Kind One - By Laird Hunt




Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me

And after bite me,

I SET A MARKER one hundred paces from the stream, gathered my tools, and began to dig. The earth was soft at first, and I worked fast and had dug the hole past my waist by midday when my wife called on me to wash and come into the house. We ate salt beef and cold meal cakes and drank cloudy water from the stream. After dinner I stood a time over our daughter’s basket, picked her up when she started to cry, then went back out to my hole. I dug quickly until I hit a gathering of rocks that I fought for most of the afternoon. I had dug during the war and liked to dig but the rocks were wearisome, and when I came up out of the hole in the evening the pick and shovel had cut through the heavy calluses on my hands.

We ate more salt beef and more meal cakes but this time dipped them in honey. We spoke of the cloudy water, which came from the stream. It was good, but the water we would pull up from the well would be clear and always cool and delicious. Speaking of the water to come made me want to return to the hole straight after supper, but my wife told me that I must rest. So instead of returning to my picks and shovels, I went to look at the stock—three pigs, two goats, a cow—then came back to the house and played a few minutes with our daughter. She was learning to stand by pulling herself up on the chairs. I held her hands and helped her to her feet. I let her stand, teetering, by herself for a moment. She fell and rolled backwards onto her head but didn’t cry. When I held out my hands she stood again. My wife came after a time and picked her up, and I took off my boots and lay down on our bed.

In the morning, while my wife and our daughter were still sleeping, I went back to the hole and picked up my shovel. I had been on a digging detail in the latter months of the second war against the English and had found it easy work. I and the men I had worked with had dug trenches and ditches and wells much like this one. I had learned from these men how to lay a filter at the bottom of the well and how to shore its walls with brick so it would hold. Some of the men had sung while they worked, and I had liked to listen to them. I was not, myself, much for singing, but my wife could sing, and after she had woken and fed the baby she came and sat near the hole and sang as she mended a pair of shoes. I liked to hear my wife sing while I worked. She would stop for a time then start up again. She liked to sing to the baby when she brought her out to sit beside her and let her play with a rattle I had made from a gourd or pull up grass in the yard. There were bees buzzing around in the airs, and I liked to think of going out to search for honey. I had watched men who kept bees, and as I dug I liked to think of building hives to have in my own yard. I had seen children help tend the hives, and I liked to think of my own daughter someday helping me to tend bees when she was older.

The walls of the well-to-be grew higher around me and I went deeper into the earth. On the evening of the third day I built a mechanism to remove the dirt and rock. I was not as good at building mechanisms as I was at digging, but the windlass I contrived was strong enough. My wife offered to haul up the dirt I put into the bucket. At first I declined. I would fill the bucket then climb out of the hole to pull it up. But the bucket was not large and pulling it up would be much less work for my wife than climbing in and out would be for me. We spoke of it over our supper of fresh milk and corn cakes fried in bacon fat. My wife said she could