Tuck stopped. The hills rolled with no end in sight before and behind him. He’d been moving twelve hours and now the sun was about down. He didn’t care. He’d wittingly gone a path he couldn’t replicate and tried his best to ignore the sun all the way. He struggled to forget the date. How old am I? I know but no matter. To be free was to be lost now.
He was unfettered, scrapped by the foreman–the formidable foreman who always stopped for who? what? where? when? why? how?–hours ago. The only thing was: what now? Immediately, that is. He was tired, but restless. His brain buzzed bzz bzz like the caricature of a dying television and his body promised “I’ll give out shortly!” in its ineffable ways. He naturally sat down Indian style in a trough between two crests and fished for an apple. Even a timeless man acts like he wants to live.
No apples left. Jerky–dried, salted umami–did fine.
First reading lesson at age four, out on the creaking-eeking porch: couldn’t make sense of the symbols on the page but he saw their beauty and wanted to know the rest. Grandpa lowly rumbled as he moved his finger across the page. “The fox, f-o-x, jumped over the fence.” said it, sung it, tapped it with gravity. He picked it up quickly and deeply, and respected it because he respected beauty and he respected grandpa. Ma and pa were proud. Grandpa was so proud of and confident in the boy he fantasized about beating the hell out of him for it. He reckoned Tuck would take it at first like a child, ow ah stop, and then like a stone, a silent, stoic stone who knew what happened was right and reasonable. The boy was ready for a real education, having mastered letters. But the old man never really thrashed him. Ma and pa wouldn’t have sanctioned it.
Grandpa respected people insofar as they could handle the vicissitudes, the abuses of life. Must have been that frequent ah shit, that “Ohp, no corn this year; weather didn’t allow,” that kept him on the balls of his ass, his life. A lifetime of manual labor had rendered the elder’s hands raw at first and then rugged. Love, loss, and onward was just callous following abrasion. Hardening by abuse—life’s flames looming, swarming, testing, burning the fat, moving on—was tried-and-true; he suspected his son’s tender approach, flame retarding in his view, would foment nothing to write home about. Nonetheless, he respected his son and daughter-in-law for going through life and resumed a semblance of the parenting they’d started. He knew Tuck would encounter abuse organically but, sensing the boy’s precocity, grandpa yearned to share what he knew without delay so they could be men together; he didn’t have much time left, he thought, and he wanted to know this man. Restraint here, holding those hands back, would be the last iteration of grandpa’s method.
Dried, dead, nourishing flesh reminded Tuck that at seven death called when the farm’s failure was imminent; accustomed to multi-day fasts, he knew too well the processes wasting him now. Grandpa told him “Don’t waste this and don’t forget this.” Tuck reluctantly internalized the old man’s old sentiment. His next meal was his best up to then. It was like that.
Still dully hungry, Tuck wrapped the leftovers in the tattered cloth grandpa had left for him and put it away. Seated still, he straightened his back and closed his eyes. The aural buzz, the bodily crying, softened and then stopped, along with his hunger.
He went on, stuffed with wisdom and just enough just-fine jerky.