Hoar Frost Lays

Hoar Frost Lays

Sparse weeds droop limp and sanguine, nibbled by the tiny teeth of slow winds. Boundless fields – crumbling under a moment of hoarfrost. Something budding to come out in the furrows stirs an avalanche of sillion; rushes down to naught. A checkered ground feeds on the base of a colorless tree – small and imperceptible in the land; nothing moves upon its bark, nothing haunts its studded crown. Sometimes the tapestry will waver – shadowy threads will cross with brilliant patches in a frenzied revolt against the morbid rime. Always quelled in an instant; when bleak silence claims the shadow of each blade of grass and once more the skin of everything is parched.  

Under day’s translucent wing something crawls again. Through clay begetting gullies, dappled shoulders bob and nimble fingers worm around the clods: ‘No not there. Poke, poke here. Check the other one. Yes, yes! Spoon it out. There we go. Dig Jimi, you almost got it. Yes, just like that. It’s hard, isn’t it? Ossified. Woah: that’s it!’ 

Their bounty was plentiful – a brown, wrinkled potato, imparting its bitter chill on the hand. ‘Look at it: poor thing…born backwards in this waste.’ Said Morris. 

Jimi held his potato proudly between his index and his thumb and his silver spoon sticking out of the ground like a knitting needle. Morris smiled and offered his dirty satchel. Jimi shook his head. ‘I told you, didn’t I? Bemagicked!’ He said gesturing to his spoon. Morris retreated his satchel. He rose, wiped his hand in the patched sleeve of his jacket, and then helped Jimi up as well. Jimi tucked his potato in his inner pocket and blurted out: ‘You wait, you just wait, you…’ ‘And what? You’ll figure it out? With your magic spoon – dig out what it all means?’ Morris scoffed. Jimi gave him a frown but no response. 

‘Let’s go over there. See? What did you use to say about that place?’ He prompted Morris. ‘I don’t remember’ He was about to say but then he remembered. ‘I’ll tell you on the way.’ 

A cold shimmer blighted the field. Every frosted stroke of nature reflects the tepid sun’s ungracious grace. To glean the horizon, you were forced to squint. And then still your eyes would swim with tapeworms. ‘But whose memory is this?’ Morris wondered to himself as he said out loud: ‘There they used to gather the grain at harvest. They would all drive their tractors to that spot, thresh it and winnow it. But once there was no harvest and they found a child in the chaff.’ ‘Playing?’ ‘No, it was…a little boy, his face was like a discolored conch and his pupils were…black.’ Morris shot out and went silent. 

‘Okay then, Jimi introjected, I’ll tell you about mama. I think she was about this tall and had light hair, no not very light, as a matter of fact it was quite massy. I remember…hah…throwing up her hair from behind, laughing and running away. It was my favorite thing to do when he was there, and they’d sit and smoke in the kitchen. She would always turn around and call me a little medlar, pointing at me like this. I never knew if she was really mad or if it was part of the game. But I knew I didn’t like him. One time I remember she pointed at him like that, and he snatched her hand and squeezed. I can still hear it – like crushing walnuts. How can you not remember?’ 

The weeds became rarer, more and more of the grey concrete of the threshing floor came out. It was not cold like the rest. Jimi planted his butt right in the middle, rubbing against the gravel and petrified kernels and husks. That concrete splash – that coarse grey splash in the mellow flax – extended in every direction, imperceptibly, all at once. It seemed larger than the whole field – this one smudge. 

Morris felt it and he felt light. A tickle started in his nape and spread to his gums. He traced the edge of the shadow cast by the granary – it lined perfectly with the edge of the field, just like a foldable box. Then he traced it back to the large, rusted gate and wondered: ‘Jimi do you see that? There’s a padlock on the gate. Someone’s locked it.’ ‘How do you know it wasn’t always locked?’ Jimi said. ‘When? No…This shouldn’t be here. I know it shouldn’t.’ Jimi didn’t answer. 

Morris had been right – there wasn’t supposed to be a padlock. The next day, they took Jimi away. And now it was happening all over again. 

At sunset a door chime rang out. Morris stood at the door of his trailer pursing his lips. Inside it was stuffy and red. The thick long-hair rug lay orange in the tinted light. There was a tiny couch next to it strewn with a second rug. Among its thick wooly tassels swam various objects like litter in a field of seaweed – a remote for a TV set they didn’t own, two spoons, two faded tin cups, a candle. A screen of beads, pebbles and shells strung together with cord, glittered separating the ‘kitchenette’ from the ‘living room’. The splintery edge of a low table poked through the screen. Morris slammed the door. The chime erupted.

So much of what we perceive actually comes through the skin. Touch is the proto-logos of things all around us. I once saw cruel children pluck the whiskers of a cat and leave the poor creature to wonder around completely off kilter. It could not register the proximity of objects and was often startled by the smallest irregularities in its course. Perhaps the same is true of humans, when our sense of touch is distorted by prolonged deprivation: do we also become so brittle? Even in silence humans need to experience the event of others. Isolation is madness of the senses. 

Morris trudged pantingly towards the lake. His spirit before him. Heavier mud weighed his feet, so he knew he was getting closer. Silt and white foam bubbled on the edges of pools capped with ice. Driftwood – abundant – brown and soggy, wedged into clumpy mud. Tiny waves broke margins just to dissipate with a hiss. Croaks, chirrups, fluttering of wings, flapping of tails, splashing of bellies and water licking muddy banks noisily, bearing roots and spitting out shucks that shone in the sun like amber. 

‘Rosenfell, rosenfell…’ Jimi’s entranced lilt came closer. Before Morris had had a chance to catch his breath, Jimi stumbled into view, mud all the way to his chin, balancing on one leg like a stork, because he’d thought he’d seen a frog and didn’t want to step on it; he would’ve splashed face down, were it not for the hanging branches of the willow. Jerry’s spotted face reminded Morris of the seasons. Morris had never known the seasons. He was the taller of the two – wonky like a beach umbrella, with the upper-body volume of a pigeon in heat; Jimi was the opposite – pleasantly rounded like a trout with a bit of the slender neck of a sea bird.

‘Will you hand me the rod?’ Morris asked. ‘Which one? This one? The long one? Or the other?’ Jimi fumbled with his rods. Morris didn’t like it when he fumbled with his stuff. He wished Jimi would be quicker. He wished he wouldn’t have to always wait on him. Everything Jimi did was irritatingly slow and whimsical. Morris often lost his temper with him. Not today though, today he was calm and pleasant. ‘I never showed you, did I? Come.’ He said grabbing Jimi’s forearm when he finally reached out to hand him the rod. Jimi looked at his hand on his forearm and shook his head. He didn’t care for fishing – his foraging was done with a spoon and he was darn good at it. ‘No? Well what else are you going to do? Sit and make up telltales?’ Morris teased him. ‘Come on, it’s not hard, I promise.’  Jimi still refused. ‘It’s just throwing a hook in the water, don’t worry.’ Slowly Morris was pulling him closer. 

Meanwhile, a wail began to rise from under the lids of ice. It hung in the air – saturnine and shrill, then exploded with a vicious hiss, like a pouncing leopard. A low hum followed and then the scream again and the roar, as though something was trying to break out. 

Morris and Jimi looked at each other and silently but unanimously decided to make a run for it, leaving rods, hooks, bags, satchels and the like. But running through mud is more like sinking into it. That’s to say they didn’t make it far. Before either of them had said anything, they saw a man approaching. He wore a white surgical suit and goggles and carried a clipboard. He bent down over the sprawled and panting Jimi, scribbled something onto his clipboard, then went over to the kneeling Morris, bent down, scribbled something and turned back to Jimi, smiled and then back to Morris: ‘You will bash his head open with a stone, before the full moon.’ Having pronounced his verdict, he turned around and started walking back towards the field and the granary. ‘There’s no other way. You will bash his head open with a stone before the full moon!’ He shouted once more over his shoulder. ‘No other way, you hear! Find a good, sharp stone and knock him on the head. Don’t think too much about it.’ And again, into the air. After a while they heard the loud creak of the rusty door and the bang as it closed forever. 

That same night Morris and Jimi lay in their trailer. It was pitch dark except for a red blob on the window that was the waxing moon. Jimi was on the couch and Morris on the rug behind him. Jimi shuffled around noisily, and heavy grunts escaped Morris from time to time. ‘Morris?’ Jimi said quietly. ‘Morris?’ No answer. ‘Morris?’ He repeated after a while. ‘Mo-‘ ‘Yes?’ ‘What was all that today?’ Jimi’s voice sounded like he’d never heard it before – weary and broken. ‘You must know. What is it? What is our life? What are we?’ Morris blew air through his nose tragically. He too didn’t know. ‘We…we are Jimi and Morris.’ He said with difficulty. ‘But what’s that? As I lay here in the dark, I can’t tell what I am. I can’t tell what you are, either.’ Jimi’s questions echoed without answers. ‘Do you want a story?’ Morris pleaded. ‘I wouldn’t know what to do with a story.’ Jimi said. Morris didn’t wait for more questions. He only knew this story and it was the story of everything. ‘It was once, not long ago, the world was ruled by spiders. They were so many and so terrible that no creature could bear them. They spun webs, stretching over the whole world, covering fields, mountains, lakes. But it wasn’t enough – the sun would keep rising: the only thing that could bear them, so they spun a web around it too. Now everything is covered in their frozen silk; they’ve suffocated the earth and died with it. So thin, ethereal, that gossamer they left, yet it was the death of everything when it went chill.’ ‘Morris, this isn’t a real story.’ Jimi said. He was right. It was nonsense. But something had to be told. Some explanation of how the world became what it was. It wasn’t enough to say – the world died of selfishness. Because the world wasn’t dead, it was still lingering under the rime. ‘Jimi, I fear you will be taken.’ Morris spoke those words almost inaudibly, as if it were nothing but wind ruffling the hair of the sanguine flax. Nothing else was said that night. 

Morris woke with a gasp and quietly went over to the couch where Jimi slept uneasily. The moon sifted through the tinted foil and landed right on Jimi’s face: round and red like an anemone. Morris waved his palm over it, which caused Jimi to wake up. ‘Come, I want to show you something.’ Morris said. Jimi tried to find his eyes but couldn’t. He was just a lump stuck in the night’s throat. ‘Where?’ Jimi said drowsily. ‘Just outside. Come on.’ Morris was tugging at his forearm like before. They opened the door, Morris expected something to happen – a sound or a flash of light. Nothing. He jumped out of the trailer – Jimi stuck his sleepy head out too. ‘What is it?’ He grumbled. ‘Look!’ Morris pointed at the granary – another vague shape in the shapeless night. ‘There is nothing there.’ Jimi was wrong. ‘Give me your hand.’ Morris said. Jimi shook his head, but Morris snatched his hand. And just like before – as though a switch turned on and the night began to hum, only this time it was like a soft lullaby. Morris placed Jimi’s hand on his heart and sat on the second stair of the trailer. A light shone not far away – a spark, like someone trying to light a match in the dead of night. More sparks and then it steadied into a stream of gentle blue light coming out of the granary. ‘I’d always thought it wouldn’t be blue…’ Morris thought. He felt a warm wave wash over his brain. Jimi’s hand was slowly gliding over the tips of his hair. It stopped right at the top and began twisting a tuft around its index finger. The light over the granary mimicked its motion, whirling like an electric eel. Jimi sat and embraced Morris with his thighs, still playing with his hair. He had hairy thighs that made Morris tickle. A second wave of gusto started in his sides and travelled up his spine until it reached his amygdala. He could feel the pleasant touch entering his brain. And then it all went dark. Morris clutched Jimi’s hand tighter and tighter until he felt the knuckles shift. He jumped, grabbed Jimi by the throat and dragged him out. Jimi squirmed and chocked. His nose whistled gratingly. Morris punched him and it stopped, now he was snorting blood. He threw Jimi on the ground and suddenly realized he was holding a large, sharp stone. He lifted the stone over Jimi’s bleeding face. He felt the weight of the stone, its jagged edges gnashing his palms. It fell almost of its own accord. Quick as an arrow. He woke up with the sound of Jimi’s head bursting like a melon. 

It was early morning, right after sunrise. Morris knew what he had to do. ‘Let’s go, Jimi. Time to wake up. C’mon there you go. We’re going on a little walk.’ Jimi opened his eyes and saw Morris standing over him with his patched jacket in hand. ‘No, no, no…’ Jimi wailed. ‘Morris, it was so perfect. So warm, Morris. I can’t go, let me stay here, please. I want to see them again.’ He pleaded. Morris sat on the arm of the couch and looked down at Jimi’s distressed face. ‘You just had a dream, Jimi. There’s something more important we must do now. Let me help you up.’ Jimi kept shaking his head. ‘It wasn’t a dream. It was another life. A beautiful life. We were just so tiny, and we lived in the cup of this nice flower. We had many friends and they would come pay us visits and…’ Jimi suddenly stopped. Their eyes had met. The peaceful grin, such as Morris had never seen on Jimi’s face before, retreated. Morris’ face was dark and severe. Jimi sat up and turned his back to him – he couldn’t bear his stony gaze. Morris tried to speak, he tried to say something but before he said it, the words disappeared and all that came out of his mouth was airy silence. ‘Let’s go then. There’s not much left on this side.’ Jimi said without sense. Morris helped him up and got him in his jacket. It drooped limply on his flaccid shoulders. ‘Are you giving me up now, Morris?’ Jimi whispered to the floor. Morris shook his head. He cupped Jimi’s ears and spoke back with difficulty ‘I won’t give you up, Jimi. We stumbled into this together, we will stumble out of it together.’ Jimi blinked slowly. He leaned his head into Morris’ hand. Morris felt the warm tear slip down the side of his palm.  

A milky film had descended on the field. The two of them broke on. Silence swallowed their steps. Crack, splat, swish. They dragged on towards the granary. Lumps of soil crumbled back into the wounds opened by their boots, leaving no prints at all. The filmy fog stuck to their extremities. The hoarfrost first covered the hairs on their hands. Then it went for their heads. They walked on, sinking into the cold, dead ground that rose and fell in hillocks, rose and fell like a song. 

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