"This Is the Future " by Kevin Clouther

Kevin thought he could take Wayne. At worst, it would be close. Wayne was pulling a hose across a dusty field.

“What are you growing?” Kevin asked.

“Right now.” Wayne kept pulling. “Nothing.”

“But eventually?”

“Grass, eventually.”

When Kevin and Amy bought a house, their first, they inherited a garden so bountiful that they couldn’t finish the vegetables themselves. He stuffed peppers into Ziploc bags and left them in the mailroom for his co-workers. This was viewed, not uniformly, as hostile. Then he and Amy got a dog, who ate the peppers, though he seemed to hate them, and in retaliation or ignorance (Kevin suspected the former), the dog dug up the entire garden. The next spring Kevin planted grass. The ghostly perimeter of the garden remained visible from the guest bedroom, which he’d used as an office since the start of the pandemic.

“Too bad people can’t eat grass,” Kevin said.

“People can eat cows.”

“I’m vegetarian.”

Wayne didn’t stop pulling.

“I’m not really,” Kevin said.

“I have a guy who will buy the hay, and he has a guy who—”

Kevin nodded, as though he too had a hay guy. “My question is,” Kevin said and realized he had no question.

Wayne attached the hose to a black contraption that rose from the dirt like a robotic weed.

“Would it help if I turned on the hose?” Kevin asked.

Wayne pointed to the barn. Kevin began to jog there and instantly regretted it. He slowed to a brisk walk.

The barn was more elaborate than he’d expected. It smelled overwhelmingly of horses, or what he thought horses smell like. Kevin hadn’t seen any horses since arriving. After what felt like a long time, he found the spigot and turned it with three swift, satisfying turns.

“Where are the horses?” Kevin shouted on his walk back.

“I think we’ll get two,” Wayne said.

Kevin hadn’t seen any people since arriving to the rental other than Wayne, who observed the sprinkler with wonder, as if he hadn’t expected it to work.

“I was a vegetarian for a year,” Kevin said. “For thirteen months. Not a true vegetarian because I let myself have a hamburger once a month so the idea of meat didn’t get too big in my head.”

“Why thirteen?” It was the first question Wayne had asked Kevin.

“I missed meat. Plus, I felt like shit.”

Wayne looked satisfied. He returned to the sprinkler.

“What’ll you do with them?” Kevin asked.

“There’s nothing like a horse.”

“So ride them?”

Wayne stepped back from the sprinkler. Kevin looked up to discover not a cloud in the sky. He resisted the urge to ask about the weather. When the sprinkler turned toward him, he stepped aside, so the water just reached his sneakers. The water left black marks in the dirt. Wayne wore boots. Cowboy boots? Kevin didn’t know.

He saw Amy striding purposefully toward them. She was waving.