“Used the last of our water rations today,” Malaga said, handing Hobbs a beer. The night’s breeze tempered the heat left from the day, but it returned as soon as the wind faded.
Hobbs popped the bottle’s top with his lighter and tossed it into the tin bucket on the porch. “We’ll have to make sure to finish the last batch of versillium tonight. We can sell them in the morning. Should get us plenty of tickets.” He took a swallow of the golden suds and set the bottle beside him. “It’s supposed to be cooler tomorrow. Let’s hope for clouds.”
“That’s a big gamble, buddy. You know if those buds hit the ground the season’s fucked,” Malaga said.
“Yeah, I know.”
As with most private myst farms, the best fertilizer they could afford promoted luscious growth, but tainted the product if it touched the top florets. Harvesters added the nourishment once the stalks breached the surface, but without adequate watering, the plants would bend under the weight of the enhanced budding. When that happened, the altered soil changed the green flowers brown and turned their sweet flavor rancid. Such an event had only happened once on the Downing Farm, but the loss that year had made one thing clear—nobody is down to buy brown.
Hobbs took another swig, belched, and downed half the bottle. Why did it always come down to the wire?
“It’s this goddamn heat. We’re two weeks ahead of schedule and this batch we’ve been working on is stretched too thin as it is,” Hobbs said. “Shoddy craftsmanship is what gets you caught.”
Malaga rubbed his black beard and asked, “Are you sure you’re not just being nitpicky? I’ve seen your throwbacks. Even sold a couple.”
Hobbs let out a nervous laugh. “Don’t do that. I don’t tell you how to run your shit, don’t tell me how to run mine. Perfection is the point. If you want to spend the next twenty-five to thirty killing time in a cell, then go for it, but I’m not going to be anywhere near that action when you get caught.”
“You know that’s not what I meant. I’m worried, that’s all. If this doesn’t pan out, I’m in trouble. My rent was due two weeks ago,” Malaga said. He killed the rest of his beer and put a sizeable dent in the next. “That came out wrong. I know you do good work. It’s just been a long day.”
Hobbs flashed a not too impressed smile, and Malaga let him be. He was good like that. It was one of the many reasons why they worked well together. Hobbs thought about finishing his beer and decided against it. He was tired enough as it was without having to deal with a comedown. The best he could do now was enjoy this brief respite before heading into the drying barn and pulling another all-nighter.
Between the sloshing of Malaga’s upturned bottles, Hobbs listened to the crickets and watched the fireflies flicker near the tree line. About an acre beyond, the land changed hands from Downing to Hudson, and beyond that was a world Hobbs had not seen since his father’s heart had stopped ten years ago. Dropped dead right there in the field while wiping his forehead with one of his dirty bandanas. Without her steadfast to handle the day to day, Mama Downing had needed help managing the family business, and with Hobbs’s other siblings long since moved away, he found himself holding the bag.
It could have been worse. Hobbs did not mind the work. He had always been good with his hands, and he preferred the open skies to the confines of a house. He knew he did not want to stay here forever, but he hated the idea of the farm belonging to someone other than a Downing. A sentiment he had inherited from his father.
“I’m sorry, Mal. I’m not upset with you. I’ve got a lot on my mind. Telvin put in his notice to work for the Campbells this morning. Kline and Lexie are gone after the summer. I’ve got my weight to clip in the barn, and I don’t know if I’ll have it done in time for the pickups,” Hobbs said.
“We’ll work it out. I’ll stay late a few nights to help you keep up.”
“I appreciate the offer, I do, but you know we can’t pay you for that.” Hobbs found something in the distance to look at instead of Malaga. He hated talking about money. It made him feel dirty, and by extension, it made him a poor businessman.
“With as many dinners as I’ve eaten here, I’d say we can call it even.”
“Goddamn it,” Hobbs said and finished his beer. He tapped the mouthpiece on the side of his head while he thought. The ends of his long red dreadlocks, pushed back by a pair of welding goggles, rattled on each side of his face. He set the bottle down and huffed. “This might be it.”
“You say that every year, and every year we keep going. I’d keep my mouth shut about that shit around your mom, though, or you’re liable to catch a beating,” Malaga said, and they both laughed. “Ready to get back to it?”
Interested in reading more? Purchase Folklore: The Sifter Saga Book 1