They had worked together for years, the farmer and the singing bucket. The farmer would stride his long strides across the fields while the singing bucket swung beside him. Their voices would blend together in perfect harmony, his rich tenor buoyed by the singing bucket’s watery bass. They had an endless repertoire. Rollicking folk songs in the fields, soaring operas in the forest, deep dirges at the well. They would compose jaunty medleys as they crossed and re-crossed the farm, one end to the other all day long as they watered the pigs, the cows, the goats, all the other animals whose ears would perk to attention long before the duo came into view. At night, the singing bucket would hang on its peg in the barn’s closet, its company only the mute tools and heaped pile of burlap sacks in the corner. It would sing softly to itself the day’s library of songs. Beyond the open barn door, the last candle in the farmhouse window would flicker and go out.
But then came the day when the singing bucket felt the first crack in its voice. A mere missed beat, a faint faltering note. The farmer did not notice. That night, though, on its peg, the singing bucket felt a spidery weakness in its side, a feebleness of the wood where only strength had been before. It said nothing, tried to conceal its infirmity over the next few days. When it heard the first tiny trickles of water splashing on the ground, it raised its voice to conceal the noise. Hoped that no dark stain revealed its fault. Wished for hands to fix itself.
. . .
It grew worse. Each crisp bite of morning brought one more thready crack zigzagging from what the singing bucket now knew to be a hole. It sang louder and louder each day, so loud sometimes that the farmer would stop mid-note and give the singing bucket a playful shake. “Why do you sing so loud, Bucket?” he would ask. “You are drowning me out.” And the singing bucket would apologize, would lower its voice as they resumed their walk. Would listen to the trickle below.
Finally, the day came when the farmer filled the singing bucket to its brim with cool water from the pond. They sang a boisterous ballad as they strolled through slanting sunbeams along the hard-packed trail through the farm’s narrow finger of woods. The singing bucket could feel the leak, a steady, plunking drip. Its scared, burbling voice rose and dipped, off-key and off-beat. More water splashed the earth with each step they took. A wet trail glistened behind them.
The singing bucket sang louder. Shouted its voice into the treetops. The farmer raised his voice, too. They emerged from the woods, still singing. Ahead, at the bottom of a gentle hill, stood the stables. The horses neighed as they approached. The farmer set the singing bucket down beside the door. He planted his strong hands on his hips. His singing stopped.
“Bucket,” the farmer said. “I filled you to the brim.”
The singing bucket waited in stiff silence. Water trickled down its side.
“Where did all the water go?”
The farmer dropped to his knees and pressed his strong hands against the singing bucket’s wood. He turned the singing bucket and pressed his thumbs against that single sodden point, traced with his fingers the veiny network of cracks that spread from it.
“We’ll fix you,” the farmer said.
. . .
On the farmhouse porch, the farmer sat on the top step and lay the singing bucket on his lap. He pulled from his pocket the folded blue rag he always carried. Gently, he wiped at the wood, inside and out, dabbing at the dampness until most of it had been absorbed. He set the singing bucket on the railing, where the sunlight was strong. “Finish drying,” he said, and went inside.
The singing bucket waited. It hummed a nervous song. The sunlight felt warm and good. After a while, the farmer returned. He held a small cup and brush in his hand. He took the singing bucket from the railing and sat with it on the porch swing.
“This’ll patch you,” the farmer said. His voice was soft. He turned the singing bucket on its side and dipped the brush into the cup. He spread hot, sticky glue inside and out. After a while, he set the cup and brush on the railing. He rocked the swing gently back and forth and held the singing bucket in his hands as he murmured a soft song. The singing bucket hummed the harmony.
Later, when the glue had dried, the farmer carefully sanded it down and ran his fingers over the smooth wood. He set the singing bucket on the railing and went inside with the cup and brush. The sun had slipped low in the sky. The air felt cool. The singing bucket wondered if the farmer would leave it on the porch.
The farmer returned. He carried the singing bucket inside the house and set it atop the table that sat in the corner of his close and cluttered kitchen. Through the window, the singing bucket saw the empty barn. “Good night, Bucket,” the farmer said, and went upstairs.
. . .
Early the next morning, the singing bucket listened to the farmer’s heavy footsteps through the ceiling. The farmer came downstairs and bustled about the kitchen as he prepared and ate his breakfast of bacon, eggs, and tea. “We’ve a long day ahead of us, Bucket,” the farmer said. The singing bucket felt strong.
The farmer scooped the singing bucket into his strong hands and carried it out to the porch. They went together down to the well. The farmer primed the pump and water splashed from the pipe. He placed the singing bucket beneath the cold flow. The singing bucket sang a sonorous note. It grew deeper and richer as water frothed to its brim. The farmer’s voice joined in, and their rich, glad chord rose into the morning sky. The sun’s glow in the east was a broad stroke of paint.
The water stopped. Their note continued, lingered, then faded into silence. Around them rose the soft sounds of morning: distant rooster’s crow, faint lowing of cows, the croaking of frogs at the pond. A light wind rustled the treetops. The singing bucket felt a chill.
The farmer knelt. He pressed his hands against the singing bucket’s wood. His fingers probed at the spot where the hole had been, followed the lines of the cracks that he’d patched. The singing bucket could feel the damp. The farmer’s head drooped. His shoulders hitched up and down. He covered his face with his hands.
. . .
The singing bucket hung on its peg in the closet. Light from the rising sun slanted through the gaps in the barn’s wall. Golden dust motes swirled in the air. The farmer stood in the closet’s doorway. He leaned against the frame and sighed. He kicked aside the pile of burlap sacks. Beneath them lay a metal pail. He stooped to pick it up. He walked from the barn. The singing bucket listened as the farmer’s footsteps faded in the distance. Listened as the metal pail swung mutely at his side.
Pete Pazmino holds an MA in fiction from Johns Hopkins University, where he was nominated for inclusion in the 2008 Best New American Voices anthology. He was a finalist in the fiction competition hosted by both The Iowa Review (2006) and Black Warrior Review (2007), and his work has been published in Circle Magazine, JMWW, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. He lives and writes in Manassas, VA, and keeps his own singing bucket close to his heart.