Henry stared at the sun as it boiled red, slowly slipping behind the roof of the old barn. He knew he wasn’t supposed to stare right at it, but just now he couldn’t think of a single reason that being blind would be any worse than seeing what he’d seen. It didn’t seem likely he’d ever see Jessie bathing naked in the creek again, not with her getting married in a week and moving to Tulsa with Russell. And besides, if he was blind, Pa couldn’t send him out to feed the pigs. He hated these pigs. He wasn’t exactly sure why, but they made him nervous. Especially when they ate, grunting and twitching, shoving each other out of the way. He thought about it a little longer and decided he’d be willing to trade seeing Jessie naked again, if it meant he wouldn’t have to feed anymore pigs. ‘Pigs wouldn’t be no trouble, soon enough,’ he reminded himself. He continued to hold his watering eyes open as the sun blinked out of sight, leaving the sky to turn from red to purple to black on its own.
Henry knew it was going to get cold fast now that the sun was gone. The birds were all jostling for position on the power line that ran in from the road; close and nervous. There weren’t any clouds to hold the day’s heat down and his joints were already starting to ache, way down deep. Pa would want extra wood for the stove and it didn’t do anybody any good to wait until the chill got bitter. He straightened his legs and slid off the hood of the old Ford. His knees popped when he landed and he winced. A billow of dry dust puffed up from around his big boots. He stretched; arms out, mouth open, letting the kinks in his back unfurl.
He had already started up toward the house when he heard the screen door squeak. “Henry!” Pa hollered from the back door. “Henry, we’re gonna need extra wood for the stove tonight. Bring in some extra firewood for the stove. Lady on the news says it’s gonna be a cold one.” Pa didn’t really leave the house much anymore. Not since the accident and the arrival of the big, clunky wheelchair. The Cottner’s lost a lot the day the Buick flipped over in the ditch that ran alongside the road that went up to Blenham’s Mill. Pa lost his wife and his legs. Jessie lost her mother and the only real reason she had to stay around the old place. And Henry had lost the closest thing he’d ever known to a mother.
Jessie was smart and pretty, but it was best she get before things got too chaotic. Pa would be damned to hell before he let the bank foreclose on the old farm while he or single one of its nine buildings was standing, with or without the help of braces. Henry didn’t have anyplace to go, but he’d be lighting the barn up tonight either way. Killed him a little to think of burning up all those animals, but, at least, the pigs would burn first.
“Henry!” Pa cried from the porch.
“I’m coming, Pa,” Henry cried back. With the weather turning so cold, a big fire would be nice. But they’d have to go about their business as usual, Pa had said. Had to behave like they hadn’t known the barn was about to burn to the ground.