by Graham James
Grandson, grandfather, a sterile farm...
|"We've been forsaken." Mumbled the old man. The wind blew in the kitchen window and pushed the latest print of the Post off the counter and unto the hardwood floor of the kitchen. He'd leaned against the cabinet and his wrinkly hands rested on the wooden surface. Blue veins were showing on his skinny hands. There were jars filled with various grains on the cabinet. The kitchen smelled of a weird combination; a mixture of vinegar, condiments, and fresh rice. There was a rice farm close by. Perhaps that was what the wind had brought in. The old man was looking at the eleven-year-old boy sitting at his little desk in the living room behind his typewriter. After sometime he moved towards the counter, on top of which a meager amount of chicken meat lay in a tray with a knife, along with a pimento, a tomato, and a potato. "Well," he said, "Dinner's not going to get ready by itself." And he got to chopping the meat into smaller pieces.
In the living room, the kid hadn't written anything for a while. The typewriter had stopped on a blank page and it seemed as though it had never moved on. The familiar sound of a combine machine came from the neighboring farm. It was always present when it came time to harvest. The living room was a mess. His toys were scattered all around. A pink-fluffy rabbit was at a corner and a brown cow laid by the old, almost ancient, television. His room was just at the top of the stairs on the second floor of an old farmhouse. His room was clean.
For a long time, he'd kept his fingers ready on the keys of the typewriter with his eyes closed, he knew them by heart. The typewriter was worn. It had a light blue color and the plastic color had come off in some places. It was bought at a yard sale in the city. His mood swung within a diagram of hopefulness and disappointment. One moment he seemed to have gotten the grasp of something wildly interesting, something that would excite him and get him all riled up, and the next moment he felt as empty as a white page. His shades were on the desk beside the typewriter. There was also a cup of orange juice and some cookies and a pack of cigarettes which the old man had left there and later on thought unnecessary to come back to the living room and pick up.
The old man's back was to the kid. He was dropping the chopped up ingredients into the pot of boiling water; all at once, with no regard for the art of cooking. He put the tray in the sink and then listlessly glanced at the kid, then picked up a wooden ladle to stir the pot. Outside the kitchen window, there was no effect of the sun and a faint light provided little visibility. But, the old man could see, from the kitchen, the two young men on the rice farm breaking the rice from their clusters. They didn't have any machines. One of the young men stood in the middle of the rice clusters and held the tether tight and whipped as the horse blindly galloped around him in a circular path and crushed the rice free. The other man kept on throwing rice clusters on the path. The clusters were green; the rice were white. "Dinner's ready, Tim." The old man called and as he poured the soup into a bowl without looking, he wistfully glanced at the neighbor's farm again.
He had a farm, too. Years back he used to plant all kinds of grains, though he chiefly dealt with wheat. He loved the view of a full-grown wheat-farm in the morning and under the fresh sunshine and in the blowing wind, when his large farm would be dancing to a golden song. He had a black horse. She was quick, agile with strong muscles. She always stuck her nuzzle around his hands and pockets, looking for a treat. He had cow, too. The cow was brown and had too much milk for one man. He'd spend hours talking to his horse and sometimes even the cow. His wife had seen the light and never come back; pneumonia was the inviting cause.
The old man's plate was still full. His dream had kept him from seeing his food. In front of him on the table, the kid was finished and got up to leave. He didn't see the Post, slipped on it and fell. The old man was almost startled. "How many times have I told you, Tim," he said, "You shouldn't do these things alone unless you have your cane." He got up and helped the kid up the upstairs and into his bed. "What was that, grandpa?" The kid asked.
"It was nothing, just some papers."
"What papers?" The kid asked, "Were they my writing?" He was worried.
"No, no. It was just a newspaper. It was the Post."
The kid twisted and turned into a comfortable position under the blanket, then asked curiously: "What color is a newspaper?"
"Is it white all over like a blanc page?"
"No. It has black lines; that's the writings." The old man said listlessly.
"I know." Said the kid. His curiosity hadn't curbed in the slightest. "Are all the newspaper white with black lines or is it just the Post."
The old man kissed the kid on the forehead then got up to leave. "You are a curious boy, Tim. I'll answer that first thing tomorrow morning. Now go to sleep." He said and in the dark hit his toe against the foot of a chair on his way out and let out a little cry.
"What is it, grandpa?" He said as he sat up. "Are you alright?"
"It's nothing, son. I just hit my foot against the chair."
"I didn't see it."
"Does it hurt?"
Little Tim pondered a bit. "What color is pain?"
"I don't know," He said as he smiled, "It can be different. Sometimes it's red, sometimes black, and sometimes even white."
"What color is your pain?"
"I don't know. I think have had them all." He said then they both sat in silence a bit. "Life can be painful, son, with all the different colors. It's important that you see clearly and find your way."
Now, as he sat by Tim on his bed, he brought his little head to his broad chest and rested his cheek on it and closed his eyes for a few moments. Then, he took a whiff of his hair. It smelled of youth and innocence. "Go to sleep, Tim." He said and left.
Downstairs, the old man slowly bent down time and time again to pick up the scattered toys; the pink rabbit and the brown cow, a blue musical roller, and a honey-yellow lullaby glowworm. He picked up the lullaby glowworm. It was something the kid held on tightly in his bed, but it seemed as though his passion for these toys had curbed in the past few years. In the past few years, he had become more restless. He looked more for things that could enter his lonely mind and connect it to the outside world. Everything he heard, touched, and contemplated, but colors he could never fathom. In the past few days his delicate little fingers hesitated on the keys of the typewriter and then lingered there for the rest of the day. The old man put the toys in a basket and then collapsed on the couch. The television was dark and silent in front of him and it creeped him out. His silent landline and his quiet doorbell almost taunted him and became the chorus to the guilt he felt towards the little boy. His patience was a candle flickering in the wind of guilt and only kept in the wax of shame. This closeness was difficult to bear and almost every night, he struggled with the remote until he managed to turn on the television and stared at the shapes and colors until he drifted away.
Then, to his eyes, everything looked bright with a hint of freshness. The metal rooster shuffled and clanked in the wind. The old man watched it as he stood by the barn. A few steps back, the walls of the barn echoed a shadow behind him, but he liked to feel the soft and warm of the tender sun at dawn. The golden towers of wheat stood tall as their golden god commanded in the morning procession. A young woman strolled among the wheat; touching the stalks of wheat and perusing them every once in a while. Her long-black hair stood in contradiction to her white skin and paradoxically, yet beautifully, they both shone in the sun and her hair danced with the wind and physically revealed what rhymed inside her with what was drawn out around her. The wind was still blowing and the metal rooster headed straight for north and each stalk danced, with each of its seventy little grains, in a harmonious manner, vivacious, yet gentle, creating an outstretched view of the golden army up ahead. Out there at the far end of the farm a wild-black horse cut through the long stalks and galloped forward wearing blinders; not knowing what lied ahead. She was a stubborn Friesian like her mother. The old man exercised much patience over her but it was almost time he tamed her.
He went in the barn and plucked an astray straw from the haystack and put it on his lips and put on his cowboy's hat. The brown-leather tethers of the young Friesian were hung on a beam and his mind was occupied with the tactics he'd employ to calm her, then, after his callous palm had touched her soft forehead, he'd slowly and patiently bring the tethers forward and put them around her head. She would listen to him; her mother did. She was just the sort of mare he liked; young and strong and graceful with just enough waywardness. Just as he released the tethers his minds got caught up in the dreams of that unrelenting youth and basked in the joy of breaking pure rebellion and just then he heard a loud scream coming from the farm, strong and crude enough to blow a void in his mental picture. He ran out and scanned the farm. Everything was alright except there was no sign of the young girl and the mare galloped fiercely, still not seeing her destination, until she disappeared behind the house. He ran without a thought towards where he'd last since the girl. His hands awkwardly ran among the stalks to make way and his feet clumsily lunged forward. The mud, in which the wheat-stalks easily stood, clasped to his feet and slowed his pace and as he struggled hard to reach her, his reduced speed drained his hope and tampered with the red lines of madness that made way in his eyes as he incessantly shouted her name at the top of his lungs. And then, he dropped to his knees, not knowing what had happened and imagining a lot of things happening, quietly whispered the name of her little son under his breath; "Tim!".
Tomorrow when the old man opened his eyes to a bright world from a horrible nightmare he'd revisited hundreds of time, and which had still managed to maintain a certain level horror, he put on his leather boots and mounted his white thoroughbred horse to the village to buy some mushrooms, potatoes, cheese, and mayo. The level of interest in black mare had excessively decreased in his farm after that. For lunch, He wanted to cook the boy's favorite food, which was pasta. He'd left a bowl of milk and cereal for the boy on the kitchen table and later when they sat to eat lunch at the table, the boy asked: "Did you have that nightmare again?" And after realizing that the old man had lost his composure he continued: "It's just that you've made my favorite lunch again," then, after having gulped down some coke, which the old man had bought that morning, he added: "And to be honest, pasta isn't my favorite food anymore, I mean I like it, but it slips and gets on my clothes and makes a mess. I like meatballs better now." The old man held his head down and quietly ate his lunch. "They're basically the same!" He muttered.
When the lunch was over, the kid shuffled to his desk with the help of his cane. Sometimes his grandfather, preoccupied by the unbecoming pictures from the past and the sheer emptiness of the present, would overlook a piece of furniture or a toy and would harm the boy's walk. It was a harm that would drag on for hours till the last of his waking seconds and yet not changing his moods anymore. He was very much accustomed to these obstacles now. It was a feeling, a weight imposed by the heaviness of a blurry past and not by the obstacles anymore, that had hauled along since he could remember through every twist and turn of his life and fogged his memory. He had learned all about the complexities of life just outside on a swing in the farm. The essence of life was bestowed upon him in compensation for all of those lonely hours he had spent sitting at a corner with only his thoughts and imaginations as companion. He was, as a rule of life, always prone to being seen rather than seeing. Until now, he'd write, with his proficiency at wielding a pen despite his young age, about this fog, its dizzy mornings and disheartening nights, until finally the recourses of the miseries of an eleven-year old ran out and left him wandering by the typewriter thinking many things but actually showing nothing on the page.
He shuffled a bit on the chair but it wasn't comfortable enough yet. He knew that writing something of quality didn't need a comfortable chair, it needed a miserable mind and his had already run out. He was at the point where, despite having a heavy desire to write about something, and he had that something to write about, his mind slipped and couldn't quite get his imaginative hooks into anything. He fidgeted around and his feet hit something. He bent over and picked it up. it was his old musical roller which his grandfather had addressed as blue. He hadn't thought of it for a long time. He took a whiff of it and his smell-infused memory took him right back to his parents; where he'd first smelled it. "Grandpa!" He called.
The old man was getting ready to leave. He had a bucket for milk, and held a few bags in which he wanted to bring back natural fertilizers, and his pipe was on his lips. He was going to the neighboring farm. He figured he could take some seeds from them and plant some vegetables in a little space just in front of the house for personal use, and take a look at their crops. it was time he gave this precarious land something to produce. "Yes, son." He replied.
"What were my parents like?"
A pang of cold went through his chest. The old man tilted and, though he knew the kid had no way of finding out, tried awkwardly to stand upright. "They are nice people, son." He managed.
"Where are they?"
"They're somewhere out there."
The kid paused for a moment. "Are they dead?"
"No!" The old man almost squeaked in a surprise, as if he was suddenly caught in a lie. "No, they're just out there."
"Can I meet them, then?"
"No." He was in a nervous manner and hurried to leave.
"Because their busy." He said and quickly shut the screen.
The kid turned back around from where his ears were following the old man's rough voice and let his head hang over the typewriter. The afternoon sky was a gray-blue and the wind had brought in the scent of dust. The screen was shut but in his anger the old man had forgotten to close the door and he could feel a little breeze come in and tingle up his spine and scatter over his brain. It wasn't the first time he'd hung his head over like that, he'd shut his eyelids as if to turn off the world around him and tried to think about nothing and, strangely, the mere infection of nothingness coincided with a cold sensation and a freeze of colors that he imagined would be light black. It could have been, as his grandfather had described, anything between white, red, or black, but he thought that there was a roughness in the word black that suited what he was feeling. it was a technique he'd gotten accustomed to in order to take a break from everything, shutting the world instantly all at once. Sometimes the loneliest people need the most intensive breaks from the world of people.
In the farm, the old man laid back on his wicker chair and, after having handed over the bucket and the bags, proceeded to take puffs from his long-wooden pipe. As he watched the crops, he thought that a white-flushing beard would go well with the farmer's work overalls and the pipe. Two young men worked in that farm. One of them was seated on another wicker chair next to him and the other worked on the combine machine. The large combine machine was roaring in the distance. The old man was always secretly scared of such huge machines, rumbling and eating away at the land. The sight of it had invoked something in him, a deep anxiety that he had tried so hard to bury under daily life. "Is that the same machine?" He asked. There was a remote strangeness in his voice.
"Yep!" Replied the young man and gulped down his cold beer. He could see, with his young eyes, the entire farm and it made him feel alive. The old man's beer sat on the table untouched. Beads of dew dribbled down the glass. "Still up and running. She's great"
"Yeah? How's that working for you guys?" The old man said. His brows tilted to a mild frown and he watched the thing with a strange
expression and parted lips.
The young man peered at him and put his beer down and folded his vigorous outlook then humbly dropped his shoulders. "Hey, man," He said, "If you have a problem with it we're happy to replace that thing and bring in something else."
"No, no, it's alright." Said the old man. He looked away as his voice had lost its usual roughness by the bitterness of an old memory.
They sat in silence for a while. The combine machine, with its huge bulk of a body and the shape of a giant snail, moved slowly and steady in the distance and cropped the rice. There were a few crows flying up high. He saw their wings flap but he couldn't hear them crowing and the cows cried in the barn.
"I better get you the bucket." Said the young man and almost jumped up from his chair and out of the awkward silence. "You know what, I have something, like a medicine, that'll help you out a bit." He said and brought out, from the pocket of his dirty overalls, the weeds of a green plant and gave it to the old man. "Well, you know what to do." He said and left.
The old man peered at his house. Everything seemed quiet. The quiet is always tempting. Quiet means good and that's the worst kind of dangerous. Without a thought, he poured the almost moist and grinded leaves into his pipe and lit it with his lighter while constantly taking puffs until he could feel it burning, both inside and out. He needed a break from reality more than anyone else and the opportunity had presented itself. He took a long drag and closed his eyes. In a few seconds, he could hear the little bug buzzing and hopping from one crop to the other. Every flap of the wings of the black crow cooled his ears, swooshing in a heartbeat while its coarse roars resonated all the way down to the crops; when he opened his eyes, he saw their fresh greenness dancing to its rough echoes. Sixty years a farmer; he hadn't seen such green and vivacious crops. The sky was an ocean-like basin of blue with no spots. Suddenly he was aware of the restlessness of the cows as the young man pulled at their udders. The scarce cars of the village road flashed by like mirrors under the sun and hurt his eyes. He could feel little
Tim's presence out there in the farmhouse like a little lump of sadness.
And then, as in a tunnel vision, the great combine machine came to his view. He could see its green and red colors, the rusty corners and the muddy sides, and with definitive clarity! He could hear every crop being cut as if it was happening right next to his ears. The crunching sounds echoed and mixed together, like the sharp snaps of bones cracking under a cruel cutter. Colorless steel blades gyrated on a confined axis and meticulously chopped every crop at a prime spot and turned every patch of dirt into a barren waste after passing. The old man leaned forward in melancholy and proceeded to drink from his beer. He then brought his handkerchief out of his pocket and, while constantly taking drags at his pipe all along, began crying at the sight of those long-green leaves that were now torn to pieces and sprung aside. The young man on the machine shifted the gears and shuffled on the seat. At the sight of him, he started at weeping even harder than before. He couldn't help but relive the poisonous memory which had ever so viciously taken his mind by storm; when on a beautiful day much like that day, as he wistfully walked in his farm, he saw that very same combine machine working at the far end of his farm, cutting wheat crops, and, when he saw something shuffling down there by the machine he thought that it was probably someone simply working, or maybe it was an animal or even the wind; it was very common on a farm, and continued down his path towards the house. At this point, he wept and wailed even harder than before because now he knew that down there was his son-in-law, little Tim's father, being pulled against the metal body of the combine machine as his shirt had come stuck in the belts and was strangling him despite his futile attempts to free himself.
The old man put his head down on the table in despair. That day he had watched the machine from afar and had entertained himself with all the bright possibilities of life, never letting a simple idea of death enter his merry mind. He often contemplated that moment of hesitation when he decided to be immersed in the liveliness of carelessness, rather than begging at the foot of catastrophe. He obsessed over that split-second of hesitation knowing he had made the wrong decision and this obsession was killing him. After that, he vowed he'd never plant wheat again and, after a few years, he decided it was too difficult for him to plant anything in that land and stopped altogether. Nothing grew in that farm anymore.
That night when he came home Tim was already asleep. He lay on a couch in the living room without a sheet or a cushion. His white cane was left alone by the typewriter; it seemed as though he had fumble on by memory. The old man stood undecided between the kitchen and the living room. His sparse-white hair stood in disarray, he had crow's feet worse than before, and his skin was bloated. It hadn't been more than mere hours, to him, it felt like days. He had seen and heard and even thought so much in the past few hours. His brain felt bigger than to be contained in his cranium.
His eyes were fixed on the boy and they conveyed such sadness. He closed his eyes as he felt such focused sad energy on the boy would wake him up. His pipe was still in his pocket. There was no high anymore, yet his current status wasn't any better. Severe exhaustion had given way to euphoria and then, he was left with nothing. He shuffled towards the boy and almost collapsed by the couch while resting his elbow on it. There never was a sleep so peaceful and he thought that only a beautiful mind as little Tim's would command a thing like that. His hand crept up to his little cheek and, while softly caressing it, he called his name. "Wake up, Tim." He gently shook him. "Wake up, son." He said. His soft voice was suggestive of the great pain he was going to inflict on the little boy.
"Yes." Answered the boy. "Is everything alright grandpa?" He was still dumb.
"Son," He said, "There is something that, I think, I need to tell you."
"What is it, Grandpa?"
"What I have in mind, it's difficult to say." There was a stale quality in the words he spoke and his voice was too stagnant to carry any emotional load but sorrow and despair.
Little Tim only waited quietly.
"You know that I love you, son. Right?" He stared into his blue eyes as he said it, trying hard to look sincere, but to his frustration, Tim couldn't perceive his affection. It seems that he hadn't gotten used his grandson's condition after all these years, a condition which he carried since birth. "Listen, son." He continued, "Sometimes things don't happen just as you'd want them to and it doesn't mean that it's your fault. You know?"
"Yes, but, I don't understand."
"God! how did I ever think I could do this?" The old man whispered.
"I have to, for your sake."
"Well, maybe I don't need it."
"You do. And I must do this, not because I'm not feeling like myself tonight, but because you're old enough and that it's the right thing to do." The old man grabbed his little hand and took a deep breath. "Your parents, they are," He stopped for breath, it was either that or he'd start weeping, "Your parents are dead, son."
Tim quietly gasped and seemed baffled.
"I know it's difficult, son, and to be at such a young age, but I'm sorry." He started crying and dropped his head down. "I wish I could say I did everything I could, but I didn't, and I'm very sorry for that."
There was no word from Tim.
"I wish you could forgive me, Tim. I'm just an empty-old man. I have nothing and I will never have anything more, but, what I do have, it's all yours. If only you could forgive me all that you have lost to my stupidity. I'm just a silly-old man, son. Every day I pray I was poor and I had nothing. I pray I had killed the mare that ran over your mother and I pray I had destroyed the combine machine that killed your father even before I had it. Will you forgive this old fool? Answer me, please! My God! You must think I'm horrible!"
Tim put his little hand on his grandpa's head and moved it towards his chest then embraced it. "Grandpa, what color is a combine machine?" He asked calmly.
"What color is a combine machine?"
"Well, it's green, and red I guess."
"What is green like?"
"It's a color, like on the flowers and trees." He said. He had stopped crying now.
"What about mares? What color are they?"
"They're different, but, mine was black."
"What's black like?"
"It's sort of like what you see now."
"Oh," The boy was surprised, "So I've actually known a color." He wondered for a few seconds then continued, "What color's death like?"
"I don't know, son. Maybe dark."
"Is it black?"
The boy held his grandfather's head tight on his chest and ran his little fingers through his thin and frail hair. His shirt was wet with the old man's tears. He had never known what his grandfather looked like. He had never known what anyone looked like in his life. To him, people were only as good as the feelings they exuded. He knew his grandfather. He knew how he felt. It wasn't the first time Tim had asked about his parents and that afternoon wasn't the first time his grandfather had dodged the question. He knew he'd never see his parent again. he'd known for a long time now. And, all he thought, all he wanted his parents to feel like were only expressed in ways he didn't understand; not even pictures would suffice.
"Where do you think my parents are now, grandpa?"
"They're not here, son. They have gone into the light."
"What color is the light?"
"It's, I don't know, maybe white. It's actually the opposite of what you see now. It's the opposite of black."
"Well, I don't get it." He said. He looked confused.
"You don't need to. I can't even look you in eyes after this."
"But, that won't make it alright, would it?"
"I guess not." He said and caressed the old man's hairs gently. Soon enough, he was asleep. The boy sat there in the dark. He was eleven years old. He had always been a curious boy and what bothered him the most was what he didn't know. That's why, even though he couldn't see it, he had spent a lot of time sitting in front of the television listening to the music that the habanera dancers danced to. He had even made the old man teach him the moves that he couldn't observe and the result became something between rumba and pogo. But, lately he had started a quest even more difficult than that. He wanted to get to know colors; colors that give meaning to life. He had heard that a red apple is lovely, but he'd never known why, or that the green of the trees is the color of life, or even why all bad things happen in the dark.
The next morning, when the old man woke up he realized that there was no sign of the boy. He couldn't find him in the kitchen or upstairs. He searched every inch of that naked farm, even the barn. Not even the neighbors knew where he had gone. No one had a clue. The boy and his little cane had disappeared without a word, only a letter left in the typewriter:
I hope you are not worried. I have gone out. I do not know where, but when I am there, you will know, just as you did my parents.
Thanks for keeping me happy all this time. I had a lot of fun listening to my blue musical roller. blue must be a happy color. Maybe I can be blue someday. I hate red though; I did not like sitting next to a quiet bike with its red color. Who would like a bike anyway? It must so be boring; the color red. And it makes me feel so bad for you because you said that your car is colored red and you have been on long trips on it. You must have been really, really bored, especially, if you were travelling on a road that goes amongst plants or trees, because you said that trees and plants are green and green must be a bad color because every day I hear the machine from the farm next door cut them down. Even you have decided not to plant them anymore. Also, green must look like black, because You told me that trees grow up with the help of sun, which makes me think that the sun is black, because you said that the sky is white and that white is the opposite of black. I imagine that sunshine is black under the white of the sky, like black on the white of the newspaper; how else could you have seen things? And I think that newspapers are better used as something to find out if people can see things right, because if black sunshine cannot help them, what else can?
And now, I'm worried if my parents got to the light safely, because what if they wanted to get to the white light and the black sun with its black sunshine wouldn't let them. I also have a question; how do you see your black mare under the sun? But you can answer me some other time.
I am going out now. The day has just begun, as the roosters have been crowing, and I have finished my letter. I think that I must go out now because I want to meet my mother and my father and you said that they have gone into the light. I better hurry as the sun will be out any minute.
I hope you find the light, too.