Morning came early in Eustis and today was no exception. The sun was just pulling itself out of bed, long after the farmers that called this place home. Many had already done their milking and, as with any other day, were gathered at the local coffee shop for breakfast and their daily dose of war stories and friendly jibes. Bill Baker, ‘Bak’ to his friends, was probably the loudest among them and loved to stir the pot. No one payed him a lot of attention. They had all known each other so long, having gone to school together, that there wasn’t much that he said that they hadn’t heard before.
During a lull in the banter Bak asked “anyone seen Earl”? Some shook their heads no. Ed however commented that he hadn’t seen him since the morning he got in the argument with Frenchy over that old fence out on Pidgeon Lane. Earl had stormed out of the restaurant, but not before warning Frenchy that he had better not see him anywhere near that fence and he would fix it when he was damn good and ready. Bak turned to Norma, the owner and, save for a cook, the only employee and said “Norma, has Earl been in”? Ain’t my job to keep an eye on you boys” she said, “although Lord knows you can use watchen. Ain’t a one of you got a lick o’ sense. I’ve been knowen most of you all my life and none of you ever grew up, and Earl’s no exception, cept he was born with a chip on his shoulder and it’s still there.
Everyone smiled or chuckled because they knew she was right. If you were looking for an argument, or a fight, Earl was the guy to see. You could count on him to see the negative side of anything. Even as a kid, he had been ornery. As such, most of the kids avoided him and he had always kept pretty much to himself. Right after high school, he had married Betty, one of the prettiest girls in town. No one had ever figured out what she saw in him. She was one of the kindest people they knew. Always helping out at church and bringing folks baked goods when they were feeling poorly. But she was gone about two years now. Cancer took her and Earl was now out there on his farm without kin, too ornery to accept help if offered and too proud to ask for it. So, everyone just kind of let him alone. He had made his bed.
“That argument musta been about two weeks ago thereabouts, don’t ya think” Bak continued. Some of the guys reckoned that would be about right. “Didn’t think much about it”one of them said. “Can’t say I’ve missed him”. A lot quieter when he ain’t around”. A few nodded in agreement. “You’re right about that” Bak said, tossing back the last of his coffee and placing some bills on the counter. “Norma, did I ever tell you I love you”. Norma just shook her head and said “yes Bak you did. It was yesterday and the day before. Now get on with yourself. You don’t love me. You love my biscuits”. “And a fine set of biscuits they are” Ed chimed in to everyone’s amusement.
Bak walked out to the parking lot with Ed. You know, now that you mention it, I can’t remember Earl not showing up for this long before” Ed said. “Nope”, Bak replied. “But I got enough on my plate without spending a lot of time thinking on that. If he needed something, he knows where we are. “Yup” Ed replied. “I guess you’re right on that account. Getting into his pickup truck he waved and shouted “have a good day”. Bak waved back and in a cloud of dust, pulled out onto the state road. Ed followed heading in the opposite direction.
Bak drove West a couple of miles, thinking about this mornings conversation. It was no secret that no one liked Earl, but, like it or not, he was one of them. He shared the same problems as everyone else. He just had more difficulty dealing with them. Was there something he was missing. What had Betty seen that no one else did. Almost unconsciously, he turned onto Pidgeon Lane, driving slowly while studying the fence. Up ahead he saw a pickup truck pulled off to one side and a figure walking along the fence. Bak sat up a little straighter. It would appear that Earl had finally decided to do something about his fence and, against his better judgement, Bak decided to ask if he needed some help.
As he pulled closer, he realized that the pickup truck didn’t look like Earls, but it did look familiar. Pulling up and stopping behind it, he slid out of the cab. Walking up to the man studying the fence he asked “Watcha doin out here Ed”? Ed turned and with a little grin said “Same’s you Bak. Just menden some fences”.