The Man at the Watering Trough
Bell Davies still couldn’t sleep through the night. And she knew why. Butch, her husband of ten years died a year ago. For the last three months she has forced herself to sleep in their bed. She moved from the guestroom on the north side of the house to their shared room on the south side.
Not one night of the last three months has she slept straight through until morning’s light. Each day after lunch, she battled with herself not to nap on the couch. When she did give into the urge, she would wake that night even before midnight, and not go back to sleep.
This was one of those nights. She was reading now. Her eyes kept shutting and she’d doze for a few seconds, but then when she snapped the lamp off she’d just stare at the slash of moonlight on the ceiling. Sleep simply would not come.
During this particular day, Bell noticed Rose, her house cat, had not been underfoot as was her nature. Rose was expecting kittens anytime now.
“Ah,” Bell said aloud, “she’s probably had the kittens.” She swung her legs around from Butch’s side of the bed and felt around with her bare feet for her slippers. She stopped herself, thinking it was silly to go looking for Rose’s litter in the middle of the night, and it raining. Her mind flashed images of Rose’s last litter.
What she could do, she thought, was go through the box of photos she kept under the bed. In the box were all sorts of farm animals, newborns and mature animals, and of course photos of Butch and herself. She paused, took in a deep breath and kicked the slippers off. No, she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t torture herself with images of Butch, in the middle of the night.
The reality, which she was thankful for, was that Butch was fading from her mind, a little. She knew this because Andy Baker, the owner of the local feed store often came to her mind, making her smile. And this more often than she thought appropriate given Butch had been gone for one short year. And then she’d think, “a year can be very long.”
She pulled the fuzzy red blanket, torn in shreds along its edge on Butch’s side, to her chin and snapped off the table lamp. She poked her fingers through the tears in the blanket, bit her lip and let hot tears flow. When finished with her cry, thoughts of Andy brought smiles and happy tears. She laughed now.
She was thinking of the last time she’d been in the feed store. Andy had walked from the back of the store, waved a gloved hand and stopped right in front of her, no more than a foot from her. Her eyes went to his hair where tiny chick feathers peeked from blond curls. It was all she could do to keep herself from raising a hand and plucking at least one of them from his hair.
Did he know how she felt? She simply didn’t know. The huge, kind man was friendly to everyone that entered his store. She’d seen him chase after a tiny white mouse for a young boy one hot Saturday afternoon. He didn’t catch it. Most days the mouse scurried across his computer keyboard and desk. Everyone, of course, always asked if the mouse was a pet.
It was easy to see that Andy considered it so, because often he’d be petting it when Bell checked out at the cash register. He’d just pretended with the boy to try to catch the mouse. The boy wanted to take it home.
But each time the kid came in, spotted the mouse, Andy would make a pretense of chasing it down. Yes, it was clear Bell Davies was falling in love with Andy Baker.
The wind was coming up, the windmill clattered and creaked. Rain softly pelted the bedroom window. The full, early-morning moon slipped from under a cloud. Tea, the barnyard dog, yelped and pulled at his chain. Bell tugged the bedroom curtain aside, eyes searching for Tea.
It wasn’t Tea her eyes rested on. A huge man stood at the watering trough under the windmill. Andy! It was Andy! Of course it could be him. She lived on his route, home to work. A shiver shot through her. He does care! What should she do?
The dog still barked. The chickens were stirring, clucking wildly. Bell let the curtain drop back, turned and decided to dress, in case he came to the house or in case she decided to walk to the watering trough. Hair combed and jeans and shirt on, she carefully applied a smear of pink lipstick.
Rain now fell softly, and the warm wind blew her straight black hair. Tea quit barking as she walked past him. The chickens were still clucking. The moon disappeared behind a bank of low clouds. Wind swept her hair in a tangle across her face. After she pulled the hair into a ponytail and looked in the direction of the watering trough, Andy was gone!
She hadn’t heard a motor start up. How odd. The rain stung now, as it pelted her face and bare arms. Puzzled, she ran back to the house. Bell spent the remainder of the early morning in the kitchen, sipping tea, daydreaming about Andy.
She reasoned he left when he heard her stirring in the house.
When it was light enough, she walked to the watering trough, thinking she’d look for his footprints, truck tracks. Oh, she didn’t know what she was looking for. She just wanted to stand where Andy stood last night.
The mud was churned to soup at the base of the trough from the cattle drinking. But about ten feet out from the trough, three huge footprints caused Bell to hitch her breath. She was looking at footprints with very clear toe impressions. A few seconds later she was on the phone to Andy.
Andy laughed after Bell explained the tracks, “I hope you don’t expect me to chase that thing down.”
Bell thought of the white mouse and Andy chasing it for the young boy. She laughed her reply, “No, I don’t want bigfoot for a pet.” She wanted to add that she thought it was him at the trough last night, but that would be awkward.
He said he’d come right out as soon as his part-time helper showed up. After much thought, Bell decided she’d take a chance on appearing foolish. She would admit, that she thought it might have been him at the watering trough, last night. She'd smile silly. You know, just see how it played out.