Every time I tell this story, about me helping Charlie McMaster kill a whole passel of cats, people tend not to believe it. Maybe it’s that they can’t imagine real people living this way, and for that I can’t blame them, because no person should have to live a life like Charlie had to, but he did, and still does, and there’s no changing that.
So when I finish here in a bit, and you walk away saying I hope that ain’t true old man—thinking I’m sick in the head; thinking about them poor little kitty cats—well then, the fault’s all mine in the telling. Maybe that’s why I keep telling it, thinking that if I can get the wording down just so, people will somehow understand. The facts are all there. So let me see if I can set them straight for you.
Now the cat problem first started with three—a bobtail black-and-white and two calicos—but by the time Charlie called on me, the feline head count had grown to thirty-seven not counting kittens, and a person couldn’t walk from the weedy driveway to the old house, a distance of no more than twenty feet, without stepping in rust colored catshit. So when he came walking down the hill late one Saturday morning and asked for my help, I went right in and put on my coveralls, because the thing about Charlie McMaster is he’s the hardest working man I know, and he never asks for help unless he truly needs it. His own family never offered him as much. Hell, I’ve known him to drop everything to drive forty-five minutes one way just to help his mama do things that are so simple as to not need any help, and if they were complicated, it could usually wait till the weekend. But still Charlie comes running. That’s the kind of man he is. And yet there’s some people around here that think he’s a traitor to his own for his moving out of the county trying for something a little better. Of course, those people wouldn’t know shit for kiss-my-ass.
So while I was lacing up my boots, he started telling me his plans on how to finally make the family farm productive, clean it up and find something that would be low maintenance, maybe bring in a little money for his mama. Mentioned turning it into a Christmas tree farm, or planting it to hay, or just letting it all go back to trees, any of which would be better than its state for the past sixty years.
When Charlie was little his grandpa Homer raised pigs on the place, not by choice but because the hog lot and the livestock came with the price of the house. When the old man died, Charlie took over the care of the pigs even though he was only eleven years old, and things ran smooth enough all things considered, but then, when he was just starting high school, cholera broke out and every last one of those animals had to be destroyed. And if that weren’t bad enough, it spread to a neighbor’s farm, and they had to do the same with their pigs, and there’s been bad blood between them since.
Charlie’s uncles—Tuffy and Jess—had never cared nothing for hog farming, leaving the chores first to their daddy and then to their nephew, and so instead of trying to buy more stock or try raising something else or even to make amends with the neighbors, they just kept on with their so called salvage operation and covered the forty acres with junk, never considering who was going to clean it up.
You see, when the uncles both came home from the war, they never said a word about what they’d done or seen: Jess having been captured by the Nazis only to escape and run smack into the Italians, spending the last days of the war in a hospital watching out the window as Mussolini was strung up by his ankles outside; and Tuffy pushing his way through constant fighting in France and Germany only to see even worse horrors when the concentration camps were liberated—no, they never said a thing, just arrived back home one day in 1946 as if they’d been in town for the weekend, and soon they started frequenting auctions with their Army pay and their father’s same sense of a good deal, and they bought up any and every thing, including boxes of leftovers that no one else wanted.
Their old man made them keep things in order while he was alive—no junk lying about the yard or fields—and Mrs. Thompson kept that house slick as a button, but in a few years, old Homer died, and in a few more so did his wife, and then the cholera killed all the pigs, and the junk kept collecting in the barn and along the drive and over into the empty hog lots, a wealth measured in things but not in value: old wooden-handled tools, school desks, fifty two rusting car bodies, a leaky boat, a dragline with a blown engine bought from a bankrupt construction company, crates of license plates, shelves of player piano rolls, scratched records and later eight track tapes, a ten by ten pallet of books no one would ever read again, and that ain’t even half of it.
I don’t know. Maybe at one time it all could have been worth something. But now it was nothing but a blight.
With all this laid out in front of him, Charlie was excited about the prospect of finally making things right. We walked down to the farm to look things over, Charlie still full of possibilities, then went in to Mrs. McMaster’s kitchen table for a cup of coffee, and in passing conversation, Charlie’s mama told him she’d counted over thirty cats gathered when she took food out that morning. Now a farm always has cats on it, and I don’t think Charlie would have minded a few, but when she told him she’s spending near a hundred dollars or more a month on cat food, olé Charlie nearly lost it.
He told her, stop feeding them. Said, if you keep feeding them, they’ll keep coming back.
Well, she said, Leila won’t let me.
Leila was her youngest sister who still lived with her, same as she always had her whole life, though now she had Oldtimers disease and was crazy as a shithouse rat.
His mama said, I’m afraid that if she woke up one morning and the cats was gone, she’d get real upset. You talking about tearing down the house is hard enough.
Charlie snickered, said, in a few weeks she won’t even remember there was any house. Or any cats for that matter.
Well his mama nearly come out her chair. Said, Charles Woodrow McMaster, I can’t believe you just said that.
But Charlie had grown impervious to his mother’s guilt over the years, and said, I can’t believe you’re feeding three dozen cats.
Now this makes Charlie sound like a hard sonofabitch to be talking to his mama and his batshit old aunt like that, but if a person knew how he’d come up, they might think different.
Charlie spent his first seventeen years in that house, living with his grandparents, his mother, her two brothers, and Leila, because his father had been killed by bootleggers when he was eleven months old. And they’d lived as poor as people can live. No running water. Charlie never had a bed till he was married. Always slept on the floor between his two uncles’ beds in their room. When he was a kid, he never got meat at the table—uncles would eat it all up and tell him he could chew the gristle if he wanted a taste. But it was no secret about how stingy Charlie’s uncles were.
Hell, even as a grown man, the few times Charlie would ask his uncles for something he needed—a car part or a tool, which they usually had lying around one of the outbuildings or just sitting in the lot taking on weeds—he always paid them for it, because them old boys had never give anyone anything their whole lives. Still, no one understood their selfish greed completely till they finally died fifteen months apart, same as they’d been born, and Charlie and his mother were given control over the brothers’ bank accounts. You can’t imagine their shock when the balance came in at just over a hundred thousand dollars. Sounds like a lot, but all it shows is that they saved two thousand a year and never spent a dime on anything but the junk they hoarded. Charlie’s mama bought all the food and Leila paid the utilities. Thinking about it makes me want to spit fire.
It was from all this that Charlie realized his only chance was to work. And work he did—as a hand all year round for a farmer a few miles south of here; had a hay crew in the summer; and still he slopped hogs and kept up with his school work. But the one thing that stood out was that Charlie had a way with animals, and in his first year of high school, he got a job cleaning cages, helping out at the veterinarian in town. And the doc there encouraged him and taught him the work, and so Charlie thought that’s what he’d try to do. He even applied to a school for it, and would have been a damn good one, if he’d had the chance.
But the chance never came. So he kept working. Got on at the power plant over the river inIndiana, married a girl from there, and believed he’d never bother with the farm again. But before long he was coming back regular to help his mama around the house, because his uncles never did a thing except what they wanted anyway. Seems no matter how you try, you can never really get away from this place.
Shit, I know that all too well. During the war I left to work in the Lockheed plant inBurbankCalifornia, stayed on there for almost ten years, but when our son was born in 1951, just a year before Charlie came into the world, and our oldest daughter was getting ready to start school, my wife and I figured we ought to be back closer to home. So we packed up and moved into this place and that’s where we’ve stayed. Maybe it was the right thing to do. Maybe it didn’t make a difference one way or the other. But even now, I can’t help but think about being able to draw that Lockheed pension or how much the house inTolucaLakewe’d bought for eleven thousand dollars would sell at today. But the past is past. And besides, I chose to leave and I chose to come back, and that’s worth a whole hell of a lot. Charlie sure as shit never had that pleasure.
Now a person might wonder at how people find themselves in such a life as Charlie’s, for surely things hadn’t always been this way, and they’d be right, as his people hadn’t been junk traders or hog farmers on this hill for all that long. No, Charlie’s mama and aunt and uncles had been born river people over on Skillet Fork, and his granddad, Homer Thompson, made his living running trotlines for buffalo carp and catfish which he could trade for sugar, flour, cornmeal, and coffee at the market in town. Outside that, they lived from their garden and whatever game they could kill in the woods and of course whatever Homer brought in from the river.
Once old Homer told me about the time he came upon a blue heron caught in one of his lines, probably drawn to the thrashing of the live bluegill he’d put on as bait hoping to draw in a big flathead. But it didn’t matter to that man what creature was on the hooks, and he took that skinny stork home to his wife, had her cook it up, and God help you if you complained about that tough stringy mess he tried to pass off as meat. He never gave any thought about another way of living. Things were the way they were, and that whole family would probably still be on that river now if Homer hadn’t stumbled onto what he considered the deal of the century.
The farm is set on a little rise called Pig Ridge about six miles south of Matin, named for the fact that the place had been the site of a hog lot since the late eighteen hundreds, and so it was in 1939, on one of his trips into town, that Homer found the place up for sale at a bargain price.
The new house was all but completed, with one room left unfinished because the man who’d started building it the year before ended up hanging himself from the rafters after he sent for his wife and three kids at her mother’s house up north. Some say that she refused to come down here and live on a pig farm, and others say she was had another man, which very well could have been true as she remarried to a banker within the same month of her husband’s death, but whatever the truth is, it’s known that she didn’t come to Matin County for the funeral, and she must not have needed the money because she put the farm up for sale where it stayed nigh on a year because no one would buy knowing a man had been driven to suicide whilst building it.
But Homer Thompson didn’t care about dead men, only good deals, so when the newly wedded widow grew tired of waiting and lowered her price to ten dollars an acre, Homer jumped on it and bought the house and forty acres, including the hogs that were already living on the farm, for 400 dollars even, money he drew from a tobacco tin stuffed beneath the floorboards of the cabin. His family never questioned him on where the money had come from, and they didn’t really care because just the thought of leaving life on the river was better than any earthly riches.
Homer moved in with his wife and four kids, and within a few years his sons went to the army and fought in Europe and came home again, and then in a few more years, Charlie’s mama met Wibb McMaster and they ran off and got married.
But on the day Charlie came into the world, Wibb was spending time in jail awaiting trial for stealing cars. Charlie’s mama stood by him even though she’d been disowned by her family and couldn’t go anywhere in town without hearing the unquiet whispers of people as she passed. Wibb was finally acquitted when the man whose car had been stolen suddenly remembered that he’d agreed to loan him the car. The prosecutor figured the man had been threatened or that he was in on an insurance scam but couldn’t come up with the evidence, and Wibb was a free man.
Still, he never spent much time at home, would take off for two or three days at a time, then come home to his teenaged wife, and she’d cook big meals and fuss over him and they’d have a honeymoon of sorts, and then a week later Wibb would be off again. It was one of these excursions that finally did him in, and instead of Charlie’s wayward daddy returning home, the county sheriff came calling with the news that he’d been killed when a car ran off the road and up into the yard where he sat drinking homemade whiskey—a yard belonging to Blackie Harris, who in later years would become the oldest man to make the FBI’s most wanted list for killing his girlfriend and the man she was with and burning the house down around them to cover it up. The string of crimes and killings that filled the years before that had somehow slipped through the cracks, much like Wibb’s trial when Charlie was a baby.
There was a court trial over Wibb’s death, but in the end it was called an accident, even though the driver had to drive three hundred yards off the road between a row of silver poplars lining the driveway to hit him. Eight days after the trial ended, Homer Thompson came to the rented room where his daughter and grandson were staying, and he packed up all their things without a word and brought them back to Pig Ridge as if nothing had changed, and that’s how Charlie came to live there.
He didn’t ask for none of it. I guess none of us ask for the lives we’re born into, and none of us are born into perfect lives—we all just make the best of it, some better than others—but it’s amazing to me that a man such as Charlie McMaster could come out of a bullshit situation such as that. I can’t rightly say that I’d have been able to do it. I guess it all boils down to whatever a person uses to forget the lot they’ve drawn: booze or women or meanness or hoarding things away. Charlie chose hard work and kindness and selflessness, and it was all of his own doing because there wasn’t any goddamn role models around for him to learn it from.
So now Charlie was the only man left in the family and saw it as his chance to make a reckoning with this place. No uncles or wayward fathers to stand in his way. First thing he did was took his uncles’ money and bought a brand new double-wide trailer for his mama and Leila and set it fifty feet behind the old house where they’d lived for the last sixty years. Then he bought a used backhoe and started to plan on how to clean up that mess of a farm, which was his only legacy. And that’s when he came down to see me.
On the morning of the cat killing, I kept watch from the front window of my house. Charlie had worked it out with his mama that when she took his aunt Leila into town on Saturday for grocery shopping, he’d kill as many cats as he could while they were gone, and they’d both act like nothing happened.
Around eight in the morning, Mrs. McMaster left for town with Leila in tow, and when the car had gone below the hill out of sight, I picked up my guns and walked down the road where Charlie stood in the driveway. He was smiling, like he usually was, plastic mug of coffee in his hand, cigarette in his mouth.
You ready to kill some cats, he said.
I said, I’m ready to help you out.
We laid our guns in the bed of his truck. He had a single shot twelve gauge he’d found in his uncles’ bedroom, and I pulled out the Belgian Browning that I’d always used bird hunting along with a small twenty-two bolt action with a scope.
I said to Charlie, what’s your plan?
Well, he said, I figured we’d set out some milk, get them all together, then start shooting.
And that’s what we did. He went into the trailer and brought out a gallon of milk and three plastic bowls, old butter containers his mama’d washed, and set them on the bare dirt between the old house and the doublewide. Then we stood back under the porch and waited.
Soon the cats started to crawl out from everywhere. They were feral and vicious. The younger cats ran to the milk, but the older cats, led by the bobtail, stood back, lurking out of sight. We just sat waiting, and after a while, they moved in slowly, like they were stalking something. As they neared one of the bowls, the other cats skittered away, all but one, and now the two calicoes flanked in from each side and that olé bobtail came up the middle. It’s terrifying really, to watch domesticated animals that are usually curled up in someone’s lap latch onto another’s neck with teeth and claws till it hobbles off trailing blood.
Before long, each bowl of milk was surrounded by cats, and Charlie and I walked slowly from under the porch of the old house and each of us raised a shotgun to our cheeks and stood for a minute. It was odd, almost ceremonial, like a firing squad, and I was waiting for Charlie to start counting or say fire, some kind of signal to begin, when he pulled the trigger on his twelve and my ears went deaf with the ringing. Two cats lay twitching by the milk. Another darted away to the right, and without a thought, I put the bead on him and let fly. The cat flipped ass over tea-kettle and landed in a heap.
Two shots and there wasn’t a cat to be seen. I walked over to Charlie’s truck, laid down my shotgun, and picked up the twenty-two. Charlie broke down his gun and slid the empty shell from the chamber.
He said, I saw another one go around the house. See if I can’t flush him out.
I slid up onto the tailgate of the truck and said, I’ll be here.
He made a wide circle around the back, and I watched the opposite side, like you’d do rabbit hunting, expecting to see the animal edging along fifty yards ahead of the dog. But cats ain’t rabbits.
I turned to look at a large pile of scrap metal along the edge of the driveway, scanning for any of the cats that might’ve holed up in there, when Charlie’s gun boomed, echoing off the tin-sided barn, and I turned to see a cloud of white fur drifting across the lot like a giant dandelion had been blown off its stem.
I called out, I think you got him.
Charlie appeared holding the carcass by the hind legs. The cat’s head was turned inside out, nothing but blood and meat and teeth. He threw it down amongst the other dead still lying by the milk bowls and said, you know, I never killed anything that I hadn’t intended on eating.
The skin round his eyes was lined, like he carried the weight of death itself.
Well, I said, smiling at him, you can eat them if you want.
Then behind him I caught a flash of movement and saw a tabby cat slide behind an old storm window leaned against a rusted trailer frame. I raised the rifle, and the cat poked his head out just a bit, careful and waiting, and when the crosshairs fell on the cat’s neck just behind its jaw, I squeezed the trigger, and it dropped in its tracks.
Was it that bobtail? Charlie said, hopeful.
No, I said, just a tabby.
He spit into the mud and said, I hate that goddamn bobtail. Took up residence under the trailer right after we put it in and tore the insulation off the pipes and they froze. And you know who had to drive over here and thaw them out when it was seventeen fucking below zero.
We waited a while, and Charlie lit a cigarette and thanked me again for being such a patient neighbor, said that most people would’ve called the county or the EPA and forced a cleanup regardless of cost. To be honest, it’d never crossed my mind to do that. I could see the state of things when I moved in up the road. I guess if I didn’t like it, I could’ve found another house. Maybe like Charlie’s granddad, I was willing to put up with a few things in return for a good deal.
After half an hour, we still hadn’t seen another cat. I went and picked up the dead and carried them into the field. I figured we’d just take them out away from the house and leave them to the coyotes and buzzards, but Charlie started up the backhoe and went to digging. Now a lot of people who know Charlie would of laughed at this, figured it was part of his crazy nature: a mix between a childish fascination for heavy equipment and a tendency toward overkill. But that wasn’t it. At least I don’t believe it was, because I saw the same thing a week later when he tore the old house down.
Charlie had planned to spend every Saturday for the next year cleaning up the farm. At the time I didn’t see any reason for him to be in such a hurry, but it’s clear to me now that as long as that old house stood and that farm lay covered in junk, the memory of his old life stood with it, and I guess he thought that when it was gone, he’d be shut of the past as well.
That next Saturday, I waited for his mama to leave with Leila same as before, then walked down where Charlie was chomping at the bit. We started going around to each window on the old place, removing all the glass, which I guess was a gesture of safety and sensitivity to the fact that Charlie was getting ready to destroy the only house the living members of his family had ever known. After he doublechecked that the gas and electricity were turned off, we went inside one final time.
Six rooms: the kitchen with its big porcelain sink, the main room with the gas heating stove, the three small bedrooms built on, the bathroom which had been added in the mid-eighties when Charlie’s uncles finally gave into the idea of spending the money to bring in running water. In the room that had been his mama’s, there was a giant hole in the plaster, stuffed with an old quilt to keep out the draft. This is where she’d slept only a few months before.
He’d wanted to tear the house down with everything still in it, but Mrs. McMaster had refused, told him to wait till she had a chance to go through things, so Charlie drove over each evening to see the progress she’d made. Knew if he didn’t, she’d drag it out till eternity.
On one of those nights, in the biggest bedroom, the one where he’d slept as a child on a floor pallet between his two uncles in their tall iron framed beds, she showed him a trunk he’d never seen open which contained his father’s belongings; she had idolized the man for near to fifty years, hoping that if she could somehow rewrite the history of her life, the shame and guilt of her family and her church and herself would somehow be erased. But the truth of it was there all the same.
Charlie told me on that day he was glad that his daddy had been killed. Glad he’d not known him. Said he could make up his own idea of what a father should be and live that with his own kids. I told him that was a right smart way to think, because I’d known his father before I headed out west, had run across him in the tavern or the pool hall, and while I didn’t think bad of him, for God knows I ain’t never been no saint, I know he’d have never been there for Charlie. So I told him the best thing I could without lying straight through my teeth. I said, your dad was a prince of a man when he wasn’t drinking. And I left it at that.
But no matter how much Charlie had tried to forget what his father had been, his mama had kept a shrine to this man inside a wooden trunk, and now Charlie had to face the physical reminders of the dead man that was his father, instead of the one he’d made up in his head. Inside the trunk was a pair of wool dress pants, a watch, Wibb McMaster’s birth certificate, and a half pack of Camel cigarettes that’d been in his shirt pocket the day he’d been killed.
I asked him what his mama had done with the stuff.
He said, she took it all in the trailer, and I haven’t seen it since.
I said half joking, she ought to smoke one of them old cigarettes.
And he said yeah, fire it up and say, my life was shit and here’s to it.
We sat for a second, then I said, I wonder what a fifty-year-old cigarette would taste like.
You know, Charlie said, his face as serious as a heart attack, that gets me to thinking.
After working all morning trying to bring down the house, with chains run from the backhoe and hooked through the load bearing walls, we only succeeded in pulling off the front porch, which was a bit of a disappointment, since it looked like it would’ve fallen over on its own come a slight breeze. After that, Charlie got fed up and extended the hoe full length, started swinging it like a giant club into the main chimney till it crashed through the roof. Over and over he swung that arm, hydraulics hissing, the slap of iron against wood and masonry, till the house lay in ruins.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. But while he was doing this, I want to believe every stroke of that machine, every fallen brick and cracked rafter, drained away some of his life’s bitterness.
But now, as I think on it, I don’t remember hope on his face. Only disgust. Guess it was then he knew that every plan he’d ever make was futile. That’s what he told me later. Said, how am I ever gonna change this farm when I can’t even make a dent in the cat population. Can’t even get rid of a trunk full of motheaten memories.
It’s when he realized this place would never be anything more than what it was. A pig farm turned junkyard. His boyhood home.
Charlie kept his word and worked on the farm all the rest of that year: had an auction, which barely made enough to cover expenses; burned the old wooden barn at the back of the lot with all its contents still inside, hoping it’d save time, only to end up with a giant pile of cinder blacked wood on top of melted plastic and rusted metal; hired his son-in-law to help him, only to see him nearly killed when the tractor he was using to pull stumps turned over on him. One calamity after another.
The final wound salting came when he found a musty account ledger tucked away on a shelf in the machine shed. His uncles had used it to keep a running inventory of all the things they bought and sold. It began May 5th 1947, and the last date they’d entered was July 19th 1979. After that, they sold so little compared to what they bought, they just kept a tally in their heads.
But it wasn’t the account itself that finally caused Charlie to give up on the farm. In fact for a while, he got a kick out of reading the entries written in their faded old-man scrawl: bought 18 hydraulic jacks some work; bought 3 boxes 8 Track tapes disco hits volume 4; sold four window crank handles 1963 Rambler, $4. No, it was when he found a yellowed letter, still in its envelope, slid between the pages.
His full name was typed on the front and the return was from the veterinary school he’d applied to his last year in high school. After he didn’t hear anything from them by the time he’d graduated, he took the job over at the power plant and decided that decent pay and a way off Pig Ridge was all that mattered. But as he slid the letter out, it was all he could do to keep his lunch down for fear of what he’d find. And much the same as he imagined himself doing as a young man, he prayed before unfolding that page, only instead of a petition for acceptance, I imagine it was more like, please tell me I never had a chance. But there it was, like a punch in the gut. Congratulations, Mr. McMaster.
As the months passed, you could see he was making a difference on the farm, as long as you didn’t look at the whole. Piles of junk hauled off. Trash burned. There were even less cats around. I started noticing that from the day of the cat killing. I’d walk down the road to help Charlie with something or to check on his mama, and maybe they were still there, but at least the bastards stayed out of sight. People say that animals can’t learn and don’t know fear, but I think the ones who survived that day never forgot it. And I’d still see that olé bobtail now and again, off in the distance, slinking through those brown fields looking for mice.
At the end of fall, Charlie told me he was going to have one last go at the cats, but without guns. He set the milk out same as before, but this time the milk was cut with antifreeze. He did this everyday for a week. There’s no way of knowing if it worked or not. Hell, I don’t think either of us would’ve been surprised if the cats multiplied drinking that brew. Like some plague only Moses could get rid of.
After that, Charlie’s work on the farm grew less and less. Every now and again, he’d show up, spend half the day getting the backhoe running, load a truck full of scrap and take it to the salvage yard, maybe make enough to pay for the diesel and a pack of smokes.
Then on into the winter, his mom’s pipes froze again. He gave me a call, and we crawled under the doublewide to fix the insulation and get the water flowing once more. I stood at the crawlspace entrance, waiting to hand through the portable heater, when he stuck his head out with a wide smile on his face. Said, I found that bobtail.
I took a step toward the back door and said, where’s your gun.
But he said, don’t need it.
I crawled in behind Charlie with the heater and set it up to thaw the pipes, and then we inched on our bellies to the far side of the trailer. Beams of sunlight shined through the foundation vents, reflecting off the snow that’d fallen the night before. I kept looking for a hint of movement or the flash of glassy yellow eyes, but there was nothing. Finally, Charlie stopped, and I moved up beside him. The smile was still on his face, and he pointed with his gloved index finger to the bones of a cat, laid out perfectly in the frozen mud, the tail barely an inch long.
Least I finally got that son of a bitch, Charlie said. I was beginning to think I couldn’t do anything for this farm.
And I told him right there that most people would’ve given up long before. That at the first sign of trouble, they’d look for the easiest way out. They’d pretend the things they’d done never really happened or they’d try to fill up the dark hole in their chest with things shut in an old trunk or with buildings filled with worthless mess or with money that would never be used. They’d hang themselves from the rafters of a house unfinished.
I told him that and said, you’ve done more with the shit hand you’ve been dealt than anyone else could’ve. And I told him that bobtail never stood a chance.
And so now I’ve told you, and you can think I’m full of nine kinds of bullshit and forget every word I said, but I promised him I’d help him make this right, which has nothing to do with the farm, because even if he did get it cleaned up and working again, it wouldn’t matter. No, it seems the only thing that does matter is making sure people know there’s a man like Charlie McMaster in this world, and as long as I have breath, that’s what I’ll do. Because he deserves to have his life mean something. He deserves at least that much.
James Alan Gill was born and raised in Southern Illinois in a family of coal miners. He holds an MFA in fiction from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and his stories have appeared in several journals and magazines, most recently in Colorado Review and Grain Magazine, and will be forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review's special issue Writing From and About Illinois. He currently lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons, and spends as much time possible sleeping in a tent and hiking trails far from roads, buildings, and groups of people larger than ten.