Canto Four – Machine Shed Blues
Valerie was thinking about chores when she wandered out to the machine shed. She hadn’t gone into the house yet for a reason. Feed the chickens and check for eggs. Put fresh water in the water bottles. God, she hated Mr. Boofoo chickens! …Err… un-cool chickens. The ones that were going to peck at her for checking their nests were all Mrs. But the other part fit. Lingering outside meant she didn’t have to march out to the chicken house immediately. She’d get it done… just not yet.
As she wandered into the machine shed, she saw her Daddy there, leaning up against the combine. The engine housing was up and various parts were laid out on the white concrete floor in a very careful rainbow of different size pieces, bolts, and screws. Kyle was leaning up against the combine with a paper in his hands. He stared at it with red eyes. Had he been crying or something? It looked like a bill, this paper that seemed to be making him sad. Then, he suddenly wadded the thing up into a ball and pitched it across the shed. It plinked off the corrugated tin wall and banked directly into the empty barrel there. Two points! But it did not make him happy. Then he noticed Val was watching him.
“Oh, hi, Princess. You are looking lovely tonight.” His face was happier by a mile and a quarter, but the redness of his eyes still showed.
“Is something wrong, Daddy?”
“Of course not. You haven’t done your chicken chores, though, huh?”
“Well, not yet… I will go in a minute. I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Oh? What about?”
That was the thing. What about? She didn’t really have a what about. She just sensed that she needed to talk to him.
“You know how everyone thinks Pidney Breslow is going to be a great football player this year?”
“Yeah. The big goof is just a freshman and he’s already made the varsity team. What about him?”
She had to say something fast… but that usually meant saying something stupid because she couldn’t think fast.
“Do you think he would make a good boyfriend for me?”
“You are ten, Princess. He’s fifteen or sixteen, isn’t he?”
“I’m eleven. Mom is younger than you are.”
“Only by two years. Not as big a deal.”
“You don’t like Pidney?”
“I like him fine. But you are ten. Any boy who thinks he’s going to be your boyfriend will have to get past two bear traps, some electric fencing, and my shotgun loaded with rock salt.”
“Why rock salt?”
“It won’t kill him, but it will sting like hell.”
“Besides, don’t Pidney and that girl Mary Phillips already have a thing going on? They are always together.”
“They are best friends. They live next door to each other. More like brother and sister.”
Kyle laughed. “Pid’s a red-blooded American boy. They may say friends to each other, but when they are alone together, well… Dagwood Phillips needs to have some rock salt in his shotgun for that.”
“Nobody’s gonna shoot Pidney are they? I mean, I think I am in love with him.” There may have been a look of terror on Valerie’s face at that point. She really wasn’t sure.
“No, Princess. No one is really going to shoot him. It’s just a joke that fathers say whenever they are thinking about their daughters and young men. Besides, I never figured I’d have to shoot Pid anyway. I always reckoned it was more likely to be somebody like that Murphy brat.”
“You’d shoot Danny?” She wasn’t sure how she felt about that one.
Kyle laughed. He walked over to his daughter, put his big greasy hand on her neck and gently pulled her face up next to his heart.
“I love you, Princess. I would never intentionally do something to break your heart. But I will do everything I can to protect your heart from being broken. Just try not to like the boys I might have to shoot for something, okay?”
He said that last with a laugh that told her he loved her and was only playing with her. Daddy was her real handsome Prince.