Sheep in the Fog ((A Shannon O’Day Story) (Part Two of Three))

Sunday

The Farm and the Barn

The next time I saw Shannon, was when he was sitting on our steps, he had come down to visit Gus that Sunday, following Thanksgiving. Gus and Shannon had done some pheasant hunting if I recall, he was bushed, tired out. There was a fire going on, I think Gus was burning up some fall leaves, pushing them into a mound, and it looked like a blaze, I love the smell of burning leaves. And then I joined Shannon on the steps, and Otis, he was singing and I began to hum whatever that song was, and he stopped, perhaps because Gus might have thought wrong.

I know Gus told Shannon to keep Otis away from the house, and Shannon said to Gus, “Where do you want us to go, around yonder?”

Mrs. Stanley, our neighbor, she was milking the cow that Sunday, and Shannon was throwing rocks at some birds, one came flying at him, it was a crow I think. It was a lazy day. And Judge Finley came over to see Gus, and brought a jug of whiskey along with him. And then Otis left because Judge Finley hated him more than Gus hated him-Finley just didn’t like niggers plain and simple, Gus was selective. And Finley and Gus and Shannon I think were hoping I’d go to bed, but I didn’t. I sat around outside by the fire as if in a trance. And when they started to drink, Gus asked Shannon in front of Finley, “I suppose you’re goin’ to drink, Shannon?”

“It doesn’t hurt any of your folks does it?” Shannon said, and Gus’ arthritis acted up, and I think that was the last time he questioned his drinking, I think he just gave up.

“Now you two brothers, don’t fight, I got enough for all three of us.” said Finley.

“Going to be one more,” I told the judge, and he looked at me strange, and I said, “me.”

“And you Mrs. O’Day are four,” said the judge, in his owl like voice.

Then I got thinking, dying of alcoholism maybe isn’t much different than dying of any other disease, and every time someone tries to stop Shannon, someone else tries to lessen the pain by starting him back up again. I mean, even Gus with his 140-proof Vodka is perhaps a hypocrite to Shannon, and now the judge, and even Otis. So you see there just wasn’t any luck on this trying to stop Shannon. I think I saw this at first, when we all tried to check him to stop drinking, but it was as if I had seen the sign-go, more than the sign stop.

We finished eating lunch, and then started on the jug of whiskey, Finley brought with him. And Gus went down to the cellar and brought up his vodka, and they all ended up playing horseshoes in the front yard. And then I had the runs, I drank too much, and I was wobbling all about, and I cried, and I don’t even know what for.

“Hush up,” said Gus, “Finley and Shannon will think I’m a bad husband!… Hush I tell you!”

“She needs a whipping,” the judge said facetiously. And everybody laughed, even me. And we were drunker than four skunks walking a tightrope.

“Come on here,” said Shannon. And I came to him, and Gus was watching, sitting on a wooden box, the fire dwindling down. And Shannon kissed me, and started dancing with me. And then I pulled aside, and said “I’m too dizzy, no more-please.”

“What’s a matter with her now,” Gus said. He liked it when Shannon played with me, and poked fun at him. I guess we liked him more drunk than sober, in that we knew him better, but we were willing to give that up for a sober Shannon, maybe we felt guilty, but that all ended that Sunday evening.

“You have to keep her dancing,” Gus told Shannon.

“Go see if we can get some of that unpasteurized milk from Mrs. Stanley’s cow,” said Shannon to Gus.

“I got a better idea,” said Gus, “let’s milk the cow dry, and they aint going to have any milk for tomorrow.”

“Where’s the cow?” asked the judge.

“Just around the corner,” said Gus.

And I was singing again, I remember, and thought they were all talking foolishly.

“Come on,” Shannon whispered. “Let’s go get the cow drunk and, come on!”

Two dogs were playing in the dirt in front of the barn, Mrs. Stanley’s barn, rolling around and falling over one another. You could see through the second floor window, the shades down, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley were getting ready for bed, and then the light went out.

“Let’s go,” said Gus to me (Shannon and Finley were already waiting at the barn).

“I’m coming just hold your horses.” I told him.

“Hush,” said the judge. “Do you want to get these dogs yelling?”

“Don’t you worry about the dogs judge,” said Gus, “they both know me better than my wife.” He called them by their names, Tobaccos, and Tabasco. And I told Shannon, right then and there, “How can he remember their names, he can’t even remember where he put his jug of vodka half the time,” and we all started to laugh again, the judge holding his belly, and then we saw the lights go on, in the Stanley bedroom, and we all ducked down, and waited for them to get turned off.

“If those dogs could talk, dear,” Gus said playfully, “they could tell you a lot of what goes on around here.” But it was all loose talk, whiskey talk and vodka talk, there was never much going on around our farmhouse or cornfields, back in those days.

The dogs were quiet but they were moaning, then the doors opened up, and we all stopped, and Shannon stopped and looked inside the barn.

“Gus, get those hounds out of here, they’ll just cause commotion in the barn.” And I ended up staying with the dogs, keeping them company, watching the three men go into barn. But the dogs were so tired; they just laid there as if they were dead. And twilight came, and the moonlight came, all in a matter of minutes.

It all smelled like cow manure, and in the corners of the barn it was dark, but I could see near everything through the opened door. I squatted down onto my knees, patted the dogs some-saw Gus feeding the cow some vodka; she was licking it off his hand.

“What are you doing,” asked Finley to Shannon.

“Nothing, yet,” Shannon said.

The cow came out of the corner stall, now, with the help of Gus, he had unlatched the stall door.

“What are you chewing,” asked Gus to Shannon.

“Nothing,” said Shannon, “just moving my mouth, a nervous tick.”

“Come here cow,” said Shannon, He threw his hands out to the cow. Shannon’s eyes were puffed, for lack of sleep, and perhaps bloated with too much water in his system. Finley’s head was looking over Shannon’s shoulder. And Finley handed him a stool, a short stool to sit on.

“Cows can be down right dangerous, if you get a cranky one,” said Gus to Shannon. Gus held the cow still, as he tied him to a post by where Shannon was sitting. I couldn’t see everything, but I saw his hands move.

“Here you are…” said Gus, handing Shannon a clean rag to clean the teats, “don’t irritate the teats.”

“I’m going to drain this cow dry,” Shannon whispered, “all ten-gallons of her milk. Judge, place the bucket underneath her udder.” And the judge did.

“Look what I got,” said Shannon. He showed it to everybody. I moved closer to the door, they knew they couldn’t keep me out. “What you doing in the barn?” asked Gus.

“I thought you might need me, I’m tired of hiding out in the barnyard with those stupid dogs.”

“Come on over here then, so you can see Shannon milk a cow, he used to when he was a kid, remember?”

“Just let them teats start milking; we can’t fool around here all night.” I told Gus and hoped Shannon would have listened.

“Shannon,” I said in a low whisper, “they are like missiles, you got to handle them teats with care, squat in a position so you can move away quickly if the cow becomes uncooperative.”

“Oh leave him alone,” Gus told me.

“I don’t care to sleep in the barn all night.” I said. And Finley went and shut the barn door, and sat cross-legged by Shannon and watched. “I’m feeling sick,” I told Gus.

“Hush now.” Gus said. And so I did. And then Shannon put his hands around two of the four teats; squeezed the base of the teat, squeezed down and hard. The cow panicked. Took a step forward, and Shannon stopped for a moment, and the cow started to get impatient, and fidgety.

“You better get into the cow milking.” I said. “You’ll be making him more irritable if you don’t.”

We all heard the door swing open and the cow moved again, slowly, the dogs came in. Gus stood by the cow’s side to assure her, he was there. “Squeeze like it’s a tube of toothpaste, Shannon, don’t jerk her teat, and use your right hand then left hand, alternate until the udder is deflated.” But Shannon was so drunk; he continued to milk the cow yanking the teats, unknowingly. I told myself: I already told him. And Gus was looking at me like a mad wolf. And my mind told me, ‘See what you got by trying to help.’

Then I was going to say something, and Gus knew I was, and said, “Hush. And if you can’t go to the house and go to sleep.”

The door opened back up, except this time it was because of the wind. Then the door banged shut. Gus said, “She’s lifting her back leg…” and then she kicked the bucket, and it moved and the milk fell all over Shannon.

So I stayed hushed. I could see what was going to happen next. I could hear the cow moan. I stepped back. The cow looked at me, then Shannon and Finley, then she come as if to kiss Shannon and the cow kicked hard, knocked Shannon’s front teeth right out of his head as he fell backwards, and gave him a near concussion, and stepped on the toes-of Finley, all one-thousand pounds of him.

“No,” said Gus to the cow.

I went to the door, looked at the bedroom window of the Stanley’s and her light was on. Then the dark came back, and Shannon, Finley and Gus stood by the dark wooden farm door, half opened. Gus held Shannon, he was dizzy, and Finley was hobbling on one leg, had Shannon’s other arm, and I could smell manure all over him. And then I could see the windows, where the wind was hitting, lively at our house. Then as we walked away from the barn back to our house, the dark began to swallow us, like it always did out in the country, even when I was half asleep in bed it crept in and pulled me into its tranquility, but this night was different in that, it wasn’t an ordinary night, and it was pulling me into its disarray.

Monday Morning

“It tickles me, my nose and eyes and throat,” Shannon said to Gus and I, the 140-proof vodka went down him fast, burning his throat I thought, it burnt mine, and so it was my guess it did his, but he didn’t feel a thing, when we was brought into the house, so he perhaps couldn’t feel the vodka going down his throat either. He evidently wasn’t pretending.

“You aint goin’ to drink anymore are yaw?” Gus asked Shannon.

“All right, if you don’t want me to, but I could really use some now! Matter-of-fact, I suggest you go make another jug full, right quick, I maybe getting into some server pain, as soon as this booze wears off.”

“Youall be quiet now and I’ll pour you all some,” I told all three men. We were all cold from being in the barn, and the vodka warmed us up, I even had a shot, two shots, oh heck, I had several I think. “You’re going to be sick all day tomorrow now,” Gus told me.

“I know that, but you’ll be too!”

The wind was blowing on the windows.

I drank the vodka just like the boys did, and it made me feel like squash inside. And then I put some ginger ale, with it, and it went down a little easier.

Everyone passed out on the table, and Shannon had pushed the jug nearly off the table, funny it didn’t crash. Shannon had fallen off his chair during the night, and I heard him laughing, and he must had gotten back up, and onto it again, cuz he was sleeping on his forearms, as if they were pillows, on the table as he had been before, and he was situated back into the chair last I saw him. In the morning he said to me (I had been on the couch),

“I scared yaw didn’t I, last night?”

“You sure did…” I told him, and had to hold back my laugh, so he’d didn’t think his falling, that I thought was funny, was funny.

“Wake Gus up for me Shannon, he gets mad when I do.”

“All right,” he said, and he went and pushed and pulled Gus up into a sitting position.

“What you doin’ brother,” Gus moaned.

“Wake up.” Shannon said.

He then pulled Gus’ arm some.

“Come on, let’s drink some more,” Gus said.

“You better make one more batch of vodka or we aint goin’ to be drinking anything soon, we done drank the whole jug last night.” And he added to that, “We can say Mabel helped us.”

“You know what I wish,” said Judge Finley. “I wish a doctor would walk in that front door, and give me a shot to sober me up, take this headache away from me.”

“Give me that empty jug,” said Shannon to me, “maybe there’s a spit in the eye worth of booze left in it,” and I gave it to him, and there was just that amount, and he drank it.

Finley fell down, when he got up off his chair. We began to laugh, and he tried to make it to the door. “Hush up, you all,” he said, trying to find his keys to the car “Lord, I hope they don’t get wind of this down at the courthouse.” He was trashing about his pockets for the keys, and laughing and I walked over to him and helped him out the door to his car, and he took off like a bat out of hell.

The Stanley’s

As I started to clean up the house, Gus was behind me saying “Hush up, hush up.” And I wasn’t saying a word. He was holding his head, then Shannon outside in the front yard, he was trying to get some fresh air, was falling into the flower beds, laughing, and I ran out into the yard to help him up, when he smiled the front of his head looked empty, with his two front teeth missing. And I stopped trying to help him get up; he was making this funny sound with his tongue and teeth missing, a hissing sound. I began to cry. And Shannon was pulling on me to help him up, he was like a drunken joker, I mean one of those jesters, oh; I suppose maybe we all were that, last night of this long weekend. I fell down on top of him, laughing, and he with his funny mouth now, with those two teeth missing, kept on making the sound of a snake, and he put his arms round me, and I could smell that manure, and I began to cry and laugh at the same time, and then I looked behind me, and there was Mrs. Stanley.

“Mabel,” Mrs. Stanley said, “Mabel,” I pulled my arms from around Shannon and stood up, “What is it, Isabel.” I said.

“Whose hat does this belong to? Do you know, I found it in the barn this morning, and our cow only gave five gallons of milk so far, I thought I heard someone in the barn last night, but I had a notion I was just dreaming.” Then she looked at Shannon, but he wouldn’t smile, “Something wrong with you Shannon?” asked Mrs. Stanley.

“It’s an expensive hat, I think I’ll give it to Herb,” she commented, her husband. And she left.

“Shannon,” I said, “isn’t that the judge’s hat?” And as Mrs. Stanley, looked around-over her shoulder, I doubted she heard me, completely heard me, but she made something out of it, and I heard her say, “You’d think they’d act grown up, dont you,” and then she chuckled. And Shannon nodded his head yes, that it was the judge’s. “Keep your mouth shut, until you get some false teeth, especially around Mrs. Stanley, she’ll know.” I said to Shannon.

Then I kind of stood there and got thinking.

“What is it, Mabel,” asked Shannon. “Tell me! Or try.”

“Shannon,” I said.

“Stop teasing me; just say what’s on your mind.” Shannon stood there, his lying a cloth on his forehead, holding it.

“What is the matter now?” Shannon said. “I must have done something wrong. Why wont you tell me, so I can have some peace.”

I put my arm around him; his blue eyes glinted and sparkled in the morning sun. Then I heard the door open and slam shut at Mrs. Stanley’s house, and I began to ask him, “Shannon, come closer,” as we walked to the steps of the front door, “Is there anything in this world, or person, that would stop you from drinking? I’m simply curious if even you know what the answer might be, if at all there is one?”

I helped him walk up the stairs, watched him closely, he was still hurting from the cow’s irritation, “I mean, I sometimes think you’re ill Shannon. Please don’t get mad at me….”

“Mabel,” he said, Gus walking towards the screened-in door, “Give me something better and I’ll stop!”

It was as simple as that, he knew, I mean he really knew it was as if he had the answer tucked away for such an occasion right in his hip pocket. It was me who had no answer. I couldn’t hear my mind coming up with anything worthwhile, and he looked at me, “Well,” he said, “did you find one?” I said “You smell like manure” that was all I could think of, something bad, and he was looking for something better, not worse, I mean now that I think of it, he was getting a Christmas present every time he drank, why stop. He looked at me and I said, “I can’t find one, sorry.” And I wanted to cry, and he said, “See here, you mustn’t cry.”

He took a bath that morning, and I took a bottle of that sweet smelling stuff Gus bought me the Christmas before last, I was saving it for a special occasion, and this seemed fit enough, and I came right into the bathroom and poured it over his head. “Good.” I said. And Gus saw me do it, and he laughed. He really loved and trusted Shannon. And I went to my bedroom and I hushed as Gus often told me to, because I cried a lot in those days, and he came in and he put his arms around me, “So that is it,” he said, “you just worry yourself to death. You wanted to cure him, but you couldn’t, could you?”

“Just wait until I dress,” I told him, I wanted to put some clean cloths on, and then we met in the kitchen.

“Your mother called,” he said, “and that Otis Wilde Mather, for Shannon.”

“Well I’ll declare,” I said, when Shannon walked into the kitchen at that very moment, he smelled like a bottle of perfume. “Just look here, Gus.” I said. He smells finer than the pine trees in our backyard.

“Come on, now,” said Gus, “I’ll take us all down to the Country Café,” which was down the road a bit, “and we’ll get you two a big breakfast with the country folks. No drinking today for me!”

And then as we walked out the door, Gus asked, “You want to know what your mother said?”

“No, it’s mostly gossip, us girls like a lot of that, I can wait and let it build up some, it makes it more interesting when if floods your brain, you get a high off it.”

“How about you Shannon, Otis called?”

“No, I know what he wants, and I got to sober up first before I get started again,” and we all started laughing.

In the Barn

“Dear, shut the door behind you,” said Isabel Stanley standing outside her backdoor, to Herb, “I want to show you something in the barn.”

“I’m coming,” he said (he was sixty-seven years old, Isabel, sixty-three).

She had heard the cow moan from the barn.

“Listen to the cow,” she told him.

He couldn’t hear the cow, he was half deaf, he had worked on the railroad for thirty-years, and the sounds of the engines deadened his ears to near half.

“Why,” Isabel.” said Herb. She looked at him, and put his armpit over her shoulder, to help him balance his walk.

“Something wrong with Elsa the Cow…” he mumbled near unvoiced.

She went into the barn, sat down on the milking stool, pulled Elsa’s back leg up to examine her left hoof.

“Why, Isabel. What is it.” he asked.

“See here,” she said. She took up the hoof, talked to Elsa in a calm voice, and took out something white-two items, held it to her nose, Herb bent over also to check them out.

“Sweet Lord, its teeth.” And she held each tooth in her one hand-finger and index finger holding them, looking at Herb.

“Oh, yes.” he said, “That’s what it is-teeth.”

“Of course,” Isabel said, “that’s why Shannon didn’t smile, he always smiles, he wanted to but he couldn’t.”

“Just wait tell I…” but before she could finish her sentence, Herb said, “Isabel,” and she said “What?” and he said, “I think justice has been carried out for trying to take Elsa’s milk, but I can’t figure out what he done with five-gallons of milk?”

“Well I’ll declare.” Isabel said, adding, “You’d think he was thirteen-years old again. But how could he afford a hat like the one he left behind?”

“It’s big enough for me, I’ll wear it to Church on Sundays, we’ll just call it even-up, for the milk he took, or drank, or whatever he did with it.”

“Well,” said Isabel, “it’s better than shooting the scoundrel,” and they both shook their heads-right to left, knowing Shannon drank too much, and perhaps got a little funny in the night. “We’ll just say nothing,” said Herb, “we can take a joke, and I hope he can.” He was thinking about the felt hat when he said that. “You might just as well sit right there and milk Elsa.” And Isabel said, “Elsa got ambushed, but she also got even,” and she started to laugh.

“Of course I feel sorry for Shannon, he’s invaluable to the Liquor Stores and bars and breweries, but I wouldn’t swap his life for mine, and do you know why, Isabel?”

“No, sir,” Isabel replied.

“Because I like the way we make hay!” Herb said with a chuckle.

“There, there,” said Isabel, “you men never get too old for that.” And Herb said, “I was just joking.” And Isabel said, “It’s no joke!” And Herb’s health was bad, so Isabel took him back into the house, and Herb sat in his chair looking out the side window. “Hush, now!” said Herb, “so I can go to sleep.” And as he sat in his rocker by the window, the world drifted away, and Isabel hushed, and the room came back to him, and he was looking at his wife on the sofa, knitting, and he said to himself, inside his busy mind, ‘I was just like Shannon before I met her, if-in there be anything better than booze, it’s got to be God and a good woman.’ And then he told his second self, his mind, to ‘hush,’ and he could hear his wife in the distance, afar saying, “Now dear, here I am,” and he knew he’d be gone in a minute. And what little light was left inside of him went out, and he fell into a dead sleep.

“All right,” Isabel whispered, her ear close to his chest to insure he was breathing all right, fixing a pillow behind his head. “Goodnight, Herb.” And she went back to her sofa, and she could smell the pines outside her window, and could hear the birds singing, as she looked up into the trees.

“Shhhhhh…” she told the birds, as if they could hear and understand. And she recalled when Shannon had come to live on Gus’ farm as a boy-Gus was ten years older than Shannon, and he’d tell him not to climb her trees. And Gus would come looking into her trees for his brother. And he’d shake the branches until he come out of them, or fell out from under them.

“Come down from there,” Gus would yell, “Be quiet,” he’d say, “Mrs. Stanley will hear you.” And when she came walking, or when Shannon saw her legs or arms, or torso coming closer to the tree, he’d jump and run off. For the most part, Gus couldn’t do much with him. And these memories started to flood her cerebellum, slipping out behind her minds eye, knowing it was past her nap time. ‘Shhhh, Isabel,’ a voice said inside her mind, ‘don’t think so loud. We’ve got to be quiet.’

“You hush your mouth…” she told that voice, ‘Where’s Shannon?’

The room turned dark, the trees were dim outside in the sky now. Josephus, her cat came waddling out from under the coach and chewed at her ankle a bit and then went out into the kitchen where her milk was and drank what was on hand as Isabel drifted off into the moon.

Afterthought

And I don’t know for sure, who thought what about what, but it appeared to me, looking at this long-winded weekend, that all the folks around Shannon O’Day, appreciated each others thoughtfulness, especially the loved ones-the relatives that is-after all (as it has been said), isn’t it the thought that really counts? And yes, I saw-for the most part-an appreciative and thankful spirit, attitude, that of course promises more blessing in time to be-and there were those forthcoming blessings-and they did come in various forms, to one and each. And in the long run, in the scheme of things that is, I do believe they did it with heart and soul, and found that happiness that makes life, all that worth living…

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