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It was once again that day not so many years ago when Ed looked in the mirror and wondered whose face that was, it was an unfriendly mirror only showing him the face of disappointment and frustration. It was the same mirror again but the reflection was different now, in a dream, in a hospital bed. He saw his face at all different ages. He saw himself with his father’s mouth, a circle refusing to cry out in agony and his mother’s nose red with grief. It was his intense face as a teenager, a second later his face the day he passed the age of dad when he had the accident. Since that day he felt lost, friendless, alone, he felt that way for two decades now, the years he had out lived his old man, those years were cursed. He felt a moment of panic, the selfish bastard. I was only a boy, I needed a dad, not a farm. He was the reason his dad died. By being the son of a suicide he knew folks treated him strange. A man a long time on his own with no tandem history to rely on. The eyes were strange, old wrinkled, not at all familiar. His old eyes saw reflected eyes of his young self, eyes that lit up when listening to the stories his uncles told of the amazing lives that men once lived. He dreamed of the body he once had and his own adventures inspired by the stories he was told. While his cousins farmed he traveled and did things they dared not do. Visiting cities, drinking alcohol, and loving ladies. He remembered the girl he had almost married, he should have never left her. Then came Jean who helped him and he brought her back home with him. Back when he was still in his twenties the things Ed did could have got him killed, the sex epidemic was not yet a plague but even back then he would have been shunned had anyone known of his exploits. Twisting under the sheets in the hospital the memory of vitality was reviving him. His tongue was coated, he did not feel right the last few days and he dreamed he had checked in because of a serious heartburn. His aged doctor whose training had gone out of date thirty years ago told him that he was past the point where blood pressure and cholesterol meds would help. “Don’t tell Jean.” Ed insisted. Did the doctor wearing hearing aids in both ears understand? “Jean, come on in. Big Ed here is down to about one percent blood flow to his major coronary artery. We‘re going to keep him and dose him up and when he is ready roto the inside. We got to build him up. Now he is too week for surgery.” A speech the doctor made ten thousand times. “I am not going for the surgery and I don’t want the kids to know.” Barely raising his head, whispering. He was not afraid of surgery, he was not afraid of dying. There were things that were just not spoken of in Ed’s life. He reached the point years ago when living became excessive and cruel. Neither Ed nor Jean ever expressed their suffering to each other. Both knew it would be especially sad and lonesome for their boy, Jody, named for Tom Joad, his dad was his only friend other than his wife. Repeating the doctors words, Jean said, “Rest, build strength for the operation.” Jean returned home alone where vacation preparation dragged as she had to do all the work of packing and closing the house. Big Ed was kept in a new room in the wing of the hospital near the county convalescent home on the same campus. When it was founded over a hundred years ago it was called the old age farm. Old people in various stages of recovery, rolled or ambulated wearing bright clothes, clutching IV drips on wheels for stability, teary eyed old men in their eighties and ones Ed’s age who he found hard to get to know or when he did they seemed strange, men who have transformed into menopausal women and waited to die, hopeless, sitting by their big shouldered and bearded wives. To Ed women were all the same from one cackling hens’ club to another, women always chattering and keeping each other company.
It was no puzzle why most men depart by age seventy. The path ahead was strange and threatening to most of them. Their struggle was already concluded, unsuccessful for most and the spark was no longer there. No matter what success they had in life the wing of the hospital was filled with the sense of failure, we were now living on the state, none was in a position to buy more life. Once Ed considered people on the state the lowest of the low, now he was one. The three hundred acre square of land that had killed Ed’s father would now go on to Ed’s son. The farming culture was meaningless to him now. Whatever his son wanted advice on, he could not give it. Ed was at his first school dance again, training his best dog Gallant when he was ten. Jean delivers a boy and Ed is a young father lighting up like the sun. He recognized other faces in the newborn’s face. Dad? … He recalls again that day. He is a boy fixing a flat bike tire. Happy to share the workspace were his father is adjusting the two halves of the combine … The heavy rear end suspended from rafters by chains. It slides into the plate studded with bolts to hold the implement … Even Ed’s youthful ears know it sounds wrong. Dad? … but his dad was gone, clothes tattered, bones that shone through glistening meat, blood everywhere, he never cried out. He would not show his eyes. Ed, if he knew, could have thrown the switch to save his father but his father being impaled then flattened by the many tons of machinery did not have any breath to cry out. Old at forty, weighed down by so many things, Ed’s father, the American farmer back in the nineteen seventies felt singled out for an undeserved drubbing. Now sixty years later the entire country was on its knees together. When it was a few farmers like his dad losing their farm, or faced with that option, in 1975, he was alone. All they had was charity. Now the world was proving to be pitiless to everyone, saw dust mixed with the flour of the loaves of government bread, went down smooth - no splinters, came out easy, had no nutrition and left people so weak they could not defend the nation that was being stolen in front of everyone’s eye. The MaoTseTung-Stores, biggest retailer in the world, sold card board coffins in the home garden area, it was one stop and last stop shopping. The older generation once held wisdom, now it was confused and out of touch, it had been like this for several generations. Now the youngest generation was also displaced. Only disappointment then the grave. The country today is ruled by a circle of elites, the government caste, the United Nations and big business. Old Ed returned from home forty pounds lighter and with several boxes of pills however he was still not going to have the surgery. Weak but feeling no pain Ed was sitting at his kitchen table where he had been all morning nursing a coffee. He was content to be a dying man touring the halls and chambers of memory when young John came to ask his grandfather’s help, to identify relics. John unfolding a sheet of lined paper and Ed looked. “A hay fork, a scythe,” those two drawing were obvious but other drawings the boy had made were too busy. “Something like that might be a hay bedding tool.” Old Ed was guessing, the machine age was well established all of his life. John left the hand drawings for Ed to examine, he was elusive about where he had seen these antiques. He said it was on the organic farm but Old Ed knew the organic farmers cultivated endless talk and they would have told John more than he wanted to know about the mysterious implements. Thoughts focused on the present, his grandson, a boy who cared little for farm life, the boy’s curiosity was itself curious. He came to his grandfather because he did not want to give his father any comforting thoughts about a change of heart. Maybe the old implements were stolen, Ed thought, as ever untrusting. Without evidence he tried to see all sides. He could not say he knew his grandson well enough to rule out crime, not in these times. Old Ed’s thoughts kept circulating around those questions. Since John started working his part time job he missed a lot of school. Alone with the boy in the kitchen a few nights later Ed asked, “What were the tools made of? Were the handles plastic or wood? Were the blades sharp?” “I don’t know I just saw them from a distance.”
“I hope you’re not thinking about doing anything that could get you in trouble. It‘s all right to look but don‘t touch.” John did not flinch when he answered, “I didn‘t touch anything, I just want to know.” That was a good sign. “These days and even back in my time, a little knowledge could be dangerous. Just as dangerous could be the pursuit of knowledge. Big companies like Agri-Corp are allowed to torture people who they find trespassing just to make sure they don’t know anything.” The Miller farm abutted Agri-Corp land, Ed often heard the workers singing when he was up at night. Rumor was they were Philippine and spoke Spanish with a Chinese accent. Another rumor was that some worked in chains. The separation of corporation and state was only a courtesy back when Ed was John’s age. That courtesy was long forgotten. Business simply took what it needed and gained the freedom that individuals had lost. Some of its most suspicious transactions are considered outside of law. The prosperous bought protection and more for their people. That a corporation was free to kill whether accidental manslaughter or self defense was no longer considered absurd, it was the law. A corporation was equal to a man, implicitly more so since a man is one man and a corporation is made up of many men. “You’ll get in trouble even if you don’t see anything.” Grandpa added. They put the innocent in cages without justification, liberty was suspended to protect business. “Do you think those could be torture tools?” John asked with youthful anticipation not weighted by knowledge of history or empathy. “Of course. What isn‘t? A cigarette is a torture tool. So is a glass of water. In the right hands.” Old Ed a veteran of the Militia War had seen it in practice. His grandson’s adventurous spirit had been totally snuffed by cautious, fearful. over protective parents like the rest of the kids today. Thoughts that the best in life is found by taking risks fired in the old man’s mind, a youthful belief he once had that he wanted to pass along to his grandson. The important thing to do now is to kindle a fire, Old Ed wanted that more strongly than to preserve his own life. The two realities amplified each other. Old Ed could not hold back. Life would be a gift if he could pass it along to a grandson who exists in this lifeless generation. “Where are you seeing these things, John? What do you think is going on?” He brought John who was named for Ed’s father into the small garage behind the house known as Grandpa‘s workshop. He threw a switch and a moment after the initial roar the garage was comfortably warm. One wall was the garage door and the facing wall was a work bench surrounded by hand tools on hooks within arm‘s reach, the two side walls were covered with peg boards and more tools, mostly power tools. On the floor tool boxes were stacked waist high and in places three rows of boxes deep out from the walls. Plastic tackle boxes, big open carpenter boxes, and black and red metal affairs on rollers with hundreds of drawers. Some were special purpose tools in their original cardboard and Styrofoam packing, a few milk boxes and coffee cans filled with connectors, screws, nails, washers, nuts, rivets, staples. “Help me move these. Careful.” Containers crumbled in their fingers. “Not even twenty years old. What a crime how they make things today. Some of these tools were my grandfathers. There’s not much made these days that will last sixty or seventy years.” After a few minutes of moving boxes they took a break, Old Ed tired more quickly now and John who had lived a sheltered life was not strong. “What kind of gun is this, Grandpa?” John asked happily squeezing the trigger handle to the base, an easy and satisfying motion with no resistance uncocked on an empty chamber. “A rivet gun. We used it to build vegetable green houses.” Like ancient square rigged cargo ships of dreams, sunk, forgotten, the waste of resources and time in exchange for a treasure of tools, the guides to use them, all to build a support structure with no plan to make it work. They produced bushels of flawless vegetables that sat in the local grocery and on roadsides and rotted. “What’s that?” John held up an empty seed box.
“That’s a cucumber.” “I don’t like vegetables.” “You’ve never had vegetables.” Ed’s mouth watered with the memory of crisp air grown lettuce and hydroponics cantaloupes which were orbitally shaped from growing unsupported. The losses were worth the memory. He had long since stopped blaming the plastic salesman who hooked him up with the greenhouse. It was a pile of shredded plastic now, it started falling apart in the sun after three years and for the last forty years some of its tatters still blow across the highway to be unsuccessfully incorporated in the soil or else catch on a tree branch. It was Ed’s own fault, he had never dreamed he would fail. Most businesses fail and he was unprepared for failure as a result he never tried again. Grandpa let the boy play as he got to the box nearest the wall, hard plastic, once black now dust grey, the cheap container opened easily to the desert camouflage monocular. “Is that a gun?” The boy asked misled by the irregular shape. “It’s for night vision and it’s a camera.” “What good is that if you can’t shoot anything with it?” It was a sincere question which Ed answered sincerely but he wondered why kids today are so dumb. “You can see far away things close up and at night. And take their picture.” The boy was so wildly driven to guns, he would be a true danger if he ever got hold of one. Ed was ten years old when he got his first child sized .22 rifle for target practice. From that age on gun safety was part of his consciousness. He could not see his grandson handling a gun with the special consideration for its destructive potential. He could only imagine him popping off rounds without understanding how someone could get hurt. Saying the boy is dumb because of how he was mothered was only Ed’s way of venting what had built up inside, frustration that only some one his age might understand. This was an era of morbidly prolonged innocence. It was useless to vent. Was it because they saw no future and had no education that they were so dull. Even curiosity was dormant in this generation. “But what’s it good for?” The boy asked. “Well, you can stay back somewhere and use it to spy on girls.” Ed wanted to see if anything was flowing in the boy. “Why’d you do that, Grandpa?” Old Ed felt embarrassed for a brief moment. This is the last generation, he thought, not knowing if the end of the human race was a good thing and if he felt despair or envy toward his grandson and those born to so little responsibility. “Looking at girls or seeing over fences you’re not allowed to cross.” Old Ed remembered, a grandfather makes it all right. John would lead and Old Ed would be there to find out what was going on and to absorb any and all blame. After all our children must remain blameless to live in this world. “Did you say you saw this stuff where you work? Because I’ve been curious about the Agri farm nearby. We can investigate that one and you won’t get in trouble at work.” They met under a sky of blue mixed with white called azure, now it was a dark blue, not inky but blue suit color with a texture now like cheap construction paper. Old Ed had noticed the lines in his face because they had come on more suddenly than the change in the sky. It was good to know the ballsiness between man and boy could still be willed into existence. It was a constant like going out fishing with his grandfather hours before dawn. Forgetting the brook trout that grew smaller, deformed then disappeared. Ed studied the difference between his grandson and himself to see if there was a definite contrast or if one did happily fade into the other. “You see this corner of their farm abuts ours.” Corn plants in the moonlight glowed, the iridescence gene was one of the first bred in by Agri Corp many years ago for security purposes. Their single kernel could be selected from a million others.
“Grandpa we walk the fence line every night.” “That’s the beauty of this plan, the same tools for cutting the wire can be used to fix it again.” Old Ed had been in such a hurry to do this he hardly thought it through. It was the exhilaration that he lusted after. The sensation would either invigorate him or kill him and he wanted either one. “If they can walk the property line at two in the morning so can we.” “Grandpa, I don’t want to do this. I could lose my job.” “I’m your grandfather. Besides, how bad do you want that job? Security guard, that‘s a job for puffed up idiots.” “Good point.” Grandpa added, “You have the family farm.” At that John silently despaired. Old Ed continued as he imparted a birthright to his grandson, photographing farm tools served a purpose but was unimportant next to the freedom to face down the over protectiveness and let lose of limitations. John’s parents raised him to be filled with fear, a teen afraid of kissing, fearful of girls, afraid of government and vengeful corporations. Afraid of what goes in your file or what others say about you. The only way to overthrow fear was to find it, face it then plunge into it. Ed could say it but was too old to feel it in his bones like he used to, he had little left and so there was not much he was afraid to lose. Teenagers used to think and act like they were immortal, now it is all fear and hiding for the teens. His grandson needed to learn that by taking a risk he could win a world. Walking the line and cutting the wire in the soft glow of the corn plants, it was a challenge to keep quiet in the crunching of chemically burned dead weeds. Zigzagging and trying to keep a small profile through the neighbors corn was proving to be difficult for Old Ed who had gone to his knees several times as he tripped over his own feet and the massive roots whose knuckle like plant structure broke the soil for these famous and genetically secret corn plants owned by AgriCorp. The sound of them growing was like a freight elevator was the old joke. Crouched in them it sounded more like hydraulics. John hearing an “Oomph” paused for his grandfather, it was then that they both heard the sounds, voices, laughter, coughing. Grandpa was tugging at John to go back but now John had an interest in what was going on, inside the fence and the outside were for John two different worlds. His Agri-Corp job was outside and to keep those also outside out. The voices seemed distant and unchanging, no one was coming after them or knew they were there. At two AM it was cooler, the generator went on and the lights turned on, electric skillets were plugged in, dry fish and rice were then cooked. The middle of the growing season was a time for mending clothes, fixing tents, repairing the storage bins. No letters were being written because these men could not write. They had been also ordered not to sing, when they made flutes they were taken away. It was important not to disturb the local racist Americans who were too lazy to do this work. The Chinese workers grew radishes, cucumbers and hot peppers on little plots like back home but the pork and chicken came frozen. “What does it look like?” Grandpa had to fight John off to look through the night vision monocular. “It looks like they’re camping.” He passed the monocular to John. “Those are the same kind of tents they use. Can you hear their voices? Kel says their aliens but we never seen any sign of a spaceship.” Grandpa stuck his finger in his ear to turn up his hearing aid then froze to listen. “That’s some kind of Asian tongue their speaking.” Old Ed said after a while. “Asian tongue?” John repeated with incredulity. “Language, boy. Tongue means language, Chinese or Japanese. Or something.” This foray seemed to accomplish both of their missions, “Take some pictures and let’s get out of here.” The fear was refreshing to Old Ed. John now had
something he could hold over his buddies and maybe over Mr. P. “That was great!” John hugged and draped himself all over his grandfather once they were back in sight of grandfather’s house. It was amazing what he was able to do with an old man that he was not able to do with a bunch of kids. “That was exciting but we got to keep quiet about this. I’ll put the pictures on a disk and then I’ll stash the disk. Taking these pictures could get us both into a lot of trouble.” John felt something inside that wanted to whine like a baby but suddenly he became as he envisioned a soldier, one who has a purpose, silent and obedient.