The Boy and the Bucket

Short fiction by Susan Walsh

I wondered why the boy with the straw-colored hair was herding his cows when the sun was straight overhead. The cows should be under trees, shaded from the noon-day sun. The boy who wasn’t really a boy should be in the shade, too, I thought. I could feel the burn coming on his face and he would feel it later, I was certain. I wondered also how the cows ate the grass, which was dead, and whether it cut their tongues. The field where the cows were headed, wouldn’t be much better than the one they left, less rubble, maybe, but the grass was just as dead. I watched the boy watch the cows. The cows looked back at him, discouraged.

The man I live with who doesn’t love me says I look like a ghost. “I can see right through you,” he said. “There’s nothing there.”

I don’t tell him that I don’t bother to eat in this heat.

If he only knew what he couldn’t see. “Just because there’s nothing there for you,” I said, “doesn’t mean there’s nothing there.”

He called me a bad name and kicked the water bucket. It hurt when it hit my shin. I didn’t tell him that. “Go, get water,” he said.

I let the bucket roll off the terrace and into the street. The cows stepped around it daintily and I thought how pretty their hooves sounded on the cobblestone. After the man went wherever he goes during the day, I retrieved the bucket. The well was deep and still giving up clean cool water. I filled the bucket and drank. Then I took it to the field where the cows were lying down under trees. There was no shade here. The branches scantily clad with leaves. The trees and the cows looked sick.

I took the bucket to the boy with the sunburnt face. When he thanked me I could tell that he meant it. He drank just a ladle full then took the bucket from cow to cow and to his horse, too. He let them each drink a little until the bucket was empty. I told him I would be back.

© 2016 Susan Walsh