Low on gas, or so the gauge said. Martin managed to find a little filling station, and pulled off the road.
He used the restroom, and while he was in those dirty, cramped quarters he caught himself in a grimy mirror. He had a quick look. Nothing he saw upset him, or perhaps it was the dim lighting.
He used an entire twenty for the gas. His tank had been lower than he had thought. He still had a ways to go. Thirty or forty miles. He slid into the driver's seat and played with the keys just a second. He stared at the wheel, as if waiting for it to give an answer.
He started the car.

On either side of him the landscape tore by, becoming more and more rural. A cow, horses, an actual barn that was built some time way back in the nineteenth century. Maybe it had been attacked by Indians once, Martin thought.
No. Ridiculous.

He clicked on the radio, but only static greeted his ears. He fiddled with the dials for a bit but found only a few gospel channels, going on the way they do, with all hellfire and brimstone.
He turned the radio off.

Nothing but the smooth hum and glide of the tires on the asphalt. It was really pretty out in the country, he convinced himself, but then again, he'd always thought that. Ever since he was a kid, growing up in such an area. He supposed that was natural, for a country boy to love the country. It was sort of like the language you grow up with. When you're born, you aren't given a choice of which language to use. Whatever you hear, you speak, and whatever accent you have is obviously the best and only proper way for a person to talk.
Biased, he decided.

But the world will change that. Once the farm fades off into the distance and the skyscrapers parade and show off in front of you like giants, views change. Thoughts change. Accents change. Of course he had fought it at first, letting his instinctual pride lead the way, but his refusal to change quickly weakened and faded. Eventually, he began to have his hair cut differently. His clothes began to cost so much more, and he spoke like one of many.
So many.

A sign up ahead told him he was about twenty miles off now. Twenty miles to Greendale, and the farm. Mr. Parrot's farm.
And the tires.

It had been eleven years since he had graduated college, from the biggest school in the state. Since that time the years, which before had seemed so singular and individual, each and every one of them, had blurred into one long session of endless work days, one no different than the next. Perhaps a desk or a file cabinet in the office would be moved occasionally, but otherwise, all the same.
Not like before.

Before, particular months, even particular days, had very special and unique meanings. Friday and Saturday were the obvious pleasure nights, and Sunday was a time to sleep the previous two off. As for the seasons, in the Spring the activities picked up, and intensified in the Summer. Fall brought the cooler weather, and a time of quiet reflection. Winter was always cold, but very warm on certain days. It was wonderful. It was all so wonderful.
Not like now.

Ten miles or so to go. The car hit a small rock, and it flew like a meteor into a nearby field.
Ten miles until the tires.
Martin wondered what Mr. Parrot would look like, what the old man would say to him when he saw him again for the first time in over fifteen years.

He sped up the car until it hit eighty.
It was Mr. Parrot, and only Mr. Parrot, who had heard it all. He was the great confessor. He and he alone gave Martin that sense that as long as he was there, all was right with the world. It had started when father began drinking more heavily than ever. Martin often played with words, and two in particular were his favorites. The words "alcoholic" and "drunk." Both words are basically the same, but not to Martin. To him, an alcoholic was someone who drank but did not lose their charm. In fact, an alcoholic's charm was enhanced by the glasses full of whiskey they downed, and they became your best friend, maybe the best friend you've ever had, at least until happy hour was over. To Martin, an alcoholic was pictured as an aristocrat, complete with a snifter of Brandy and an ascot around their neck. Someone who was accustomed to privilege, someone who could drink and drink and yet seem impervious to the liquid's powers. To shake it off with a haughty laugh and continue grinning in a proper manner, even when it wasn't proper. Someone not so offensive. Someone you didn't actually hate.

A drunk, however, was something different.
To Martin, a drunk was someone just the opposite. Mean and surly, cruel and snarling at the world. Someone always ready to pick a fight, aided by bottled courage, the only kind they had. Someone who tossed ashtrays at you from across the room, someone who kicked the dog and smiled when the yelp of pain was heard. A low-class, brutal, ignorant monster.
Martin's father had been a drunk.

At all hours of the day and at all hours of the night, there was no rest, no peace, no ease. No space or time of calm, no cease-fire or let up. Just drunkenness after drunkenness after drunkenness. True sadness.

He hadn't actually been beaten by his father, but the smacks upside the head and the incredibly insensitive insults had had the same effect. Both would have driven people away, and that was the case. First with Martin's mother when he was sixteen, and finally Martin himself when college and his scholarship became available. But those two years, those two years just before the end of high school, they had been pure hell.
Thank God for Mr. Parrot.

Martin stopped the car, despite his desire to continue on. He had seen them, the two large yellow grain silos that could be viewed from miles off. Rising into the sky like monstrous crayon's from a giant's coloring box. There they stood, just as before.
Still there.

Martin walked out into the middle of the road and took them both in. They still looked massive, despite his recent urban life and city vision. They still impressed him to a high degree, and made him realize his own diminutive size. They were the same, just as big as when he was a boy. Reliable, and unchanged.
Martin smiled so wide, and thought about the tires.
Five minutes later, his trip resumed.

Mr. Parrot was old, even back then, but his mind was young and vibrant. He had the ability to be able to talk to anyone and to understand and know exactly what they were thinking. The generational gap didn't exist with him, he just had that special knack, almost like a psychiatrist. He had helped out many people.
Martin had been his most avid patient.

Whenever his father's breath reeked too much of booze, or whenever he was having a problem at school, or whenever he just wanted to talk, there was Mr. Parrot. Honest and truly, truly, he had been Martin's closest and best friend.
Martin's car coasted into town, the big "Greendale" sign welcoming him back.

He thought of Mr. Parrot laughing, and, of course, the tires. He remembered. He remembered the first time that he and Mr. Parrot had gone off to the barn to talk. The first time when that kind old man had sat Martin down across from him and told that troubled boy to pour out all his heartache if he felt he needed to. The first time Martin had ever cried in front of another person, choking back sobs and wiping away tears. The first time he had opened up to anyone about his father, or his parent's divorce. The first time ever in his entire life that he'd been told that everything would be all right.
The very first time that he had sat upon those tires.

Four old, dusty, worn-out tractor tires, piled up to make a pair of seats, one for both of them. Four tires that had been used by Mr. Parrot back in the forties, to help him start his farm, his life. Four tires that had helped feed and raise his children, four tires that had become useless for farm work but too priceless to throw away. Four old, worn-out tires. Always, always there.
Martin actually cried a bit in the car. He wiped a few tears from his cheek.

Mr. Parrot just couldn't throw them away. They held too much of him. They had assured him of his crop each and every year with their endless labor and devotion. Memories, as well, were connected to them. Some good, some so sad. He was placing a patch on one of them when he heard that World War Two had ended. They were beneath him on his tractor when his wife came running across the field, back from a visit to the doctor's, and told him that she was pregnant with their first child. And when Mr. Parrot heard that his son had been killed in Vietnam, he had gone out to the barn, sat against those tires for their support, and wept the night away.
And so it was with Martin. All the important triumphs of youth were discussed in his talks with Mr. Parrot. His first date, his first kiss, the first time that he had had sex. His first mention of college and of his future, all such things were spoken of first with Mr. Parrot while sitting on those tires.

The first. How special is the first. Something unforgettable.
Martin stopped his car. There was the Parrot farm, glowing like a mystic scene in front of him.
When Martin had left for school he had promised to write to Mr. Parrot, and he had meant it when he had said it, but of course he never did. The circumstances of life, whether imposed or self-imposed, seldom give you the time or memory for such things as letters to old friends back home. By and by he forgot about Mr. Parrot, as does happen, and the old man became almost like a dream. Someone that may have existed once, but perhaps only in his mind.

Martin got out of the car, and looked at the large, rustic old house. Pretty much the same. Very little had changed. He caught the barn in his vision, where the tires were. Should he go there first? No, no, Mr. Parrot before anything. Obviously Mr. Parrot.
He knocked on the front door.
The answer came slowly, but finally.
"Yes?" asked an old woman timidly from behind the door.
Martin recognized her instantly. Mrs. Parrot had those kind eyes, the ones you imagine Mother Nature would have if she was an actual woman.
"Mrs. Parrot? Mrs. Parrot, it's me, Martin. Martin Collier? I'm a friend of your husband. Do you remember me?"
She could only stare for a minute, but then recollection came back to her. She smiled.
"Martin? Is that really you? Oh, Martin, so nice to see you again! Why, it's been years! What, twenty or so?"
"Fifteen, Mrs. Parrot, but still a long time."

She opened the door wide, and took hold of his hand. "Oh, my dear boy! So nice that you've come to see me! It gets so lonely around here sometimes, and..."
Martin cut her off. "Lonely? No! Mr. Parrot always has something to say or do to break that up! Where is he, the old rascal? I bet..."
Martin stopped. Mrs. Parrot's face had fallen.
"Mrs. Parrot, what's wrong?"
"Don't you know?" she asked, quietly.
Martin knew the answer even before she finished. "No..No, he..."
"He's gone, Martin. He passed away five years ago."
All the life seemed to drain out of him. He almost fell down.
"Oh, God. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. How...I'm did it happen?"
Mrs. Parrot shook her head. "His heart went, that's all. He was just sitting there at the table when it happened."
Mrs. Parrot's eyes moistened a bit, but she didn't cry. She had obviously been through the most severe pains of life, but despite her fragile body her mind was strong, stronger than most. She kept herself composed.
"He went quietly. No pain or anything. Just went quiet, and then was still."
A wave of guilt swept over Martin. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Parrot. So sorry I wasn't here, for the funeral. I wish I had been. I'm sorry."
She patted his hand, which she held a bit more tightly. "It's all right, dear. You're here now. If you wish, we can both go pay our respects. He's buried just a few miles from here. We'll drive down there now, if you like."
Martin swallowed hard. "I'd be honored, Mrs. Parrot. I'd.."

He stopped and couldn't speak anymore. Mrs. Parrot nodded. "It's okay, it's okay."
Martin led her to his car and helped her in. As he walked over to the driver's side, he sighted the barn again. The urge hit him, so strongly it was incredible, and he couldn't resist. He had to see the tires. He had to.
Mrs. Parrot looked at him from the passenger's seat, and in her wisdom understood. "It's all right, Martin. Go look. I understand about the tires. Go look."

Martin didn't hesitate. He strode across the yard towards the barn, not taking his eyes off the sacred structure. In that moment he imagined the day of Mr. Parrot's death, and he visualized him dying, clutching at his heart. Crawling through the tall grass towards the barn, trying desperately to have one last look at his beloved tires. To perhaps die with his hands upon them, the last thing he'd see in this world. An unbelievably melodramatic thought, Martin knew, but it still stayed with him as he crossed the field.
He reached the barn.

Drawing in a breath, he approached the door.
He waited a second.
Then he opened it.
The tires.
They were gone.
All that remained was the outline of them, still etched and stained in the floorboards forever. But they themselves were gone. Nowhere to be found.

Martin looked back at the car, to Mrs. Parrot, and realized why she hadn't told him. He wanted to kiss her. She understood so much. So very much.
Martin gave a final look at the two empty spaces, and then shut the barn door. He didn't glance back as he walked away. There was no need to.

And as they pulled off down the road, Martin decided that on his way back home he would stop at that filling station again, and once more gaze into that dirty little mirror in the men's room. This time, however, he would clean it off first.
He wanted to see what was there.

Vincent Spada
 Written 2/17/06

The Both of Them

The afternoon was fading fast, and the insects were starting to awaken. Alice slapped her arm as she felt a sting, and examined the dead mosquito resting there. She looked at it for a moment, the little body and wings all crushed. Suddenly she felt very sad, and wished she hadn't destroyed it. She hadn't meant to, of course, but still, it had happened. Brushing it off her arm, she watched in fall onto the sidewalk. It floated just a bit, and landed without a sound.

Turning her attention elsewhere, she caught sight of her father in the distance. He was talking with a man, taller than he and rather thin, who was wearing a white coat. The man patted Father on the shoulder, and his face held an apology. Father looked down to the ground, trying to choke back certain emotions. Then he held his mouth and nodded, and shook the man's hand as best he could. As he swung around to walk away, Father staggered for an instant. His eyes looked tired, and red, as if he'd been crying. There was a beaten air about him, and it seemed bricks rested on his back.

Alice waited for him, and held out her hand like always. Father took it rather gingerly. His skin was cold, which was unusual. They walked in silence for two or three minutes, and as they did Alice battled more mosquitoes. Finally they cleared the pond in front of the hospital, and the onslaught of bugs ceased.
"Daddy?" she replied, in a voice not unlike a talking doll's.
"Yes, sweetie? Is something wrong?"
Alice was only seven years old, but bright, and older in mind.
"Daddy, are you sad because of what the doctor man told you?"
Father pushed his head away, and gasped some as he did. His voice sounded fractured, but he managed to speak.
"Yes, sweetheart. Daddy's sad. Daddy's sad about what the doctor told him."
Alice gazed up at him in the twilight gloom, and saw tears rolling down his cheeks.
"Is it about Mommy, Daddy? Did the doctor tell you about Mommy?"
As if struck by a bullet in the stomach, Father stopped and knelt down. His head sank almost to the pavement, and his breathing increased to a sob. Still holding his daughter's hand, he steadied himself and rose again. The streaks on his face were fresh, and more numerous than before.
"Yes, sweetie. That's right. The doctor was talking about Mommy."
Alice began to well up herself, from seeing her father in such a state, but not wishing to see him worsen in his way, she kept the pain inside. She had learned long ago that when she cried in pain, it made those she loved cry, too. Now, for the sake of the man beside her, she restrained herself with dignity.
"Daddy? Can I ask you something?"
"Yes, dear. Anything you want."
The little girl looked out past the parking lot, beyond the row of cars. "Daddy, can we walk over to our bridge, and watch the Sun set like we do?"

Father stopped in his tracks, and glanced down at his daughter. A smile actually came to him, and for an instant he felt better.
"Of course we can, angel. We'll do anything you want."
Taking her up in his arms, the two of them headed in that direction. The Moon was already out, but the Sun was still holding court at the bottom of the sky. It glowed like a flashlight in a purple ocean, and continued to dip ever lower. They reached the bridge, and sat on the bench that bore their initials. Some time ago, a while back, they had taken the time to carve themselves into its wood. They sat there, not talking, and viewed the Sun in its last hurrah. Alice held Father's hand, and again tried not to cry.
"Daddy?" she said. This time her quivering voice betrayed her.
"What is it, Alice? Are you okay?"
Her little heart beat rather rapidly, but she knew she had to ask.
"Daddy, is Mommy really sick? Is Mommy going to die?"
Father sort of froze, and looked at her innocent face. It was more than he could bear, and he tucked his head into his jacket. Through the cloth came a muffled sigh, and then an agony of tortured sobs. Alice cried some, too, but again, she held back.
Father composed himself, trying not to upset Alice further, and wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve.
"I don't know, Alice. The doctors don't know. We'll just have to wait, and see what happens."
The little girl only stared at him, drawing in what she had been told. She took a deep breath, and sat closer to her father.
"Daddy, is it okay if I ask you something?"
"Anything, sweetheart. You can always ask me anything."
Alice sat still, and when she spoke it sounded far away.
"Daddy, why does Mommy have to die? Why does God let people die?"
Father pulled her to him, and put his arm around her.
"I don't know, sweetie. I really don't know. No one really does. It's just part of life, I guess."
The Sun had nearly vanished, and the sky was almost black. Alice held Father's hand more tightly, as if everything in the world depended upon it.
"You're not going to leave me, are you, Daddy? If Mommy dies, will you die, too?"
Father cleared his throat with difficulty, and kissed her on the forehead.
"Never, sweetheart. I'll never leave you. Whatever happens in the future, I promise I'll never leave you."
Alice felt great sadness, but at that moment, she pushed it aside. They, the both of them, father and daughter, continued to sit there on that bench. They watched the Sun finally perish, and disappear in the deepening sky. And in the grief of that hour, they continued to hold each other's hands, knowing somehow, no matter what, that neither one of them would ever let go.

Vincent Spada
 Written 8/04/06

The Saddest of Things

It was Petunia Epson who first caught sight of the tragedy. She had been walking down Carter Street, just as nice as you please, when her eyes gained a glimpse of the sad spectacle. It must have weakened her right away, because she stopped, then blinked, and finally sat down right there in the street and began to cry.
Soon Paige Eldrecks came along, just as nice as you please, and she noticed our Petunia, sobbing away upon the asphalt. She put down her bag of groceries and flowers and went up to Petunia in a nice way.
"What's the matter, Penny? Why are you crying in the middle of the road?"
Petunia looked up at her, with eyes all red and salty and sad.
"Oh, it's just the worst, Paige! The worse of what someone can see!" And with that, she covered her sad face with equally sad hands, and kept right on crying so sadly.
Paige was more than confused, and asked again what it was that had Petunia in such a state. Finally, after some fifteen or maybe ten minutes, she turned to the sight that had brought the agony.
"There!" she pointed. "There! Over there! It's just the saddest of all saddest things!"
Paige followed the sad Petunia finger, and pulled back when she realized what she had seen. At once her eyes began to swell, and a grief captured her emotions. Within seconds she too was whaling away, and fell down in the street next to Petunia. The two of them then hugged in their extended agony, and tried their best to console one another. As they rocked back and forth, the tears still streaking, old Pete Egdarson came down from his porch chair. He leaned over his front lawn, around the bushes, and rubbed his eyes in a slow manner.
"Paige, Petunia, what's wrong with you girls? I was sleeping. You woke me up."
Neither girl paid him any attention. They were just too busy being sad.
"I said Paige, Petunia, what's wrong with you two? Why are you blubbering away like a pair of blubbers?"
This went on for maybe fifteen or ten minutes, and then at last Paige summoned up the courage to speak, in a weak, voice.
"Over there, Pete. Over there. Just look over there."
Pete followed the same path Paige had followed, and when he did his face grew snowy white. In an instant he ran inside his house, and brought out his wife, Patricia. They both made the dash across the grass, and once in the street, both viewed the monstrous catastrophe. To Pete it seemed worse than before, and to Patricia, a scene most unbearable.
"Oh, Pete! Oh, Pete, oh no! Pete! Oh, no! No!"
She fell into Pete's arms, nearly fainting as she did. Pete, now beyond any thoughts except sad ones, barely caught her but held her tight. They stood there, in the middle of Carter Street, not so far away from Petunia and Paige, and all four of them whimpered and cried, holding back nothing and not even trying.
Now, if this had stayed isolated to just these four, perhaps the situation could have been contained. But soon Pam Eckhorn walked down Carter Street, and then Parker Ellis, and then Paul and Pamela Enton. And, as you may have guessed, one by one, they all grew sad. Eventually the entire street was just crawling with sadness, everyone sitting and crying and sad. Pike Epstein seemed to just stare and stare, and then he'd cringe and start crying again. Percy Endicott, being a teenager and more prone to sad things, cried so much she nearly collapsed. Even Pete's dog, Pockets, howled away like his life was ending. Everyone was so sad. So, so sad.
This went on for some time, maybe fifteen or ten minutes, until Lucky Taylor came along. Lucky worked at Estern's Hardware Store, and could really fix quite a lot of things. Anyway, along came Lucky, and when he saw the sad parade he halted. It appeared to him that everyone in town was on Carter Street, just crying and wilting away. He scratched his head, not in a sad way, and walked over to the Mayor, Mr. Enderling.
"Hey, Mayor, what's going on? Why is everyone just standing here crying?"
The Mayor, sick with so much sadness, blew his nose on his last and saddest handkerchief.
"Oh, Lucky, we're glad you're here. We wouldn't want anyone to be alone at a time like this."
Lucky wrinkled his face in confusion. "A time like what? What's this all about?"
Petunia, the first to be sad, made her way through the crowd and found Lucky. "It's over here," she sobbed. "Let me show you. It's over here."
Lucky pushed his way past the hundreds of sad people. They all of them were so sad, shaking their heads and wiping their eyes. After about fifteen or ten seconds, Petunia and Lucky reached the sad location. With all of the town crowded around them, she pointed to the spot.
"There," she exclaimed softly. "There is the saddest thing of all."
Lucky followed her sad finger, like everyone else, and soon discovered the grand secret. Lying there, with a little dirt on it, was a white picket fence. Apparently the storm that had passed by the previous evening was a bit too strong for it, and the poor, poor thing had been ruthlessly uprooted and had fallen, helplessly, to the ground.
Everyone continued to look on, crying and making comments:
"What a fence it was," said Pierre Enrot.
"It was splendid," remarked Paige Eldrecks.
"We passed by that fence when we first got married," said a sad Pete and Patricia Edgarson. "Now it's gone. It's gone, it's gone."
"It's true," declared Mayor Enderling. "Everything that has been said is true. It was the finest and most wonderful fence ever built. We will never see the likes of it again."
This speech, more than anything else, seemed to cause the crowd to break down. They swayed as if they were one entity, and held hands and cried and were sad.
However, there was one person in the bunch who was unfazed by all this misery. Lucky, who stood there rather dumbfounded, watched them all for maybe fifteen or ten seconds. Then, without any further hesitation, he hopped the curb and took hold of the fence. He picked it up, inspected it, and saw that it wasn't damaged in any way. Then, in maybe fifteen or ten seconds, he slipped it back within its holes. Pushing down on it slightly, it slid right back into place.
"There," said Lucky, dusting off his hands. "Good as new. Now I gotta go." And with that, he turned, not in a sad way at all, and walked off to his job at the hardware store.
And the rest of them, the entire town, all suddenly ceased with their crying. They got off the curb, or the middle of the street, and walked over to the fence. Nobody cried, nobody was sad, and nobody said a single word. They merely stood there, mouths open, eyes fixed in fascination. They stood there, staring at the fence, in a stupid, stupid way.

Vincent Spada
Written 8/25/06

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