Copyright S. Bradley Stoner
Fred lives down the road. Occasionally he stops by on his weekly walks. He claims he's "just checkin' the water." His water flows through irrigation ditches on my land. I saw him out there, inside my fence, standing beside my trees, leaning on his shovel.
"Hi Fred," I yelled. "Whatcha doing?"
"Howzat?" he asked. Fred is not hard of hearing. Nobody who can overhear gossip a half mile away is hard of hearing. He just wanted to get me closer. "I read yer column last week," he said. when I got there. I was flattered. Fred is not known for reading much of anything outside of the weather report.
"What'd you think?" I asked.
"Dunno." I was deflated. I bit down on the stem of my pipe. He spit and looked at the sun. "Hot, ain't it?"
For a while I thought Fred had petrified. Then he startled me by speaking. "How'd ya come to call yer column 'The Square Peg?'
I made a mistake. I thought Fred really wanted to know. So, I proceeded to explain. "When I was a kid, I was raised in the city," I told him. "I liked riding horses. I liked raising animals, even though I was restricted to the mouse-sized variety due to lack of acreage. I liked hunting, but didn't dare shoot off my gun at home. The neighbors had a strong dislike for flying missiles and an extreme fondness for their own health. I did try a bow once, but my Mom took it away when I dead-centered the roof on a house two blocks away. I liked to fish, and I didn't even mind cleaning them. I didn't mind pooper-scooper chores. I just pretended it was horse manure."
Fred watched a small cluster of pine needles swirl down the ditch. "Then I grew up," I continued. "I went to college and got a degree. But, I still liked the idea of the country, so I moved to Montana. Now, I like to read a lot. I buy books... lots of them for that reason. I sit inside and write when it's nice outside. Willie Nelson is okay, but I like Bach better. The rodeo is fun, but I'd like to see a good play instead sometimes. See what I mean," I concluded. "Sometimes I feel like a square peg in a round hole... you know, out of place."
Fred shifted his grip on the shovel and mopped his brow. I allowed him time to digest the meaning of my words. Finally, he looked up blankly and said, "Howzat?"
I looked deep into his eyes. There wasn't anybody home. I spit. "Hot out, ain't it?" I said.