I’ve always stumbled into life. Sometimes guided by parents, sometimes pressured by peers, but I’ve always stumbled. I’ve never had a blindingly-original direction for my life pop into my head ever. Not once. I’ve had friends who saw a fireman on the TV and that set the course for their life. I’ve had a cousin that got lost on his way home from school and a policeman guided him home and set the pattern for him; but I’ve never had the lightning bolt strike me and say: “lo-and-behold”—You must work in a garden shop. But I do. I’m seriously afraid that when they lay me to rest in the cemetery next to Breakline Memorial Park the headstone will read: Dale McCutchin—He had a green thumb and he was good with his hands.
Like most people who drift in life, and brother-let-me-tell-you-there-are-a-few, I thought I would just play out the rest of my days on this blue/green marble till they threw me in a hole, shed a tear or two, and then decided who was going to get my “Breakline Feed-and-Weed” apron. That apron is highly coveted as it is the only one that is still in good shape and doesn’t have a bunch of stains on it from the beet plants. Anyhow, I was blissfully ignorant and glided along until I was forced to go one-on-one with the one man in town no one wanted to meet: Mr. Abraham.
Breakline is a quintessential Texas small town: three streets in and maybe two dirt roads out, but we do butt up against the highway so every yahoo who lives within sixty square miles has to come here to do their shopping and I’m proud to say we have a WalMart and a Burger King and a Hobby Lobby. We also have a “Mr. Abraham”. There may be some towns that lack a WalMart or a Target but every town has a “Mr. Abraham”—or someone like him. You might be in beautiful Breakline or you might be in toney Mt. Adams but you’re going to have your “Mr. Abraham”—he’s the old guy that lives at the end of town and nobody likes him and nobody can remember when he moved here; he claims no relatives and can’t be bothered to say “hello” and he’d just-as-soon you move along before he gets his shotgun out and peppers your butt with bird-shot. The “Mr. Abrahams” of this world take “stand and defend” seriously.
I am not alone in this world with letting Mr. Abraham have his way and letting him be. The whole town felt that way. Breakline’s probably the only town in the entire USA where a Jehovah Witness looked at Mr. Abraham’s little farmhouse and said: “I think I’ll just assume this man has accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and I’ll be on-my-way”.
Mr. Abraham is not a people-person.
I was having a comfortable day rotating the marigolds to the back of the greenhouse when Cal Jenkins, his clothes all wet from watering the front-line of the potted plants, called out to me and informed me I had to make a delivery. It seems Mr. Josiah Abraham, the town curmudgeon, needed four-hundred pounds of peat moss. Well, I’m a used to a routine. My Wednesdays are rotate the flowers, make sure the sign out front that says: “Open Sundays” isn’t blown over, and water anything that doesn’t move. Not drive a truck and tote four-hundred pounds of peat moss—especially on a Wednesday when I don’t have that high-school kid, “Kyle”, to help me with the heavy lifting. I’m a mature thirty and even though I watch my weight and try to stay healthy, being five-foot six and lifting fifty-pound bags of crap puts a mighty strain on the old back muscles. Four hundred pounds of peat at fifty pounds each means I’m going to be touching my toes eight times, something I thought I left behind in high school Phys Ed. This whole peat moss delivery put a damper on my usual sunny disposition.
One thing about a small town is that everyone knows your business. I white-knuckled the peat moss onto the shop’s flatbed before ten in the morning, trying to beat the worst of the Texas summer heat, but in this part of the country even the mornings are hot so I had to stop at the Dairy Queen for a “Super-Size Soda”, in this case a Pepsi, and I found out that Amanda Kingman knew where I was going and had a huge opinion about it.
“Seriously, Dale—I know you’ve got to sell your ‘pottery barn’ stuff but you’re taking a big chance going out to old man Abraham’s farm. I hear he’s like a devil-worshiper or something.”
Amanda is just sixteen and not too sophisticated so she assumes the “Feed-and-Weed” is the same thing as the Pottery Barn over in Austin and I’m kinda reluctant to correct her because she’s smokin’ hot and has a tendency to charge me the “regular” price even though “Super-Size” is written all over the jumbo cup in blazing red, white, and blue letters.
I had to say: “He’s not a ‘devil worshiper’. He’s just a lonely old man that keeps to himself. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Why do you say that about him, anyway?”
Amanda is “smokin’ hot” but she’s all-the-time chewing gum so it makes everything she says sort-of sloppy. “I spend a lot of time at the library and Mrs. Kimball, you know…the fat one? She says Abraham is always checking out books on religion and myths and stuff. Nothing else—just spooky stuff and I figure he’s got a shrine to Beelzebub or something. You ever notice that he’s got all those acres but you never see any sheep or goats on them? No cattle? He’s not planting anything, either. My daddy says he’s probably sacrificing cats or dogs or something.”
I had been by the Abraham farm a lot of times; it lays right in-between Breakline and the swimming hole up on San Gabriel Mountain and I have to admit that I don’t see how Josiah Abraham made a living. Amanda was right: no cows, no chickens, and it was a well-known fact that Abraham rarely came to Spellman’s and went grocery shopping. There’s been a lot of times that I’ve driven past that white-washed old house and thought about what a great vegetable garden could be planted out back.
Amanda’s only sixteen and I’m an adult so I had to set her straight.
“He’s doing no-such thing. You’re just saying that because he dresses a little weird and he’s got long hair. He’s not worshiping the devil, he’s just old and eccentric and probably living off of his Social Security, just like half of this town.”
Amanda toyed with her hair, spinning her side-curls in her finger and chewing noisily. “Maybe. I guess you’ll find out, won’t you?”
“I guess.” Amanda is an airhead but even Stevie Wonder finds his tennis shoes once-in-awhile. She’s right. I’m going to have to drop off the peat moss and my natural curiosity is going to force me to have to use old Abraham’s bathroom or maybe mooch a drink of water from his kitchen tap since this dang summer sun is so scorching hot. I paid Amanda for the soda, she gave me the “first-customer-of-the- day” discount, and I hefted my one-fifty pounds up into the flatbed cab and headed out to 29 and Casa Abraham, the ancient Ford leaving a trail of oily smoke all the way.
The last time I saw Josiah Abraham was when we had the our “Market Days”, a weekend celebration held each month to give the local entrepreneurs a chance to sell off all that hand-made wall-hangings, beaded jewelry, tie-dyed t-shirts, and other junk that nobody wants the rest of the year. Abraham never bought anything; he just stood in the shadow of the downtown beauty shop, wearing bib-overalls and high-top tennis shoes. Day-or-night, he always wears those wrap-around sunglasses like the state cops wear and the inability to see his eyes just makes him more inapproachable. He’s an old fellow, maybe sixty or seventy, and I guess he’s a hippie-burnout because he keeps his gray hair super long, drawn back in a ponytail that threatens to get caught in the crack of his butt if it’s a particularly humid day.
Like other times in the past, Abraham wasn’t wearing a hat to the Market Days extravaganza, which just added to his mystique. It’s as smokin’ hot as sixteen-year old Amanda Kingman during the summer in Texas and everybody wears some kind of hat, but not old Mr. Abraham. On that day I entertained offering him my Aggie cap because he’s always albino-white but the looks on the other faces in the crowd of people there put me off that idea and I soon turned my attention to the turkey leg I had purchased off of a cart vender. I never did see what car Abraham came and left in. Come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing a car or truck in his driveway.
The asphalt on highway 29 was giving off those mirage-inducing heat waves as I pull into the long gravel entrance to Josiah Abraham’s abode. The sun-baked house, dried-out white paint and sagging eaves, sat in stark contrast to the land around it. Lush, rolling hills of grass green-as-a-golf-course stretched for miles and I wondered again why such fertile land was going to waste. Texas has been in a drought situation for years and the cost of irrigation for all these acres must be astronomical.
Old Abraham must have a gold mine on the property.
The green Ford I’m driving, with the “Feed and Weed” logo painted on its side, puts out enough noise that Abraham should have heard me coming and come out to greet me even if he was busy sacrificing virgins or something but no one showed. I momentarily blushed when it occurred to me that maybe the hippie old coot was hard-of-hearing and we’ve all been gossiping about him in ignorance. Backing up the truck to parallel the side of his house, I double-clutched the tranny into first, set the brake, and killed the engine. The silence was deafening.
Abraham had a wide, wooden porch attached to the front of his house and I had to navigate through neatly stacked cords of oak and cedar to approach his front door. The cheap door had a dilapidated screen door on its face and the holes in it were big enough to let a B-52 in so I reached through a hole and rapped on the door as hard as I could. The thin veneer produced almost no sound at all.
Mr. Abraham’s hearing must be better than what I thought because after a moment the door slowly opened, a pale face appeared, and Josiah Abraham said, “Hello. Thank you for coming.”
I felt butterflies. It was the first time I had heard him speak and it was nothing like I had imagined. Abraham’s voice was music. He had a light tenor with a lilting accent that might have been German or maybe Slavic and when he spoke I imagined ocean waves crashing behind every syllable.
I stammered out, “Mr. Abraham? You ordered some peat moss?”
“Yes, Dale…may I call you Dale? I did order ‘some peat moss’ and thank you for being so prompt in delivering it. Please come in.”
When he asked to call me by my first name my head involuntary said “yes” because my conscious mind was paralyzed. Can a person hunger for a sound? I wanted to hear that voice. I hungered to hear that voice; more than I ever hungered for the touch of any woman; more than I craved a cool drink on a day like this. My legs entered his living room.
There was “living” in his living room. There must have been hundreds of them. Stuck in every nook and cranny was little square boxes containing flowers of every hue and color I ever imagined, all with a depth that defied description. Purple more deeper than purple, yellow more brilliant than the sun. I exhaled with wonder and the gray-haired hippie in bib overalls clapped his hands in glee.
“Yes! Magnificent, aren’t they?! I can hardly contain myself when I wake up each morning and go to fetch water to feed them! Would you like to see more?”
My head was nodding “yes” but my legs wouldn’t work. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up because I realized that as Abraham was speaking to me, all of the flowers were bending towards the sound of his voice.
Entranced, we were both listening.
Somehow my muscles found motion and I followed Abraham from room to room, small bedrooms and utility rooms filled with what I can only describe as paradise.
I wasn’t far from wrong.
Abraham paused at a brilliant blue-speckled “tulip” and as he pointed at it, the flower bent and caressed his finger like a puppy cuddles a fluffy, cottony blanket.
I found myself in tears.
Abraham smiled and for the first time I realized that the face I had only seen from afar was older, more lined than I thought. Something in my mind said sick and I almost passed out from the sheer color of the moment. The flowers were deeper than my mind could gather, Abraham was whiter than death.
The voice, like honey in song, said, “You’re right. My time has come.”
Abraham took my hand and led me to the only open space not filled with plants—a wooden rocking chair that seemed to be made of twisted vines, only vines that weren’t dead and dry, their twists and turns glistened with moisture as if…
Abraham smiled again and put out his hand. “Go ahead. They won’t mind. It’s their purpose. Just as my purpose was to tend to them. Please…sit.”
I sat in the vines/chair as if it were made of thin glass. I finally found voice and uttered, “I don’t understand. How…?”
“How can it be so beautiful? So perfect? It is harmony, my young friend.”
As he spoke, my ears heard the plants, a thousand tiny voices whisper-quiet, echo “harmony”.
“But why are you here? Why are these…” My mind ached as the flowers turned towards me, “…these miracles not out in the world? Is it the sun? The heat? We can create some greenhouses for them—all of them and..”
Abraham waved his hand in warning. “It’s not meant to be. Not yet.” My nerve endings sung like a tuning fork as Abraham sat on a row of long-stemmed fern-like growths and they cupped themselves around him.
“Are you a religious man, Dale?”
I think I muttered, “No.”
Again, he smiled. “You don’t have to be. All you have to do is believe your eyes and ears. Let me tell you a story. Have you ever read of the Great Flood?”
Numbly, I replied, “Yes.”
“Well, suppose…just suppose that there was a man whose job was to take care of, to safeguard all of the beasts of the forests, all of the creatures of the deserts and plains and ensure that at the right time they could walk again on dry land. That man’s job would be a great responsibility, wouldn’t it?”
Stunned, the word came out of my mouth without thinking. “Yes.”
“Well, that man took care of…he had dominion over all the beasts but someone had to care for the other living things. More importantly, someone was charged with dominion over the plants that originated in the place where we all come from. From the Garden.”
The flowers whispered “Garden”.
The flower’s voices, like soft wind on gossamer made Abraham smile again. “I am that guardian, only my time is almost over. No man can live forever. The time is not right yet for these…lovelies to rejoin the world. They need someone to watch over them, to care and feed them…” he sighed. “….and to bury them if it should come to pass. I think that someone is you.”
I could not find voice. Was this man insane? What about my job, my family, my…? I was struck dumb as I realized that I have no family, no responsibilities. All my life I had stumbled into one circumstance or another but I never had a purpose.
I never had a reason to be alive.
With tears in my eyes, I said, “What if I’m not up to the job?”
The wizened face smiled again. “Oh, I’ve been watching. I’m a pretty good judge of character. Why do you think you were chosen to deliver the soil? How do you think I knew your name when you came to the door? You see, Dale…nothing ‘just happens’. There is order to the world, a divine order and all we can do is follow the path that’s ahead of us. Are you ready to follow your path?”
There was no point asking any more questions. No point in asking myself what if? All of the answers to the “what ifs” and “how comes?” had been written a long time ago.
I said, “When do I start?”
Abraham smiled and rose from his seat of green. “You start at the only moment that counts. The only moment where everything really exists and can be beheld by your senses. The only moment that you, and I, and our friends…”Abraham spread his arms to take in the entire room, “…are truly alive.”
“That moment is..now.”
A Short Story by Daryl Buckner Copyright daryl buckner 2014 (c) All Rights Reserved