feb-wordsmiths“There, that should do it,” announced Jerry to his long-suffering wife. He climbed down from the scaffolding, squinted into the setting sun, and handed an overstuffed toolbag to Evelyn. She was already carrying a flashlight, spanner, spud wrench, and oil-soaked rags, but she silently shifted her load and accepted the new burden.

She was accustomed to the long hours of an obsessive tinker’s pack mule. Jerry had always been a mix of mad scientist, dim-witted inventor, and benign mastermind. Her mother quipped when they were courting, “That boy stays awake nights trying to figure out how to get more sleep.”

Long ago, he had rigged the ranch with a perimeter wire and rigged each sheep with a small battery-powered collar, so an alarm would sound whenever one crossed the line. Later, he devised a system for measuring the rate of grass growth using a complex network of jigs, strings, magnifying glasses, and magnetic latches. He insisted it would help him prepare for the inevitable drought, which never came, but might someday.

But in the twilight of his life, he had become more driven to complete – no, perfect – his pet projects. His latest creation’s purpose seemed a mystery to even him, but he was certain of its importance. “It’s critical we keep this thing out of the wrong hands, or even the wrong paws.” He had scoured the property for timbers of just the right strength, length, and curve, dragging them (with Evelyn’s help, of course) miles from their various resting spots to the sacred hill. He had Evelyn remove the windmill’s drive chain while he dismantled the old pontoon boat. She kept her concerns to herself while she pumped the well by hand for the first time in decades, dutifully bringing his meals out to the hill each day. She caught a glimpse of him taking a small figure from a mahogany box and suspending it inside a cage of sorts, but he shifted to block her view. The weeks swirled by until finally, this day, Jerry would retire this project in order to begin the next one.

She had hoped for an explanation or even a clue to what this chore was for, but none came. He simply dusted his hands off and left her to trail after him toward home. She stared a moment, shrugged, and fell in behind him for the short walk across the island.

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