A to A: Amber

James McClane was born with blue and white in his veins as well as red. He loved to plow, to sing as he tilled the fields, to let his voice fill the valley and the hayseed air fill his lungs. He loved his family, mother, father, sister, brothers, his warm morning milk and his creaky bed frame, the owl that perched on the chimney and the bees that tapped the window glass. He only wished his house could fly.

He watched The Wizard of Oz once on the staticky television, a house just like his flying through the sky and landing in Oz. He didn’t mind so much for Oz, but he wanted the tornado to sweep their cabin off its foundation and to all the places he saw on the news, to New York, to California, to the Grand Canyon. Mostly, he wanted to see the places in the songs that he learned in school, back before he was strong enough to work with his father and brothers. The purple mountains majesty. The amber waves of gray.

One day in autumn he put some things in a bag. A pot, a loaf of bread, a handful of raisins. He was going to see the mountains. He knew from school they were west, and he knew west was the opposite of the morning sun. He sat on the porch until the sun peaked over the flat horizon, and then began cutting his way through the yellow fields of barley. Harvest time was when he was needed most but loved least, so the perfect time to go. His heels spanked the hard dirt in a nice rhythm, and he found he could sing to it.

“Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber—”

“James!” it was his mother, running barefoot through the field, holding her dress in messy fistfuls. Her face was wrinkled and red. “Just where in the hell do you think you’re going?”

James bit his lip, waiting for her to catch up to him. She flung her arms around him and he stood brick still.

“James! You talk to me right now.”

“I’m going, Ma,” James said, and he spat blood from his bit lip on the ground. His knuckles were white around the string of his bag. “I gotta go see my country.”

“I swear, between you and your sister…You’re IN your country.”

“No, Ma…” he pinched the bridge of his nose, wiped a leathery hand down his face just beginning to show signs of stubble. “My country. Beautiful, spacious skies. Amber waves of gray.”

His mother finally let her dress drop, and it swayed against the dirt and broken barley heads. “James, look around you, you’re surrounded by that. You’re not making any sense.”

“Gray ocean waves, purple mountains? I’m surrounded by that? Ma. We’re stuck here in yellow.”

“Yeah.” She picked up a head of crispy barley and crushed it in her hand. “Amber waves of grain. We’re drowning in it, James.”

“Grain,” James whispered, watching the bits of barley float in the air. He caught a piece in his dry palm and kneaded it to pieces. “So amber doesn’t mean gray, it means yellow?”

She grabbed the back of her son’s neck and pulled him hard into a hug. The barley swayed in a sudden cool breeze.