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28 May 2014 @ 01:48 pm
LJ Idol Season Nine: "Infernal Impediments"  
Infernal Impediments
lj idol season nine | week 10 | ~1200 words
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time”


I believe my brother, Buford, is the most worthless creature ever visited upon this earth.

As boys, we got up to the usual antics. Misfortune and the swift justice of our daddy's belt should have taught us to do better, but I do not think those were lessons Buford ever learned.

He was smart enough, for all the good it did him. He had a head for numbers, and was a fine marksman with a pistol or rifle. His shooting provided enough meat to carry us through the winter. Still, Buford never had much in the way of sense.

At the age of five, he went down to the creek behind our house after supper, looking for tadpoles. He found something altogether different, which he took to be a black and white kitten in need of petting. You never heard such hollering as the racket Buford made while running back to the house—nor smelled anything quite so awful. Mama brought out soap and a bucket of water, and made him wash himself right there under the oak tree. I was conscripted to pump water to refill the bucket, and I do not lie when I say that seven buckets later, he smelled very much the same.

Buford slept out-of-doors for a week, and took his meals by the back gate. It fell to me to perform his indoor chores during that time, and you can well imagine how little I rejoiced at it.

Seven-year-old Buford welcomed a stray dog inside the back fence, and it killed Mama's laying hen before anyone realized what he'd done. Ten-year-old Buford would add wood to the potbellied stove and leave the door open. We lost half of the kitchen floor to a fire, and were lucky that the house itself was not destroyed.

I know Mama and Daddy despaired of his living long enough to reach manhood. I was made to promise I would look after him, in the event that the two of them might die.

Buford joined the United States Army at seventeen, a fine occupation for a marksman. I was quite relieved to have him grown and gone, particularly after our parents left this world a few years later. The Army could look after Buford, and I had only to look after myself.

I made for the Wyoming Territory, with a notion to strike out on my own. From a small dirt farm, I have built up a cattle ranch. It is hard, dusty work, but it is all mine, and I am well pleased with it. I am now seven years into this venture, and hope my fine prospects might soon help me find a wife.

I had tried to get word to Buford of my leaving Illinois. It now appears he received it and was driven to find me after his military service ended, because he surprises me by arriving at my property, high-spirited and looking well. We reminisce over our early years, and trade stories about homesteading, military life, and the local climate. Buford takes dinner with me at noon, and then offers to help me plow a stretch of field I've chosen for planting corn.

I can well see Buford plowing through the potatoes I planted just weeks ago, and kindly refuse his help.

Buford announces that he has taken a room at the boarding house in town, and hopes to find work hereabouts. I do not mention the possibility of his staying with me, although he likely anticipates it. The truth is that I do not know what kind of man Buford has become in the intervening years, and if he is no worse, he might also be no better. Mama used to say that his full name should have been, "Don't touch that, Buford!" He may have improved his knot-headed ways since boyhood, but I am not prepared to chance it.

Two days later, he rides up as I am rewiring part of the rear pasture fence. He gets off his horse, ties it up, and reaches for the barbed wire to help me before I scarcely realize he is there.

I make light of the project—even propose stopping to have a light meal up at the house—but he will have none of it. With his aid, the break in the fence is mended in an hour. I am quite surprised, but I gladly thank him and invite him to stay for supper.

The next morning, I release the cattle from the barn that they might graze freely. I water the crops and tend to the stable as the sun rises overhead, and am thinking about the coming midday meal when I notice that the pasture seems rather lightly occupied. Where have the cattle gone?

I mount my horse and ride toward the distant few members of my herd. There, I notice the downed wiring from the previous day's efforts. Most of the cattle have escaped, a peril feared by any rancher. Buford's luck, it appears, has not improved and by extension, neither has mine.

I round up the remaining cattle and guide them to the safety of the barn. It then remains to coax the rest of the herd home.

The horse and I have some skill at this. It is a slow enterprise, but not without results. Most of the herd is a couple of meadows over, and I take pains to circle around them and edge them along toward my property.

Whole hours pass, and then who should arrive but my brother, there to add to my misery? While I might wish him to witness the fruits of his handiwork, his capacity for continued misfortune is too great to risk.

I assure him that I am managing, and that there is no need for concern. My words seem to satisfy him, being that he rides off again, although he appears somewhat unsettled. Perhaps he is feeling remorse at having caused the situation.

It isn't ten minutes later that he returns with a dog, some cur of questionable merit. Buford sets the dog down, and it immediately runs into the center of my herd, barking fit to raise the dead.

"Buford, no!" I holler, but the dog is beyond his control. Its frantic agitations light a spark of fear in the cattle, and they begin stampeding away from him toward the cliff. The dog chases after them, deaf to my entreaties, and I am forced to counter the path of the stampede by riding in from the side and trying to drive them toward safety.

When at last the beasts cease their rampage, I have lost half my herd to the unmerciful geography.

All I have worked for in this hardscrabble land has scarcely withstood three days of Buford's influence—as much of an exaggeration as that may seem. I take stock of what is left, of how many years have been lost in the making, and wonder whether I will manage to rebuild what I once had or watch still more of it slip away.

My brother's foolishness will be the ruin of me, I am convinced of it.


If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.

cindytsuki_no_bara on May 29th, 2014 04:12 am (UTC)
this is both sad and funny, in a really dark kind of way. the narrative voice is great. i admit i wondered why buford's mom didn't make him bathe in tomato juice after being skunked, but then the narrator mentioned the wyoming territory and i thought oh, ok, too early for tomato juice.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 29th, 2014 04:51 am (UTC)
Even the tomato juice remedy is not supposed to be particularly effective. I am _so_ glad cats avoid weird animals instead of investigate them, because we get skunks wandering through our yard now and then. They're around, somewhere!

I feel for Buford, being so hapless, but even moreso for his brother! Some people just never develop common sense, and it's better to just keep your distance. :O

Edited at 2014-05-29 04:51 am (UTC)
i_17bingoi_17bingo on May 29th, 2014 09:39 am (UTC)
He found something altogether different, which he took to be a black and white kitten in need of petting.

When I read this sentence, I literally muttered, "Oh, crap."

I don't know what year this takes place, but I hope there were no.active wars going on at the time, because I would fear for our side if there were.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 29th, 2014 04:51 pm (UTC)
It's intended to be post-Civil War by the time Buford joins the Army, because I had much the same thought-- and that he likely would not only die in actual combat, but possibly take several of his fellow soldiers with him. :O
rayasorayaso on May 29th, 2014 01:52 pm (UTC)
The first line made me laugh out loud, and I loved the whole entry, especially the dry, sardonic voice of the long-suffering brother. "Buford, no!" would have a good nickname, since his parents failed to give the world a sorely-needed warning with "Don't touch that,Buford!"
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 29th, 2014 06:48 pm (UTC)
The whole story was born out of a desire to follow up that opening line, and make it to the final line. It was filling in the middle that took all the work, but the edges spoke of something that wanted to be told!

I wish I could say there were no actual Bufords in this world, but I've already met a few in my time. I even had one as a roommate in college! That antique Victrola cabinet has never been the same. :(
(no subject) - rayaso on May 29th, 2014 07:08 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on May 29th, 2014 07:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
zhent: Calvin - Stupendous Manzhent on May 29th, 2014 08:57 pm (UTC)
Wow, we did take similar tacks on this one! I like yours a lot!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 30th, 2014 06:12 am (UTC)
Thank you!

It's funny, I agree that everyone seems to have encountered at least one Buford/Dwayne in their lives. We were watching the premiere of "Fargo" just tonight, and the show is full of Bufords!
(no subject) - zhent on May 30th, 2014 12:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on May 30th, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Donnellejexia on May 30th, 2014 04:22 am (UTC)
This is great.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 30th, 2014 06:12 am (UTC)
Thank you so much-- I'm glad you enjoyed it!
reckless_bluesreckless_blues on May 30th, 2014 10:06 pm (UTC)
I liked the narrative voice a lot too - the funnier parts were funnier because he was so restrained. "Well pleased with it..." That's a good line. You get a sense of completeness in you when you build up something like that with the sweat of your brow. Might be why a lot of men speak this way.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 31st, 2014 12:33 am (UTC)
It may be more common in certain regions of the country, but it was certainly the way most people talked in the past-- because to exclaim too much over anything was somehow akin to bragging (or just being loud, which was kind of frowned up too).

I was going to say that my grandparents were certainly like this, but then I realized that the were born only about 20 years after this was set, so... of course they were! How the world has changed. :O
A Karmic Sandbox: Smotheredkarmasoup on May 31st, 2014 12:15 am (UTC)
Holy cow! I'm so glad I don't have any Bufords in my life right now. I can't help but to think of that camp song, "Mama don't whoop little Buford," and if he was anything like this character, the song fits!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 31st, 2014 12:35 am (UTC)
There's a camp song called that?!? Now I kind of wish I'd given him another name, but Buford seem nicely 'hapless' for this character.

I noticed that you said, "right now," too. Doesn't a Buford always seem to come along now and that?
(no subject) - karmasoup on May 31st, 2014 12:53 am (UTC) (Expand)
Teo Sayseternal_ot on May 31st, 2014 01:06 pm (UTC)
Oh my! no wonder he wishes Buford away...enjoyed reading this.. A Fun entry! had my share of giggles fulfilled for the day..:) Good Job! A nice read.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 1st, 2014 06:37 am (UTC)
Glad this one made you laugh. A Buford really is like a curse, almost as much to everyone around him as to himself!
adoptedwriteradoptedwriter on June 1st, 2014 03:20 am (UTC)
I love how you convey images without telling: the bit about the black and white cat. (LOL) and the "unmercifully geography". AW
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 1st, 2014 06:39 am (UTC)
The kind of damage Buford causes isn't something you can fix overnight. Having someone like that at close quarters is a terrible threat to anything you hold dear!
swirlsofblueswirlsofblue on June 1st, 2014 04:42 pm (UTC)
Eep, oh dear. Awesome story, love the narrative characterisation.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 2nd, 2014 06:36 am (UTC)
Thank you-- I'm glad you enjoyed it!
Kellykajel on June 1st, 2014 10:33 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed they way you wrote this and the language used. There is always a Buford somewhere.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 2nd, 2014 06:38 am (UTC)
Bufords seem to be naturally occurring (they must be the far end of the bell curve of competence, to counteract the "sawed my own arm off to survive in a Utah canyon" sort of people).

No matter how boneheaded the moments most of us have, at least they're not a way of life. :O
Bridget Ilene Delaneykagomeshuko on June 2nd, 2014 12:04 am (UTC)
I'm glad that I don't have a "Buford." Sometimes my sister's "help," isn't help, but she does MEAN for it to be . . .
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 2nd, 2014 06:40 am (UTC)
And as long as the 'help' doesn't cause too much damage, that desire to help is an admirable and loving thing. You look at the meaning, more than the result. :)
(no subject) - kagomeshuko on June 2nd, 2014 07:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
☾witches on June 2nd, 2014 12:14 am (UTC)
such a well written and heartfelt piece <3
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 2nd, 2014 06:40 am (UTC)
Thank you very much!
MamaCheshirecheshire23 on June 2nd, 2014 01:08 am (UTC)
Mama used to say that his full name should have been, "Don't touch that, Buford!"

This made me laugh, a lot, but feel a little bit bad about laughing all the same.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 2nd, 2014 06:41 am (UTC)
I know what you mean. It's impossible not to laugh at Bufords from a distance. Living with them would be darned hard, and it's hard to know whether being one would be outright terrible or if you'd just be oblivious in the same way that you're oblivious to common sense?
Veronica Richveronica_rich on June 2nd, 2014 07:23 pm (UTC)
While I actively want to strangle Buford, I was laughing as well. It really is unfortunate when somebody wants with ALL THEIR BEING to help, and you just want to lock them in a box with some crayons to get them out of your hair instead.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 2nd, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC)
Hahahahaha! It's so true. :D

The problem is that the Bufords of this world so often DO want to help, and they never anticipate the trouble they'll cause... because if they could, they wouldn't do the knotheaded things they do to begin with!