Woodruff and Bob sat on stools behind two large easels, which supported their own white canvas rectangles. Green rolling hills stretched out for miles to the distant horizon beyond a wide open field. A string of horses grazed quietly beneath the setting sun.
“This evening could not be any prettier, don’t you think?”
“Do you have a penny?”
Bob reached into the front pocket of his overalls and pulled out an old copper coin. He tossed it to Woodruff, who caught it and slipped it into his pocket without looking.
“No, I do not think this evening could get any prettier.”
“How are you coming along with your painting?”
“Really good,” Woodruff said. “It’s easy.”
Woodruff rotated the canvas toward Bob. At the center was a triangular slice of chocolate cake on a silver platter.
“Nice cake,” Bob nodded his approval. “Hand me the bucket of magenta.”
“I can’t,” Woodruff said as he pulled on the bucket in between them. “It’s caught.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got some purple and pink I can mix together.”
“What are you drawing?”
“Words,” Bob said. He turned his canvas around and presented it to Woodruff. It was filled from top to bottom and side to side with words, painted in multiple colors.
“That’s a lot of words.”
“Yup, a thousand of ‘em.”
“How did you pick which words to paint?”
“I just painted a word for the stuff I can see. You know, trees, the sky, Elvis, the yard of each neighbor…”
“The whole neighborhood?”
“Yep, every yard. All nine of them.”
“That wind is chilly,” Woodruff said. He ducked down beneath his easel. “Oh, it’s a bit warmer down here.”
Bob reached down and waved his hand around.
“Yeah, I feel it,” Bob said. “Should we head back and get out of this weather?”
“The last ferry boat for the day just pushed away from the dock,” Woodruff said. “How are we going to get ‘cross the Tuit?”
“We can cross on that bridge over there.”
The two painter left their canvas’, easels, stools, and brushes and headed back to an old rusty pickup. A tall, ornate, trailer was hitched to the truck with the word BAND painted on the side in yellow letters. Bob jumped up on the back of the trailer and the wagon shook side to side.
“Don’t jump on that,” Woodruff said.
“What? Why?” Bob asked. “Everybody does it.”
“Just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s right.”
“Beating! Come here, boy.”
A brown and white shaggy dog came running through the field toward them.
“Here, boy! Good boy, Beating, good boy!”
The dog charged right through a waist-high prickly bush.
“No, Beating!” Woodruff yelled. “Around! Go around!”
Four grey squirrels shot out of the bush in different directions. Beating dashed and darted at the little forest rodents, as they danced around him. The old dog chased one of the squirrels in circles at the base of a nearby tree. When Beating was overcome by dizziness, the wily squirrel escaped up the tree and jumped to the canopy of an adjoining grove. Beating recovered and began to bark frantically at the vacant treetop.
“You silly dog,” Bob said. “That’s the wrong tree.”
“Why do you suppose your Uncle Billy named him Beating?”
“My guess is that it rhymes with bleating.”
“Yeah, you know, like the sound a goat makes. Uncle Billy always wanted a goat.”
“Why wouldn’t he just name it Bleating then?”
“Uncle Billy has trouble with his L’s.”
“But his name is Billy.”
“Yeah, he was just fine until the hot potato incident.”
“This I’ve got to hear.”
“Well, one night at supper, Billy told Elvis to toss him a potato. Elvis grabbed a potato out of the pot and it was so hot that he chucked it in the air, as a reflex. Billy thought he was throwing it to him so he jumped over the table and caught it in his mouth. The tater was so big that he couldn’t chew it and it burned his tongue. Ever since then we all called him Unco Biwee.”
“So he named the dog Beating because he couldn’t say bleating?”
“That’s my guess,” Bob said. “You got a better one.”
“No,” Woodruff said. “That was for all practical purpose comparable to mine.”
Bleating turned his attention to the horses in the field and began to bray like a donkey.
“Has he always done that?”
“Ever since he was a puppy,” Bob said. “Last summer, we worked with him on a whiney, but we couldn’t teach him.”
“Because he’s old?”
“Because he’s a dog.”
Bob raised an eyebrow and looked sideways at Woodruff with a slight shake of his head. Woodruff craned his neck to mirror Bob, and bent his knees to match his eye level. Neither wanted to concede the impromptu staring contest. They drew closer and closer to each other until Woodruff blinked.
“Fine, you win,” Woodruff said. “But only because I got a grain in my eye.”
“A grain of what?”
Woodruff rubbed at his eyes with the palm of his hand.
“Salt from your tears?” Bob mockingly rubbed at his eyes.
“Why don’t you just get the dog so we can go.”
He pantomimed rubbing his eyes again and threw Woodruff and taunting pouty face. Bob walked around the truck, reached through the open window of the passenger seat, and pulled out a floppy hat. He held it high in the air and whistled. Beating stopped braying and snapped his furry head toward the hat. Bob let the hat go and it fell to the ground. He had no sooner done so when the dog made a beeline for the dropped hat.
“Works every time,” Bob smiled.
A stray cat wandered out from underneath the truck and surveyed the floppy hat.
The cat poked at the hat with its paw and jumped back cautiously. Beating kept charging toward his floppy prize. Focused solely on the hat, the cat crept forward as if it was stalking its prey.
“I see it.”
Woodruff and Bob stood paralyzed by the anticipated collision as the cat slipped its head under the hat just before Beating claimed the object of his desire with a ferocious chomp. He shook the hat back and forth before trotting to the back of the trailer.
“He kill the cat!”
“Curiosity killed the cat?”
“No, the cat’s name is Curiosity.”
Beating jumped up onto the trailer and placed the floppy hat on the floor of the wagon. A disheveled and disoriented cat stumbled out from under the hat and waddled away. Woodruff breathed a sigh of relief and pulled open the passenger side door. The shaggy dog lay down on top of the floppy hat and closed his eyes.
“Ready to go?” Bob asked.
They both hopped into the pickup and slammed the rusty metal doors shut in unison. Bob turned the key in the ignition and the engine chugged, sputtered and died. He tried again with the same result.
“Pop the hood.”
Woodruff got out of the truck and Bob pulled the lever to release the hood. A small plume of smoke raised up into the air. One of the horses in the field whinnied loudly in their direction.
“I doubt that the problem is hay related, Horace.”
Horace snorted and stopped his hoof into the ground.
“Fine, I’ll check.”
Woodruff pulled the lid off the air filter and looked inside.
“Well I’ll be,” Woodruff remarked.
“What is it?”
“Horace was right. The filter is filled with hay.”
The horses whinnied and pranced in a circle. When Bob looked out at the prancing ponies, he saw a burly man in a purple and orange tie dyed shirt, sitting on a depilated section of the wood fencing. The man smiled at Bob from behind an unkempt beard.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” the man in the tie dyed shirt asked.
“Not really,” Woodruff replied as he continued to pull hay from the filter. He stepped back from the engine and rubbed his greasy hands together. “Try it again, Bob.”
The engine sputtered and chugged but did not turn over. The man in the tie dyed t-shirt grinned and scratched at his beard.
“Ya gotta hit it,” he shouted.
Woodruff stepped up to the engine and pounded on the side of the air filter. Bob tried, unsuccessfully, to start the engine again. They looked back to the man in the tie dyed t-shirt, who sat blissfully on the fence.
“Are you going to come and help?” Bob hollered.
“Haven’t decided,” the man said, rocking back and forth. “The name’s Dave.”
“Hey Dave, I’m Bob.”
“And I’m Woodruff. If you know anything about cars, we could use a hand.”
Dave hopped down off the fence and sauntered over to Woodruff at the front of the truck. He reached down into the filter and dug around in the basin. A moment later he pulled out a single straw of hay and displayed it proudly.
“Last one,” Dave said. He returned the filter and fastened the lid. “Try it now.”
Bob turned the key and the engine roared to life. “Yawhoo!”
“Thank you, Dave,” Woodruff said.
“No worries,” Dave said. He wiped his greasy hands on his tie dyed t-shirt. “Happy to help.”
“So, what are you doing all the way out here?” Bob asked over the humming engine.
“Well, it’s a long story,” Dave scratched the side of his hairy face. “I came up this way to visit a friend of mine, but I happened upon a young fella on the side of the road who was crying. I asked him what was wrong and he said he lost his momma’s basket. He was supposed to collect the eggs from the hens and bring them back to the house. Turns out he placed them all in one basket and left them by the henhouse and they disappeared.”
“That doesn’t seem like a wise practice.”
“That’s what I told him,” Dave continued. “But there’s no use getting all upset about something that is already done.”
“I was just telling Bob that this morning when he was crying about the milk I spilled.”
“Again, I wasn’t crying,” Bob said. “You dumped the whole craft on my face. I had milk in my eyes.”
“Anywho,” Dave went on. “We went looking for his basket and found his neighbor had absconded with his eggs. Crazy old coot was just sitting there in his rocking chair eating raw eggs.”
“That’s not healthy.”
“Right. So we just watched from the bushes and waited for Mother Nature to do her thing,” Dave said. “After a little while he jumped off his rocker and ran inside. We ran up to the porch and grabbed the basket. I spotted a comic next to the rocker, so I snatched it.”
Dave pulled out brightly colored comic book with Thor written above a muscle-bound figure, with long blond hair flowing from under a silver helmet. He wore a red cape, and a held a giant hammer.
“You stole his thunder!” Bob exclaimed.
“I don’t know about that,” Dave said. “Didn’t read it. The picture on the front just looked kind of cool. I took it to give that egg thief a taste of his own medicine. Plus, I forgot to bring a gift for my friend.”
“Two birds,” Woodruff said.
“Where?” Bob asked.
“Over there, on that stone.”
“So the kids went home and I cut outta there real quick like,” Dave said. “Then I saw a cloud over your pickup and thought I’d check it out.”
“We’re glad you did,” Woodruff said. “If there’s any way we could repay you, let us know.”
“I could use a ride.”
“Sure thing,” Bob said. “Where are you headed?”
“My friend Elvis has a place up the road a ways.”
“That’s where we’re headed,” Bob said. “Elvis is my cousin.”
“How about that,” Dave said. “Who knew there’d be a blessing under that cloud of smoke?”
“We can take you up to his place, but Elvis left,” Woodruff said.
“We saw him back up that way on the other side of the bridge,” Bob said. “He should be back soon. Hop in and we’ll run you up there.”
Dave pulled open the door and slid in the middle, between Woodruff and Bob.
“You know you got a dog sleeping in the bandwagon,” Dave said.
“Just let him lie.”
Bob drove up the road in the rattling old pickup. Dave pulled a handful of cards out of his pocket.
“You wanna play cards?”
“Is that all you’ve got?”
“You’re not playing with a full deck?”
“Nope. I bought it off a hobo for an old prostetic arm and a chicken leg.”
Dave dealt out the cards as they came to the Tuit and crossed the bridge to the other side of the river.