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In hot humid weather the buffet drawers had a tendency to stick. Lou had promised to wax the runners back in June. He’d promised to do a lot of things in June. And May. And April. July had come and gone. It was dead into August. He grabbed the wooden knobs and pulled hard. The drawer that had been filled with ironed white linens and embroidered tablecloths was almost empty. Settled on a folded worn bath towel were two .38’s like birds in a nest.

Lou stood for a long time and stared down into the drawer. Anyone watching would have thought that he hadn’t left them there himself, hadn’t carefully loaded them three weeks ago, ignoring all rules of safe gun storage. Any teenager looking for a stash of silver to sell for drugs could have found these easily and done who knows what sort of damage. Lou had heard the warning voice in his head, but had left them loaded anyway. Hell, every kid from town would know not to try to rob this place, not now, not when everything worth more than five dollars had been moved into town in a big rented U-Haul truck back in July.

Lou checked to see that the safety lock on the guns had been set, and he tucked each of them into his belt in back. No sense taking chances now.

He went into the kitchen, his footsteps echoing in the nearly empty rooms. On the counter was his ex-wife’s favorite pottery mug—the one with the rosebud. Technically, Kay wasn’t his ex yet, but since she’d moved in with Chuck, Lou hated thinking of her as his wife.

She’d moved out, leaving the dishwasher running. Funny, the things women do, he’d thought when he came home and found the house mostly emptied, except for a few pieces of furniture and the load of dishes drying in the Maytag. “If that don’t beat all with a stick,” he’d said aloud.

If they’d had kids, he would have called his son to say “You’ll never guess what your mother’s gone and done now.”

He found the honey-do list on the kitchen table. On the bottom, Kay had scrawled, “My phone number’s on the fridge, the card for Chuck’s TV and Small Appliance Repair. But don’t come looking.”

As if he would. Confusion gave way to disbelief and then, to anger, and finally to a misery so profound it was numbing. But that was July. And this was August.

He hefted the mug. He’d considered smashing it with a hammer and then taking the shards and leaving them in a small bag on Kay’s doorstep, or mailing them to her. But he wasn’t sure if that violated some federal law. He’d even considered making a trip to town and returning the mug to her in person, saw himself standing on the porch, freshly shaved and showered, his hair slicked back with Vitalis. What could be the harm in that? She had, after, all told him where she was. He had called a few times, sheepishly, making one excuse or another, and she’d been coldly polite, until the last call when he heard Chuck muttering in the background. Then she’d been as eager to hang up as if he’d been cold calling to ask her to buy aluminum siding.

A bottle of Wild Turkey stood on the kitchen table. He poured what was left into the mug. Through the window over the sink he could see the field, the hay cut last week, rolled this week. He looked at the hay rolls, and, out of habit, at the sky checking for rain, knowing already that no rain would come tonight or tomorrow or even the next day after that.

The air was thick. A cloud of gnats flew a few inches from his face as he walked out in the stifling evening. He carried the mug in one hand as he walked, careful not to trip over the deep ruts the tractor had made. He remembered the big haystacks of his youth where he and his brother had played. And the hayloft in the barn where he and Kay had lain together huddled that December night, looking through the roof he’d patch, thinking about those stars.

He walked out to the hay roll farthest from the house and lowered himself carefully to the ground. He took the .38s from his belt and laid them on the ground. He sipped the Wild Turkey, and watched the haze turn color in the setting sun. Two 38’s, sometimes it paid to be ambidextrous, he thought, and the timing will have to be just right.

He leaned back against the roll. He could feel the hay through his tee shirt. He ran his hand over the prickly golden stubble on the ground. His hay would be fine. And now, anyway, it was nothing to him.

(c) 2004 Miriam N. Kotzin. "Hay" was published in HiNgE July 2004.