THEY CAME UP FROM THE HOSE BARN
in the slanted light of early morning. The McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond. Old men approaching an old house at the
end of summer. They came on across the gravel drive past the pickup and the car parked at the hogwire fencing and came one
after the other through the wire gate. At the porch they scraped their boots on the saw blade sunken in the dirt, the
ground packed and shiny around it from long use and mixed with barnlot manure, and walked up the plank steps onto the
screened porch and entered the kitchen where the nineteen-year-old girl Victoria Roubideaux sat at the pinewood table
feeding oatmeal to her little daughter.
In the kitchen they removed their hats and hung them on pegs set into a board next to the door and began at once to wash
up at the sink. Their faces were red and weather-blasted below their white foreheads, the coarse hair on their round heads
grown iron-gray and as stiff as the roached mane of a horse. When they finished at the sink they each in turn used the
kitchen towel to dry off, but when they began to dish up their plates at the stove the girl made them sit down.
There's no use in you waiting on us, Raymond said.
I want to, she said. I'll be gone tomorrow.
She rose with the child on her hip and brought two coffee cups and two bowls of oatmeal and a plate of buttered toast to
the table and then sat down again.
Harold sat eyeing the oatmeal. You think she might of at least give us steak and eggs this once, he said. On account of
the occasion. But no sir, it's still only warm mush. Which tastes about like the back page of a wet newspaper.
You can eat what you want after I'm gone. I know you will anyway.
Yes ma'am, probably so. Then he looked at her. But I'm not in any rush for you to leave here. I'm just trying to joke
you a little.
I know you are. She smiled at him. Her teeth were very white in her brown face, and her black hair was thick and shiny
and cut off neat below her shoulders. I'm almost ready, she said. First I want to feed Katie and get her dressed, then
we can start.
Let me have her, Raymond said. Is she done eating?
No, she isn't, the girl said. She might eat something for you though. She just turns her head away for me.
Raymond stood and walked around the table and took up the little girl and returned to his seat and sat her on his lap
and sprinkled sugar on the oatmeal in his bowl and poured out milk from the jar on the table and began to eat, the
black-haired round-cheeked girl watching him as if she were fascinated by what he was doing. He held her easily,
comfortably, his arm about her, and spooned up a small portion and blew over it and offered it to her. She took it.
He ate more himself. Then he blew over another spoonful and gave that to her. Harold poured milk into a glass and she
leaned forward over the table and drank a long time, using both hands, until she had to stop for breath.
What am I going to do in Fort Collins when she won't eat? Victoria said.
You can call on us, Harold said. We'll come see about this little girl in about two minutes. Won't we, Katie.
The child looked across the table at him, unblinking. Her eyes were as black as her mother's, like buttons or currants.
She said nothing but took up Raymond's calloused hand and moved it toward the cereal bowl. When he held out the spoon
she pushed his hand toward his mouth. Oh, he said. All right. He blew over it elaborately, puffing his cheeks, moving
his red face back and forth, and now she would eat again.
Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2004
by Kent Haruf
Alfred A Knopf
HERE WAS THIS MAN
Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window in
the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back
lot where the sun was just coming up. When the sun reached the top of the
windmill, for a while he watched what it was doing, that increased
reddening of sunrise along the steel blades and the tail vane above the
wooden platform. After a time he put out the cigarette and went upstairs
and walked past the closed door behind which she lay in bed in the
darkened guest room sleeping or not and went down the hall to the glassy
room over the kitchen where the two boys were.
The room was an old sleeping porch with uncurtained windows
on three sides, airy-looking and open, with a pinewood floor. Across the
way they were still asleep, together in the same bed under the north
windows, cuddled up, although it was still early fall and not yet cold.
They had been sleeping in the same bed for the past month and now the
older boy had one hand stretched above his brother's head as if he hoped
to shove something away and thereby save them both. They were nine and
ten, with dark brown hair and unmarked faces, and cheeks that were still
as pure and dear as a girl's.
Outside the house the wind came up suddenly out of the west and the tail
vane turned with it and the blades of the windmill spun in a red whir,
then the wind died down and the blades slowed and stopped.|
You boys better come on, Guthrie said.
He watched their faces, standing at the foot of the bed in his bathrobe. A
tall man with thinning black hair, wearing glasses. The older boy drew
back his hand and they settled deeper under the cover. One of them sighed
Come on now.
You too, Bobby.
He looked out the window. The sun was higher, the light beginning to slide
down the ladder of the windmill, brightening it, making rungs of
When he turned again to the bed he saw by the change in their faces that
they were awake now. He went out into the hall again past the closed door
and on into the bathroom and shaved and rinsed his face and went back to
the bedroom at the front of the house whose high windows overlooked
Railroad Street and brought out shirt and pants from the closet and laid
them out on the bed and took off his robe and got dressed. When he
returned to the hallway he could hear them talking in their room, their
voices thin and clear, already discussing something, first one then the
other, intermittent, the early morning matter-of-fact voices of little
boys out of the presence of adults. He went downstairs.
Ten minutes later when they entered the kitchen he was standing at the gas
stove stirring eggs in a black cast-iron skillet. He turned to look at
them. They sat down at the wood table by the window.
Didn't you boys hear the train this morning?
Yes, Ike said.
You should have gotten up then.
Well, Bobby said. We were tired.
That's because you don't go to bed at night.
We go to bed.
But you don't go to sleep. I can hear you back there talking and fooling
They watched their father out of identical blue eyes. Though there was a
year between them they might have been twins. They'd put on blue jeans and
flannel shirts and their dark hair was uncombed and fallen identically
over their unmarked foreheads. They sat waiting for breakfast and appeared
to be only half awake.
Guthrie brought two thick crockery plates of steaming eggs and buttered
toast to the table and set them down and the boys spread jelly on the
toast and began to eat at once, automatically, chewing, leaning forward
over their plates. He carried two glasses of milk to the table.
He stood over the table watching them eat. I have to go to school early
this morning, he said. I'll be leaving in a minute.
Aren't you going to eat breakfast with us? Ike said. He stopped chewing
momentarily and looked up.
I can't this morning. He recrossed the room and set the skillet in the
sink and ran water into it.
Why do you have to go to school so early?
I have to see Lloyd Crowder about somebody.
Who is it?
A boy in American history.
What'd he do? Bobby said. Look off somebody's paper?
Not yet. I don't doubt that'll be next, the way he's going.
Ike picked at something in his eggs and put it at the rim of his plate. He
looked up again. But Dad, he said.
Isn't Mother coming down today either?
I don't know, Guthrie said. I can't say what she'll do. But you shouldn't
worry. Try not to. It'll be all right. It doesn't have anything to do with
He looked at them closely. They had stopped eating altogether and were
staring out the window toward the barn and corral where the two horses
You better go on, he said. By the time you get done with your papers
you'll be late for school.
He went upstairs once more. In the bedroom he removed a sweater from the
chest of drawers and put it on and went down the hall and stopped in front
of the closed door. He stood listening but there was no sound from inside.
When he stepped into the room it was almost dark, with a feeling of being
hushed and forbidding as in the sanctuary of an empty church after the
funeral of a woman who had died too soon, a sudden impression of static
air and unnatural quiet. The shades on the two windows were drawn down
completely to the sill. He stood looking at her. Ella. Who lay in the bed
with her eyes closed. He could just make out her face in the halflight,
her face as pale as schoolhouse chalk and her fair hair massed and
untended, fallen over her cheeks and thin neck, hiding that much of her.
Looking at her, he couldn't say if she was asleep or not, but he believed
she was not. He believed she was only waiting to hear what he had come in
for, and then for him to leave.
Do you want anything? he said.
She didn't bother to open her eyes. He waited. He looked around the room.
She had not yet changed the chrysanthemums in the vase on the chest of
drawers and there was an odor rising from the stale water in the vase. He
wondered that she didn't smell it. What was she thinking about.
Then I'll see you tonight, he said.
He waited. There was still no movement.
All right, he said. He stepped back into the hall and pulled the door shut
and went on down the stairs.
As soon as he was gone she turned in the bed and looked toward the door.
Her eyes were intense, wide-awake, outsized. After a moment she turned
again in the bed and studied the two thin pencils of light shining in at
the edge of the window shade. There were fine dust motes swimming in the
dimly lighted air like tiny creatures underwater, but in a moment she
closed her eyes again. She folded her arm across her face and lay unmoving
as though asleep.
Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1999
by Kent Haruf
Alfred A Knopf