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HOMAGE /Jonathan Veit IT IS LATE SPRING, and the leaves of the tobacco plants are beginning to yellow from their tips inward. William Noble stands in his tobacco field and stares across the road at Mincy Jones' property. He is trying to understand why Mincy won't give him the hay that he has earned. Every year for the past twelve years, William has cut, fluffed, dried and baled Mincy's hay in exchange for half of the yield, which he uses as back-up feed for his cattle during winter. Mincy does not own his own equipment. His farm is too small to justify the investment. A few minutes ago William drove his tractor to Mincy's, and Mincy said, "I ain't giving that half up, Will." William didn't know what to say. He lifted his nose and sniffed the air. He felt the sweat building on his back and listened to the oil cooling in the engine. A grasshopper lit on the hood of his tractor. Mincy leaned forward and spit. He wore a yellow baseball cap pulled down over his eyes. He folded the bill of his cap as he waited. William looked to the mountains, as if he might find the words he needed streaming from their peaks. Finally he said, "What do you mean?" Mincy said, "Tm gonna keep it." Two weeks ago, when William baled Mincy's hay, he was given no hint that Mincy would want to keep it, and now he didn't know what to do. He went over his options. He could get off his tractor and knock Mincy down, but that wouldn't be fair, as William was half his age. Besides, knocking him down wouldn't solve anything. He could just take the hay, but that was theft. He could ask why Mincy wouldn't give up the hay, but he didn't think he should have to. So he decided to leave it be. He said, "If that's the way you want it." He pushed the starter for the tractor, then turned the tractor around and drove back to his side of the road. Mincy has a small clean house with a skirt of lattice hiding its foundation and a dish antenna off to the side. I can't believe he's keeping that fucking hay, William thinks. He shrugs, hoping it will make him care less. All around him, like the points of The Missouri Review 63 a crown, the soft green mountains thrust into the cloud-puffed sky. William feels he does a lot for people. He feeds stock for farmers who are called away. He helps Miss Henry put up her Christmas decorations. He gives Dole O'Brien rides to town. But these are people who cannot do for themselves. Mincy can do for himself. He could rent the equipment if he wants to keep that hay so bad. Mincy has had a hard life, there's no doubt about it. William remembers being a child and hearing about Mincy's wife and daughter, who drove down to Florida for a visit, then disappeared, and were found a month later duct-taped to a tree in Georgia, half naked and shot in the head. William still remembers the detail, duct tape, and how sick it made him feel when he heard it. But that was many years ago, before he even knew Mincy. Mincy has never mentioned it to him, and he certainly has never let it affect their yearly deal over labor and hay. In the past, Mincy has always been dignified and jovial, a faithful Methodist who read westerns by the boxful. But he didn't even look up when William tried to collect the hay just now, and he gave no explanation. William turns and heads for the barn, where he looks at the assortment of tractor attachments—cutter, fluffer, baler—all of it still crusted with the dirt of Mincy's land. Among the bales and bales of his own curing hay is an empty spot as obvious as a missing tooth. He rubs his palms on his thighs. A gray cat hustles into the barn, stops...


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pp. 63-85
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