Low on gas, or so the gauge said. Martin managed to find a little filling station, and pulled off the road.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A sign up ahead told him he was about twenty miles off now. Twenty miles to Greendale, and the farm. Mr. Parrot's farm.
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.
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.
Ten miles or so to go. The car hit a small rock, and it flew like a meteor into a nearby field.
He sped up the car until it hit eighty.
A drunk, however, was something different.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first. How special is the first. Something unforgettable.
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.
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..."
He stopped and couldn't speak anymore. Mrs. Parrot nodded. "It's okay, it's okay."
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.
Drawing in a breath, he approached the door.
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.
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.
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.
Father stopped in his tracks, and glanced down at his daughter. A smile actually came to him, and for an instant he felt better.
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.
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