May knew that it was unlikely that she was seeing Mickey. He’d been dead these twenty years. But she was pushing her walker over the threshold between the bedroom and the living room, feeling the deep ache in her hands and knees, and there Mickey was standing on the porch peering in through the shadows of the house at her. He was saying what he always said to her, “Time to go, May,” he’d say. “We’re gonna be late.
“Again,” he always said.
Behind him their ranch lay rich with the completion of autumn, the hay up, the oats shocks still in the field but looking rich and complete. They’d get them in a while. The thresher was all set up beyond them in the field. It was the next job they’d do. There was a last trickle of water, sheeting silver over the stubbled and tired alfalfa fields, giving them a last drink before frost. As she thought about it later, this seemed odd because Mike, their youngest who ran the place now, did not bundle his oats when he grew it, and he had not flood irrigated since he put in the pivot ages ago. But this was later when she lay in her bed waiting.
At that moment she said what she had said so many times, “I’m not ready, yet, Mickey,” she told him. Then there were just the willows wavering in the wind behind where he had been.
“That’s my May,” she heard him say, the way he always said it after she’d made him a feast or spent a day driving the team or tractor to help complete a chore. She had loved especially driving the team back before they got the tractor. She loved it in the fall, harnessing Ollie and Supper, the two huge work horses, in the chill morning with the last swallows darting in swift, lazy loops above her and the lovely sweet smell of the horses as they stood patiently waiting for her to slide the harness over their wide, heavy backs, and the odor of the barn, it’s rich smell of hay, straw, dry composted manure and horse and milk cow.
She loved driving the two horses up and down the row of bales or oat shocks as the boys or Mickey walked along beside the wagon tossing the bales or forking oat bundles onto the wagon. She loved the sweet, dusty smell of the hay or oat straw, and creak and rock of the wagon, the heavy hams of Ollie and Sup rolling under the reins as the lugged the harvest load.
And there was always the murmur of crickets making a last benediction over the fields before frost and winter. And she loved the square shape of the haystacks and the round yellow mound of the straw stacking behind the dust of thresher. She loved the hot September sun on her back, and loved the work of her muscle, and the trickle of sweat on her back as she forked the oat bundles into the maw of the thresher or hefted bales to the escalator that lifted the them from the wagon to the top of the stack.
Later she saw Mickey again, riding Verify across the field with a shovel over his shoulder, though it might have been Mike on the gelding, the only horse on the place now. She couldn’t be sure, it all seemed hazy and darkening, but he rode more like Mickey than Mike, and the horse had the spirit of Very more than the dull plod of the gelding.
“I’m not ready yet, Mickey,” May called to him.
And she could hear him again, “That’s my May!”
Apologies for cheating by using the name “May” rather than the month or the verb.