By Brian Michael Barbeito
(Listen to the story here. Read by MV Swaroop.)
Trouble. Previously it was ennui but not trouble. Trouble in the old days, in the days of her grandparents, was not a light word. So, when she thought of the word, and used it in her mind to denote her current situation and environs, it was with gravity. This is trouble, and it is going to end badly, was one of the last things that rolled through the noggin. She had gone there, to the land where there was nobody, in order to clear her mind. It’s a common thing, she had thought then, In books and films, and perhaps in real life, I am at a crossroads, and have to gather myself before I go in new directions. The first weeks were manageable if not ideal. Tabitha sewed and read, planned and slept. Cooking light meals, reading books her grandmother had left on crocheting and needlework. At the night, she stared as the firmament blinked on. Constellations. Magical, whimsical, even bordering on esoteric. Was it a great Rorschach, the night sky, a tabula rasa? Or was there something to it? It had mattered then. It was a puzzle she was going to figure out. But she didn’t want to figure it out through death. And now, only weeks later, she was going to die. First a storm had come, screaming white and wind and mayhem. It cut off electricity, and the Provincial workers that were to clear the roads were just that, provincial, and had limited capabilities. Then, low on food and energy, Tabitha had fallen from the back steps while trying to clear them. If that was not enough, another storm arrived and lasted two days and nights. If it could be seen from above, her grandmother’s property looked simply like a dot, for really only the roof could be seen. The trees were fallen and snow covered and there was no longer even the outline or hint of a road, a driveway, a stream. There was no longer hope. A few days went past, and her wounds from the fall along with her lack of food took a toll. Propped up on a bed, snow covering the window, she tried to pen a note but could not. The fall had created an internal bleed in the head, a brain bleed, and this inhibited carrying out motor skills. Trouble. In the stretched out night, cold and cold, dark, the moon hiding, that firmament opaque from yet a third storm, she passed. The outside didn’t blink for her. It only kept portraying the snow and wind and dark… It only kept screaming its trouble.
(Listen to the story here.)
I am a writer who came from a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.
At first I was standing there just looking. I must have moved at some point, because that is what happens, but for a long time I was just there absorbing the yard. There was a side door that was used for an exit and entranceway to the house, and if you came out of it and turned right, there was a shed just before the beginning to that backyard. The entire contents of the yard only consisted of raspberry bushes that were only divided up by unorganized and meandering pathways. For some reason, many houses in that area had those large sheds at the back of their long driveways. This proved effectual in creating a boxed off yard for the houses, an outdoor area that was part manufactured, part natural, and always a world unto its own.
In the sun, metal stakes glistened, or else parts of them did. There were also hockey sticks with the blades cut off and a V shape carved at the end, and plunged into the earth so as to make stakes to help guide small plants up properly towards the sky. The plants were affixed with strings and sometimes with garbage tie wraps. Ideally, if the plant ‘took’ well enough, and the stake stayed where it was supposed to, the plant would grow normally. Of course the plant had to weather some difficult rains or harsh and parched hours in the sun, but many times it could turn out well, especially if the bond between the stakes and the new plants held. Little tiny raspberries grew along with larger ones, and the various pathways in the yard were, though haphazardly made as a whole, still connected at points. In fact they created a maze of sorts, like a pencil game where you try and guide your pencil’s lead through various corridors to get out at the exit point. It was like that, and I eventually moved around and looked at it all, wanting to explore its workings, the sunny parts and the shaded areas both, the nooks and crannies, the strange complex story that it seemed to always want to tell and be half telling.
There was an old lady, bowlegged, with a determined and concentrated aura about her. She used to go through the pathways with a container, and survey everything, picking raspberries here and there. She would sometimes put the container down and then reach across some series of branches and break a branch off. There was also a man. He was quieter, and only listening as the woman talked. The man was tall, but gentle, and wore a shirt that was too warm for the weather, and very constrictive besides. The woman wore an old tattered dress that had splashes of yellow flowers painted on a white background. Her clothing seemed to fit better on her body than the clothing of the man fit on his. Her choices also received in spirit the brightness of the day as his were always darker, such as grey, brown, or even black. Sometimes he unbuttoned his shirt sleeves, his top collar button, or both, but that was to be the extent of the reprieve he would allow himself from the humid mornings and afternoons.
I was okay in there, guarded by those bushes and fences, and somehow protected by what time itself might have wanted to bring. I never spoke, and earlier, the lady thought that I could be deaf, though I was not. I watched the trees that were in the distance, or else looked from inside the window, especially when it rained. I was more like a ghost than a person. I had slid quietly into the world some years before, via a stranger, and had been actually and most literally been brought as a new born to the place of the raspberry yards, via a taxi-cab. But in those yards, and about that place, there was a magic, and it was an incredibly, preternaturally bright energy that emanated from what was only so many square feet in reality, but had the gorgeous and textured depths of worlds in a better and more pure reality that came before the common place one. The affairs of people and their actions could not sully that area, pregnant as it was with something pure and unnameable. So there I was, the spectre-human, and when I ventured out of the yard was when things would go awry.
On the nearest corner a group of children got hold of me and forced me to the ground. It was a patch of dirt where the grass did not grow. The physical torment was bad enough, but words were threatening things also, heavy objects with the greatest of gravity. Objects that did not belong in the air. There had never been any objects like this in the raspberry yard or the house in front of it. And different voices directed them, threw them. Various carriers catapulted each series of words.
Who are you?
What are you doing here?
You are not one of us.
Stay down. Stay there. Or I am going to kick you again.
Peculiar but adroit thoughts on the human spectre’s part. Words spoken inwardly:
I never thought of those. Of that. I am…
Then the sun and it is bright, coming out of the clouds. The faces of the boys somehow become obscured, shadowed, as if seen through opaque glass. But they are still ugly faces. Irate faces. Faces of the new. Not faces at all. Symbols of the outward. Markers of the world. This is the world. Is this the world? What is the world for? Why is this the world? And again, -I? The sun brightens all of this, and assuages no fear, provides no respite. It only illuminates hard and difficult angles. Bricks, windows, manicured lawns, cement, retaining walls, cars long and unwelcoming, chrome, people passing by doing nothing, metal, tall telephone poles, wires across the sky, black, birds, small birds, indifferent to things, to events below. The birds are better. Better if someone was to be a bird. They are the things in the world most like ghosts without being ghosts. Far but still in view, in the distance, tattered and tall rooftops and other structures, terrible and wretched almost completely defunct tenement buildings. All alien, and yet identified at once. In the brightness it all becomes something, like this group. Both have lurched out of the background and presented themselves. It all comes to life and its life is not well. There are also sounds…
These sounds announce themselves in a quiet enough but still somehow ferocious display. While the sights were no longer of the raspberry yard and its soft paths and intricate branches, the sounds also were no longer of the old woman or the man. Horns, someone yelling, a maligning haughty laughter from the group that has taken me to task for something I cannot understand and never will. Doors closing. A window opening. Someone in the distance talking confidently to someone else, both of these voices from people that belong in the world and understand it.
Then other voices:
Why don’t you get up and go home?
What is wrong with you?
There is a flash that is not a flash, but more like a quick patch of darkness. A temporal ellipsis. Then somehow I am back in the raspberry yard, and after that at a back window looking out as it rains on the yard. Dusk comes like its own season and in a while minutes will learn how to become hours and stretch out a night over everything, hiding myself and the yard from the intolerable sun and the brightness of days. I look upon the pathways that begin to hold water as the sky lets out rain, and the water makes its own tributaries. These miniature rivers seek out destinies and I stare and stare and stare at them. The rivers far under the raspberries want to go somewhere. They are varied and mysterious, rich and even though they are in actuality the same color, seem to alight from within or without in different hues that are not obvious, but that are there and are well in the onlooker’s imagination. The rivers are wanton. For something. Of something. I don’t know if they know where they are going, but they are trying to get somewhere. They are trying to seek out and eke out their own destinies. Some of them will make it somewhere for a time, and some won’t, but the night will be interesting and rich with living dreams of the moving water, and the imaginary dreams of the spectre boy’s world.
In the morning, the bright sun will awaken the earth, dry up the tributaries, curtail the dreams, and birth the strange and unwanted happenings of a world that only lives really between indifference and hostility. Back and forth it goes, between the two, with pride as its motor. But it goes nowhere else.
And the sun will go outside of the sanctuaries, and wait beyond raspberry yards.
Brian Michael Barbeito is a Canadian writer. He is a two time Pushcart nominee with work that has appeared in various print and electronic publications. He is the author of the book Chalk Lines, [FOWLPOX PRESS, cover art by Virgil Kay (2013)]. https://twitter.com/BrianMBarbeito