by Misty Skaggs
“Well, whoever they put in charge of shoveling shit sure was a lazy sumbitch,” Mack thought as his broke-in boots connected with the dirt floor of the sprawling hallway of the big, red barn.
His keen, country nose caught the stale shit smell. The smell of a week without a proper mucking. A month. Manure tromped down and covered up instead of cleaned out. The stink of a lazy farmer. The kind of man who didn’t mind to leave his best milker laying in a puddle of excrement when she bedded down for the night. The kind who didn’t mind shit stuck to her udder in the morning. But the air was also perfumed with the smell of something a little less backwoods. The kind of scent that wafts off people who wear vintage cocktail dresses over skinny jeans and grow ironic beards with waxed mustaches. The kind of people who hang art in a hay loft. The kind of people who don’t know the first thing about mucking out stalls or milking cows. The kind of people who buy cute baby lambs and aspire to spin wool, one of these days.
“Old Cleo would have a hissy fit,” Mack mused out loud to no one.
He tipped up his flask and tugged cheap whiskey and ambled down the wide center aisle, watching the buzzing crowd but thinking of Cleophus. If that cantankerous feller only knew that his son couldn’t wait to unload the old home place after he died. If Cleophus only knew that the new owners transformed his sturdy, functional barn into a trendy, whimsical venue. Or that the farmhouse he built with proud, calloused hands had been dubbed “kitschy” in the ad for their vegan bed and breakfast. Old Cleo’d be hanging around here haunting the hipsters.
Mack peeked over and reached into a stall that smelled like the weed his cousin grows. He plucked a lit joint from between the soft, slobbery lips of a white boy with dreadlocks and inhaled, sucking the skunky sweetness deep into his tired lungs. Mack didn’t mind that his East Kentucky town had been invaded by kids fleeing the suburbs of Lex-Vegas, kids trickling across the river from the dirty ‘Natti. Kids playing at grown-up, in search of the homespun promise of a simpler life and inspired by the sudden popularity of bluegrass music. Mack went to college and studied agriculture, moved away and wore pearl snap button ups instead of flannel. He played up his accent to get the city girls and even played mandolin in a band. He wasn’t unfamiliar with this bunch and had decided that they weren’t all bad. Besides, no matter how obnoxious they could get, even if their barn still smelled like old shit, the kids brought their Daddy’s money with them to a dying community. And they didn’t blink an eye, didn’t hesitate to spend it. They bought farms and opened businesses. They paid extra for his “organic” vegetables and never noticed the diluted taste of Miracle Gro. They even raised money for the little old ladies at the historical society and pitched in for a new roof for the volunteer firefighters over in Hogtown.
And besides, Mack just cannot resist those fucked-up, tattooed girls. The ones exploring their sexual liberation and shedding their inhibitions by finding a local hillbilly to rough ‘em up in the bed of his truck ever once in awhile. Most times Mack indulges in the man-handling. But tonight he’s looking for someone. A specific, blue-eyed girl who makes barefooted look natural. She’s new to town, but feels like she belongs. Looks like she’s from around here. Somewhere. Mack recognizes her breeding hips. He can tell by the way she talks to the goats who wander around The Barn Bar. The way she breathes deep when she sinks and wiggles into the fresh, sweet-smelling hay bales stacked around the room for seating and atmosphere. And he hears her loud laugh drifting on the night air. And he follows the lilting sound into the night, out back of the barn where two perfectly tasty piglets in a half-ass, half-built pen are being groomed into pets. There’s a full moon and he’s suddenly breathless, stunned to discover the very scene he saw in his sleep. She’s sitting on the ground with her full, gingham skirt wadded up and her heels kicked off and a sleeping piglet in her lap. The stars are only a reflection of the freckles dusting her pale skin.
“They smell like bacon, don’t they? What a delicious little boy!” she says to Mack and to the pink pile making grunting noises and kicking scratch marks on her bare thighs.
Mack isn’t sure what to say. He re-sparks the weed and sits next to her, passing it in a way that guarantees their fingertips touching. She breathes deep and holds it in. She exhales and he watches her tits heave under the modest cut of the old fashioned dress she’s wearing. She raises a Mason jar full of gin and juice and swallows deep and hard, chasing down a giddy feeling.
“My Mamaw would skin us for drinking out of perfectly good canning jars,” she says, shaking her head a little. “Besides, it’s a damn fine way to chip a front tooth.”
Her smile in that moment breaks his heart in advance. Mack puts the fat, hog leg joint to his lips and inhales, kissing the wet paper where it kissed her, licking up a crumb of homegrown with his hungry tongue. He blows smoke out both nostrils and feeling light-headed, he finally clears his throat and speaks up -
“I had a dream about you.”