Barley & Gold
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by Brian Doe
Description: Fabian Dakota's haunting guilt over his little brother's disappearance from their parents barley farm twenty years earlier leads him home again to confront the painful memories of his past and to learn to accept his wife's terminal illness. He soon discovers that from the other side of reality, in a perfect world of barley and gold, comes the power to heal and the magic to believe. "Barley and Gold" is the story of one man's struggle to face his own guilt and fear, as well as to understand the inevitable truth of life
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2007 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: May 2007
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [239 KB]
Reading time: 155-218 min.
The barley fields were like an ocean of gold.
Fabian Dakota crouched beside his brother Al and wrapped an arm tightly around the little boy's waist. With one hand, Al picked at the barley spikes waving in front of him, and with the other, he tugged on his denim overalls. "Fabes, do you think anyone can turn barley into gold?"
Fabian smiled and stared across the golden acres. "I'll bet someone, somewhere, could do it."
"Well," Fabian said, "someone, I'm sure." He had been hoping to satisfy Al's curiosity with some vague notion that might twist itself around the question and at least pretend to answer it. But he should have known better.
"Well, what's his name?"
"Ah..." Fabian stood, stalling for time. He'd have to fabricate something with more substance than an airy elusion, and it would have to be original. No, he couldn't simply steal the story line of some classic fairy tale, because Al knew them all--many by heart.
In a blitz of inspiration, an idea rolled into his mind, and he decided to keep his brother in suspense for just a little while longer. "Well, it's not a he, it's a they. And they don't really have names at all. But I'm not sure if I should tell you about them."
Al pulled on Fabian's fingers, curiosity playing in his sparkling, liquid-blue eyes. "Why not?" he asked, his voice a pleading whisper.
"The truth is, a whole bunch of people can turn barley into gold, but they're not really people at all." He took a few steps away from Al and scanned the barley fields again, forcing a pause--a strained stillness--into the situation. He reveled in this part of the performance, his self-perfected method of building something believable through the skillful use of the dramatic silence.
More than once had this drama building passed the hours of boredom for Fabian. He was a dramatist at heart, an obscure member of Lord Chamberlain's acting troupe. On countless occasions the small plot of land at the southern end of the barn had become a hall in Elsinore Castle where Hamlet, Prince of Denmark--played by Fabian himself--raised his sword to Laertes, slew him, then turned the bloody blade on his evil uncle, Claudius. And in an instant, he could transform from a lonely farmboy to Henry II, Ishmael, Ivanhoe. He'd read of them all, stored their lives away in his brain, and retrieved them when the curtain rose on his make-believe stage at the edge of the barley. And always in his monologues, there was the silence, long and powerful--the tool with which he gripped his whole audience of attentive plants. The wind seemed to cease then, and the world to grow still; for, he was the greatest actor on earth, the boy of many faces forever breaching the fine line between the real and the imaginary.
So, in the tradition of his beloved theatrics, he made Al wait.
And wait Al did, as if the entire production had been rehearsed beforehand. But when it became too much, the little boy finally spoke: "What're you talking about?"
"Have you ever heard of fairies?" He looked deeply into Al's eyes.
"Fairies aren't real!"
"Dan doesn't know anything," Fabian said. "Besides, he's too old to believe that stuff anyway, whether they're real or not."
"So are they real, Fabes?" Al moved closer to Fabian until his arm touched his brother's elbow.
"They sure are," he answered boldly, pointing across the fields. "They live out there, and they can turn barley into gold."
He could make his little brother believe; this he knew. After all, it was Fabian who had the job of repeatedly insisting and reinforcing the idea that all the great figures of the mind existed--Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, leprechauns. Al had come home from school many times upset with the other boys who didn't believe in Santa or Peter Cottontail and refused to let Al believe in them either. And so, in an attempt to preserve the innocence of childhood--a responsibility Fabian had taken upon himself in his position as big brother and self-appointed guardian--he had convinced Al to believe again in the fairy tales.
"You're not lyin' again?" Al asked.
"Nope." Fabian put his hand on Al's shoulder, feeling the bone under the thin T-shirt and layer of skin. "Why are you so concerned about turning barley into gold, anyway?"
Al was silent for a while, chewing on his bottom lip and staring at the stalks standing like starched soldiers in front of him. He had to rock himself up on the balls of his feet to see clearly over the barley and a short way out into the field, handicapped in height at the age of seven. "If we can find a fairy in these fields," he said at last, "then we could get it to spin us some gold and then Mom and Dad could keep the farm, and we wouldn't have to move."
Al's words sent a hollow ring through Fabian's head. The reality of his parents losing the farm became clearer and clearer every day, as the debts rolled over into another month and the smut disease continued to infect two 640-acre sections of crop uncontrollably, making the barley kernels virtually useless for malting. And on the other side of the farm, the wheat crop was also failing. But now there was another facet of the situation: Though Al's understanding of the workings of humankind was limited, he recognized that there was a problem--something was wrong that involved everyone on the farm and everything they owned.
"You know, Al," Fabian began slowly, "if we were to catch one of those fairies, there's no telling that it would actually spin us some gold. They'll only spin gold for those who truly believe." He was wary of inflating Al's hopes. Santa was an easy one because there were always presents under the tree, and the Easter Bunny always left candy and eggs. But there was no way he could secure piles of gold as proof to his tale--he had already entertained that thought last March during a leprechaun trauma that nearly turned into an all out riot on the school bus.
"Then why wouldn't they spin it for Mom and Dad?" The expression on Al's face turned from serious curiosity to disappointment, then confusion, as he twisted his mouth and creased his brow.
"There's no telling how much Mom and Dad believe. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. There's nothing we can do about it, Al." Fabian watched his brother cautiously, carefully studying the little boy's face. He was trying not to upset Al, and at the same time trying to work out the predicament he'd unknowingly created, the fairy tale that seemed so very close to going awry.
Then, as if he suddenly bought the idea, Al's eyes grew wide and bright. "Maybe I could talk to the fairies and see what they can do." He looked into the barley, his voice smooth and direct, as if, stirring intensely behind his twinkling eyes and glowing in his rosy cheeks, he had a plan to fix everything.
"I'll tell ya what," Fabian said, crouching beside his brother again. "We'll see if we can find one of those fairies tonight, after I get back from town, all right?"
Al nodded, but didn't look at him. Instead, he stood entranced, far too concerned about the possibilities dancing in his mind.
"Good, then we'll do that." Fabian stood and took his brother's hand. "C'mon," he said, "we have to get in for lunch." He had to give the boy a slight tug to persuade him to move, to break him free of his childish ruminations.
And as they walked back to the farmhouse, Fabian turned the story he'd told over and over in his head. He'd have to come good on it now, somehow, and try not to destroy what hope the family had left, most of which remained beating only in the tiny heart of a little boy. * * * *
"I just can't believe it," Chris Galay said, shaking his head. He shoved his hands into his pockets.
"What's there not to believe?" Fabian answered. He watched his best friend shake his head again as they walked slowly down the main street of Fielding--a small town nonexistent on most maps, and, as Fabian liked tritely to think of it, nestled in the middle of nowhere.
"You've saved up your allowance for a whole year to buy a new bike, and now you're gonna blow it all on a gold chain for your little brother?" Chris questioned, frowning. He made a sound, a grunt as he forced the air out of his lungs. Fabian had come to recognize it as an expression of disapproval, disgust. But every time Chris made that sound, Fabian thought of the story his older brother had concocted. Dan said that since the Galays were from the hills back east, the sound--or woof as Dan put it--was actually at one time a mating call. When the eastern hill gals heard that sound, they became overpoweringly fertile, and by the next spring, there were always at least a hundred more hill folk in existence.
Fabian bit his bottom lip, forcing the eastern hill folk images out of his head and trying to control the smile fighting to grow on his lips. "I'm not blowing anything," he said as he peered over Chris's shoulder and into the Fielding Deli. "Besides, this is something I want to do."
Chris shook his head and made the sound, the woof, again. "I can't believe it. And how do you expect to get yourself out of this one after you prove to the little rat that there are fairies in the fields that turn barley into gold?"
"I don't know," Fabian answered frankly. "It's not gonna hurt to let the kid believe in gold-spinning fairies. I'm just fulfilling a fantasy, that's all. Didn't you ever have a childhood fantasy?"
"And what're your parents gonna say? There's enough trouble on the farm already," he said, ignoring Fabian's question.
"They'll understand," Fabian answered. "And since when have parents punished their children for being nice to each other?"
Chris took a deep breath. "But the point is, Fabes, you're not helping the kid with his understanding of the real world and the real situation you're all in by fueling this fairy fantasy. You're sixteen for Christ's sake, you've got better things to do." He paused for a moment. "And besides, what's gonna happen after he finds this gold chain--supposedly spun by barley fairies--in the field? He's gonna expect money to come pumping out of nowhere to save the farm. And your parents might have something to say about that."
"I know; that thought's crossed my mind," Fabian sighed. He stopped abruptly in front of the jewelry store and eyed his friend. "I know how I'm gonna handle it," he said. "I've thought of something--I already have it all worked out in my head." He tapped his temple with a pointer finger and smiled.
Chris rolled his eyes. "Why don't you just forget about it?"
"C'mon," Fabian said, "be with me on this. I just want to give him something to believe in before we have to leave the farm for good."
"Hey, man," Chris retorted, "go ahead, do it. But I don't know how you're gonna do it, I mean, you're gettin' yourself into a mess, Fabes."
"Trust me," Fabian said, stepping past his friend and into the jewelry store.
Kaplain Jewelry and Watches was nothing more than a deep, narrow box sandwiched between the deli and the bank. With only room enough for two rows of display cases running the length of the store, there was little space to move. An older woman, her graying hair laying flat around her face and over the shoulders of a flowered sundress, stood at the far end of the first row of cases, next to the cash register.
For almost fifteen minutes, Fabian and Chris walked the length of the long glass jewelry cases, looking over the gold chains, earrings, and bracelets. Six times Fabian told the clerk he didn't need any help and was only looking, and six times the lady nodded and looked them over like they were criminals trying to devise a plan to get the cases open. And Chris, perhaps out of boredom, made it his mission to make the woman suspicious--picking up a set of earrings then turning his back on her, trying on a watch and glancing up and down the aisle, eyes wide and darting, purposely paranoid as he checked to see who had seen him do it.
"Can I look at this one?" Fabian asked at last. He pointed to a long, plain gold chain wrapped loosely around a marble cylinder. Chris tapped his fingers on the glass and grinned.
The clerk took her time getting to the back of the case, then removed the chain delicately and set it on a piece of velvet on the glass top. "Genuine fourteen karat gold," she said, "twenty-five dollars."
"Twenty-five smackerals?" Chris taunted, bold enough to look straight into ice-cold eyes and bait the devil to come out. "And how do we know if it's even real fourteen karat gold?"
She glared at him for a moment, then said in perfect monotone: "Real fourteen karat gold, kid, I assure you."
Chris smiled at Fabian and turned away, walking to the front window of the store.
"I'll take it," Fabian said and reached into his pocket for the money.
At first, the clerk stepped away from the case and looked Fabian over, like she didn't really believe he was going to buy a twenty-five-dollar gold chain. "You're sure?" she said, placing the chain in a small white cardboard box. "Sure you can afford this?" she persisted condescendingly, reminding him of Mrs. Stapelton, a teacher he'd had in third grade at Lincoln Grammar School who'd made it a habit of checking the students' desks at the end of each day and counting their pencils as she took the classroom inventory. Once, she called Fabian to her desk and interrogated him on how, the day before, he'd acquired an extra pencil. She ultimately telephoned his parents and accused him of stealing the pencil. She soon discovered, though, that he'd asked his father for it on his way out of the house that morning because the lead in the school-issued pencils kept breaking. She never apologized, and Fabian always felt that she watched him extra closely thereafter. He'd notice her staring at him in his reading group, looking over his shoulder during spelling tests. Never did she give him the benefit of the doubt, but instead often glared at him suspiciously like she didn't really believe he was a quiet, well-mannered farmboy.
Three days before the close of his third grade school year, poor Mrs. Stapelton dropped dead--finally falling victim to a weak heart.
And now, as images of Mrs. Stapelton danced menacingly in front of him like an evil specter from his shadowy past, Fabian swallowed hard and answered: "Yes ma'am, I said I'll take it."
Nodding, she closed the box and forcefully pressed the stiff keys of the century-old cash register as she entered the price of the chain. With a huff, she dropped the change from the neatly folded bills he'd given her into his hand, and then pushed the small cardboard box across the counter at him. No "thank you," "have a nice day," "get lost." Instead, she turned her back on him and went about her business wiping down the jewelry cases, stopping just long enough to shoot one last, hot glance at Chris.
A minute later, the two boys were on the main street again, walking toward Chris's house at the other end. Fabian checked his watch.
"Man, I've got to get to your house and grab my bike. It's almost dinner time."
"Good luck," Chris said, hands in his pockets again as he looked down at the cracked and heaved sidewalk. "I wouldn't want to be you gettin' yourself out of this mess, then telling your parents you blew twenty-five bucks on a gold chain."
Fabian smiled. "Someday, Chris," he said, slapping the boy lightly on the back, "you'll understand all this."
"Understand?" Chris retorted. "I'll probably be dead before that happens."
"In that case, then--and only then--will you realize what brothers can do for each other."
"I don't have any brothers, remember?" Chris mumbled. "I was graced with a sister who's nothing but a pain in the neck."
"Just the same," Fabian returned.
Chris smiled at him and took his hands out of his pockets. "Don't count on it," he answered.
Fabian retrieved his bike from the Galay's garage and turned it toward home. He had a happy feeling inside, like a sense of victory, and he couldn't wait to hang that gold chain on a barley stalk and watch his brother find it. There'd be fairies then, he thought, and ones that could turn barley into gold. He knew how skeptical Al could be, but how could his little brother argue with this? Besides, his parents wouldn't have to know where it came from--it just came, that's all.
As Fabian pedaled hard up the dirt road, inching toward the hilltop, he could see his father's barley and wheat fields emerge from the horizon in a rolling ocean of gold beneath a beaming yellow sun. He wiped the sweat from his brow and stopped on the highest point of the hill, putting his hand to his forehead to shield his eyes from the brilliant sunlight as he looked down into the golden sea, the two sections of 640 acres each. The farmhouse, its slate-blue siding bleached in some parts to white by the relentless sun, and the paint chipping in flakes from the white shutters and eaves, glimmered like a small diamond in Fabian's eyes--a diamond in the midst of barley on one side and wheat on the other. He saw a door to the long white barn open, and his father step out and head for the house. And Dan stood beside the silos, looking out over the southern fields. Fabian smiled widely, feeling the jewelry box in his front pocket, and set off down the hill toward the house.