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From Chapter 5


At the barn, the boys started the milkers on the inside as Henry took to the lot outside. Manure piles were now twice as high as they were the day before, and the cows had stamped them into hard, clotted piles. As he began, the scraper dominated his hands. It seemed heavier and was unmanageable. His sore arms were ineffective rubber bands. On first push, he felt blisters that had formed overnight. And within minutes, they burst painfully. When he saw a stripe of blood from a blister on the scraper handle his frustration grew. He looked through the barn windows and saw Byron, McGlinchy, and the others messing around and having fun as they performed their barn duties. He let out a frustrated sigh and slammed the scraper on the ground.

McGlinchy burst out of the barn. “What are you doing, Kreiser? You don’t even want to try?!”

“My arms are sore! I have blisters!”

“Good. So you’ll get stronger. Your hands will callous if you let them. Pick up the scraper.”

“I’ll never finish.”

“You’ll finish, or your brother has to help you!” McGlinchy started back toward the door.

Henry picked up the scraper and began to scrape again. “Ouch!” he yelled. He slammed the scraper down again.

McGlinchy turned. “Your choice!” He approached the barn door and called for Byron. “Kreiser, get your ass out here! You’ll scrape the lot. Your brother’s in the pit.”

Byron came out. “Dumb-ass,” he said to Henry. “I told you to stay on his good side.”

McGlinchy came back with two buckets. “Over here,” he told Henry. He took him over to the conveyor belt, which was dripping with manure. Under it was the pit—five feet deep and half full of liquid soup of manure from sixty cows.

“In there?” Henry asked.

McGlinchy handed him a bucket. Henry lowered himself into the muck, squeezing under the conveyor belt. Liquid manure came waist high, and the conveyor belt was so low that he had to stay hunched.

“I want it empty,” McGlinchy said. “Clean. I should see the concrete bottom.”

Henry started, but it was slow-going. His arms were so sore he could only lift half-full buckets.

Byron scraped the lot and finished in twenty minutes. Within another ten minutes, he had shoveled all the manure into the spreader. Putting down the shovel, he approached Henry and saw that little progress had been made. “You have to fill the buckets all the way because you lose some each time. I think you’re working backwards.”

“I can’t pick them up. My arms are sore.”

“Don’t be a wuss.” Byron went back into the barn.

Henry filled a bucket to the brim. He lifted it slowly and felt the pain. His arms shook. Then it slipped from his hands and plunged into the liquid manure. A splash reached his mouth and gave him a taste. It was on his glasses and speckled his cheek. Again, his frustration rose. He climbed out of the pit and found a hose nearby. Cool, clear water washed his mouth. It splashed his face and cleared his glasses.

McGlinchy rushed out. “What are you doing!? Back in the pit!”

“I got some on my face and my glasses. I can’t see.”

“Once in the pit, you stay in the pit until you’re finished!”

Henry put his glasses back on. He lowered himself back in. Liquid manure was still waist-high.

McGlinchy now focused all of his attention on the impressionable, young Henry. He stood close by to watch. Henry started again, but McGlinchy’s presence made him nervous. He banged his head on the conveyor and stopped again. He closed his eyes.

“What are you doing? Get to work!”

Henry breathed heavily, as if he was going to cry.

“You’re not going to cry, are you?” McGlinchy asked.

“No.” Henry wiped his eyes. “Just shit in my eye.”

“Don’t cuss.”

“Oh my god,” Henry said with a whiny tone in his voice. “Byron told me I should say ‘shit’ instead of poop now you’re telling me the opposite?”

“Oh my god.” McGlinchy mocked Henry’s whiny tone.  “Well Byron has been working in the barn for two years. You just got here and have to earn the right to say ‘shit’.”

Henry started again as McGlinchy watched.

“Henry, have you ever heard of a black sheep.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you know what it is?”

“No.”

“Well, I’m gonna tell you. Most sheep are white. The girls and boys in the flock have sex and make babies and sometimes a black baby is born. The flock unknowingly produces a black one to increase the likelihood that the whole flock will survive and pass on their genes. You see, the black one is bait. It’s a weak one for the wolves. The wolves eat the weak one, so the rest of the flock goes on surviving.”

“Yeah? I know about stuff like that. It’s from evolution.” Henry struggled with a full bucket.

Byron watched McGlinchy and Henry through the window.

“Yeah, smarty pants,” McGlinchy said. “And you know what I think?”

“No. What?”

“I think you’re the black sheep of your family. You have skinny arms. Your brother doesn’t. You have bad eyesight. Your brother doesn’t. You have crooked teeth. Your brother doesn’t. You have pimples and he doesn’t. You’re bait for the flock. You are the weak, programmed to fail. That means others are going to single you out and pick on you. So it means you are going to have to work harder to show them that you’re not the black sheep. You understand what that means?” McGlinchy reached out with his finger and flicked a wet piece of manure off a ledge.

The manure flew and stuck on Henry’s glasses and in between his lips. Henry stared at McGlinchy and gritted his teeth. He spit the manure off his lips. He watched McGlinchy go in the barn and saw Byron watching from the window. Piece of shit, Henry thought. Shit pile. Shit cow ass. McGlinchy. McFuckin Pinchy in the ass. Shit cow ass head. Henry dipped the bucket down quickly. He yanked it back up. He dumped it. He dipped, yanked, and dumped fast now. He felt no pain. Twenty minutes later, the pit was empty.