John pointed at his wife and ordered her to, "Stay here," then he walked to the front door and pulled a hat over his ears. He opened the door and squinted as the morning brilliance assaulted his eyes. He turned to look at Ann, who leaned against the door frame with an anxious look on her face. He nodded to her and smiled, "I won't be gone long."
"All right," she said.
John closed the door behind him and easily followed the freshest tracks in the snow. They led away from the house and appeared to head directly toward the barn. His intuition told him those tracks belonged to his father, but even without intuition it was blatantly obvious.
There were drops of blood every few steps.
John silently cursed his father's strong will and began to make his way to the barn. Snow spilled over his boot tops and managed to sour his mood by the time he arrived at the open barn doors.
Though the winter had not been especially brutal, the barn nevertheless lay empty of animals simply because John and Abner hadn't the money needed for feed. Even the horses' numbers had dwindled of late. As the Depression rolled on, squashing everything in its wake, the farm was beginning to splinter and die.
Much like his marriage, he thought.
John braced himself for the gruesome sight which undoubtedly awaited him as he entered the relative darkness of the barn. In the rush to care for Abner last night, Steven's bloody body had been left behind.
But it was gone.
John was none too surprised. He supposed it could have been wild animals that came into the shelter of the barn and had dragged Steven's corpse somewhere off-property to eat, but he knew better.
His father, if nothing else, was a fiercely practical man. The thought of the three of them leaving a body to the carrion would have kept the old man awake all through the night -- more so than the sleeplessness caused by spending a night with a hole in his leg. John had to smile (albeit ruefully) because he knew his father would have been up at first light -- injury or not -- because, damn it, there was work to be done. The body had to be buried.
John followed the markings of Steven's removal easily enough; a wide flat swath stamped through the snow at the rear of the barn. A swath which left behind a long pink stain while being dragged. John considered some coarse words for his father when he would eventually catch up to him, but promised himself he wouldn't voice his displeasure. The entire night had been a grand experience in tribulation. Perhaps it would be best to bury it along with the body.
After ten minutes of walking, the trail led well into the woods, where the snow had been unable to reach the ground. Instead the boughs and branches hung low from its heavy weight. He crested a knoll and found his father, breathing heavily, with a shovel in his grasp, standing over a fresh pile of dark earth. Steam flowed from his neck as the old man ran a forearm across his brow and sighed.
Wordlessly, John took his place next to his father and helped him replace the dirt into the hole. Steven's body had already disappeared under a layer.
With only another foot to go, John asked conversationally, as if they were only cleaning a sty or a coop, "How long have you been out here, Dad?"
"Oh, you know. Early bird and all that."
John nodded and took the shovel from Abner to speed up the proceedings. He did know his father. Very well. And despite his agitation that the old man felt it necessary to bury a man by himself only hours after getting a bullet removed from his leg, he also understood. So again, nonchalantly, he asked, "How's the leg?"
"Pfah," Abner snorted, "it would take a hell of a lot more than a .22 to put me up for the day."