Salad: Act Two, Fall ’93 — by John Beet

As the sun set, the beach was occupied deeper by waves. The soft winds picked up, gifting salty air to those in its way. The empty glass was refilled once again with a brown liquor, now accompanied by another glass with water inside, belonging to another person. “Then what?” “Festivities.”

***

It was my birthday, September 1st. Mother was the only one that celebrated it, and not long after she left I had forgotten my age. Seeing as it was a celebratory day I took a visit to my study. It had been four years since I’d last been inside; the length of my writer’s block. The red oak floors creaked less than I remembered. The room itself seemed a little bigger and a little brighter. I expected the whitewashed walls to be dulled and dusty. Instead they’d become mildly discoloured, an egg white. There was no dust anywhere in the room, so at least one of the tenants had been cleaning consistently.

Before my writer’s block began I was in the process of writing a comedy script about an ex-waitress trying to find her place in the world. The main character, Lisbeth ended up jobless and was forced to move in with her parents. She ended up working menial jobs one after the other: toilet cleaning, waitressing, retail etc. finding fulfilment in none of them. Eventually, her parents, becoming tired of the endless cycle that was her existence kicked her out and she became homeless. But in that moment of what should have been vulnerability and desperation she found happiness and through it, fulfilment. After that I’d run out of any idea that wasn’t a cliché.

I decided to start something new, beginning with love poetry because it’s not hard to conceive. It’s almost embarrassingly relatable — the easy way out when it comes to penning anything. Ironically, love had failed me that day. Instead, I wrote about the significance of being born in autumn — or how births in the Fall may be a tell of the future. I had written several pieces about life and death. Specifically, my own. I found that birth and Fall have a peculiarity about their relation to each other. Where birth marks the beginning of life, autumn is home to the final milestone of life — or is at the very least a warning of hibernation. I began to think that perhaps I was destined to fall in Fall — that either I would die, or the world would. In that, I found small comfort in knowing that I could etch these thoughts onto more than the walls of my mind and create art out of my anxiety.

A knock at the door interrupted me at 1pm but nobody should have known that I was in there; alas I was found. It was one of the female tenants, “Usher wants to see you.” I didn’t want to see him. I’m ashamed to say that it was because of his appearance. He was now veering on being described as moderately disfigured because of one too many futile attempts at killing himself via makeshift furnace. Portions of his face and neck where scarred and resembled a burnt potato.

He was down in the kitchen, and he now had the distinct smell of charcoal permeated flesh and lemon. His skin had a dull shine because of the earlier applied lemon-based balm. “I’m buildin’ a boat.” he told me, and I asked why. He explained that he wanted to see if anyone was still “out there” and that he was bored staying at the house. “Do you plan to sail this boat through the sea of grass outside?” “No Jon. Forget that the coast is roun’ the corner did ya?” I had forgotten. I hadn’t been there for years. “What are you going to build it with anyway, and are you sure you won’t try to burn it down in the middle of the sea?” Usher rebutted with, “There are some scraps down at the beach, plus there are always parts to be found across the land. Follow your daddy’s footsteps and go suck something coarse and robust.” Then he went on his way, but not before shouting back at me that he’s going to be using Dave for help. I was unsure of how much help he could give, but I didn’t object. His insult didn’t faze me either.

Over a week had gone by since Usher told me about his new venture and I hadn’t seen him or Dave in that time. So, I went down to the coast. All of those years away from the coast had made me forget what the experience was like. The wind was different there — it was harsh and soothing simultaneously. The breeze from the sea lifted it towards the beach making a sideward precipitation that danced across the skin which was both alien and comfortable. Even though the greens in my gardens are impeccable, the greens out here are imbued with a sort of mysticism like something from expensive paintings or dreams. The sky remained the same — I see it everywhere.

Seeing the waters again it was like they were brand new. Its layers of blue multiple-hued skin shifted and shed with every crash of a wave. Once I reached the beach, I noticed that for the construction site of a boat it was decidedly empty. Behind a bevy of rocks, I found Usher laying on his side, leaning on his forearm for support whilst Dave grew increasingly frustrated by the throwing of stones into the sea. They sunk as soon as they touched it. I presumed he was trying to skip them.

There was only a box on the beach. Makeshift — out of planks of wood, unvarnished and with no lid. “That’s a pretty small boat. How are you going to get anyone else inside without chopping them up?” Nobody replied and my poor joke was drawn away by the wind. Usher told me that it was only for supplies to be put inside. Apart from the box there were scraps of metal, wooden boards and tools strewn across the beach. I told myself in that moment that I didn’t like the way the sand ebbed beneath my feet, so I left.

When I was making my way back home through the fields that overlooked the sea, I stood still for a while and I began to cry. The sun had gone completely when I eventually reached home. My eyes were stinging, and the surrounding area was flushed from the tears. I went into the house from the kitchen door and Bo was making a sandwich. Ever observant, he asked me why my eyes were red. “A fly went into my eyes.”

One morning, I had awoken at 9am and Joan was sleeping beside me. The sun shone brightly, penetrating through the curtains, shrouding the room in an even light. “Did you have sex with me whilst I was sleeping?” I asked because she looked as she would after we’d have sex. With her hair messy, brushed in haste, legs outstretched carelessly and lips pursed in an almost grin. “Yeah.”, “OK.” There was a silence between us for a bit but it was a comfortable one. Like the moments after having shared a tear inducing laugh and no more jokes to tell. I noticed the wine glasses and emptied wine bottles on the bedside table. “Joan — what are we?” It seemed like hours before she responded but it was barely seconds. “Homo sapiens I think.” Then somehow It was all too quick, and I wished pointlessly that she had considered her words more carefully.

After my rebuttal, I went for a morning walk and found myself in the woods. The mornings were always too quiet because there were no birds to fill the soundscape. Instead, wood and leaf were the sole composers of nature. The wind helped to carry the groaning of the trees, which is a lot more unsettling than chirping birds. I’d charted a lot of the woods over the years so I believed at that time there wasn’t much to explore. Instead, I thought about food that had long since been extinct, the frivolity of existence and if the theory of earth’s governments building a space station called Idriselba were true.

Some time had passed, morning made way for noon and out of the corner of my eye I saw a shape. I looked over expecting it to be Dave and instead it was a cow staring at me. I looked around for a moment, then looked back to where the cow was but it was gone. I walked in the direction that it had stood and jogged further until I came to a long lake. I’d never seen it before. I imagine that it would have been something akin to a watering hole in the past for the beasts of this wood. I never found the cow and it made me miss the taste of beef, even though I’d completely forgotten it.

“Did you see the cow?” a familiar voice from behind me asked. I turned to find out it was Bo. I didn’t reply but instead wondered why and how he had come up behind me so silently knowing his affliction of big bones. I should have heard the grass crunching beneath his feet.

“I see it too sometimes. Makes me miss beef stews. But it always runs away.” He was wearing his favourite blue knitted sweater but the air was cool so his sweat was less evident. “I come out here to think about my family.” I didn’t know he’d had one, let alone lost one. “My wife, Ada was a beauty. She was a model before everything went to the toilet. Loved me enough for three lifetimes — until she starved.” Bo smiled, and sat down on a nearby rock. “My son, Sam — he was supposed to be a football player but we ran out of food. He was so good, even at 11 years old. Obviously, he got his athleticism from Ada. Luckily for me, I was able to keep going right up until I found your place, then you saved my life.”

He just sat there smiling, with his fingers clasped together like a beardless garden gnome. I asked him why he told me the abridged version of his life story and he said, “We’re friends.”

One morning I woke up, feeling more vulnerable than usual. I went down the stairs to get some water. It seemed like those many moments in film where the protagonist is moving in real time and everything around them is moving incredibly fast coupled with a low shutter speed. It was nauseating, and almost beautiful. But it made me sick of people and I needed to be alone.

I got the biggest bottle I could find, filled it with water and went back up into my bedroom, locking myself in. I stayed in there for 22 days, leaving only to travel unseen between the study, the wine cellar and the kitchen. The tenants were more than capable of looking after the house in my absence and so I left them to it. I did however occasionally check on the growth of the beetroots in secrecy.

On the 14th day I was in the wine cellar, and I heard a muffled conversation about me going on at the top of the stairs. They were saying that I was losing my mind — recalling a time where I was in my underwear drinking wine on the kitchen table. Apparently, I was talking about using Usher’s insatiable desire to burn things to kill myself somehow. You’d think they had never heard of drunkenness, regardless or not if it were true. It was Bo that I heard defending me, passing my actions off as an off-day when in fact those were my good days. Days where I could willingly intoxicate myself to forget the outcome of the world, what it was and what it inevitably would be. My bad days were when I was exposed those facts — like a Caucasian in extreme sun rays without the ability for their skin to peel.

In my time of isolation, I managed to complete an entire collection of poetry based on the things I knew best. Depressing memoirs of my childhood, loneliness, missed meats, beetroots and anything you could think of including the impossibility of normality.

On the 22nd day as I was finalising my works, a thief broke in to one of the gardens. My personal alarm had gone off but by the time I reached the vulnerable vegetables the culprit was gone, leaving a perfect circular hole in one of the windows. Jealousy struck me because I’d always wanted to be able to pull of such a cinematic heist. Nevertheless, he’d stolen my beetroots. The beetroot plot was almost stripped bare. I searched the plot to see if I could salvage anything, and I found two seeds. The most valuable thing I owned and I had two seeds to show for it. I vowed that I would find them, and I did.

Joan was looking at me as I left the garden visibly vexed. Then she asked, “Do you want to have sex? For comfort?” I wasn’t sure if the sex was designed to comfort me or her; nevertheless, I accepted. Bo was nearby as he’d arrived shortly after me. “Bo — plant these seeds for me in the most secure area you can think of. There has to be dirt there.” He collected the seeds from me, went about his business and I went about mine.

Joan and I had sex, but that time it wasn’t rent sex. It was sexual sex, sensual sex. We kissed and touched in ways I’d forgotten existed. I’d reverted to using her as payment after our last encounter, but on this occasion where comfort was the goal, I took the time out to look at her intently. I found her to be more than birth-giving hips and oak-coloured eyes. Her head was covered with effortlessly curly hair, not feigned, but natural. Tesla coils with which I was unexpectedly electrified. If I’d known their visage, I imagined that it would match up with those famed for their beauty, like Cleopatra, Dorothy Dandridge or Meagan Good.

A month passed and the beetroots were on their way to being recognisable. I’d expanded the spinach and kale patches to make up for the space left by the beets’ absence. I was running low on Twining’s Weed again. The frequency of this journey seemed to increase of late. I believed that Joan was the cause of this because when I smoked it could easily last weeks. Walking down the hill from the shop I noticed liquid of a deep burgundy on the floor. I knelt, planted a finger in to taste it — and as I suspected it was beetroot juice. Coincidentally, there was a beet juice trail that I could follow. Though there were some spots where the splashes were sparse I managed to track it to the big house at the other side of the area. Unfortunately, it belonged to the brother of the man I buried in the woods. Incidentally, I went back home to hope that my beetroots would grow so I could enjoy them sooner than later.

On the next Tuesday, I visited Usher and Dave at the beach again. To my surprise they’d successfully crafted half of the hull. It was midday so they were taking a break. Dave was eating two tomato and cucumber sandwiches while Usher had unbuttered toast from a log fire. I wondered for a minute how they got any food considering that I hadn’t seen them at the house in weeks and quickly stopped caring. We talked and talked, eventually arriving at the topic of birth.

“Personally, I think we are all born by accident. Just a coincidence of our parents being in the mood for sex. Or in Dave’s case being completely off their heads.” To Usher I said, “I can imagine that your parents made love by the fireplace or something.” He replied with the usual expletives. “Jon, so your parents must have been having sex wrapped in leather with gags on.” He said that with a wry smile, and I retorted with some expletives of my own. He asked, “So did you want to be born?” “No.” I looked dramatically at the sea, but there was no jest in my answer. “The womb is the only place I’ve ever belonged.”

On the way home from the beach, I started to cry again — but this time I continued walking. Crying the way home, through the house and up to my bedroom. Nobody was around. I reached my room, and soon after Joan came inside. I was sitting in the dark, tears running down my face, and it began to rain, fulfilling a pathetically pathetic fallacy. Joan asked, “What’s wrong?” and I said that I missed mother.

***

November’s last days came, and I was woken up by extremely harsh winds. They’d been going on for four days. I looked at my watch and it was nine o’ clock in the morning, so I got up. I picked my pillow up off the grass and wrapped it in the blanket that was large enough to be over and under me. Before leaving for home I admired the view that overlooked the coast. Turning back, boots crunching in the almost-frozen grass, I noticed the cow again but did not follow. Once I reached home, everybody was surprised to see me with a beard. “Where have you been?” Bo and Joan asked simultaneously. I told them: helping.