By Robert H. Kono
An acre of vacant land lay in front of Kenny Oyama’s house, a 1920s vintage building in need of a fresh coat of paint to replace the peeling flakes of white. Kenny was not as concerned about painting the house as he was putting the acre to use—to augment his and Alice’s meager Social Security income. He had spent sleepless nights dreaming of projects that might lift them from their state of poverty. True, he had worked as a mechanic long and hard enough to buy their retirement acreage west of the town of Eugene (with the help of Alice’s earnings as a receptionist). But they needed extra income, if only to keep the house warm during the winters and pay for the mounting prescription costs.
Kenny came up with plans to plant a cash crop, lay out a filbert orchard, open a go-cart race track, build a miniature golf course, even dig a fish hatchery which he could convert into a rent-a-pole fishing pond if it didn’t work out. But all his ideas were shot down by Alice who considered herself smarter than Kenny by miles, and Kenny had to admit to himself that all her reasons were good, although he didn’t appreciate her attitude when he was forced to ditch what he had given much thought to.
He spent more sleepless nights and couldn’t decide if he had dreamt of a most profitable venture which turned out to be ridiculous by the reason of daylight or whether he was so obsessed that he was muddled. When he thought he had an inspiring idea, he would leap awake, grab his notepad and jot down what he saw (the ideas came in pictures), but the next morning, he couldn’t quite make out his scrawl or decipher his cryptic notes, so he would will himself to dream the same dream—without success, even when he played the tapes (sleeping aids) of the sounds of the seashore, a babbling brook, the crying of loons. The “best” idea he had ever had vanished, evaporated in a fanciful nocturnal cloud.
Rather than subscribe to magazines (would’ve been convenient, but he couldn’t afford it), he made regular visits to the Eugene Public Library and browsed through the magazines to get an idea of how to put the acre to good use—and pad his bank account. Mini-warehouses, RV park, kennel, boat storage, archery range, nursery, tulip farm (a toss up with daffodils), Shiitake mushroom growing, Christmas tree farm, flea market booths for rent, farm equipment sales (consignment). He knew Alice would shoot the ideas down. It would have been so easy, since he had heavy doubts about each one himself, and he knew he would go along with her first word of protest.
But Kenny persisted. He knew the acre he had was worth gold…if he could only hit upon the right idea. It was just a matter of time; on the other hand, he and Alice were not getting any younger (to put it mildly). To put it bluntly (and he was always forthright with himself), poverty was grinding them into old age prematurely. Their aches and pains kept them bent and hobbling, although neither Kenny nor Alice were even 80. And according to Kenny’s understanding of life, they weren’t supposed to be in such a condition—yet.
He continued to haunt the shelves of the Eugene Public Library, looking for any idea, a spark that would ignite the money-making process. He looked under every conceivable subject and after a year had passed without his being any closer to the dream of a hefty bank account, he was close to despair.
Then, one day, a Mother Jones article jump-started his thinking. Organic farming! That was it! It was all the fad, it was the trend. He could charge fancy prices for all the vegetables he could grow and make enough to hire someone to do the work. The crops he grew could be special ordered by the grocer whether it be green onions, daikon, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cabbage or whatnot. He became excited when he made some calculations about relative yield compared to relative profits. It was the kind of excitement that made his head spin, his heart beat faster, and it made him feel young again.
Alice studied the sheet he presented to her after dinner one night. She studied it with an intense frown for a long time, circling in red portions here and there.
“Where are you going to get the money,” she asked finally. “You’re not thinking of using our life savings, are you, Kenny?”
Her question was like a sharp accusation. She was demanding a “No” answer.
“No, of course not, Alice,” Kenny said.
“Then how are you going to get started in this kind of business?” Alice pressed. “You’re too old to do the work yourself, digging, planting, harvesting, driving a tractor, not at your age.”
“Cousin Edward,” Kenny said. “He’s Mr. Money Bags.”
“He’d never loan you a dime,” Alice said. “How many times does he have to turn you down before you get the idea?”
“I know he’s tight,” Kenny said. “He’s had to be, him paying alimony to two wives and sending his only daughter to a private school in the east. But he makes good money as a stock broker.”
“…and he has his son in drug rehab,” Alice pointed out. “The third time he’s been in Courtney Peace Lane. It seems the richer you are, the more problems you have, and you have to work harder to pay for the cure. Why don’t you forget about Cousin Edward?”
“He still might throw in with me,” Kenny said hopefully, “if he bought into the idea of organic farming, very popular now…all the stores carry organic produce.”
“All right, Kenny,” Alice said, wielding the red pen. “I’ll show why it’s impossible.” She pointed to the first inked circle. “First, there’s farm equipment, the down payment and installments, then there’s the hired hand and health insurance, workman’s compensation, social security payments…a lot of paperwork. And then you need to invest in seeds and seedlings, and, of course, you’ll need a good running truck to haul your produce. How much do you think that will cost to begin with?”
“I don’t really know, but I’d say around $10,000,” Kenny said and knew he was way off just by the look Alice gave him.
“Oh, Kenny,” she said in dismay. “Get real! It’ll be at least five times that amount!”
“Fifty thousand?” cried Kenny.
Kenny whacked himself on the head. “My God! Edward would never loan me that much! But I know he has more than—“
“Forget your cousin, Kenny,” Alice said somberly, as though she detested the heavy responsibility of being cruelly realistic. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to give up on the idea, Kenny. It’s just not practical.”
“But I know I can turn our acre into gold,” Kenny said plaintively.
“That’s what you always say, Kenny,” Alice said sadly. “Now, how about a piece of yesterday’s pie with a fresh half-pot of coffee, strong, the way you like it?”
“Yes, Alice, dear, that sounds good,” Kenny said. “And you’re right. I know you’re right.” (But even as he said it, his stomach turned sour.)
Kenny gave up going to the library and poring through the magazines. The whole idea of putting the acre to work for them lost its appeal. When he thought about the logistics and the money he’d have to invest (Edward’s money? Impossible), his mind sagged along with his spirits, and he took to sitting on the porch, dressed warmly, for it was still cold, and rocked in the chair, gazing blankly at the field of tall grass…useless grass that bent and lay disheveled like the wild schemes that had seemed so promising at first. Now his plans were no more significant than the ubiquitous weeds that grew in any abandoned field, and his sense of poverty, of being dependent on a hand-to-mouth existence dictated by the monthly Social Security checks, hardened as though it were part of the mud foundation of a shoddy abode. His and Alice’s medication for arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol control, chronic myalgia left them with little reserve, and a serious illness would wipe out their modest savings. Kenny rocked in his chair and tried to keep his mind quiet like a spider waiting in the center of a carefully woven web, ready to snatch any insect that was to be a hopeful idea.
One day, when the weather was mild but still cold enough for Kenny to keep his sweater on, he heard a raucous call that made him stop rocking and sit up in his chair.
A pheasant sailed through the air and landed in his field. It disappeared into the grass. Kenny stood up and waited for it to fly off. But nothing happened.
Curious, he stepped off the porch and walked through the waist-high grass. He cautiously approached the spot where the pheasant had landed, wondering if it had come to his field to build a nest. The long-tailed bird was not where it was supposed to be, and Kenny walked around searching, hoping to catch sight of the pheasant—when a loud squawk and frantic beating of wings sent him reeling backwards in surprise, as the game bird launched itself from underfoot and sailed into the scrub oak trees across the road.
Kenny was as frightened as the bird must have been. His heart pumped wildly, and he stooped over to catch his breath and wait for the pounding to subside. When he was calm again, excited at first to see wild game enter his field and scared out of his wits when it burst from his feet, he returned to the porch to resume his customary rocking. As he rocked back and forth, however, the motion matched the spark of an idea that broke loose in his mind—he had assumed any kind of mental life had died while he sat on the porch day after day just staring at the acre of grass.
Then pictures began to form. He saw the magazine he had browsed through at the library; the picture of the hunter aiming his gun at the pheasant leaped to life in his field. The gun roared, the bird dropped and the golden retriever dashed through the grass to find the prized game for its owner.
Lease the acre for pheasant hunting!
But heavy doubt immediately hit him with the force of Alice’s arguments. An acre? Only an acre? It was not large enough, not even to hold two pheasants. It was like his estimate of $10,000. Instead of $10,000, he had to think in terms of $50,000. Instead of one acre, he had to think of leasing 100 acres. Kenny Oyama, he told himself, you are a hare-brained idiot!
But something else was shaken loose when he caught sight of the pheasant sailing into his field. He wasn’t quite certain what it was when he returned to rocking in the chair. He wished he hadn’t given up smoking (decades ago), because this was exactly the moment, he thought, to light up and ponder. Dragging on the cigarette, holding a lungful of smoke and exhaling it through pursed lips was part of the thinking process—or so he thought at one time, especially when he was trying to figure out what was wrong with a recalcitrant engine.
Rummaging through his mental file on how to make money off the single acre, fast-forwarding the pictures gathered from the magazines, he stopped at a slick full-page photo of a pheasant flying off at an angle with an orange-vested hunter aiming his shotgun skyward. His reference system was always in pictures. Simultaneous with his recollection his rocking stopped, and he was frozen into position just as the picture of the pheasant was held motionless in suspension. In an instant he knew he had read an article about the Fish & Wildlife Department at the library at one time. The short article was about stocking pheasants just as the fish hatcheries stocked trout.
There it was!
Sell the brood hatchlings to the Fish & Wildlife people!
He would brook no argument. Not even from Alice, especially not from Alice. She would probably talk him out of the venture…and he couldn’t afford that. He could not tolerate being berated out of an idea that he knew bore all the hallmarks of genius. Pheasant chicks were his ticket—their ticket, for he truly did love Alice and wanted the good life for her—to riches, out of the soul-stunting agony that struck every time prescription drug prices went up, electricity rates soared and inflation was not covered by the Social Security checks. Then there was the vacation he envisioned on sunny beaches lined with palm trees nodding in the sea-breeze, sweeping languidly over a distant island.
That evening the poker face he had cultivated was so pronounced that Alice asked him if he was feeling all right. He said he was just fine…he felt fine, the best he had in years. He didn’t look like it, she insisted. He assured her that he was doing fine…energized, was the way he put it, and to her surprise he even helped her with the dishes, pots and pans and all the flatware. (He detested washing dishes by hand.) They didn’t own a dishwasher; he would soon remedy that oversight. After dinner he usually plunked himself down in front of TV and gazed absently at the tube, either uncomprehending, bored or totally tuned out. But that night he mystified Alice with his help in the kitchen, and she was even more surprised (judging from her comments) by his efficiency in storing everything where it belonged in the cupboards and drawers with practiced nonchalance…not overly done, Kenny hoped, to arouse her suspicions.
The next day he said he had to go into town to run an errand, and Alice who was one to stay on top of everything wanted to know what the errand was, and Kenny lied (it wasn’t exactly the first time, either) and said he had some serious research to do at the library. It was partially true. He had to look up several names in a trade magazine. But his primary purpose was to withdraw money from their savings account and place the crucial orders with the farm supply store.
For the entire week of waiting Kenny was a study of conspiratorial silence (a mute who was up to no good, was the way he saw himself). Alice was becoming genuinely concerned as he sat in the rocker without rocking but bent forward with his clasped hands dangling between his knees, his gaze locked on the acre that lay fallow in front of the weathered house that was in need of painting. He would soon remedy that, he thought.
Just as he had instructed, everything arrived on the same day. The truck with the disassembled metal shed, the delivery van with the incubator and the Extension Service pickup with the cock and hen filled the long driveway. Alice was on the porch gasping as the men set about erecting the shed. The incubator serviceman plugged the apparatus (much like the ones for preemies on TV) into a long extension cord and instructed Kenny on how to use it. The cage holding the raucous pair of pheasants sat in the corner of the front yard. Alice could not utter a word. She watched the proceedings with a mixture of horror, disgust and curiosity, alternately clamping her face with her hands and wringing them. Kenny had planned to unleash his plan with a suddenness that stymied all discussion. He feared he had succeeded too well when he studied Alice’s features, and he couldn’t hold down a momentary rush of regret and an involuntary clutch around her shoulder. But he held on to his resolve.
Before long the metal shed stood silver new, the cages to house the hens lined the walls and the incubator combined with a large collar of a tray squatted in the center of the building—ready for the brood that would lead Kenny and Alice to the beaches of Micronesia.
Alice held her temper until the work was done. Then she confronted Kenny as he sat in the rocking chair, watching the workmen drive off in their trucks. He stared straight ahead waiting, wishing again that he smoked and clasping his hands on his lap to keep them still. Because Alice had kept quiet all during the building activity, he knew how angry she was. She would quietly ask him a direct question, and Kenny was already preparing an answer.
“How much of our savings did you withdraw?” she said, standing in front of him, slightly bent forward, arms akimbo.
“About 5,000…more or less,” Kenny said.
“How much, exactly?”
“$5,678.16,” he said.
“So, it’s just like that time when you invested in a sack of cabbage seeds,” Alice said acidly, “and wound up trying to feed it to the birds.”
“I didn’t know you had to dust the soil for cutworms first,” Kenny said defensively. But he still felt he had a sure-fire business raising pheasant chicks.
“$5,678.16 is a lot of money,” Alice said pointedly. “That’s about half of our life savings.”
“It’ll all work out, Alice, you’ll see,” Kenny said, trying to stop the red of her features from turning purple. He spoke softly to reassure his wife. “The Fish & Wildlife people pay well for the chicks, and we’ll be in the black in no time at all. You have to trust me on this one, hon.”
“TRUST YOU!” Alice blurted, dropping her arms rigidly by her side, her fists clenched. “First, you sneak your scheme past me…not even a word about what you’re up to. And I know why! Because you never think things through. Next, you take out our—“
“I thought this one through,” Kenny said, stiffening in the chair but unable to rise to his feet. The argument he had to launch in his defense was too huge. “I thought it through in every last detail. Nothing is left to chance this time. I figured out the number of broods, the prices per chick, the pairs of cocks and hens we’ll keep—“
“You probably left out the expense of feeding them,” accused Alice.
“No, Alice, I didn’t,” Kenny said, knowing she was going to pick apart everything. “Let me explain it to you.”
He somehow got to his feet, took her hand and led her down the steps of the porch. They walked to the new shed and entered. The pair of pheasants were in their cages and looked at Alice and Kenny in alarm as though the human presence added to the strangeness of their surroundings. Soon there would be more just as Kenny envisioned, more pairs to produce more hatchlings which would continue to add to the original population in geometric progression, so Kenny explained.
Alice acidly interjected that his lowest grades were in mathematics in high school when they were going together. Kenny ignored her and continued to expound on his belief that the business would grow and the prices for the chicks could only go up and not down because pheasants were in such demand. There were very few competitors. As far as feed was concerned, the cost would be minimal, since he was feeding mainly the mating pairs. The brood of chicks would be farmed out to be raised by someone else who would also profit from selling the mature birds at an enormous gain. His costs would be the lowest and the margin of profit, therefore, the greatest.
As he was walking about, explaining his plan to Alice, he spread cracked corn into the feeding trough and watched with satisfaction as the birds pecked away hungrily. He stepped over to the incubator, switched it on and stood by waiting, his hand on the plastic cover to test the warmth, if for no other reason than to check out the equipment.
As he was talking in modulated and serious tones to convince Alice that he knew what he was talking about, the incubator began to heat up gradually. Kenny studied the temperature control gauge and kept his hand on the apparatus. Satisfied that it worked properly (he had no doubt that it would—he had paid enough for it), he removed his hand after a few minutes and switched the incubator off.
“How’s that sound to you, Alice?” Kenny said. “Do you think I’ve overlooked anything?”
Alice could not suppress a reluctant smile, though she tried to conceal it with the back of her hand. Kenny caught sight of it and was encouraged.
“It just might work,” Alice said finally. The smile broadened into a full-fledged look of delight. “You must’ve gone over the details a dozen times, the way you explained it, and it makes you sound like you’ve been in the business for years already.”
“…and in a few years’ time, we going on a vacation—a big one—to the Micronesia, just like we discussed, and lie on the beach and let the local natives fish for us and cook our meals…right there, on the warm, sandy beaches with ice cold beer for me and sparkling apple cider for you.”
“You’ve always been a big dreamer, Kenny,” Alice said and looked pleased.
That evening after dinner, Kenny and Alice entered the shed again to admire the pair of pheasants and the new cages and equipment. The round stainless steel tray with the warming unit gleamed—ready for business. Alice’s pleased look appeared even more hopeful, and Kenny gazed around at the shiny surroundings, filled with the sense of starting a brand new life.
It was spring. The field was greening, and the trees wore a lush fuzz of the verdure to come. The sun was warm…altogether a fine time to start the business. Kenny got the hang of things in no time at all. The eggs came; the incubator produced batches of hatchlings, and the stainless steel tray held an increasingly large brood. Out of it he selected a pair he would raise and pamper as his own personal pets—still however part of his assets to produce one brood after another, which became possible as he sold the chicks and bought more pairs of breeding pheasants.
The months flew by swiftly, and soon a year had passed, and the shed was filled with brood-producing pheasants. Kenny hadn’t made his initial investment back—far from it—but the work of finally owning a profitable enterprise inspired him to dream big dreams, and the vacation on the beaches of Micronesia loomed large and real. The pheasant farmer who made the pick ups always paid in cash—which gave Kenny a feel of being in a real business when he could actually finger the money and count the bills. Alice had insisted on cash (Kenny protested at first—not like a real business, he said) to avoid unnecessary paperwork. Making out invoices and writing receipts were all her arthritic hands could tolerate. But cash, as it turned out, was good for the morale: Kenny could stack the bills after counting them and admire the thickness of the pile (before depositing it in the bank). It was an antidote to all the doubts he had ever had about himself, and it was a tangible, real symbol of the success of his business. The fact that he hadn’t made his investment back was hardly an issue. He surely would and then some in another year. And then after they had made enough, it was off to their dream vacation, away from the care and worries of paying the endless bills and taxes. The more he succeeded, the more tender he was toward Alice, for he felt that he could care for her better now, and he was convinced that she persuaded him to do business in cash, because she knew, in their poverty, that handling actual money would rejuvenate him the way it did.
Then disaster struck. The brood of chicks died like weighted balls of fluff, immobile and silent. The mature pheasants collapsed in a motionless, feathered heap. In a single day, Kenny’s business was gone, and his dream of better times was dissipated like a beautifully sculpted cloud. There was nothing but stunned blankness in his life now. Alice cried and tried vainly to stifle her sobs. The Extension Service expert said it was a deadly, airborne viral infection and made the proper—and costly arrangements—to dispose of the dead birds.
Alice and Kenny sat stupified on the steps of the porch and surveyed the now quiet shed. The truck carrying the dead pheasants had just driven off. With the silence–the absence of the cheeping and raucous calls—there settled a dead stillness over the acre of land that was beginning to show signs of greening again. It was a newness that was full of foreboding.
“I want to sell the shed, have it dismantled and carted off right away,” said Alice, dabbing her eyes with an old lace-edged hankie. “And the equipment, too…everything, the electrical wires, lights, poles…everything.”
“I’ll take care of it first thing tomorrow morning, Alice,” Kenny said sadly.
He, too, wanted every vestige of a ruined dream removed. He could already see himself returning to the rocker and viewing the empty field, trying hard to backtrack to the days BEFORE the grand idea of becoming rich by putting the acre of land to use. He would no longer sit and rock and see the acre that lay in front of the house full of possibilities. It would lie fallow, unused, as disheveled with tall grass as were his plans to improve his and Alice’s lot. They would try to make it on Social Security, cut corners, stock the larder with Van Camp’s Pork ‘n Beans and hope against all hope that prescription medicine prices would not put them in the poor house. The old, weathered house that needed fresh painting (he had already had in mind a shade of mustard-green), but it would have to remain as it had been, a weather-beaten farm house that flaked chips of white paint like shopworn ambitions. He would not “see” his dreams anymore in the acre of useless land (as useless as his imagination); his mind would be a blank, a scrawled-upon canvas of hopeful but vain dreams. He had to be content to sit and rock on the porch and watch the traffic race along the road in front as people sped toward finer destinations.
When the workmen arrived, they made short shrift of the business of disassembling the metal shed under the supervision of the horse rancher who had purchased it. The farm supply store had bought back the incubator and stainless steel tray as a used piece of equipment. In no time at all, the ground was bare (the rancher even salvaged all the poles and wiring), and when the men were gone, no longer busily climbing up and down ladders, unbolting the metal sheets and trusses and stacking them in the truck, Kenny sat back in his rocking chair and stared out over the field, the cadenced movement to and fro matching his useless thoughts. He tried hard not to see the shed that had been filled with raucous life—and his dreams. The acre was now as useless as his life was and would remain so.
It was well into summer when he received a flyer from the horse rancher who had bought the shed. It announced an auction. Why would he send Kenny the flyer, he thought. Did he think he was going to throw good money after bad, money that he did not have or could not afford. True, his savings account was almost up to par (back to where it had been before he embarked upon his mad venture), but that was where the money would stay—in the Money Market Account bearing a small interest. A ridiculously low interest, Kenny noted. To think how he could put that money to work—he killed the idea immediately. What in the world possessed the rancher? Did he think Kenny was going to invest in horses and then rent them out? He dismissed the notion outright. It was too dangerous to think about.
The date stuck in his mind and wouldn’t go away. It was on a Saturday in mid-July. When the Saturday in question arrived, he got into the old Nissan Sentra he had kept in good running condition, though it was 15 years old, and told Alice he was going on an errand. He headed straight for the horse rancher’s spread southwest of Eugene where stream-cut valleys wedged themselves among the low lying hills. In spite of his caution, his heart began to beat wildly again.
After saying hello to the rancher who welcomed him enthusiastically, Kenny joined a crowd of men—feeling totally out of place—farmers and other ranchers who wore blue jeans and denim shirts and donned cowboy hats. He noticed his shed had been assembled already and stood next to the stables. Pickups with horse trailers hitched waited in the field by the corral; the owner’s trailers sat by the long brownish-red building, the nearby eight-horse carrier suggesting that the rancher was in the business in a big way. Kenny knew he was over his head in any kind of bidding war, but that didn’t worry him, for he had come for a simple purpose.
The bidders stood around the pole fence corral and waited. Soon, the owner whose name, Kenny recalled, was Doug Kerns, appeared with a white-stocking, chestnut colored horse in tow and the auction began after the preliminaries: age and condition of the horse (as certified by a veterinarian), how long it had been at Rolling Hills Ranch, what treatment it had received before (they were all abused animals). Then the bidding began in earnest.
Six horses in succession, led by Doug Kerns, paraded around in the corral, and the six which were sold after a brisk round of bidding were taken away by their new owners to the awaiting trailers. By that time, only a handful of bidders remained. When the last horse, the seventh, was brought out, they let out a sigh of disgust and left. Exactly what Kenny wanted.
Kenny stood by himself at the fence (he hadn’t raised his hand to make a single bid). He looked at the gray-mottled horse, swaybacked and old, with a shaggy blackish-blue mane—and fell in love with it. It was the horse he was waiting for. The flyer had said: “Save these fine horses!” That meant, of course, the slaughter house and the pet food manufacturers. And the horse rancher, Doug Kerns, led it right up to Kenny, who was leaning his elbows on the fence pole and admiring the animal whom he had already named, “Uma.”
“I guess this is the one you’ve been waiting for, Mr. Oyama,” Doug Kerns said.
“Yes,” Kenny said. “I knew the last one would be the one I wanted. How much?”
“How much do you bid?”
Kenny already had his checkbook out. He was going to bid 50 dollars but wanted to avoid haggling so he said: “One hundred dollars.”
“Sold,” the rancher said.
“Sold?” Kenny said, wondering if he had been too hasty. And then he began to suspect something was wrong with the horse. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothing,” the rancher assured him. “He’s just old. And I’ll even take him—he craned his neck to look at the four-door Sentra parked in the field—to your place free of charge.”
“It’s a deal,” Kenny said and made out the check. “When will you bring him?”
“Sounds just fine,” Kenny said.
He handed the rancher the check and shook hands. One last look at Uma and Kenny returned to the car. He drove off excited, for he knew Uma would be delivered to its new home the next morning—the idle acre of land. Alice would be up in arms again, but at least thousands of dollars and a metal shed and an expensive incubator were not involved.
Kenny was sitting in his rocker on the porch when Doug Kerns drove up the long driveway towing the horse trailer. The two men greeted each other, and the rancher led the gray horse to the middle of the pasture, drove into the ground a metal stake and tethered the animal (a request Kenny had made beforehand).
“He’s all yours, Mr. Oyama,” the rancher said, stripping off his leather gloves. “Whatcha goin’ to call him?”
“Uma, eh. What’s it mean?”
Doug Kerns slapped his leather gloves against his leg and laughed.
“I’ll bet you it means something philosophical,” he said.
“No,” Kenny said. “It means ‘horse’.”
“OK,” the rancher said, still laughing, “if you say so.”
By the time the rancher had his rig turned around and was driving off, Alice appeared on the porch and stood mutely, staring at the horse. She had her face clamped in her hands. A few minutes passed before she found her voice.
“And what are we doing with a horse?” she said.
“It needed a home.”
“…and what made you think so?”
“The acre is just sitting there,” Kenny said with a broad sweep of his hand. “There’s a lot of grass.”
“Why didn’t you let it sit there, grass and all, like it has been for years?”
“Uma can eat the grass and keep it down.”
“You’ve named a horse, horse?”
“That’s Japanese for horse,” Kenny said. “And it’s nice and short and anybody can pronounce it.”
“I know what it means, Kenny,” Alice said, then moaned. Her hands slid from her face, and she wrung them grievously. “But what are we going to do if it gets sick? The veterinarian bills, medicine and shots and everything…how can we afford—“
“…you mean, it’s like another mouth to feed,” Kenny said.
“Yes, exactly,” Alice said, “and we can’t afford it.”
“Uma is exactly what we need,” Kenny pronounced.
“Uma is exactly what we don’t need,” Alice said desperately. “Please, Kenny, get rid of it!”
“Can’t do that, Alice,” Kenny said. “It will go straight to the slaughter house.”
“…and what are we going to do when it rains and snows,” Alice challenged. “We don’t have a barn.”
“It can stay on the porch,” Kenny said, “right by my rocker.”
“OH MY GOD!” Alice said and threw up her arms. She looked hard at the swaybacked horse again and spun on her heels to enter the house, saying, “Get rid of the horse before it gets sick—or I die!”
Kenny ambled into the field to talk to the horse and stroke its muzzle. Uma nuzzled against his chest as though he knew why Kenny found it imperative to bring him back home to let him lay claim to the acre of grass. When Kenny looked toward the house, Alice was on the porch again peering at them in the field, and then she shook her head and retreated back inside. Kenny patted Uma’s forelock and told him he was home.
By mid-October Uma was left untethered but did not wander beyond the unfenced field. It was content to remain on the single acre where he belonged. Several times a day he came up to the porch to eat out of the bucket of oats. Uma had to climb the steps to get at the bucket placed deliberately in the corner, for Kenny wanted to train the horse to make him feel the porch was but part of the acre of grass—which was already beginning to turn brown. Kenny had made arrangements with Doug Kerns to drop off a bale of hay every so often during the winter months. Alice kept reminding Kenny that the first time Uma got sick, he’d have to get rid of him. It was her just-you-see attitude. But her threat sounded halfhearted.
On a cold day in November, Alice was standing beside Kenny in his rocker when she pointed to Uma’s inert form lying in the field and uttered a cry of alarm.
“He’s sick,” she said. “Oh dear! He must be sick!”
She dashed down the steps and hurried through the field of dry grass. Kenny watched his wife approach Uma. When she was standing over him, wringing her hands with worry, Uma rose to his feet and nuzzled against her. Even as she backed away, Uma followed and nuzzled gently. Then he stopped and began to chew on the grass that was still green around the roots.
Alice returned to the porch, so relieved that she was smiling.
“There’s nothing wrong with him,” she said.
“He was sleeping,” Kenny said. “Sometimes he sleeps that way.”
“I think he likes me,” Alice said pleased.
“I think so, too,” Kenny said. “He does that to me often.”
“Shouldn’t we feed him something? Don’t you think he might be hungry?” Alice showed a rare motherly concern that Kenny hadn’t seen since their children had been young.
“Uma comes up on the porch to get his oats whenever he feels like it,” Kenny said.
“That’s good,” Alice said. “Then, when it rains or snows, he’ll be protected.”
“Yes, he will be.”
“Shouldn’t he have a blanket for the cold weather?”
“Do you think we can afford it, Alice?” Kenny asked archly.
“Of course, silly,” Alice scolded. “How much could a horse blanket cost?”
“You’re right, hon,” Kenny said. “It wouldn’t cost that much.”
“Of course not,” Alice said and re-entered the house, wiping her hands on the apron she was wearing as though she were already back in the kitchen fixing dinner.
Kenny rocked back and forth in his chair, dressed in the warm, thick sweater that zipped up to his chin, and watched Uma munch on the grass. He whistled, and the old horse lifted his head and trotted over to the porch. Kenny patted his neck when he had climbed the steps and pushed him toward the bucket of oats. Only after Uma swept his wet nose against Kenny’s face did he make any move toward his favorite meal of the day.
Kenny let the breeze play against the moistness on his cheek and stared at the acre that had held so much promise for him at one time. The sun was setting, and the layered clouds in the west caught the golden hues of the fading light, turned purple-pink like a newborn infant and darkened as daylight made way for the settling of nightfall. Kenny got to his feet, patted Uma’s withers and entered the old weathered house so badly in need of repainting (of less importance now) to wash up for dinner. The acre was awash in gold.
One thought on “An Acre of Gold”
I thoroughly enjoyed the gripping story. It is so close to reality, the old couple clinging to their meagre investments and especially Alice’s anxiety & agony at Kenny’s plans to use up the hard earned money.
But here comes a pleasant twist to the story when the wife gets so sensitive towards the horse. Their bond with the horse takes them to a different level boosting their self-esteem and lessening fear for their future.
Robert Kono succeeds to rouse the emotional side of the readers.👍🏻👏👌🏻