A Triptych Tale...

Scarecrow

A Triptych Tale

 

Scarecrow was perched up high on a thick round pole, turned at just the right angle to the garden to get the best exposure. Exposure, said Waylon’s dad, was the key. You want the crows to not only see the stuffed man, but to think he was real. In order to achieve this, Frank Tuttle had put long party streamers at the end of Scarecrow’s arms, so that when the wind blew, which it always did in summer, the streamers would fly and sparkle like diamonds, giving the illusion of movement and spooking the crows.

This only worked for a while. Most of the time, when Waylon went out to the garden the crows were fearlessly going about their business and Scarecrow could only watch.

It was late summer and the heat was still in the day, the kind of heat that simmered well into the night. Upon the breath of morning there came a crisp hint of fall, but it was only a tease, soon snatched away and murdered by the rising sun.

In the garden, the beans and the peas had already been harvested, the rows where Waylon’s dad had planted them now barren and covered in weeds. The strawberries were done, burnt up by the sun, and the cucumber plants were withering. The tomatoes were still producing though, and the peppers, both of them planted in rows covered with plastic to trap the heat in the earth below.

… Scarecrow could only watch.

Scarecrow stood watch over these remaining crops like a sentinel. The painted smile on the stuffed man’s face was smug. It wasn’t a kind or benevolent smile but more like a sneer, a knowing kind of look that Waylon always found peculiar.

The stuffed man was about as tall as Waylon. His baggy jeans were discolored by the sun and the summer rains. His hands were white gloves that were no longer white, and he wore a checkered shirt that was missing the top two buttons. Some of the straw had fallen out of the opening in his shirt. Waylon had shoved it back in several times, but it kept spilling out.

“Makes you look thinner,” Waylon said, staring up at the stuffed man. Scarecrow looked down at the boy with those black eyes and that damned sneer.

Piss off, said Scarecrow, and Waylon laughed.


#


“I wish I could be like you,” Waylon said. “I wish I was stuffed with straw.”

It was late afternoon and the sunlight was filtering in through the trees that lined the garden’s western edge, throwing shifting blades of golden light across the raised cedar boxes and the rows and mounds of earth. The wind made the leaves in the alders dance, creating a song in the sky.

“Maybe then he wouldn’t hurt me.”

Waylon reached up and gently touched the outer edge of the bruise around his left eye.

A crow lighted atop Scarecrow’s hat, plump and blacker than cancer. It cawed, then glided to the ground. Waylon flicked a hand out but the crow only hopped back a few feet and stuck its pointed beak in the ground.

“If I was you, I would come down off my pole and eat the crows,” Waylon said.

Scarecrow said nothing. The wind picked up the streamers at the tips of his hands and tossed them about. The crow found a worm and ate it.

“Get out of here!” Waylon yelled at the crow. The crow lifted both wings, cawed, and took to the air.

The back door to the house banged open. Waylon hid behind Scarecrow’s pole and watched his dad step into the sunlight.

“Waylon!” His dad’s voice echoed up through the yard.

Waylon sucked in warm air and held it.

Down on the deck that stretched out from the back of the house like a splintered and discolored tongue, Frank Tuttle stood scratching his scrawny belly. He wore only his khaki shorts and cheap plastic flip flops. Waylon’s dad was short and wiry, like a Doberman. His arms were covered in old tattoos, their ink now more green than black. His curly hair was raven black, but there was salt in the scruff growing on his chin.

“Drunk again,” Waylon whispered. He watched his dad. He knew he should answer.

“Boy, so help me God …!”

For a moment the warm summer air shimmered across the lawn. Shadows danced as the wind played in the trees.

Finally, Waylon shuffled out of the garden.

“Get your chores done yet?”

“Not yet,” Waylon said.

When Waylon stepped up on the deck, his dad snatched him by the ear. He turned sharply and pain shot down Waylon’s jaw.

“Just you and me now, boy,” his dad said. “Don’t forget that.”

Waylon sucked in warm air and held it.

“No sir,” Waylon said.

His dad let him go. His ear was a red flame on his fingertips as he rubbed it softly.

“What you doing here in my garden?” his dad asked.

“Nothing.”

His dad eyed him. His face was hard, and he swayed on the balls of his feet.

I could run, Waylon thought. I could kick him in the leg and run away.

“You got somethin’ to say?” his dad said.

Waylon flinched. “No.”

“No what?”

“No sir.”

“Go do the laundry then.”

#

Waylon’s mom had been beautiful. Hers was the kind of beauty Waylon supposed the angels must possess when they look on the face of God. She had auburn hair and her green eyes were always laughing. Irish eyes, his dad used to say. The kind of eyes that could light up a room. She made Waylon feel important when she looked at him with those eyes, when she softly stroked his hair or smiled at him.

There was no doubt in Waylon’s mind that his dad had loved her, but when she died most of the love inside Frank Tuttle died with her.

Waylon had a picture of her on the shelf in his room. Every night he would stare at it for a long time, as if trying to memorize what he saw there. To forget your mother’s face, he thought, was like forgetting your own.

Now, sitting in his room, listening to his dad pace the living room floor, Waylon wondered if there was something he could do to make it all different.

He looked at the picture of his mom. Down the hall, his dad cranked the music on the stereo. Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.

There was a lock on Waylon’s bedroom door. He slipped out of his bed and tiptoed across the bare floor. He paused, listening to the floor boards creak underneath his dad’s stomping feet, then turned the lock. Then he crept back to bed and pulled the covers to his neck.

A teenager for a year now but he still lived in the shadow of a little boy. He hated himself for that.

He rolled over and thought about Scarecrow until he slipped into a dreamless sleep.

#

He woke to a sudden noise outside his door, a crashing sound that was fury and rage. The clock on his desk said 7:14. Early morning sunlight filtered in through the crack between his curtains, softening the darkness still lingering in his room.

Another crash at his door, making it shudder in the jamb.

Waylon sat up, still groggy, and wiped sleep from his red eyes. He heard music, now only a ghostly whisper. His door shook again.

“You got a lock on this thing?” Frank Tuttle’s voice was ragged and hoarse. “Open it up.”

Waylon pulled back his sheets but was afraid to go to the door.

“I mean it, Waylon. Wake up and open this door.” His dad’s words were so slurred that they were barely recognizable. He was still drunk and probably had been up all night. Waylon slowly approached the door.

“I’m sleeping,” Waylon said.

His dad hit the door. The knob turned back and forth.

Another crash at his door, making it shudder in the jamb.

“Open up.”

Waylon turned the lock. The door burst open and his dad was there, hands on the jamb, hair in his face, naked but for his boxers. He looked haggard, his face like an old piece of leather, his eyes dull and red. He glared at Waylon and wiped his lips.

“Time to get up,” he said. He came into Waylon’s room, stumbled, and reached for the jamb again to steady himself. “What are you doin’ anyway?”

“I was sleeping,” Waylon said. He took two steps backward to stay out of range of the old man’s fists.

His dad looked around the room. He saw the picture of Waylon’s mom and went to it, snatching it off the shelf. His face seemed to soften a bit as he stared down at it for a long time, his thumb rubbing over the image of her face almost tenderly.

“Where’d you get this?”

“In the basement,” Waylon said. He was shaking now. His heart thundered in his ears, and he tried to stand tall but it was only an act.

His dad took another long look at the picture, then tucked it under his arm. “This is mine,” he said.

“You can’t take it,” Waylon pleaded.

His dad froze. He sniffed, the poison now returning in his eyes. “What did you say?”

“I said you can’t take that. It’s mine.”

His dad cocked his head. “Big man now? You went into the basement and stole my picture.”

“No,” Waylon said. “She was my mother. I want it.”

“You killed her,” Frank Tuttle said.

“I didn’t.” Tears welled in Waylon’s eyes. “I didn’t.”

His dad swayed and he almost dropped the picture. It hung now between his fingertips. He wiped his face with the back of his hand. “You were in the car with her, when that bus—”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Waylon said. “You always say it was but I didn’t make it happen.”

“You can’t take it,” Waylon pleaded.

“You walked away!” His eyes narrowed. “You’re still alive and she’s dead.”

“It was an accident.”

How many times had he said those words? How many times had he tried to make himself believe them?

“It should have been you,” his dad said. He drove a finger into Waylon’s thin chest. “Not her.”

“Don’t say that,” Waylon said, rubbing his chest. “Don’t tell me that.”

His dad reached out for Waylon, but Waylon ducked and the old man caught only air. Frank Tuttle stumbled, found his balance and launched himself at the boy. The bed frame slammed against the wall under the force of their colliding bodies. A thick hand curled around Waylon’s throat, and his dad lifted the picture frame high over his head.

“You’re not my boy,” his dad said. There were tears in the old man’s eyes. “You let her die.”

“Stop it! Stop it, Dad!”

“Don’t call me that. You hear me? Don’t you dare call me that!”

He brought the picture frame down but Waylon turned his head. His dad growled and the grip on Waylon’s throat tightened. He couldn’t breathe.

“I can’t make her come back,” his dad said. The tears were now running off his red cheeks, off the edge of his sunburned nose. “And you won’t go away.”

“I’ll go away,” Waylon whispered.

The grip on his throat loosened. His dad pulled away, eyes blinking. Waylon grabbed the picture frame and threw it against the wall. The glass shattered.

He rolled off the bed and darted around the old man. He ran through the door and down the hall, where Merle Haggard was bellowing about lost love. If his dad followed him he didn’t know. His hands were clapped to his ears as he made for the back door, his dad’s words burning in his head.

You’re not my boy. You let her die.

“No!” Waylon yelled. He hit the back door, burst out onto the deck. The coolness of the morning washed over him. The deck was damp with dew. “I hate you! I hate you!”

His voice carried through the yard, silencing the chatter of the birds. He yelled it again and again, and he wasn’t sure who his words were meant for. Was he talking about his dad or himself?

He ran across the damp grass, turned on his heel, saw the deck was still empty, and stopped to catch his breath. He wiped the tears from his eyes. Overhead, the sky was an endless sea without a vessel in it. There was no wind and the trees stood perfectly still, as if the world were suspended outside of time. From across the garden, Scarecrow hung from his pole, watching with those beady eyes.

“I hate him,” Waylon told the stuffed man. “I hate myself.”

From across the garden, Scarecrow hung from his pole, watching with those beady eyes.

He walked through the garden, his bare feet cutting through the moistened soil, leaving footprints. Scarecrow waited for him patiently. Sometime during the night, the stuffed man’s hat had fallen off his canvas head. Waylon picked it up and put it on.

“I wish I could be someone else,” Waylon said. He stood looking up at Scarecrow, the hat too big on his own head.

Scarecrow smiled his knowing smile.

Take me down, boy.

Waylon blinked. “What did you say?”

Scarecrow stared down at the boy. He looked different without his hat.

Put me on and I’ll show you how to scare the crows.

Waylon felt a cold presence come over him like a shadow, felt an invisible hand gently touch his cheek.

I’ll show you how to scare the crows, boy.

Waylon took off the scarecrow’s shoes and then his pants. Dry straw fell to the ground in a heap. He put the pants on over his pajama bottoms, then the shoes. The clothes were cold and stiff. He looked down at the straw and frowned, then reached up to take the stuffed man’s shirt and gloves. The scarecrow was now in ruins at Waylon’s feet. He put the shirt on then the gloves. He pulled the canvas bag that had been the scarecrow’s head off the pole and jammed his fingers into the black-painted eyes, ripping the old fabric, and slipped it over his head. The world looked different through the canvas, for it was no longer his own eyes he was seeing with. He bent and stuffed handfuls of straw into the jeans and the shirt. The smell was dusty and raw and wonderful. It was itchy against his skin, but not uncomfortable.

I’ll show you how to scare the crows.

“Waylon!”

Frank Tuttle stood at the edge of the deck, hands balled into fists.

Waylon put the straw hat back on his head, pulling it down tight over the canvas bag. He watched the old man through those small holes in the canvas face, and he no longer felt fear.

“Waylon!” His dad stumbled across the grass. His skin was pale in the early morning light, like curdled milk, his curly hair damp with sweat. “You come back here right now, you little shit! I’m gonna get my belt!”

The old man approached the garden. He looked up at the trees, at the road beyond them, then his gaze fell on the stuffed man.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Scarecrow stood very still.

“Get in the house,” Frank Tuttle said. “Clean up your mess.”

Scarecrow said nothing.

I’ll show you how to scare the crows.

Frank marched across the garden. “Are you deaf?”

The pole that Scarecrow had been attached to was still in the ground. Scarecrow gave it a hard yank and wiped the earth from it.

“What you think you’re gonna do with that stick?” His dad laughed, as if this amused him.

You’re not my boy. You let her die.

Scarecrow smiled.

“You think you can take me?” He came at the boy, both fists in the air, drool sliming his chin. Scarecrow moved to the left and evaded the old man’s first swing. Frank Tuttle came back with an uppercut and Scarecrow glanced to the side again. This time he came down hard with the wooden pole. It cracked over the old man’s head and Frank Tuttle went down with a nasty gawping sound. Scarecrow lifted the pole again but held it there.

Frank looked up, blood dripping from his ear. “You gonna hit your old man, Waylon?”

“What you think you’re gonna do with that stick?”

“I’m not Waylon,” Scarecrow said. Then he brought the pole down on his head again.

Frank Tuttle dropped to the ground, groaning, and Scarecrow let the pole fall from his gloved fingers. He stood watching the man bleed for a long time, then he walked away.

The sun had come up full and bright, illuminating the world around Scarecrow as he left the garden like a god. A crow fluttered off a branch, landing in the grass. Scarecrow growled at it and the bird flew away. In the garden, the old man had turned onto his back, one hand over his face. He could have been sleeping if not for the blood.

You’re not my boy. You let her die.

Scarecrow walked through the grass, across the deck and around the old house, coming out into the driveway. Overhead the electric lines buzzed. A squirrel ran along the top of the fence, a walnut in its mouth. Scarecrow paused at the edge of the road. He looked up the hill and then down. There were no cars this early. Scarecrow turned toward the bottom of the hill, his old shoes flapping on the pavement, his straw coming out in places. The sun was warm on his canvas face. He turned the corner, down where the oak trees were thick along the road, where he could look down into Mr. Jameson’s pasture. When he paused to look back at the old house, he knew that he would never see it again, but that was alright.

The road stretched out before him. It could take him anywhere he wanted, anywhere at all. That made Scarecrow smile. He adjusted his straw hat and set off down the asphalt, a tall figure who would never again be stuck up on a pole, or cry himself to sleep or be made to watch the crows. The morning yawned around him.

 

Sean Ealy is a writer and avid Red Sox fan living in Oregon. His fiction has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Menda City Review, Jersey Devil Press, Fiction Vortex, and other publications. By day, he works with agricultural GPS. When not changing diapers or napping, Ealy is hard at work finishing a novel. You can keep up with him at his blog, seanealyfiction.com or find him on Twitter @SeanEaly.