The boy, sister and mother stood on the dusty road, watching as the car full of young hopefuls and those with nothing left clunked towards the house. The shrill bleating of the horn sounded like a mocking jay. Just reminding him his father was leaving. In turn, the father have a kiss to his wife and a loving embrace to his children. He promised the little girl crying quietly into her doll that he would be home by Christmas. It was the first lie the boy could ever remember hearing his father tell them. To his wife he swore a letter a day. Money for the rent and to always love them. And like that the string of his lies grew longer than a debutantes pearls. Lastly, he turned to his only son and said in a deep gruff voice, "You is the man of the house now, boy. Time's you grow up."
The boy only nodded, unwilling to shame his father by crying. He was a man now. This was his land now.
Slowly and deliberately, like every step caused him anguish, the man crawled into the back of the truck, clutching his small bag like the sister held the doll. With his final words, he called to his son, "May the road rise up to meet you, until we meet again my friend!"
Standing tall and proud like a solider going to battle, the boy yelled back, "And may God hold you in the palm of his hand!"
That was the last they saw of the father. It happened like they all say. The letters came at first ever day. Slowly they came only once a week. Then only once a month. By Christmas, the mother cried every time the infrequent letter came at all. Some contained a dollar or two, but the man only saw a better tomorrow where the storm wouldn't follow further and further west. And then they stopped. Every Sunday the little girl still safe from her fathers deception ran to the post office and checked, looked more crushed as she received the continuous answer. She would turn with hopeful shinning eyes to her brother and ask when Papa was coming back and the young man was forced to lie every time.
"He'll be home by Christmas, June-Bug."
But June never saw Christmas. In the sweltering summer, the little girl began running a fever. Her large questioning eyes became dull and half closed, like blinking was draining her life force. Even her once beautiful golden hair had to be shaved off by the doctor. He said is would help, but she only got weaker. The boy had to watch as a man as she could no longer walk, and see and then one morning she didn't wake up. The howls and sobbing that filled their house haunted the boy even now.
The mother mourned like she had lost her own soul. Every morning she would go to the grave and not return until long into the evening with no explanation where she had been. The young man tried to keep a house, but he had felt like a part of him had died too. He remembered seeing the fields filled with the endless sea of hope and men tending to their dreams. He saw as the crops yielded less and less, his father loosing men and money. Then the locust came. And then the dust. The dust that took the fertile topsoil and swept their dreams as far as the capital they said. By the time the last seed died and the final cow had been squeezed dry, it was his mother's time as well. No matter how hard they tried to keep the dirt out, it came in anyways. Into their cups and eyes and lungs. It all started with a cough that turned into a wheeze and by time the doctor could come, there was nothing left to do. She died in the same farmhouse, clutching with the boy's hand with a vacant expression.
The dirt on the grave was still fresh and no matter what the boy did, he could not bring himself to visit the site where her body lay. No one seemed interested anymore in the boy and that was fine by him. He stayed at he house and pretended to wipe the glasses clean, watched the fields and think about how he was to make money. All the young man wanted was to be left alone.
A loud screeching noise of an ancient black car penetrated the heavy silence of the empty land. The young man looked up from his day dreaming too see what was causing the noise. He smiled vaguely as the familiar Model T, driven by Ol' Man Frank. It was clear why the boy knew the car, as his mother knew the wife quite well. The auto was creating a dust cloud, but the boy could see the piles of furniture and quilts and other things spilling from its container, threatening to fall into the dirt path. The car rattled onward, until it stopped in front of the rickety shack.
"Boy," Ol' Man Frank called, "I need to talk to ya."
"I ain't paying you no money," the boy called back, "Me ma just died. I ain't got a penny ta spare." The poor youth had been asked more times than a banker for money in the past few days for the thins his mother had left unfinished. He gave them all the same answer. He was broke.
"Naw, I don't come for no handouts," the man replied, lifting himself from the car carefully so as to not disturb the potential avalanche, "I has come for you. Your ma told me to take you with us. We's going west."
The boy shook his head, "Naw, Frank. I ain't goin' nowhere."
Ol' Man Frank wiped his face and sighed, smearing the sweaty dust on his pants. He was not an old man, only looked so as he was balding and the sun caused his face to melt like an ice cream in July. His deep set eyes tilted inward like an old basset hound, covered in eyebrows thicker than his hair. "Boy, if you's stay here, they's goin' to come for ya."
"Who they?" The boy asked. Ol' Man Frank nearly sighed out loud at his ignorance.
"They's the gov'ment. They's them mens in the fancy black cars and coats who come and take yous land and yous house. Boy, you stay and they's come for you and take you to New York," the old man explained wearily. It was a lost cause, a pathetic battle to convince a headstrong boy to come with his already starving family.
"Naw," the young man replied with a confidence that made Frank sick, "This is my land. I is the only one left."
Frank was usually a quiet man, listened to his wife and spoke with a voice like a kind summer wind, but this raw obliviousness to the predatory nature of man this boy as exhibiting scared him. "Boy, they don't give a shit you's the only one left. This is their land, it ain't yours. When your mama died, God bless her, they take this land and you goes where they take you."
"Not me. I is the only one left," the boy still in his young years said with earnest.
"Don't you see, boy?" The man yelled, grabbing at the boys filthy, worn shirt and yanking him down to meet his tired eyes. Tired of this weather, tired of the impending storm. "It's over. It's over," the mans voice became softer, but in a sad way, "They don't give a shit if you's the only man for miles. They don't give a shit you farmed here for a hundred years. They want your money. They don't care about you. To them, you's like every orphan for hundred miles."
The young man's face became red like a child's and he ground his jaw together. "I's not an orphan. I is different and I ain't leavin'."
Ol' Man Frank relinquished his grip on the fabric and allowed the boy to straighten. In all his time, he had never seen such disillusionment. It was not only frightening but disheartening that this boyhood would be crushed before he ever bloomed by this harsh, harsh storm. The man turned to leave, saying just before he was out of earshot, "May the road rise up to meet you, until we meet again."
The young man nodded and replied as his father had done before he left a long summer ago, "May God hold you in the palm of his hand."
And then the last car of the last people tumbled down the road towards hope and the vision of a better day. Westward bound and with heavy heart, the family looked back at the lone boy on his pouch.
The young man watched until the car was nothing but a dusty speck, thinking of what Ol' Man Frank had said. They would be coming, the boy knew it, but he couldn't imagine another life but this. Everything he knew, and everything he cared about, was here. At the base of this hill was where he was raised and this was where he was going to die. Let them come and try to take me, he vowed, I will not leave until one of us is dead. Determination set into his bones and he could feel a storm coming. But this time, it wasn't in the sky.
A shiny black car began to appear in the horizon line. The young man tightened his jaw. The Rolls-Royce pulled up to the sagging, decrepit house and a man stepped out, sticking out like a palm tree in the North Pole. He was sweaty and his suit was new. Shoe polish hair plastered to his brow and small squinted eyes scrutinized the boy. The young man only stood taller, ready for the challenge.
The fat man waddled over to the house. The youth stayed put, as if a challenge. From a few feet away, the man asked, squinting at the young man, "You are Brunner?"
"That's my name," the young man replied, gritting his teeth. He hated the attachment to the name that abandoned him.
"Boy, get your things and come with me," the man said. He has the clipped voice of a Yankee without a heart.
The young man shook his head, "No. I ain't going."
The affluent northerner replied, avoiding the boy's eyes, "You do not have a say. Come with me, we have a train to make."
"No," the young man repeated. He took a deep breath and said what had been forming in his mind since this moneyed fat cat had the nerve to remove him from his only home. "Look at me. This's my land and this's my home. You's have no right to oppress me and take my's livelihood. Just because you's got your money and you's well-to-do and I's not, that doesn't mean you can control me. How can you love yourself when you come and steal from the poor? I's old enough to have my farm and have my life but you's ain't going to let me have my happiness. No. I ain't coming with you."
The man was stunned. Defiance was something he had experienced ever since he was out into this cursed job. It was his own damn fault, after those faulty stock investments, but he was finished. Done with this children who think they knew everything, think they knew him. They knew nothing. Each little monster thought they were hit hard by the crash. None of them knew hard. Because of Black Tuesday, he had lost his home, job, wife and three children. Everything he so dearly cared about was ripped from him as he watched behind the cold desk in a court room. Not even God could save his soul then. That had been the last time he had ever prayed. God was as dead to him as his love and children. If God existed, why was the world so destroyed and hopeless? Why was he given such a cursed life. Now he was left with fetching the rotor children who each clung to their dying towns, shouting things at his as he forced them to come. But this open articulate argument was beyond him. This open defiance was refreshing almost for a second, before he became infuriated.
"You listen here, boy," the man shouted harshly, grabbing at the young man's shirt, "You are going to shut up and listen. Either you come willingly or I force you. Any way if goes, we are getting on that train."
"No," the young man said hotly, "I'd rather die than leave."
The man chuckled, "Sure. Whatever you want. It's your damn life. You know, you're all the same. You orphans. All of ya."
"I ain't an orphan. And I ain't like them. I is different. I is the only one left," the boy replied maliciously.
"Empty words, boy," the man teased, "Do it. Get your gun. You're coming with me and we both know it."
The boy boy turned on his heals and walked into the house. The man laughed. Empty threats. But when the boy returned, there was a storm in his eyes big enough to burn the both of them.
"You know nothing," the young man shouted as he raised the polished gun to his eye.
The psychiatrist looked at the case file and sighed long and hard. He had seen this before. The violence and hatred in the country between the fortunate and the lesser so was a divide so deep, they continued in hell. Every soul that passes into his hands through these detached papers recording the struggle did this for someone they loved and who can tell them that their defense of goodness and raw love would cost them their lives? Slowly and without passion, he walked into the room where the young man was waiting, chained to a desk as he was to this unjust and disinterested system. He looked like the rest of them. Dirty and trodden down by the promise of a better tomorrow. He could see it in this boys eyes that tomorrow never came and what was left was nothing but a barren emptiness.
"Mr. Brunner?" The doctor asked wearily.
The boy ground his jaw and spat, "That's my father." The boy did not see a doctor in front of him. He saw his executioner. He saw the man here to finish the job he should have done when he had the power. When he has his gun.
Glancing at the file, although the psychologist knew this story by heart, he asked the poor boy in front of him that same question that has sent men to the gallows for ages, "Did you do it? Did you kill this man."
With empty eyes and a hollow voice, Brunner answered vacantly, "Yes, sir. Yes, I know I've done."
The man wanted to shake the youth, tell him he had done nothing but dig his own grave and lie in it. But he kept the straight face of a man of the system. "Why?"
The boy smiled a bit. A fruitless, nugatory smile that haunts people at night. "Because I've seen. I've seen yous and thems and I know sir that you ain't people no more. I didn't kill no man, I kill the devil on earth."
Ever since he became a psychologist, he hated it. In school the other men left with blank expressions and the same excuse of "They did this to themselves" so that when they got home and read books on the tortured soul, they could feel good about themselves. He could not. His separation from the human condition was not so voided that seeing the people in need of help tore at his heart. However, through the strength of a betterment of society, that he could make a difference, he made it here. And he hated it. Shuddering on the inside, the man wrote the word that was feared by the sane and praised by those who fell nothing was left. Guilty.
But the boy smiled on. Empty as the land ravaged by dust and the father who left and the bodies who stayed.