He just kept driving, keeping the truck aimed east and away from LA. The days flowed past into weeks and the season rolled
around into summer and one afternoon as he flew down the a highway somewhere in the midwest, he passed the first roadside
field crowned by massive slatted wagons cradling green-gold bales of hay.
The truck slowed of its own accord, and he pulled off onto the shoulder, staring at those wagons basking in the sun.
He had so many memories tied up in hay wagons he didn't know what to call the feeling churning up his stomach. Every summer
after he turned fourteen, he went down to the auction building and hired himself on with a hay merchant for the season. Decent
pay, his dad told him, and not too hard for a kid with a strong back and all his bones in place. Better than slinging burgers
or picking up garbage; at least he'd be out in the fresh air.
Lindsey hated it. Not so much the tractor work- three fourths of the whole, driving in endless overlapping circles, first
cutting the hay, then turning it so it would dry all the way through, then pulling the baler through it to draw it up, bind
it tight, and kick the bales back into the wagons. No, that wasn't so bad; boring as all hell and just about like to give
a body heatstroke, but not so bad compared to the last step, the part that made him loathe summer and shudder at the sight
of a hay wagon. Some people loved the smell of a barn, said it made them nostalgic for childhood summers; it made him scowl
at the memory of putting up hay.
Hot, sweaty, miserable work. Hours that left you soaked with sweat, muscles aching in your arms and back, washing dust and
chaff out of every crevice of your body for days, every exposed inch of skin stinging with tiny scratches. God, he hated
putting up the hay.
Moving all those bales from the wagon to the barns, stacking them in endless neat rows and towers to feed the cows and sheep
and horses through the fall and winter and even around through the spring to summer again. Once you got the first cutting
in and stacked it was time to go back to the fields and mow the second time. In a good summer, some fields would give you
a third cutting as well. Christ, it was too fucking tedious to be real.
It occured to him, sitting on the roadside watching some other country kids work on bring in the hay, that it was kind of
like Angel's style of redemption, in a way. Just stand there on the front wagon, moving one bale at a time from the chaotic
jumble to the belt that carried it up to the loft. Move just one bale, save just one soul, then on to the next, and try your
damnedest not to think about how you were only on the first of sixteen wagons, all piled to the sky, and that out behind you
to the horizon the fields were still growing, pumping out even more. An endless world-old cycle, and you could never reach
the end, not as long as the grass kept growing and people kept living with evil in their hearts. As long as the horses and
cows kept opening and closing their big fucking mouths...maybe he'd lost the metaphor right there.
He remembered climbing those wagon-mountains like a monkey, tossing the bales down, praying he wouldn't pull the wrong one
and send the whole stack tumbling down in a landslide. Nothing worse than that sickening feeling of the solid slipping out
from under your feet, arms flailing for the wagon side or a stable bale so you wouldn't get crushed in the fall. Of course,
sometimes you deliberately pulled a bale for a controlled fall, to bring things along faster. There was a trick to it, a
trick of making an impersonal force like gravity- or destiny- work for you instead of against you.
He thought to himself with a bitter smile that Angel would probably love it, would ride the crumbling mountain like a surfer
instead of fighting the fall. He was old friends with impersonal forces, after all.
Every mile he drove, he lost some of the certainty he'd felt in LA. Was he really doing the right thing by walking away from
the game, or was he putting himself right back where he'd started, a piece on the board instead of a player? Was Angel's
theory of redemption- keep moving the bales off the wagon, one at a time to eternity, world without end, amen- really heroic,
or was he just making himself a summer hire on a tractor again?
He'd hated the work then, and he hated it now, just thinking about it and watching the wagons roll by.
He rubbed at the steering wheel and watched the kids cussing as a piece of twine snapped and a whole bale crumbled into useless
What a waste.