The plastic arrowhead water bottle eases back down to the brown stained wooden desk it’s come to marry over the years.
Yellow and green viscous liquid dribbles down the thin plastic rim to meet its thick brown cousin. The smell of old moldy mint and rich leather fills the air of the tiny dimly lit room. A tarnished green antique lamp sits at the corner of the desk Leonard has so awkwardly deposited himself behind (visual: an elephant shoved into a horses stable). It has been in Leonard’s family for generations and it still serves its purpose well, shedding light on the 1998 IBM holding the Phillip’s fortunes . . .. and, unusually, quite a respectable amount of fetish porn (Animal Husbandry, only literal).
“Farming is business and business is farming,” or that was the closest thing to a motto the family abided by. It was carved into most of their doorposts, carved into all four desk legs, and muttered every dinner with prayer; it’s origins really a mystery. Leonard’s brother Jeb even went so far as to get it tattooed on his own hide; infection only lasted 3 days ending in an unexpected addition to the family plot and the farming business in Leo’s lap. Tattoos were out from then on, and like all dynasty’s Leonard was happy to be living his father’s life. Old family hearsay would explain that when this strangest of phrases first was challenged it was cause for a shouting match between Lee’s great great Grampy Ted and his partner at the time Ronald Pillsbury. Words were had, three shots were fired, blood was spilled and two bottles of scotch emptied before the men came to an agreement. The motto would stay and Ronald would try his luck in another occupation; something that put less stress on his small feminine hands and jealous soul, perhaps baking would work for the young food enthusiast.
More brown grainy fluid runs down the easy grip ridges of the sport bottle. Good Ol’ Leo picks the hardened tobacco from out between his thick fingernails and rubs the residue from his calloused hands.
“Alice, we got anymore mint grizzly!?”
“Nah Lee, you been goin’ through that stuff like its free beer day at the Limpton Fair.”
Leo adjusts the chew, feels the good burn and looks up from his computer to the open door.
“Sheeeee-itt, well how bout the Copenhagen Rodney got me for my birthday this year, we had two cases.”
Silence as Leo and his wife hold a beat; the most predicament of predicaments for sure. He looks around the office, studies it, as if answers to unasked questions lay within its walls and floors. And what an office it is; straight out of Farmer’s Office monthly. The blinds stained with layers of dust and something that looks like old Campbell’s tomato soup; the floor formerly covered in linoleum but now more closely resembling a human skin rug with a horrifying case of Vitiligo.
“Damn’t Lee, I’m trying to get my dress cleaned up for the meeting, you know this; been planning it for months, try the dresser next to Little Ray’s room, and for god’s sake put on your good overalls.”
Little Ray’s room, little Ray’s room? He couldn’t go near there, how could he approach such a foreboding reminder of the past, not today.
You see, it is true and can be attested to that Ray’s room is off limits; Lee’s wife Randy knew it, Lee knew it, even the dog knew it. It’s been off limits ever since Randy instituted the sanction on the rambunctious 5 year olds room two years ago after his bed was found empty and his window left open. The room was a reminder, a relic of sorts, owed to parental negligence. This room was an after school special hosted by Dean Cain and a trip to 6 months worth of couples therapy. But on second thought maybe today was the day to walk by Ray’s room, to turn on the lights, to dust off his old toys, to change the sheets on his bed and make his favorite meal. . . .a welcome home of sorts. This day shall further forth be deemed “Little Ray Day!!!” . . . . .Let’s not get carried away.
Leonard was a farmer, his father Harry a farmer, his father before that and before that and a century before that; all farmers. Leonard knew his calling; he would take walks with Ray and in a very paternal way explain that all of these acres of natures joy would someday be his own. Ray would listen attentively while sucking blackberries and studying his fathers face. Leo would mimic the Lion King in a very Jeff Foxworthy meets James Earl Jones sort of way claiming “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” Ray would smile like it was free cotton candy day at the Limpton fair, grabbing his father’s thick stained fingers while imagining himself a young farmer, with a wife, a golden named Sammie, and a fondness for the chew much like his father. Ray’s dreams were Leo’s dreams, were the dreams of a whole line of Phillips; the force was strong in these men. Ray already had responsibilities; he maintained the chicken coop, he brought the slop to the pigs, he rode a John Deer jr. right next to his father as they surveyed their golden corn in the late summer evenings. These were the same chickens that went unnoticed and began to reek of death when Ray disappeared, the pigs that slowly starved and began to decompose like the town’s memory for young Ray, and the little tractor that hadn’t moved an inch except to sink since Ray had gone missing.
The town had mourned, search parties had been sent out, dogs had been rewarded with treats for their hard work, but the trail was cold. Ray had seemingly vanished from the small Kentucky town that he had called home his short five years on earth. Overtime Leonard became complacent; he would lock himself in his office, again searching the walls and floors for answers to whispers of questions. He started to rot away quite literally and figuratively as chew became his diet and his teeth started to pull away from his skull. Randy mourned in a different way; bathing 10 times a day was her way of ignoring her impulses for a sweet final release. She would wash her hands manically and clean every inch of the home; but if her eye should ever spot a bit of filth she would scrub until her hands bled. The deep, sticky, red leading to more "filth," which she would then try to scrub again from her hands and floor only adding to the mess and obsession. Leo’s office was off limits to her and it remained one of the last signifiers of how cruel time had been to the Phillips. The soil, animals, and crops were dead and farming didn’t seem a hell of a lot like Leonard’s business any more.
But today, today is the day the grass starts growing again; today the Phillip’s wake from their dismal two-year slumber. A letter had come in the mail two months ago to the day, the writing was unfamiliar, the address was obscured, but the message was clear. For some reason or another, from some person or another Ray would return. What had been gained, why’d he been taken, where are the answers? None of that clear, but he would return to rule the kingdom and till the land like Phillips before and before. Randy believed; and Leo, well Leo had to believe or else his destruction would truly be complete. So today was a happy, joyous day. It was Randy and Leonard getting ready for church, it was family dinner at Denny’s, for god’s sake it was joyous like the Limpton Fair. It was a day for the best overalls, the best dress, pomade slathered hair, only one shower for Randy, and the promise that Leo would quit the chew that had quite unfortunately burned holes through his gums. This was the rebirth after the apocalypse for the Phillips.
So Leonard tentatively mounts the creaky wooden stairs in search of the Copenhagen; a last fix. One last wad and then spit it out for little Ray’s grand arrival; a trade even: his crutch for his sons loving embrace. With each stair a new weight seemingly falls from his body, with each stair a month of stress shed and a younger man revealed. He makes his way down the haunted hallways towards the room preserved in time and a small humming can be heard, a familiar song, yet not a song Leonard knew. A gust of wind dances down the hall as he gets closer to Ray’s room and the hum become’s audible. Around the corner, an open window, a cold gust of air shocks his senses as the curtains violently jerk about. Little Ray’s drawings and scribbles of short stories blow about the room as if to communicate. It looks like a proud parents refrigerator exploded. Leonard get’s closer to the window confused, did Randy open it up to air out the room? As he approaches he spots something nearly covered by the bookshelf, in the corner kneels a small, dirty, frail thing; the source of the sound. It teeters back and forth slowly with its chin resting on one knee, a switchblade in hand carving something into the old dry wood. With each breath Leonard creeps closer as the little unaware human brushes wood chips away from his messages. Leo sucks in his breath and holds it, approaching this young living definition of suspicion and notices the whole floor has been carved, every board covered in words. Could this be young Ray? After two years could he really be back like Leo and Randy had hoped and prayed? As he gets closer to this child he realizes that not only has he carved something into the wood, he has carved these words into his own skin over and over again. Blood leaks from his body finding its way through the literary maze of scabs covering his frame and culminating at the handle of the knife. As he carves his hand drips visceral cave drawings all over the floor. Leonard gets closer to this mystery child and notices a familiar birthmark on his right forearm. He reads the scratch that can be found virtually everywhere on this small child and within this small room: “Farming is business and business is Farming.”