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• Chapter Five Chicken Cacciatore July 13–18 Clouds rolling overhead like thick gray sheepskin covered the sky, insulating the ground from the sun. Thunder grumbled halfheartedly but without the follow-through of rain. Temperatures dropped, a respite for humans and animals but slowing down the ripening of grain in the fields. Farmers looked anxiously at the sky, praying it wouldn’t come a long hard rain to knock down the grain stalks, shattering their seeds irretrievably or bring hail with the same outcome. The ranchers, though, sat back in comfort, knowing the cooler weather prolonged the nutrients in the grass their cattle ate, giving them heft that would translate to dollars in the fall when the spring calves were sold. Sissy worked at the café that week, tending the daily local customers , bracing for the onslaught of work when the seasonal combiners hit town. The big combine harvesters were owned by only a few individuals who had the credit at their local banks to buy them, then to hire crews and follow the ripening grain harvest north from Texas to Oklahoma to Kansas to Nebraska, then across the state line into South Dakota and, for a few, on into North Dakota and the windswept wheat fields of Montana. Many of the local farmers in every state counted on the custom harvest crews to get their crops in. It didn’t make sense for the smaller farmers to go into debt for a big combine that they would use only once a year for two or three weeks at most, so it was cheaper to hire the work done. Bigger operators owned their own harvest machinery, but if their crops looked to produce heavy, they might hire custom workers, too, in order to get the grain out of the fields and into the bins before a storm came along and wiped out all the work they had put into their fields with nothing to show but another loan signed at the bank to buy next year’s seed and fertilizer. Thecoolweatherslowedtheharvestfarthersouth,too,soSissycourteously waited on the courthouse biddies and the local businessmen, 50 Chapter Five kicking her heels in the early afternoon when there were no customers, the side work was caught up, but the long hand on the clock was too slow in moving to two o’clock when her shift would end. She and Speedy sat at the counter in the empty café polishing stools with their behinds when Viola came in, skirted around Speedy, and sat on the stool on the other side of Sissy. “You’re a little late for lunch,” Sissy said to her. “We ran out of the special.” Viola folded the menu and fanned herself with it. She already looked cool enough in her sleeveless white blouse, her blue seersucker skirt and white flats. “A glass of tea would be nice,” she said. “I’ll get it,” Speedy said. “How come you aren’t at your dad’s clinic working?” Sissy asked Viola. Viola fluttered her hand. “Flexible schedule,” she said. “I do the books, so if I say I’m caught up, nobody checks. Besides, I skipped my lunch hour on purpose. You get off work about now, don’t you?” Sissy looked up at the clock, watching the minute hand sweep upward. “Just . . . about . . . now,” she said, pulling off her apron and standing up. “See you.” Speedy set the glass of tea in front of Viola, pulled off her own apron, and grabbed her purse from under the counter. “See you tomorrow?” “Yeah,” Sissy said, fetching her own purse. “See ya.” She was almost around the counter heading for the door. “I really need to talk to you,” Viola said. Sissy stopped in mid-step, put her foot down and turned around. “In private.” “Okay.” Viola gathered her handbag. After the two were in Viola’s new Cougar pulling away from the curb, Sissy realized that Viola hadn’t taken a single sip of her tea or paid for it either. “Are you ready for the harvesters?” Viola asked, pausing at the stop sign at the end of Main Street before turning right. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” Sissy said. “Hmm. I hear the harvest is late this year.” “Yes.” Viola drove south past the Highway Café with its empty parking lot, past the Farmer’s Co-op Feed Store, past the Standard Oil station, past the fairgrounds, out toward the new subdivision on the south side of Chicken Cacciatore 51...


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MARC Record
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