Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 6)

Author’s Note: If you’re interested in seeing the notes used to frame this chapter of the story, you can visit this POST.

The next morning, Gracelyn Polk felt well enough to go back to school.

She slowly pedaled her bike in the morning glory goodness, looking up at the yellow metal sky and its crumbling sun. She thought about Astron and what he had said — about there not really being others at the school and that it was an empty place full of ghosts. He made her feel foolish. He made her feel as if she was wasting her time.

“I don’t care what he says,” she spoke aloud. “I still need a good education. And there’s nothing wrong with having a vivid imagination. I can play school if I want to play school. Whatever else am I going to do with my days?”

As Gracelyn came upon the unsettling neighborhood of Vinegar Village, she suddenly stopped. She looked off to her left, down one of the tree-lined streets there. It was the general Midwestern place found in the great picture book of the American dream, now dreamless. The homes ran in a row down each side of the boulevard, typical two-story architectural teeth erected by lost hands inside a broken jaw, darkened square windows of dusted glass looking out on buckled and broken sidewalks pierced by immortal weeds of green.

She heard a noise coming from a place where there was usually never a noise. She tried to stop breathing so that she could hear better through the distance. The noise rang out softly in a consistent rhythm — it was a clinking or tapping sound, metal upon metal, then metal upon wood, she thought.

“Someone’s hammering on something,” she told herself. “But who would be building in this dark age?”

She got off the bike, steered it out of the roadway and set it against a shrub row at the edge of the right-side sidewalk. She looked up at a white street sign attached to a tall, black lamppost at the corner. At the top, higher up then the sign, the post had a faded white covering the shape of an inverted tulip shielding a long dead bulb. The sign read: VINEGAR VALE, and then in smaller letters boulevard was abbreviated as BLVD.

She slowly slinked along the cracked sidewalk, peering through breaks in the shrub rows to catch glimpses of empty front yards, watched upon by the sentinel vacant homes that looked like tombstones because of how they sat all in a line like that — silent and dead and merely shells for memories blasted away. The hammering noise grew louder as she went. When she got to the end of the block, she peered across the intersection and saw a man mending a fence at a big yellow house there on the corner. It was much bigger than the other houses around it, much grander, Gracelyn thought, and not nearly in a state of disrepair as the others. Someone was caring for it. Someone had never left, or maybe someone returned. She stood at the opposite curb while the man continued to work. It wasn’t long though before he completely stopped hammering and straightened himself like something had suddenly caught his attention. He looked to his right. He looked to his left. He looked up at the sky — and then he turned around.

He gazed at her for a moment as if he just didn’t know what to make of the girl standing across the street and watching him. He holstered the hammer in a toolbelt he had around his waist. He reached into a pocket in his blue jeans, withdrew a red cloth and wiped at his face.

“Are you lost?” the man finally called out to her.

“No. I’m on my way to school.”

The man readjusted the straw-yellow cowboy hat atop his head and squinted at her with a look of wonder and confusion. “School?”

“Yes, sir. School.”

The man made a puzzled face. “There’s no school here… Or anywhere.”

“I make my own school. It helps to keep my mind occupied with something.”

The man shook his head in agreement, tossed a glance over his shoulder at the house and said, “I know what you mean.” He made a motion to her with his hand for her to come closer. “Let me get a better look at you,” he said.

Gracelyn looked both ways before she crossed the street that didn’t require looking both ways and went to him without hesitation. She stopped before him and looked up because he was tall. He had sentimental eyes, Gracelyn thought, Bear Lake blue and contemplative. His face was somewhat drawn and speckled with whiskers the color of salt. She wasn’t afraid of him at all. She felt safe for once.

He looked her over and smiled. “And who might you be?”

“Gracelyn Polk.”

The man nodded and twisted his mouth in an act of considerate thinking. “I never heard of a Gracelyn Polk.”

“Oh, it’s okay if you’ve never heard of me. I’m not famous or anything.”

The man chuckled and looked around at the present-tense world he was in. “Fame doesn’t matter anymore — it never did.”

Gracelyn nodded up at the big, pretty house of bumble bee yellow. “Do you live here alone?” she wanted to know.

The man sighed with the stab of a quick, dark memory. “I do. Yes, I do.” There was an awkward silence between them and then he put his hand out to her. “The name’s Farm Guy, by the way.”

Gracelyn reached out and shook his hand. She crinkled her face. “Farm Guy?”

“That’s right.”

“That’s your name?”

“That’s my name.”

“So, your first name is Farm, and your last name is Guy?”

“You would be correct.”

“That’s not really a name… It’s more of what you are, but then again, this isn’t really a farm.”

Farm Guy laughed. He liked her. “Do you want to see my birth certificate?”

Gracelyn seriously thought about it for a moment. “No. I believe you.”

He smiled. She liked his smile. It was peaceful and comforting, like a quiet grandfather maybe, she decided.

“You know, I think I’m tired of working on this darn fence for a while. Would you like to come inside for some milk and cookies?”

Gracelyn was happily shocked. “You have milk?”

“I do.”

“You have cookies?”

“Chocolate chip. Made them myself,” Farm Guy boasted.

Gracelyn chewed at her bottom lip and looked at the big house again, trying to decide. “I really should get off to school. I’m already going to be late.”

“Well, I know school is important… But I’d like you to. Been a while since I’ve had some company in the big old house… And the milk is cold, and the cookies are… Out of this world.”


Gracelyn sat at a round table topped with a tablecloth that reminded her of a picnic she once took when she was very young — like a checkerboard, but with blue and white squares. There was a glass vase in the middle of the table and inside the vase were yellow flowers that looked wild. The kitchen smelled like good cooking. It was a very nice house, at least the parts she had seen were. It was very clean and neat and smelled like a good, happy life. She just couldn’t understand why it was here or for what reason. It didn’t fit, but it did. Then again, it didn’t matter, because at the moment she needed it.

Farm Guy set a tall glass of milk in front of her. She quickly reached out a hand and felt the cold, wet glass, and drew it to her mouth and took a gulp or two. The man set down a cookie jar that resembled a white pig wearing a black top hat who was sitting down on his rear end like a person. He had a wide smile and a big belly. Farm Guy lifted off the head by the top hat and set it aside.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Help yourself.”

Gracelyn eagerly thrust her hand inside the pig’s cookie jar guts and pulled out a big chocolate chip cookie. “I haven’t had a cookie in… Seems like forever,” and she bit into it, closed her eyes, and slowly chewed, savoring every sweet moment.

Farm Guy pulled off his straw-yellow cowboy hat and hung it on a peg near the back door in the kitchen. His head was mostly bald except for a short crop of hair around the sides and a sparse patch of mowed down receding fuzzies up top. He pulled out a wooden chair across from her and watched as she enjoyed the snack.

It was then a serious look came over his face and he said to her, “Do you understand what happened to the world?”

Her eyes were fixed on him as she bit into another cookie. “I only know the world got too hard for people to live in… Most people.”

“You’re right,” he said. “You’re a smart girl.”

“That’s because I still go to school.”

The man gave her a soft smile and nodded his head.

“But what I don’t understand,” Gracelyn began. “Is why. Why did the world get so hard to live in?”

Farm Guy took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. He reached a long arm to the cookie jar and pulled one out, put it toward his mouth and nibbled on it as he searched for an answer for her.

“I suppose in a nutshell, the answer would be that people became too hard on people.”

“You mean they didn’t care about each other like they should have?”

“That’s a big part of it. Now, I don’t claim to know everything about the world, but I know quite a bit. And what I know makes me sad as I sit here and look at you.” He sucked at his mouth and looked around the bright kitchen. “You shouldn’t even be here. Not like this. You should have a different life. A better life.”

“But I don’t mind being here with you… Like this. It’s nice for once.”

Farm Guy held a fist in his hand and looked into her eyes. “We were too hard on the world, and it turned on us. Think about a cat. What happens if you pull on a cat’s tail really hard… Even if it’s the nicest cat in the world?”

Gracelyn polished off the last bit of the milk in her glass and looked at him. “The cat gets mad.”

“That’s right. The cat will turn on you. It will hiss and screech and try to scratch at you. I know it’s a simple answer, but that’s sort of what the world did to us. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” Gracelyn quickly answered.

Farm Guy sighed and got up from the table and went to the kitchen window and looked out. “I sit alone in this big house quite a lot and it gives me too much time to think about how we messed everything up. There was just too much greed, too much selfishness, and everyone’s priorities all askew… Do you know what askew means?”

“Like crooked?”

“Yes. Crooked.” He quickly moved back to the table and sat down again. “Think about this and you’ll understand more about what I mean by priorities all askew. Imagine there’s a man on one half of the world and he’s a rich man, a fat man, a fancy man, and he’s having dinner at a fancy restaurant with other rich and fancy people… And they order all kinds of drinks and appetizers and big dinners, and they all eat and eat and eat until they are so stuffed with food, that they are sick to their stomachs and can’t even finish it all.”

“They’re being pigs,” Gracelyn blurted out. “Like your cookie jar, but not in a good way.”

“Sort of, sort of like pigs. But then imagine that on the other side of the world, the same gosh darn world we share with each other, there’s other people that are wandering around in the dirt of their country and they look like skeletons because they don’t have enough food to eat… They don’t have enough to eat while the ones on the other side of the world have so much to eat, they end up throwing it away. It ends up in the garbage. Think about that.”

“It’s terrible.”

“It is terrible… And these poor people lie down at night but it’s too hard to sleep because they’re starving and starvation hurts. How can we even have a word such as starvation when there’s food just being tossed away?” He made a motion with his hand and had a look of disgust on his face.

“You know what I used to think about?” Gracelyn said.

“What’s that?”

“I always wondered this… If the people on the poor side of the world didn’t have enough food, why didn’t they just build themselves a restaurant and go to it and eat?”

Farm Guy looked at her and smiled. “You know, I used to think the very same thing.”

“Really?”

“Yep. Seems like a logical solution, right?”

“It does to me.”

“The only problem was,” Farm Guy began. “There were too many horrible people sitting in these high towers of polished glass and steel and they didn’t want the poor people to have restaurants because the poor people couldn’t pay for the food. And these horrible people who didn’t care sat at long tables in fancy rooms, and they talked about and plotted how they could squeeze more out of every man, woman, and child, until they died and left this Earth. And this was all very important to them, mind you, they took it very seriously. And instead of feeding and helping others less fortunate, they built great electric temples to house their food and their products as if they were gods, and they convinced the people they needed to worship what was ultimately useless. Miles upon miles upon miles of these temples were built, all over the world, and the people who worked in them were stuffed into a uniform and inducted into a culture of selling and serving. It was sold as an exciting career with unlimited growth potential… But it was ultimately a form of slavery. And it consumed them daily, sucked away their life just so they could suck out the lives of others… It was a tragic cycle of profit over people. That was their battle cry and that was a god damn big problem for the human race. Always was.”

He looked at the girl with some concern, hoping he wasn’t giving her more than she could handle, but Gracelyn sat attentive and wide eyed. “Do you know how I know all that, what I just said?” he asked her.

“How?”

“I used to be one of those fools in the towers of polished glass and steel.”

“You were?”

“I was… And in the end, I lost everything that was important to me.”

“Is that why you’re all alone.”

“That’s why I’m all alone… Not that any of that matters anymore.”

“But you’re not alone now. I’m here.”

Farm Guy brightened. “And I’m so glad you are.”

Gracelyn wanted to hear more. “What else about the world went wrong?”

He chuckled sadly. “Too much. More than a lifetime could tell.”

“The wars?”

“That’s right… The wars. They elevated orange fools to positions of power and gave madmen weapons of mass destruction. And countries started stepping over lines just to kill and destroy and take, and for what? For what purpose? I never understood it. Never. And nobody did anything about it. Nobody cared.” He pointed a finger at her. “The gross evil came in the fact that we invested in war and killing and destruction. Billions upon trillions of dollars to rape each other to death with guns and bombs, to rip the earth apart and cover it in blood, and for what?… And all this goes on right under the nose of some caring creator?” He scoffed and looked at her. “I’m sorry if that was all a bit strong.”

“It’s okay. I can take it.”

“How old are you?”

“11. Nearing 12.”

“You come across much older than that.”

Gracelyn looked down, almost ashamed. “I guess in some ways I am.”

“But all we had to do, was cling to love and we didn’t,” Farm Guy continued. “We nurtured it so little. In our small circles, our big circles, across the entire globe. There was so much carelessness in the simple act of kindness.”

Farm Guy grew tired of listening to himself carry on in such a dark way. He glanced up at the clock on the wall, and then back to Gracelyn. “I’m afraid you’re really going to be late for school now,” he said. “You can just blame it on me.”

“It’s okay. I’ll just look at my time here with you as an… Educational experience. I may even do a report about you.”

“A report about me?”

“Sure.”

“I look forward to that,” he said, and he stood up and went to get a plastic food container out of a cabinet. He filled it with chocolate chip cookies, snapped on the lid, and handed it to her.

“To take with you.”

“Thanks,” she said, and she got up from the table.

“No problem at all. You’re always welcome to come back if you want more.”

“You’ll be around?”

“I’ll be around.”

“That’s good. I was worried I might never see you again.”  

Farm Guy opened the back door and saw her out. He watched her for a long time as she walked away, as long as it took for her to completely fall away from his sight.

 TO BE CONTINUED


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