Grunt! George Milton and Lennie Small stood bucking barley, 50 feet away from the nearest worker. The Sun in Weed, Siskiyou County, California pelted down upon the dry cracked earth, leaving no surface free of its scorching gaze. Sweat dripped out of every pore of George and Lennie, plummeting onto the floor and getting absorbed by the thirsty ground within seconds. George, a small, tanned man with strong features and strong hands, was exhausted; he glanced a sideways look at Lennie, a huge, shapeless being with wide, sloping shoulders, and was in awe at how easy he made bucking barley, for hours on end, seem.
George peered over towards the rabble of workers entering a long, rectangular hut, made of wooden planks nailed hurriedly together, for lunch. George called Lennie, who was standing a few yards from him, over and told him to join him at their bunkhouse.
The cabin was a ten by ten-yard hut built in the same fashion as the lunch cabin, with a plastic cover enveloping the roof to prevent any leakages.
It was a clammy, unkempt room with clothes scattered over many sheets stuffed with straw used as beds. A lone lamp hung of a wire hanging off the roof; spiderwebs encased every edge the bulbs rays did not reach and cockroaches scuttled around avoiding the two dozen feet marching around the room. Playing cards were left dispersed on top of a table, with a crooked leg, leant against a wall; half dozen bunks filled most of the remaining space of the room leaving a tight path down the middle.
George headed over towards his bunk and flopped down exhaling deeply. Lennie copied George after heading towards the opposite bunk. A silence fell between the pair broken by Lennie asking George, George tell me the story please. George, being in a good mood, glanced over at Lennie and said, Well wed have our own lil cottage on our own lil farm, with pigs and chickens and goats. Wed live off the fatta the land.
George said Lennie. George, will we have rabbits? George looked up at the bunk above his own and said with a smile, Sure, Lennie! Wed have a ton of rabbits. You can pet them rather than the mouse. And in the summer, wed have a litter of bunnies.
George, can we get red ones? Lennie asked. George looked over at Lennie as if he was mad and chuckled. Sure, Lennie. Wed get rabbits in all the colours of the rainbow! A wide smile stretched across Lennies face. George, can I go to the loo? Lennie asked.
Sure, George replied and he turned over and faced the wall hoping to be rid of his back pain.
Lennie headed towards the washhouse. He walked uncertainly through the lunch cabin towards the washhouse, dragging his bulky arms behind him the way a bear does. The clamour of hundreds surrounded Lennie as he ventured towards the corridor that led towards the washroom. Then a few yards short of the toilets he glimpsed the most wonderful shade of red. A soft, silk, carmine-red dress stood out from the brown background of the corridor walls. Lennie crept towards it an placed a hand gently on the smooth surface and stroked down. It was the most amazing thing he had ever seen and felt. Lennie didnt want to let go. He stroked and stroked savouring the feeling of the cloth rubbing against his hand. As he pet the dress, he got more and more excited; the petting became more ferocious than gentle. Suddenly, there was a yell. Panicking, Lennies huge paw held onto the dress for dear life. The owner ran forward trying to rid of its imprisoner but this made Lennie hold on even more tightly
Get off me, you crazy ! yelled the captured girl. George heard the uproar from the bunkhouse and rushed out to find out what all the commotion was. He barged his way through the eager crowd and came face-to-face with the disastrous scene. Lennie, get off her! George yelled. Lennie, as if he were an obedient dog listening to its owner, instantly let go. The girl quickly moved away from Lennie and hurried in the direction of the bosss quarters. George called out to Lennie to immediately follow him. I didnt mean- Lennie began but was cut short by the flick of Georges wrist. Lennie, quieter than a mouse, scuttled behind him. George headed to the now-empty bunkhouse and packed all their possessions, not a lot, into a bag and head off into the distant fields where the mud was fresh and damp, rich in minerals. As they fought their way through the barley fields, which were so tangled it was as if they were determined not to let the pair escape, a cry shot through the air in the distance Find them, find them quickly! There hasnt been a good public lynching for a year. George quickened his pace and Lennie followed suit crouching slightly, as George had instructed him to in order to stop his bulking shoulders and head from peering out.
Slowly and gradually, the stench of damp manure and compost wafted into the noses of George and Lennie. The soil beneath them became softer and softer as they walked; the completed opposite of the soil near the huts, hard, dry and cracked. As the double pair of boots hit the soft earth with a rhythmic squelch, the ground started to gradually descend towards a half dozen yard wide pit stretching a couple of hundred yards either side. The stench became unbearable, no one would want to venture near here and nothing will be able to catch their scent mixed in with the stench of the irrigation ditch. After a couple more minutes of trekking through the ankle-deep sod, George and Lennie arrived at the last yard of land before the irrigation ditch. George looked over at Lennie, his face was full of fear and apprehension but followed Georges lead as he stepped into the knee-deep ditch and lent against the muddy bank sighing deeply.
I didnt mean to- Lennie began once more.
You, crazy bastard! What were you thinking? George replied. Youve gotta stop getting into trouble Lennie. Its costing us jobs and more importantly money. Without bucks, we aint gonna be able to buy our own farm, and you wont be able to tend to the rabbits.
Im sorry, George, said Lennie. I really want to pet the rabbits.
Well then, stay out of trouble. Well set off from hear at dusk and head south towards San Francisco for bus tickets and from there we will head down to the Salinas Valley and work on a ranch there. Got it?
No trouble south San Francisco bus Salinas Valley ranch work. Got it George! responded Lennie, pleased with himself.
Good. Now stay hidden and dont make a sound said George. In the distance, the shouts of voices and the barks of dogs became quieter than gradually subsided. The sun was slowly engulfed by the horizon and replaced by darkness and glowing silver streams of light from the moon looking over the pair setting out on the next leg of their journey.