A nut hit the dirt ahead of my boot, its fleshy paleness rivulet with blood and blue veins. Stepping through the dust, I felt it slide and rupture under my heel accidentally. The injection gun in my hand creaked as, bending to the heaving flank, I stuck the needle in and squeezed. I stepped away again quick, as I felt the heat of the iron pass beside me. The denutted bull-calf bawled in pain as the hot iron struck his hip. He strained and twitched. The kid on the calf's neck twisted the foreleg higher, screwing himself down harder to the animal and the earth. Hot iron struck flesh once more, and then everyone pulled back. The calf jumped up, all snot, flying hair and dirt, kicked free of the rope and bolted to the corner of the corral. There, shoulders bumping against the others, the fright passed from his eyes. I spit, flicked a droplet of antibiotic from the needle tip and slid into observation.
The work was more than just putting the old two iron brand to flesh. The calves were roped out, and dragged nearer the cedar fire where the irons rested. Swift in movement, I stepped, gave the shot and withdrew. An ear got notched, and nuts got cut. Then the fiery-irons and scorching. All together the work became a flow. The dust, bawling and smoky smell of blood thickened in the senses, and the rhythm carried us. An easy joking rose among us in moments of panic, and fell to silence in the fluid moments of steady work. We darted with function and purpose, and laughed in disregard to the tastes in the air. We were all scorched bastards there, burnt in the sun and by the irons, but some laughed.