Thursday, February 2, 2012

Both Sides Now: 3

     God Bless the Grass

            He dreamed of the Republic, the land of workers and owners. He dreamed in circular time, from Republic to Heaven to Kingdom to Hell and back to Republic; a wheel turning in place, causation linked into a loop. He dreamed of a Time-Loop, finite but endless, and within it the Republic, the chaos destined to become a cosmos.
            The Republic is skeptical and creative. It starts as the Republic of Hell, a legacy of the Kingdom, but it ends as the Republic of Heaven. It rises because it relies upon personal integrity. The Republic is error corrected and truth discovered. It’s all about the rise of doubt.
            In the Republic, spending is restrained and speech is free. Its government fears the people, a rabble runs the marketplace, and your private thoughts are your own damn business. Its citizens say “wishing won’t make it so”, but they also say “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. In the Republic, honesty trumps tact, reason overrules force, and clarity is key. What you know matters more than whom you know. The Republic has more schools than jails, more engineers than lawyers, and  more butter than guns. Its favorite sports are pro-wrestling and soccer.
            In the Republic, everybody works, nobody labors, everything gets done and anything is possible. The Republic has good fences; this makes for good neighbors. Quiz ten of its citizens, and you will hear eleven opinions. The virtuous Republic leads from Hell to Heaven; for the truth will set you free, but first it’ll hurt.

                        *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *         *            *

            It was Friday afternoon all day, that day. It was last-minute-rush, finish-it-now, clock-watching, thank-god-its-Friday-afternoon; and it had been that way all day, and the day before, and the day before that, for years and years. Time flows that way in a Time-Loop. It had been Friday afternoon for a long, long time.
            Oh sweet freedom, right around the corner! Eternally on the verge of release, like a half-stifled sneeze! Just within reach, but not within grasp!
            Well, what did you expect? That’s how they do things in the Republic of Hell.
            Jonathan Stone had work to do. Not just some of the work; all of it. He had to grade his student’s math homework, and not just this Friday’s batch of grading, but every Friday’s batch of grading. That’s a Time-Loop for you.
            Brown paper bags heaped up to the ceiling, each one packed full of scribbled paper. Every one of those papers had to be checked, and graded, and tallied up, and the grade noted, in the proper file, and the papers and bags were to be put away, each in its proper place.
            “Dignity of labor, my aching back,” he muttered, looking over the piles and piles of papers to grade. His back was indeed already aching right then, that dull persistent ache that always came with this particular task. Grading all those damned papers was the very last thing he wanted to do, and indeed he had done every other possible thing first.
            He had showered, shaved, brushed, flossed and gargled. He had done the dishes and the laundry. He had made the bed. He had dusted, swept, vacuumed and mopped. He had paid the bills, balanced the checkbooks, and alphabetized the library. He had taken out the garbage. He had washed the sink, scrubbed the tub and plunged the toilet. He had checked his e-mail and cleared the message machine. He had played a game, run a video, read a book, and skimmed a magazine. He had eaten lunch, and he had shat; and with that he ran out of excuses. Displacement depleted!

            There was no more ‘something else to do first’; there was only him, sitting at his desk, surrounded by those damned bags of damned homework, not a single one of which he had touched yet. He’d spent years of Friday-afternoon days frantically doing everything but this.
            “And why not?” he groused. “I mean, look at all this! What a mess! How do I do all this? Where do I even start?”

            The paper bags were worn, torn, creased and sagging. The papers they held looked not much better; grey, limp, grease-stained, torn, scrawled on, and stapled in random order. Their margins were crammed with pleas for time-extensions, grade changes, and second chances. Many cited dead grandmothers, some for the third time.
            “All of this? All of it? This is Hell! It’ll take forever!” He snorted. “Well, of course.” He looked up and down the stacks of paper bags. “But when it’s done, it’ll all be done...”
            He sighed. “Oh I give up. Might as well start.” Then he quoted a local saying; “ ‘The Busy Bee Has No Time For Sorrow’. ” (A proverb utterly typical of the Lower Republic.)
            With that he heaved a paper bag on the desk, emptied it out and set to grading.

            It was long, slow, hard work; but regular enough to be soothing, once he got into the rhythm of it. His arm ached, and so did his back; a low, constant pain, not too bad by infernal standards. The work went on and on and on, and that too was normal for Hell.
            Endless pain and toil is bearable, he mused, so long as you can forget that it’s you who’s bearing it. He looked up and was amazed to see that he was already more than half done. Not so endless as all that! He returned to his labors.
            On and on and on; then suddenly he found himself sitting quietly at an empty desk, with hands folded. The room was still full of paper bags full of homework papers, but each paper had been checked and graded; the grades had been tallied and filed; the papers and files and bags had been put neatly away, each in its place. He had, in his manic meticulous way, done every last bit of work, and now there was nothing left to do. So now what?
            He stood up, feeling light-headed. He drifted across the room, out the door, down the hall, and out the front door. Why not? He had nothing to do outside, but nothing to do inside either.

            Outside was the same old chaos. As usual, the light was dim red, and the air stank. The ground was cluttered with sharp gravel, stones, rocks, boulders, and firepits. Same old, same old; but Jonathan Stone felt not just light-headed, but light-bodied. Walking felt almost like flying. He felt all right.
            He felt all right, and that made him nervous. “Is this another set-up? So many false hopes, and then the hammer came down!” He stopped for a breath; he was panting, for no particular reason, he hadn’t walked far. He looked around, he looked up. Overhead were the usual black clouds boiling across the same old red sky.
            He started walking again. (He had to do something.) Over a rock, around a tarpit, past a crater, between two boulders. He turned a corner -
            - and stopped.
            His jaw dropped, his knees shook.
            He lifted a quivering hand and pointed.
            You!” he cried.
            He swallowed, he licked dry lips. “What are you doing here?”
            He took two careful steps forward. His heart hammered.
            “What are you doing here?” he repeated.
            He sat down cross-legged. He leaned forward, and he said, “What are you doing... here?
            For there on the ground before him:
            A single blade of grass.

            It was small, thin and green. Oh how green! It glowed from the sheer contrast between it and  the red of Hell. Thin veins ran along its length to a curved, yellowish tip. Beads of dew clung to it.
            “Water? Here?” he marvelled. “And what’s this? You’re growing?!” He hadn’t seen anything growing lately. “Are you from...” and he look left, looked right, leaned in, and whispered, “... the Upper Republic?

             The blade of grass, on close inspection, proved to be one full blade and an small shoot folded within it. It was growing through a crack in the ground.
            “That’s Hell-pavement you’re busting open!” he exclaimed. “Adamantine! But you’re just shoving it aside! What strength! What spirit! What courage! You’re amazing!
            Jonathan Stone looked around him. Hell was still what it was; red, black, smoky, sulphurous, hot, dry and stony. Then he looked at the blade of grass. It glowed, it shone, it shimmered  like a bright green star. It blurred and swam before his eyes, and Jonathan Stone noticed that he was weeping freely.
            He wiped his streaming eyes, blew his running nose in his hand, dignity be damned! “I’ve missed you,” he said. “It’s been so long.”
            Carefully, carefully, he rose to his feet. He looked around at dead, red rock, then down at the live green blade of grass. “The old order passes,” he told it. “You’re going to win. It’s good...”
            He paused.
            “It’s good to see you.”
            Then he walked away. Walking felt more like flying than ever. It’s good to see you, he thought. Five simple words. He hadn’t used the second one in awhile.

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