Fiction Sad

I watched as the orange crescent moon bade its farewell to the day, its outline the only light in the sky, a reflection of the set sun from beyond the horizon.

Another day had passed, and I gave a sigh, a long profound outpouring of despondency. I had long lost count of the days I had been alone, forgotten amongst the rest of the detritus of the run-down farm.

If I could dream, it would be of much happier times, times when I had a purpose, a meaning in this world. But dreams never come to me. Like sleep, they are not meant for the likes of me. For I am but of sticks and straw, dressed in old, smelly cast-offs.

Once upon a time, long, long ago now, I remember taking shape. The farmer’s children – Jake and Sally – had tied some willow branches together and then wrapped me in straw with string. Pushing, pulling and squeezing me, I was formed in the likeness of their father, with long, sturdy legs, a trim waist but barrel-chested with broad shoulders, muscular arms and a melon-shaped head.

They dressed me in some of his threadbare discards – thick, brown cotton trousers, a blue-checked shirt - a green, woollen jumper over it with holes, even in the elbow patches.   Colourful, even if not quite vibrant, I was a picture to behold. By the time they had pulled a sack over my head and painted my eyes, nose and mouth, topped off with one of their mother’s old black felt hats, I was ready to meet the world head-on. I was prepared for whatever they wanted me to do.

With the farmer and his wife looking on, Jake and Sally led me to the vegetable patch, each carrying me by an arm, and ceremoniously planted me at the head of the plot facing west towards the hills in the distance. This was to be my abode for the foreseeable future – a pleasant enough allotment, enclosed by a white painted picket fence. At the far end were some fruit bushes, already in bloom in this warm early Spring. In front of me were clumps of brilliant white snowdrops, the harbingers of Spring.

Immediately in front of them, daffodil stems stood to attention – their yellow trumpets scanning the sky for some mysterious alien life and, just beyond the narcissi, tulip stems with tight unopened buds stood guard. The rest of the plot – about three-quarters of it – was a rich, earthy brown, with some early signs of growth – vegetables of some kind, undoubtedly, which would, in due course, make themselves identifiable.

Sparrows dashed in and out of the hedgerows beyond the fence, small groups chasing each other, screeching in delight. Singing his heart out, a lonely blackbird was in the hopeful search of attracting a mate. Blue tits argued with each other over the stale bread on a table in the corner.

This was idyllic and, if I had a heart, it would have been bursting with joy at this picturesque setting.

“Right then, Mr Scarecrow, keep those pigeons from eating our vegetables,” Jake ordered as he tied a faded yellow woollen scarf around my neck.

“How is he going to do that?” asked his younger sister.

“Magic!” explained Jake.

“Magic? But he’s a Scarecrow, not a Wizard.”

“With those eyes, he’ll easily frighten them away.

There won’t be a pigeon within a mile of our garden.”

Well, that’s what they thought, but I had my doubts.

I didn’t feel scary, and I didn’t believe that I had magical powers. But I had a job to do, and I would do my best.

Every day I would stand to attention, trying to look as intimidating as I could. The pigeons would flutter from the sycamore trees with a view to settling on the vegetable patch for their food. But as often as not, a breeze would materialise, causing my scarf or my trousers or my hat to flap, just enough to cause them fright and off they would fly to seek sustenance elsewhere.

This was an easy job, and Spring led into Summer, by which time the various crops had grown too large for the pigeons to take interest. So much of my time was spent just watching the world go by.

I was fascinated by the changing weather – how warm the sun could be, how wet the rain was and how cold frost and snow were.

The shifting of the seasons entranced me.

Just how many shades of green were there in a Spring? What made seeds grow into plants? What turned the leaves on the trees to reds, yellows and browns? Why did the world go to sleep in Winter?

Changing light intrigued me – bright, cloudless, sunshiny days; dull, overcast, rainy days; the twinkling of starlit evenings; pitch black, moonless nights.

Just as the passing days let me marvel at Mother Nature, they also allowed me to watch the people grow. Over time, Jake transformed from a gangly young boy into a muscly youth, able to help his father with more and more jobs around the farm.

Sally grew more and more like her mother, with a beauty which attracted young men from around the surrounding villages.

And all this time, I just stood there watching, content that I was part of this magical land, until that first fateful day.

In a nearby field, Jake was skilfully guiding the two Clydesdale mares pulling the plough when his father approached him, a brown envelope in his hand. I could see them speaking animatedly, furrowed lines of anxiety in his father’s face, but wide-eyed excitement in Jake’s.

Two days later, I heard the farmer, his wife and Sally bid farewell to Jake, concern in his mother’s voice, stoicism in his father’s and sadness in his sister’s. But Jake had an upbeat tone in his. He was off to fight The Hun, whoever or whatever that was and, as he rounded the corner of the lane and came into my view, I could see him striding along, not a care in the world, turning every now and again to wave cheerfully to his family until he was beyond their sight. Adjusting the straps on his shoulder bag, Jake marched off into the distance, and I watched him with a sense of foreboding…why was he leaving his family and the farm? Where was he going? When would he return?

Things had changed since Jake’s departure that Summer’s day. Although the weather was as warm as it always had been and the sun shone as brightly as any other golden day, the family's mood was that of concern – concern for their son and brother and concern that the workload could no longer be shared.

That worry escalated when, a fortnight or so later, a lorry arrived at the farm. The farmer was finishing the ploughing which Jake had started when two men walked up to him and handed over a piece of paper. My first thought was that the farmer would be leaving just as Jake had.

An argument started between the farmer and the two men, their voices raised enough so that I could hear them.

“But you can’t take my horses. What will I use to work the farm?”

“Orders are orders, I’m afraid.”

“Can you at least give me a couple of days to finish the ploughing?”

“No, the Government needs your horses for the war effort. You are allowed to keep one, but the remainder is hereby requisitioned.”

The farmer stared at the men, then turned to his two mares.

“How do I choose which to keep and which to hand over?

They have both been with me for years and have both served me well.”

“Not our decision, but we need to take one away with us now.”

Dejected, the farmer went about uncoupling the grey mare from the plough harness. As he led her out of the field, there were tears in his eyes. The second mare whinnied as her partner plodded over the neat furrows towards the farmyard. Some time later, the farmer returned and, with some adjustment to the remaining horse’s straps, continued the ploughing effort.

Autumn turned to Winter – a long, cold winter.

Spring eventually returned, but the warming sunshine did little to bring cheer to the farm. With Jake absent, the farmer struggled to keep up with the farm work. Neighbouring farms had also had their number of horses reduced, but they helped each other by sharing the remaining animals.

The vegetable plot was now the responsibility of Sally, but she didn’t have the strength of her brother, and only a minimum of effort was carried out. I tried my best to keep the pigeons at bay, but my “magic” didn’t appear to be working as well as it had in the past.

Sally would sometimes come to the garden to find the birds scrabbling over her newly planted seeds. She would flap her arms and shout at them to scare them off, but they would return to feed when she left. 

Disdain for my poor efforts crept into her mind, and one day she had had enough of my incompetence. With tears of frustration, she pushed me over so that I was staring at the cloudy sky overhead.

“You are useless!” she cried at me. “Jake promised me that you would work your magic against these pigeons, but just look at you. That stupid smile on your face – how is that going to scare away the birds? You just stand there and let them feed on my seeds. You are useless, USELESS!”

With that last scream, she lifted me up and threw me into the corner of the garden before stomping off, pained sobs echoing my way.

She was right, of course. I was not doing my job. I had no magic to offer.

Days went by with me left in the corner to stare into the sky. The sun would scorch my face, the rain would soak it, and the wind would whistle up my trouser legs and jumper. My felt hat lay at a jaunty angle, half curled up between my head and the wooden fence.

Those days turned to weeks, the weeks into months and the months into new seasons. Sally did her best to work the vegetable plot, but her heart was not in it, the effort too much. But there was something else on her mind. I would hear her talking to herself sometimes, asking what her brother was doing, if he was keeping well, and why did he not write home with his news.

The happiness of previous times was gone, replaced with sadness. No longer did she sing or hum tunes as she tended her plot. Silence was the order of the day, and the melancholy echoed through the farm.

They didn’t receive much in the way of post at the farm, but one cold and windy day, the factor pedalled his way up the farm lane, and I heard him call out his arrival. Minutes later, I heard the most awful, piteous cry from the farmer’s wife.

Shortly afterwards, Sally appeared in the garden, tears streaming down her face. She slumped on to the grass beside me, and through her sobs, I heard her news of the death of her brother. If I could have moved, it would have been to wrap my straw arms around her and to place her head on my woollen chest – anything to comfort her. But I could not move, and Sally released her emotions on me.

With both fists, she pounded my chest.

With cries of frustration and anger, she raged against me.

I could not defend myself, nor did I want to. I was made to serve and if my purpose was to be her whipping boy, then so be it.

The blows continued for several minutes until her anger was silenced by the sound of a gunshot from somewhere in the farmyard.

Sally gasped and ran back towards the house, shouting for her father all the way.

That was the last I ever saw of Sally and, for that matter, the farmer and his wife.

Days and weeks passed slowly. Then, one day, a new farmer appeared. He was unlike Jake and Sally’s father. This one was shorter, rounder and with a much less cheery outlook. But he was no farmer – more of an animal husband. No more ploughing of the fields to grow corn or barley or wheat, no more crops of potatoes, turnips or cabbages. No, his idea of farming was to release cows into a field and to let them get on with it.

His wife was no better, but she at least took an interest in the vegetable plot, slaving over the soil – digging, raking, planting.

I thought that was a good sign and that I would return to my guard duties, but she hardly ever looked at me.

Instead, she threw the unwanted weeds my way, and here I am today, my legs buried in trash.

No children appeared, so there was no laughter of young voices echoing over the countryside. Nothing of cheer to break the solitude.

And so I lie here in silence, in the dark, with no purpose. I do not – cannot – sleep, so the solitude of the days repeat in the nights, day after day after day. Time has little meaning to me – the light of day transforms into the darkness of night, day after day after day.

As I gazed heavenwards, light above the far-off hills slowly transformed the monochrome nighttime to shadowy hues, mere hints of colour forming on the black and grey shapes of the countryside. Not yet dawn, the sky promised another breath-taking sunrise as traces of bright yellows and oranges traced the outlines of distant clouds. 

Standing aloof on his perch on the corner post by my side, the cockerel heralded this new dawn, his bright red comb standing proudly, his black tail shimmering, crowing to his harem that they were safe with him there, calling to all and sunder to awaken. 

Nature still held her beauty. 

If I could cry, my tears would be like the bubbling stream - constant, spilling over this cotton sack, incongruous with the painted smile on my face.

May 01, 2021 09:36

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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