A to Z: Zenith

James McClane followed his mother back to the house, dipping his fingers into his amber waves of grain, letting his fingers get rough and covered in fine fibers of barley.

Back at the house, his mother helped him unpack his little bag. The pot, the loaf of bread, the handful of raisins. She helped him silently, not chastising his lack of preparedness, only rushing so they could finish before his father woke up.

James munched on the raisins and broke off an end of the bread. He could hear his brothers upstairs, milling about, and his sister whining at them for being too loud. The kitchen looked and felt like a dream. James really hadn’t expected to be back so soon, if at all. His journey hadn’t even gotten him off the property. So much for mountains.

James worked hard, diligently, every day into every night. His family grew older around him, all left the farm but him. He married Betty on a Sunday and went back to work on Monday. They had their son, who went to college in New York, the first time James ever left the state. Michael graduated, lived happy with his beautiful wife. They didn’t want any children, it seemed. James fell ill.

Betty fed him hot soup that helped warm him very little. They had lots of hope, so much it spilled out their home and filled their field. It was their best crop in years, and James was too sick to harvest. Michael had come home to help them pick it, and he even brought his old girlfriend Susie Q. and her daughter to pitch in.

“They look like a nice little family out there, don’t they?” James whispered to his wife, watching the three of them out the window. Betty smiled at the soup. “Bonnie won’t like that.”

“Sure,” Betty said, stroking his hair, a faraway look in her eyes. “Ah, it’s just like when they were kids, isn’t it?”

“Just like when we were kids, too.”

The barley swayed in the breeze. The little girl crushed a head of barley in her hand and tossed it in the air, dancing in it like rain.

“I’m going to let you rest and go out to help them,” Betty said and kissed his forehead. She opened the window. “Holler if you need anything.”

James smiled after her as she left the room, and then he was alone. Betty appeared out the window moments later with an armful of apples. The lot of them sat and munched them together on the patch of grass, wowing as Michael tossed his apple in the air and caught it behind his back. The little girl tried to repeat it and ended up throwing it too high, but Susie Q. caught it just before it hit the ground—they laughed and cheered.

As the sun climbed closer to the center of the sky, James wondered if he too had ever had a zenith. His life seemed to have run in a straight line, just like his geometric rows of barley. Did he ever peak? His proudest moments seemed to have all been about his wife or son.

For the millionth time he wondered if life would have been different if his mother never stopped him from running away to the mountains and the sea.

“Would have starved,” he muttered, then chuckled at himself. He must have thought the country was much smaller than it was. Raisins and a loaf of bread, a pot without matches. Yes, probably starved. God, he didn’t even bring water.

But what if he hadn’t starved? Would he have liked the mountains, and the ocean? Would he have still been a farmer for his whole life? Would he have lived in New York, like his son? Would he even have a son? He probably wouldn’t be married to Betty.

The little girl laughed, drawing his eye back down to his little family. His wonderful wife, so caring and loving, so happy and sociable. His son, so successful, smart, perfect. His friend and her daughter, close enough to be family to James, both also so compassionate.

The barley swayed, glimmering like gold under the midday sun. “Probably,” he whispered. “There was probably a better life somewhere. Probably a worse one, too.”

James felt rather calm, a strange sort of happiness. He liked his life. It wasn’t remarkable, but also wasn’t terrible. He had a good family, a good farm, and lived in the middle of amber waves of grain, and while things perhaps would have been different if he had run away he realized then, in the sunny bedroom, that he didn’t mind that.

Peace filled his lungs. His family’s laughter filled his ears. A smile eased itself across his face.

The wind blew bits of barley through his window. A normal life, but a good one. Maybe, James thought, rubbing the barley between his finger and thumb, his whole life had been his zenith.

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.

April: Creative writing

Anyone interested in a month of creativity?

I signed up for the A to Z challenge, which means a blog post every day in April, not counting Sundays. Each day is themed after a letter in the alphabet, so April 1 is A, April 2 is B, and so on.

I was just going to continue with the Playground style of just writing what happens in life, but I was a bit worried about those days when nothing interesting happens, or all of the things happening in April ruining my flow. So I thought, why not do it a bit differently for April? Something I can plan ahead for, something that can keep it fresh and add a bit of flavor.

So I think I’ll write a bit of fiction every day, based on the letter. They won’t be very long, or even particularly stories–some may very well be just scenes. But I wanted to post some fiction here since I created the blog, and this gives me a chance to do so.

And don’t worry, if something comes up I’ll do an additional post that day as well as the A to Z challenge. Sundays will be the same, and things will be back to normal in May (or earlier, if I mess up the challenge).

I know it’s a bit of a change, but I need to get my creative juices flowing again, and with the travel I’ll be doing in six months and the journalism venture I’m on now that ends in June, I figured this blog is already going to go through phases. Just like life.

I’m excited to share April with you:)