest pumpkin, no less! – a massive patch of potatoes, and a whole host of radishes, onions, and myriad herbs. And off in the distance, fields of golden corn.
That had been the plan, and that’s what he pictured in his mind. The real garden was more of a jungle of weeds with one rough shovel-deep divot in one spot, where he had started on things before he remembered the bees roasting in his car, and so he went to do that instead.
He grabbed a beer from his cooler, enjoying the kind of sore muscles that could only be won by a day of honest – if not exactly productive – labour.
And a thought started nagging at him. Actually, it had been nagging at him ever since Kathleen had actually been nagging at him, but he had ignored it then as he did her. He was a man, after all! Sixty five damn years old! Retired! Life was too short to waste on the same boring trip to Florida each year, with Kathleen’s viper of a spinster sister in tow, and if he wanted to become a farmer he god-damned would!
How hard could it be?
Maybe, just maybe, a little harder than YouTube made it out to be.
But it was a meaningful life! It would bring him close to the land, to the way people used to live, for millions of years. That’s much better than some stupid boring “golden years” in the middle of some grey city, filled with the same bland people doing the same mind-numbing things. How many restaurants can you eat out at, anyway? The years just kept slipping by, and there was just so much he hadn’t had a chance to do yet.
Oh, goat herding too. YouTube really lied about that one. Goats were not put here by God, they are an invention of the Devil himself.
But maybe, he started to admit, this wasn’t what he was looking for either. Maybe it wasn’t too late to get back to the city, and join Kathleen and her miserable sister for their annual trip. Maybe Florida, boring as it was, was also nice, and seeing how it changed year after year had its own charm.
He resolved to spend at least one night at the farm before making any choices. Who knew what the morning would bring, after all. Apologizing was one thing, but he wouldn’t slink back without at least that much.
All the same, as the sky darkened and he supped on cool beers and microwaved hotdogs, he started searching the net for how to sell a rural property. From what he was seeing of the going rates, he got swindled when he bought this dump a month ago, but oh well. Maybe this was a sign from the heavens. Maybe life wasn’t about constantly rushing after new things, but instead learning to appreciate what you have. Depth instead of breadth.
Then he saw an ad for a yacht. It was all sunshine, martinis, and smiles, and the model was called the Northern Cardinal.
Bob’s eyes lit up with newfound meaning.