torsdag, september 19, 2013

With all the love the skies can hold

För första gången i mitt liv har jag skrivit en berättelse på ett språk jag inte fullt ut behärskar. Det hade sina för- och nackdelar. A very special thanks to my new aqauintance mr Paul for great feedback an some editorial notes. Varsågoda. Med all den kärlek himlen rymmer.

Part I
If you were to drive on road 48 with the newly awakened sun behind your back, you'd cross the state line any minute. You'd pass through the impossibly small cities of a dry county, where white houses with verandas rest in the safe havens of still fresh lawns, and stroppy signs with political and religious messages stick up like lollipops from the ground. Take your time – you might as well read those good Christian words – because there are officers lurking behind every bend of the road. Sometimes speeding tickets from oblivious foreigners are one of the few ways for a very small city to survive.

But this pearl necklace of villages would soon come to an end, and you’d be alone, driving through the green, low, rolling hills. There would be bad reception on the radio, and a light fog on the other side of the windshield. In a T-junction, you would stop, wondering what road to take. In front of your car a red, abandoned barn would rise from the mist, like a slightly depressed guardian. A big sign on it would say: "Omaha, AL. Population: unknown". You would turn left.

You'd have to drive there. If you ever left your wheels behind, to walk along the road, dogs would bark at you. Men in various vehicles would stop by your side, and they would offer you a ride. Since it is late April, chances are that they would even offer you a job. If you were to decline, they would ask you what you're doing. They would beg your pardon. They would not comprehend what you're saying. And when you’d repeat it, the mild curiosity in their eyes would turn into dense suspicion. A walk? It is a pretty scenery. But in Randolph County, you don't walk unless you have to.

So you'd drive. You would almost get hit by the UPS truck, on its daily hunt along the winding roads, like a big, black, restless dog. Eventually, the sun would beat the moisture, the fog would rise like curtains, and you'd see the almost ridiculously intense techni-tricolor of Alabama: Rusty red dirt, dense green vegetation, skies so blue they hurt the eyes. On the top of a small hill a group of houses would sit. You'd have reached Stan's farm.

Part II
Stan is a big man. He is shaped by the place where he has been living his whole life. Well, it is not a place really. It is vaguer than that, more like a space. The sky is so far above your head it makes your mind spin. Your gaze may run free; it doesn't stop, panting, until it meets the horizon. There are no limits, really. Nothing to confine a man like Stan. The colors of the landscape have painted his character, and his hands never get completely clean.

He has a big voice, too. On Sundays, he goes to singings, where the church fills up and the housewives compete in making the heaviest food from recipes that have been passed through most generations. They don't use words when they sing, Stan and his companions. They just follow the notes crawling across the pages of the used books in their hands. It suits Stan. He has never been a great friend of words. They are not fit to describe his world, nor do they ever settle that elegantly on his tongue. His mouth is good for other things. Telling dirty jokes. Laughing, drinking, smoking, singing. Stan can fill a whole church with his voice, but he looks like a dressed up pet in his white shirt and his greyish mane put back in a semi-tidy ponytail.

For a couple of weeks now, there has been a young, dreadlocked Frenchman living in Stan's home. His name is François, and he volunteers on the farm for food, shelter and experiences. They get along, or at least, there are no signs of them not doing so. Today, as the sun rises, François drives to a neighboring farm to pick up a couple of girls, also volunteers, who are going to help out just for the day. One of them is tall and dark, her beauty overpowered by her awkwardness. The other one is short and blonde and easier. Swedish, of course.

The girls are harvesting beetroots and carrots of varying colors. These are going to be delivered in CSA boxes to the eco-conscious middle class, or become fancy food in the hip restaurants of Atlanta. It’s like a joke. It’s unbelievable that a world like that exists less than two hours drive from here. The girls pick the vegetables up from the dirt, rinse them, and put them in tidy bundles. Suddenly, they see a small figure driving an old-school four-wheeler up the hill. It is Stan's eldery father, and he pulls his vehicle to a halt in front of the girls. He looks at them, but he doesn't say much. The blonde girl tells him where she comes from. Stan's dad looks neither impressed nor interested. Then she says something about the beauty of the landscape, the great location of the farm. "I don't like it when foreigners, whom we’ve let into our country, come here and tells us what to do", Stan's old man declares. It is not a personal criticism. It is just what comes to his mind when he thinks of the other side of the US border, or the state line for that matter.

The house is a mess. No, it is more than a mess, it is an apocalypse. A true den. One wouldn't think it was possible to have so much stuff indoors; it makes the house seem small. The kitchen is directly connected to the bedroom. There is a bed in the corner, and a mattress lying on the floor. Together with tools, books, clothes, and things with uses you can’t quite imagine. And eggs. Eggs everywhere. Stan does have a lot of chickens. Being French, François has managed to make an elegant three course lunch right in the middle of this chaos of dirty dishes and general debris. The food is delicious. There is even a crème brûlee for desert, the smooth vanilla custard contrasting with a perfect and crunchy caramel crust. Stan and the girls contemplate this wizard-like achievement. There is not much of a conversation.

What Stan is doing today is obscure. He walks around. He fixes things. Every two hours or so he takes his pickup truck, lets the girls and the Frenchman sit on the truck bed, and drives through the grounds. Eventually, they end up in the family cemetery. The sun falls bright on the tombstones, gathered in a small group around a big oak. It is not a sad place. Stan rolls a joint. He tells stories bordering on conspiracy theories about why the government doesn't want him to grow marijuana. "Do you smoke?" he asks the dark girl – the shy one, who has a degree from Harvard, and who is going to Stanford next year. "What do you think?" she says as she reaches for the joint. "I told you I'm from New Mexico".

Part III
By the end of the day, all four of them are going back to the Moore's place, where the girls stay. Stan drives, and the others are sitting on the truck bed in the still-warm sunlight, feeling the wind blowing dirt and any remaining thoughts of reality off their faces. François leans back on the truck. "These are my trippin' glasses", he proclaims, as he put on his bright orange sun glasses, tilts his head back and watches the clouds.

There is dinner, and a lot of people: The Moore family of course, several generations and a semi- distinguishable group of dogs, pigs and chickens included. Tyler, the gentle but troubled soul who packs the CSA boxes while listening to Sam Cooke tunes. And Aviva the faded hippie, a paper-thin eerie creature growing herbs on a small farm nearby.

Later that night people are drinking beer around an enormous bonfire. On the radio, they've said there is going to be a storm tomorrow. The blonde volunteer girl is excited about it, she can't wait for it to come and further intensify the storiness of it all, enhance the non-reality of the world she is only visiting. She will never be a real farmer. Farmers know that thunderstorms are devastating, that rain crushes the crops to a smear on the ground and the giant hands of the wind lift the things they've built away like nothing.

Stan is enjoying his beer, the way you can only do in a dry county. Aviva is sitting on his lap. She looks like a bouquet of dry and fragile twigs draped in a flowery dress, held in the shovel of an excavator. His laugh can be mistaken for the coming thunder. Her giggle is almost silent. They fit as well together as oil and water, Stan and Aviva. Their chances are one in a million. But the fire only heats one side of your body, and at this hour you can tell it is just April by her cold breath sneaking up your back. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you are a very big man. In an incomprehensible world, under the vast and black Alabama sky, with a storm coming, you still need the heat.