SIX CENTS A SACK

by D.N. Stuefloten

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     All his cigarettes had smoked themselves apart; and as well the potato fields had bloomed and over them crept the tools which tore the earth, and the fruit, vanquished, torn, came up like vomit. He had seen it all, with the heat, and the suds of sunshine in the air and the motes of heat of the ground of his despair: bending over, the rough sack. Further down the line they stopped to work in the dirt. Great cheeks fanned out at their rears. Into their rough sacks were swept the fruit as they bent over in the heat. The machine went whirring by. On its top, the suntanned driver, wearing his strawed hat to keep off the heat, seeing the dirt before and the fruit after, saying,
     How many, now?
     The card reached up: the punch held ready.
     Eight.
     Eight: he counted: One, two...four...six...right-o. Eight.
     The punch descended on the card, and handed back.
     Bend over at the heat, the sack rough. He felt it. The machine whirred away and the finished filled sacks thrown up on the bed of the truck where sitting, quiet, still, was she, her legs swinging, quiet, still over the edge of the bed of the truck. As the truck whirred on by she turned and smiled at him, lips red, the heat far away from her. He saw her and touched his rough sack. All his cigarettes had bloomed themselves apart. He felt his hot face, hands grubbing at the dirt, into the dirt, and the fruit of the dirt being thrown into his sack.
     The machine whirred away.
     Another row finished.
     Eight again?
     Eight again.
     One, two...four...six...right-o. Eight it is.
     All the potatoes, he thought. The girl on the bed of the truck whirred by. Further down the row, as someone far away in the mote heat in the sudsy sunlight called out that the break in the heat was called, came to him, lurching across the dirt and breaking clods beneath his feet. A canteen filled with precious coolness twinkled at his hip, swinging, and the man came and squatted down at his side.
     Here, the man said, swinging the canteen. A drink.
     Thanks, he said.
     He took it from the man.
     Some doll, said the man looking at the girl on the bed of the truck.
     Some doll, he said, drinking from the canteen.
     The truck went whirring in its low gears away over the dirt.
     Pretty damn hot, said the man, settling himself, lurching on the dirt.
     Yeah, he said. He watched the truck so filled with the rough sacks whir away into the heated distance. The cars lined up at the field sparkled the heat away. Dust lined them. The girl swung her legs, men coming, swinging her legs at them. The water curled in his throat down to his belly down in the middle of his hot body where the coolness momentarily gave him the cramps.
     Easy, said the man, easy.
     Sure, he said.
     Youre new at this, said the man.
     Yeah, he said. New at this.
     Hot work, said the man. Doesnt pay much.
     Not much, he said.
     But—lurching to his feet—not starving. Haul off—winking his eyes—some these damn potatoes.
     Haul off?
     Save em. Eat em later. You know, winking.
     Sure.
     The man motioned away, lurching, the cool canteen swinging at his hip. Over the dirt. Over the fruit sticking up like shipwrecked shoals half-buried in the ground, which, to be picked up, filled the rough sacks. The smell of the earth. His brother was talking to a Mexicano. Then he came to him.
     How many ya got? he asked.
     Twenty-three.
     The brother laughed, his body huge, and red.
     Twenty-three! I got thirty-eight, already!
     Oh go away, he thought, looking at the dirt. The girl had swung her legs.
     How many? the truck man asked.
     Seven, he said.
     Seven this time? the truck man said. One...three...right: seven.
     The card punched. The truck whirred by. On the bed of the truck at the rear the girl swung her legs, then swung down, onto the dirt. She walked among the sudsy sunshine in front of him over the shipwrecked potatoes in the dirt. Her legs had thinned. Her feet, clothed, went over the earth. Hair came crying down to her shoulders to her breasts in front where it curled at her near blouse. She walked, legs swinging forward, hips swinging.
     Hi, he said, trying to grin at her.
     She glanced at him.
     Her lips quirked.
     She went on.
     Hello, he whispered to himself, feeding the sack.
     At the end of it all, and they ended at the hour of four, while it still was hot, they went walking down to the car. The dark Mexican and the brother came to him, and, tired, he did not go away as they approached. All of the people in the field had stood, up from bent, and gone screaking scattered. They two of them came to him and stood in front of him.
     Howd it go, asked the brother grinning.
     The Mexican had dark quick eyes.
     Not...bad, he said, avoiding them.
     Not bad, not bad. Nodding. How many ya get?
     The Mexican eyes laughed in a dark unknown. The face was unknown, had no features, but quickness in the eyes.
     Not many.
     How many?
     Thirty-six.
     The Mexican laughed a little, in a noise. The truck came by them, whirring, the low gears grinding. At the back of the bed of the truck was no girl, but the sacks, lumpy, heavy.
     Six cents a sack, said the brother. How much is that?
     Not much, he muttered, moving on. He stared at the broken earth. He kicked a clod. Not very much, he said.

           

 

Text and photos copyright D.N. Stuefloten.
Contact:
don@dnstuefloten.com

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NOTES: This is a very early story. The event it describes took place when I was thirteen years old. It was my first job, picking potatoes. I was no good at it. That summer I went to work in the local apricot harvest, which was better. But when did I write the story? The tale is just a recounting of what happened, which means it was simple to write. Did I write it at thirteen? I think it must have been two or three years later, perhaps more. It is just a little piece of realism, what is often called a slice of life.

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