The sun was baking the ground into brick. Snake-like lines of air and imagination rose trembling from the dirt, as if spirits of the earth were fleeing to escape the heat. All of the animals were wisely hiding away in the shade somewhere, in whatever crevices and holes they called home. The sky was almost entirely clear, except for a few wispy clouds in the distance. Wind blew through the farm now and again, but it was hot and unrefreshing. It wasn’t yet noon, and the weather showed no signs of relenting.
Johnny set his pails down and wiped his freckled forehead with the sleeve of his denim shirt. Sweat flew in all directions as he flicked his arm away.
“Why we gotta do this today?” he whined, squinting his green eyes and sounding much younger than his six-foot frame would have implied. He was only 14, but he was already getting his growth spurt. No signs of slowing down, either.
Johnny’s father turned and threw a glance over his shoulder, carrying two heavy pails like his son.
“Pick up your pails and let’s go. Work first, questions later,” he said firmly, but without anger.
The green-eyed boy sighed and rolled his eyes, mopping his brow once more before picking up his buckets and plodding on down the dry, cracked road.
It was unseasonably warm and the farmer and his son advanced down the dirt road. The heat wave had come a few days earlier, and it was sure to stay for a few days more. It was making Johnny miserable.
The pair arrived at an out of place square of concrete situated a few feet from a red and white barn with a matching granary. Johnny’s father stepped up onto the concrete with a grunt of exertion and set down one of his buckets. He began to pour the other out on the concrete, spilling purplish-black seeds all over the square. Johnny climbed up as well and set his pails down sullenly. The heat felt like it was boring into his flesh.
The lanky fourteen year old sighed and hesitated before turning around and hopping off of the concrete square, walking in the direction of the barn.
His father threw another glance over his shoulder as he bent down to pick up another bucket of seeds.
“Let’s pick it up, kid,” he said. Johnny half-heartedly shuffled his feet in an attempt to appear to be jogging. His father shook his head and continued with his work.
When Johnny returned, he was carrying a long, flat piece of metal with a short handle attached to it. He paused before the concrete square, then climbed up with a sigh and began to spread the seeds out evenly. His father continued to pour them out, nearly finished now.
“What’s gotten into you, J?” His father asked, setting down the final bucket, now empty. He squatted down and began to help his son, spreading the seeds out with his hands.
Johnny didn’t particularly like being called “J.” It’s what everyone called him when he was younger, but he had taken to people calling him “Johnny” at school, and he disliked the old nickname.
“This dang sun is all,” he replied softly.
The farmer raised an eyebrow.
“You sure? ‘Cuz you’ve been dragging your feet past few weeks. You’ve never had a problem before and you’ve done what I ask, so I let you slide a bit. But there a reason this has been keeping up?”
Johnny stopped spreading the seeds out and squinted up at his father. The sun was right in his eyes.
“It’s hot, Pa. Real hot. Why the Hell we out here when there’s work inside we could do? Or why not just wait till it cools down some?”
“You watch your swears, son.”
Johnny rolled his eyes and continued using the metal instrument to spread out the seeds.
The farmer spit on his hands and rubbed them together, then wiped them on his jeans. It was something he did every so often, not really for any particular reason. It was a mannerism he had picked up from Lord knows where.
“You know well as I we’ve got plenty to do. We can’t slack off just because the sun’s out.”
Johnny didn’t reply. He continued to keep his head down, almost finished with his task.
“Let me tell you something, son, and listen up.” The farmer sighed and furrowed his brow. “Most things worth doing are unpleasant. At least sometimes they are. And everything worth doin’ is hard. You start avoidin’ work ‘cuz it’s no fun and you’ll start avoidin’ all kinds of things. You’ll take the shortcuts, and those never lead where they say.”
The farmer wiped his hands off on his jeans again, despite having nothing to wipe off of them.
“Look at me, son.”
Johnny set down his tool and looked up at his father, a more receptive look on his face than before.
“I don’t care much what profession you choose, or what woman you marry, as long as you’re willing to put the work into what you do. ‘Specially when it’s hard. Hard days are when you quit being a grumblin’ boy or you sign a contract for another term. Doing what you need to do when it’s unpleasant is a man’s work.”
Johnny squinted one eye all the way shut and shifted his weight.
“I know, Pa. It just don’t seem fair.”
The farmer sighed and looked down, his chin tucking into his chest as he thought a moment.
“What are we doing, here, J?”
Johnny raised an eyebrow.
The farmer shook his head.
“I mean here,” he said, pointing to the thin layer of seeds, now spread evenly over the concrete square where they talked.
Johnny looked around.
“Drying out seeds so we can plant ‘em.”
“Why don’t we just plant ‘em now?”
“They won’t grow. Gotta dry ‘em out first.”
The farmer nodded and thought a moment, looking intently at the crowd of purplish-black dots all around his feet.
“What these here seeds are doing is dyin’. Won’t grow a new plant until the old one dies. Then later when we plant, it can sprout and grow somethin’ nice. Unless it dies to itself and gives up on bein’ a seed, it can’t be a plant.”
The farmer spit on his hands once more and rubbed them together, then wiped them off on his jeans. He brought his gaze to meet that of his son.
“It’s easy to worry about your own comfort and pleasure, but if you don’t die to your own self, you’ll never be nothin’ but a seed. I want you to grow. Be somethin’ respectable. Die to your own self and push through the hard, J. Otherwise you’ll always be a boy complaining about the sun.”