When the father would leave to tend the fields the boy would be left alone in the house. Upon leaving, the father would give the boy a set of chores to occupy him until he returned in the late evening. The boy loathed these chores but never said a word against them, performing them with a solemn abode of dedication.
As the father gave him much to do it would take the boy most of the day to complete the tasks set to him. He would start early in the morning, beginning with the stables in order to feed the animals their morning meal. To do this he would have to haul open the large shed door where the various hay and feed were stored. Then he would wash the corral with a bucket of water and a sponge. He scrubbed and did so until there was not one aberration among the steel supports in the corral.
Once he had finished outside the boy moved his bucket of water and sponge into the house. He cleaned the floors and dusted the cupboards among other tasks. He would clean every part of the house but his father’s room. There was a time when he had made no distinction, but too often he had walked into the room and paused and stared at the photograph of his mother on the bedside table. The photograph showed her upright and rigid, her head deputed upon the sturdy foundation of her neck, her eyes the main impetus of attention. Her eyes possessed a luminosity unknown and dangerous to the boy, as if holding a promise of enticement. One day his father caught him in the room staring at the photograph. Thereupon he told the boy he could no longer go in the room. That was the end of that and now the room languished in inestimable layers of dust and neglect.
Between the steady flow of work, lunch provided the boy with a sense of contentment. He had a habit of making himself a sandwich accompanied with a glass of water that had been filled from the outside tap. He would sit down at the kitchen table with his legs dangling above the floor and hum a little tune he had heard from his father. His favorite pastime was to look out the kitchen window and watch the chickens wander in their ineffectual circles, their wings forever raised in seeming revolt against the swift summer breeze. At times like this he would smile and count himself happy.
One day when he sat down for lunch someone knocked on the door. The boy ran over and opened it. It was not his father but some other man. This man was dirty; grease and stubble ran across his face, his grotesque lips protruded towards the boy in an intruding fashion. His hair, matted down with the grease that had accumulated from long exposure to the sun, was a thin wisp of black substance. He had a limp and he hobbled forward.
“Where’s your pa, boy?”
“In the fields.” He pointed towards the vast expanse of land behind the man.
“You wouldn’t mind giving a hungry man some food would you?” At this he rubbed his stomach with a slow movement of solemnity.
He didn’t want to but the boy turned back anyways to get some food for the man. He got a loaf of bread out accompanied with a slab of meat and was reaching for a knife when, surprised, he saw that the man had seated himself at the kitchen table.
“I ain’t said you could come in.”
“Where’s a man to eat?”
The boy eyed him meanly, but then turned back to the sandwich. He put much less meat on it than he normally did. He placed it on a plate and set it before the man at the table. The man nodded his head and smiled. He ate contrary to his appearance; sitting with a form of propriety, he would take small, delicate bites and chew thoughtfully, his feet planted firmly on the ground and his eyes resolutely fixed on some venial object before him. The boy took his seat in front of him.
“Mustard?” the man asked.
“We don’t got none.”
“A house with no mustard?”
“Funny coming from a man wandering on his feet.”
The man’s eyebrows rose.
“You think me a wandering vagabond?”
“I don’t see you at any job do I?”
The man threw up his head and laughed. He raised the collar of his shirt and wiped his mouth with a delicate finesse.
“That’s no way to talk to an artist.”
The man smiled again. “I prefer the mode of drawings.”
“I’ve done some drawings but I don’t reckon I’m any good at it.”
“I started drawing at about your age. I’ve amassed quite a collection over the years. Would you like to see some of them?”
The boy hesitated, then nodded. The man seemed much encouraged by this and brought out a small notebook from his coat pocket. He flipped through the pages and when he stopped, smiled for a bit, then brought the notebook before the boy.
The boy looked. The pictures did not make sense to him for he had not seen such things before. When he expressed confusion the man pointed out each feature of the drawings and explained them in detail. All the while he was smiling but the longer the boy looked at the drawings the more uncomfortable he began to feel. He turned back.
“They don’t sit well with me.”
The man frowned.
“Why don’t you look at a few more here.”
“I don’t want to.” The man tried once more. The boy got up from his chair. “I’ll tell my daddy if you do again. One yell and he’ll come running in and get you.”
The man was more curious than afraid. He asked if the father was still in the fields and did he go there often. The boy told him his father grew lots of corn in his fields out there. He described how he walked about the fields for hours, sickle in hand, and how the corn fell down at his feet in a grand pile that the boy bet the man could never even think of. He explained that his father greatly enjoyed the harvest, and that he even kept a collection of sickles on his mantelpiece, his prized possessions, and often showed them to the boy at night. The man asked when the father usually got back, and at first the boy didn’t want to say, but eventually said evening. The man nodded. He had gotten up from his chair at this point and walked into the living room. He stood before the mantelpiece. There were three sickles hung upon it and the man took the silver one into his hands and inspected it.
“The man works hard I’ll say that.”
The man turned towards the boy.
“I trust these don’t go over too well with your ma as she’s a genial lady?”
“You loved her?”
“Me and pa love her very much.”
It became silent. The man squeezed his thumb against the side of his nostril and blew a volley of snot to the floor. The boy jumped with a shout.
“I’d just cleaned that!”
The man wiped his nose and cleared his throat.
“Your pa sets you to clean the floors?”
“Yes and I do a bunch of other work too. I clean the stalls and feed the animals and go around the house and make sure everything’s good for my pa when he gets back.”
“That’s a lot of work for a young boy. It isn’t right for a grown man to set a child to work like that.”
“But it’s my job.”
“Tell me this. Do you enjoy the work?”
The boy was silent.
“It don’t matter it’s my job.”
At this the man leaned forward.
“But it matters very much if you don’t enjoy it. Have you thought of what consequence is your disobedience?”
The boy was confused and asked the man what did any of that matter.
“It matters very much as your dependence upon him precedes your bondage.”
“You mean how he makes me supper?”
“No.” The man looked frustrated. He hobbled around in a circular manner, then turned back to the boy.
“You stand in the shadow of your pa, imagining that if you abandoned such shelter the very sky would fall upon you. But outside of your pa instead of the demolishment of all that was you would find a sky that you had not dreamed of. A sky clear and free and one in which even the clouds express notions of expansion. And it is a sky that soon becomes your own, but also becomes the shadow of those who follow. Because your pa was once the boy who did the work his pa told him to do. There was a time where he squatted at the silver railings and washed them with his sponge, and it was only from his revolt against such trappings that he thus validated himself and put himself in a position to establish his prerogative above yours. The very basis of his authority contains the seed of his own downfall. Every boy wishes to become the father but none wishes to remain the son. And so it is always.”
The boy stood there. There were some words and phrases he did not understand, but he somehow comprehended the whole in a manner befitting to him.
“If I didn’t do a thing my pa wouldn’t be able to keep a hold on the farm just you watch.”
“How long has this farm been in your family?”
“Then this farm has been built off of the changing of hands. In the end your pa is of no matter, the farm will go on without him.”
Now the boy felt afraid and wished the man would leave.
“Who are you to say this? Wretch like you aren’t born under the care of a pa.”
The man did not look at the boy and instead eyed the sickle in his hands, rotating it in turnstile fashion.
“It is said that the sons are punished for the sins of the fathers. Which is true. But I say it’s also true that the father is ultimately under the charge of the son. Do not think of me as preaching upon matters of which I have no intimacy. I too was once a boy and I had a pa just like yourself. He would put me to this or that and his will was strong, but the adamantine steel of the sickle always proves stronger.”
“Just now leave won’t you?”
“Now don’t cry.”
“I mean it!”
“But I don’t want to leave, boy.”
The boy screwed up his face.
“You heard me before my pa’ll come in and get you!”
“Who’s your pa to you?” The man no longer stood by the mantelpiece and had begun approaching the boy. His feet dragged across the floor and brought with them the dead scraps of rotten wood.
The boy was choking on his tears. “I told you I don’t want you here now get out my pa’ll be here soon and he’ll take that sickle and kill you with it!”
The man stopped, warily. He stood there for a moment more. Then he limped toward the boy, grabbed his hands, and put the sickle into them with a small pat, as if entrusting him with a possession that carries with it an intimacy between two comrades. He went towards the door and turned one last time to look at the boy.
“Now don’t forget this, boy. You’re a smart lad, aren’t you?”
He closed the door behind him. Outside the sun was nearing its evening settlement. He weaved among the incandescent rays of the sun as they slowly became drenched in the redness of evening. All the while the sun followed its continual arc about the circumference of the earth. At times it seemed to stop arbitrarily in its path, but behind such perceptions lie the tricks of the earth and eventually it arrived to its evening placement, enclosing the farm and its fields with its final influence of blood-soaked emissions.
At this time the father returned to the homestead. When he came in he saw the boy crying in the middle of the kitchen with his silver sickle.
“Goddamn,” he said.
The boy ran to him and wrapped his arms around the father. He was crying, “pa pa pa” and pleaded him to never die. The father wrapped him in his arms and assured him that it was not possible, and though the father asked what put this thought in his head, the boy made no mention of the man and was silent. And they sat there for a while, entwined together in their unifying embrace. At times the boy would find comfort, but all the while out of the corner of the boy’s eye the silver glint of the sickle he had dropped to the floor gleamed back at him with its eternal temptations.
Benjamin Mitten is a writer from the state of Arizona. He enjoys all varieties of the written word, whether that be prose, poetry, or even philosophy. Besides writing in his spare time, Benjamin is currently a freshman attending Northern Arizona University.