The Barn

This story fragment resulted from a writing class exercise where we were asked to filter our sentences through a very simple conceit. See if you can tell what’s going on here.

Near the barn door, the old man stood in a frayed, wool barn coat smeared with bag-balm and hog’s lard, and in his left hand, he held a hook pick wrapped in a dish rag. He looked worn, and just stood there for a while in the gloam. I could see dust and straw in his beard, and he looked back at me with soft eyes.

“Did you save her?” I asked.

“We’ll see.” The man looked up, like he’d lost his grip on words but could fetch them out of the air for me if he just strained a bit. My dad used to do that a lot, too, but nine times out of ten, he picked all the wrong ones. I guess I got used to it.

“What do you mean, ‘we’ll see’?” I said.

“She was hurt bad. The knee took a hard knock. But I think I saved the leg.” He made it sound like a whole speech and waved the pick for me to see, like men do when they trust their tools more than words. I looked hard at him for a true sign, but just saw some blood that stained his hand and etched a small cut down the plane of his cheek. He looked beat up.

“Can she walk?” I heard my voice catch and fought off the urge to cry right there in front of that old man. “Boys don’t cry,” Dad had said when he took off that last time in his damn, beat- down, Ford truck, “and they sure don’t cuss,” like he thought that might stop me. I cried, “You know damn well she needs to walk!”

“No. Not yet.” The old man looked off and weighed the air with his face, like a wolf on a crag or a barn owl in a loft. “She needs a day or two of rest. I ‘spect you do too, boy.”