We always knew two days before. The giant cloud of dust the feed trucks kicked up behind them would appear in the early evening, after all the deliveries were done. Father would stop whatever he was doing and yell at Mother to get some drinks ready. The truck driver always looked tired and resigned as he drove up, but regardless, his eyes would smile at Father as he helped him off the truck. They’d known each other long before either was a truck driver or a farmer.
They spoke in hushed tones all the way to the house. Drinks would be served and Father would beg the driver to stay for dinner. He’d refuse. His wife would kill him if he shirked one of her meals. Mother would hover over them with a worried look in her face, never saying a thing. Father would ask his questions and the driver would answer them as best he could. The conversation never lasted longer than fifteen minutes.
Before the truck driver got back in his truck, Father would reach into his pocket, pull out his billfold, and offer up whatever he could spare. This too the driver always refused. If anything were to happen to Father or his farm, he too would lose. He depended on the farmers just as much as they did him.
Not long after the dust cloud settled, the bell would be rung. The employees would slowly gather on the front porch. Mother would set out glasses and a pitcher of cool water. She also set out a chair for Father, which he never used. Even her worried face couldn’t make her any less charming. Father would kiss her gently and reassure her that there would be more than enough wood.
He spoke calmly, as always —it wasn’t until he was dead that Mother told me he wouldn’t sleep those nights. He stood on the porch and told them what most of them already knew. They would start the fires before dawn. One fire every hundred yards, pray that the wind doesn’t kick up and make it harder. A quarter of the wood was to go into the animal’s water basins and soaked for as long as possible. Then they would harvest. It was almost a month too early to harvest the corn. The most experienced workers would run through field looking for the ripest stalks. The rest would harvest coffee, as quickly as possible. When the time came, everything would be dropped. Only the men would fuel the fires.
They slept as long as they could before their nerves sent them into the kitchen to make the bitterest coffee they could manage. Even the children roamed the house early, eerily quiet.
Father would open the woodshed doors, knowing they had stockpiled more than enough wood, but checking nonetheless; mostly for the benefit of Mother. The men would slowly gather in front of it, chatting quietly. Eventually one of them would grab a load of wood and begin his slow march to the fields.
The women would make one last futile effort to herd the children into bed before they too began making their march to the field, harvesting bags in hand.
Father stood with his hands in his pocket, studying the landscape. The fires had been lit for only an hour. He took a long, slow drink of coffee and sighed. The time had come.
I never understood how Father knew that they were coming. Maybe it was a slight change in the wind or a sound only he could hear. Whatever it was, it was a gift that saved his family and he always silently thanked God before he rang the warning bell.
The wet wood was piled onto the fires. The sweat on the men’s faces dripping and evaporating instantly on the stones which held the fire in check. Plumes of smoke rose swiftly from the fires, swaying to an evil rhythm and disappearing high above the fields. They piled the wood as high as they dare and then they ran.
From far away you could confuse it for another cloud of smoke. It wasn’t until it grew larger —when you could hear the buzzing— that you knew that this was it. Locusts. A hundred thousand of them swarming through the valley; touching it with famine and anguish.
Father and I stood by the window and watched. Wishing the black cloud pass over our fields and leave them untouched. Hoping that the plumes of smoke danced heartily —like the devil in May, Father would say— and drive them in another direction. Praying that we would have something to eat this summer.
They took their share. They always did. Sometimes they took more than we could spare. Sometimes they took a few days meals. Whatever they took, it was their share.
My Father liked to say quietly —so only those who listened closely could hear— “They came and went. And so shall we. Thank god for that.”
I’ve been thinking (which is always dangerous enough) and I had an idea, which are always cause for alarm. I’ve been writing short stories for a long time. It’s something I’ve done naturally—though never easily—and I’ve stuck with it for so long that I have no idea if I could resist writing. And despite this seeming love for writing, I never seriously contemplated being a writer in the professional sense. It was rewarding enough to write something for myself; something to read years later with a grin on my face.Then came the Internet, where I’ve come to feel at home: a place where anybody who has ten minutes can become a writer with the power to reach, quite literally, the world. So, I guess I’ll give it a try.Beginning on June 21—the summer solstice and the official beginning of summer (it also happens to be a Thursday)—I will begin posting for thirty straight days. I’ll try to keep the posts short enough to read in at most ten minutes (I’ll be splitting longer stories across several days). I’ll only be posting new stories (and a few other things). The point is to see what being a writer is like—having to write something every day that I know somebody (I hope at least one somebody) will read.I’ve been furiously trying to get a head-start on the project so I can have a little leeway if I get busy. I can’t promise I won’t miss a day but I’m going to do my darndest not to. Promise.Check back on Thursday, June 21, at 6:06 p.m., when all of us here on the Northern Hemisphere will be the closest to the sun we’ll be all year. Maybe the heat will make you lightheaded and you’ll enjoy the stories more.Thanks.Starts Here: Smoke
So I opened my mouth about something I had planned for my blog and now I'm getting bugged to get started. Well, I will be posting the official announcement this Friday (June 15) with the actual date said feature will start. Things have been delayed severely because my house has no electricity and net access only in the garage, so my computer time is limited to a couple of hours per night, and I have been writing at a measly 1500 words a day or so. I'm almost ready anyways, so check back soon.
Joshua Sugarmann was born with an instinctive hate for middlemen. Had it not been for his inability to speak at the time, he would have voiced the following (later typical) observation two weeks after being born: had it been profitable for someone to act as a broker between him and his mother’s tit, he would have preferred to go hungry. Later in life, he grew increasingly preoccupied with circumventing middlemen and denying them any possible advantage. He initially refused to listen to prerecorded music, and instead went to concerts often. Eventually he decided that the ticket sellers and venues were simply middlemen as well and sought out street musicians from then on. He purchased his food directly from farmers and eventually grew his own. He built his house from wood he personally had delivered from lumber mills at great cost. His furniture, clothes, and bicycle were custom made. He once attempted to purchase a car but could not find one that was manufactured entirely by one company. At least one part was always imported from overseas and he refused to have anything shipped whatsoever. He was immensely wealthy, having inherited his father’s coal mining business and so was able to indulge himself on every whim.
He was so preoccupied with circumventing middlemen that he would awake as from a daydream with neigh idea as to what he was previously doing. Sometimes he would spend hours in the shower, constantly washing his hair, having forgotten if he had already done so and suspicious he hadn’t. He lived in this manner for almost forty two years.
Two days before Joshua Sugarmann’s forty-second birthday, Glen Harris, an insurance broker who was late to an important appointment, decided to run the red light at Lake View Forrest Avenue. His eyesight, however, wasn’t as great as it once had been. He failed to notice a young jogger who was listening to Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping and not oncoming traffic. Mr. Harris swerved and hit the almost forty-two year old Mr. Sugarmann, who was on his bike patiently waiting to make a left turn.
Twenty-one hours before his birthday, Mr. Sugarmann woke on a hospital bed and discovered that he could no longer breathe for himself. The machines that now kept him alive quietly shuffled somewhere behind him. He quietly wondered if he would live much longer. He remembered the fresh tomatoes he’d just bought from Paul at the farmer’s market. He’d been looking forward to eating them the minute he put them in his bag. He felt sad that they were now probably just a spot of red on the road. He was pretty sure he’d never taste another tomato, sushi, beer, French fries, caramel, chocolate, or anything else for that matter. He would never pet another cat or kiss another pretty girl. Too bad, really, he thought.
Thirty seconds before the slow bleeding in his skull killed Joshua Sugarmann, he realized that for the first time he could remember, not a single thought had been wasted on middlemen since waking. He frowned. Having wasted so much of his life on his quest to evade them, he was displeased to have abandoned it now. He was about to regret this line of thought when something occurred to him.
Joshua Sugarmann died sixteen and one half hours before his birthday with a slight smile on his face.
Written February 2006:***Despite not having any particular fear of flying, Mr. Barrios did have the following thought as his plane took off: I don’t want to die today, but if I do, it’d be a nice excuse for never having done all the things I’ve always told myself I’ll do. “He died so young. He could have done anything.”Sitting two seats away, a young lady who was, in fact, deadly afraid of flying, had a remarkably similar thought, which went like this: I don’t want to die today, and if I don’t, I’ll do all the things I’ve always said I’d do.Mr. Barrios turned and gave her a reassuring smile, which she nervously returned.Five minutes later, the pilot turned off the seatbelt sign. They hadn’t died. The young lady completely forgot the solemn promise she’d made to herself, covered herself with a soft blanket, and promptly feel asleep. Mr. Barrios, on the other hand, sighed silently to himself, feeling much too tired to sleep. He took out a large history book from his carryon and read determinedly, hoping to gleam some hint as to how and why he’d ended up on a plane in the first place.Our Mr. Barrios was on his way to say a final goodbye to his aunt. He was in a somber mood and the heavy odor of exhaust from battered taxis gave him an immediate headache as soon as he arrived. His mother was supposed to pick him up from the airport but she had yet to turn up. He leaned resignedly against his luggage and watched the other travelers arrive. Friends and family hurriedly surrounded them as they arrived and began speaking all at once, grinning ear to ear. Mr. Barrios shuffled his feet and looked through the crowds for his mother.***Ja.
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