July 09, 2010
Zachary's Sissy Stick
Prompt: Way down upon the old red river…there was a scheming…elf…who grew giant sunflowers…and had an interest in baton-twirling. Zachary tucked his tank top firmly into his shorts yet again and took a long drink of Gatorade. Even though he was in the shade, it was a little more than unpleasantly hot on the mobile home’s patio. He glanced at the door of the house, pulled up his sagging right sock, and walked over to the boom box sitting on the bottom step of the trailer’s porch, its cord snaking up the other two stairs, across the porch, and disappearing under the closed door of the mobile home, where it was plugged into the socket next to the front door. He’d have liked to practice inside in the air conditioning where it was cooler, though only by comparison with the air outside. The aging swamp cooler just didn’t work very effectively in the dead of summer when both heat and humidity were at their peak. He pressed the play button, and set his feet, his sneakers ready for action, knees bent, torso straight. One hand rested in a fist at his hip, the other was flung straight out from his shoulder, thrust before him, and balanced within his deft fingers lay the source of contention with his parents; his baton. His father was upset at the mere mention of what he called a “sissy-stick”. He claimed that no self-respecting male of any species, but especially no elf, would deign to dance about and twirl a baton in front of an audience—or even in the privacy of his own home. His mother was in favor of him “developing his interests”, and often told his father he should “chillax”, a random word created by combining “chill out” and “relax”. At this point in the discussion, his father would usually stomp out of the room and begin working on the antique car he was theoretically trying to restore, but which never seemed to have any real progress happening to it. Zachary took a long breath and waited for the music to begin. There was the clicking sound, five, four three, two, and the music blasted out of the boom box. Zachary’s feet moved automatically in the exact pattern of the choreography he’d designed for this piece of music, his baton twirling, his arm movements and dance routine precisely matched to the beat and notes, and even the mood of the music. He felt his heart lighten, the happiness filling him up until it threatened to burst forth and spill over into the world at large. Only when he practiced his twirling did he feel entirely free. The music died mid-measure, and his movements stuttered to an abrupt halt. Feeling more than a little bit disoriented at being jerked out of his immersion in the music, Zachary spun around, trying to discover the cause of the sudden silence that pressed in on him from all sides. The source of the silence wasn’t hard to discern. His father stood on the porch, holding the pronged end of the boom box’s plug, waving it back and forth in the humid air. “Have you checked on your garden plot today, son?” Zachary looked down at the ground, and buried the toe of one sneaker in the dusty patio where he’d been practicing. “No, sir.” “Did you check your garden yesterday?” Zachary felt his face go hot and knew the red flush was flooding over his cheeks, proving his embarrassment and his guilt to his father. “No, sir.” “In point of fact, have you checked your garden any day in the past week?” “No, sir.” His voice had dropped to a whisper. His father held out one hand, and Zachary gingerly placed his beloved baton in his father’s grip before turning slowly and walking out of the yard. He heard the scrape of the boom box being picked up from the bottom step, and knew he would be lucky to see it again before the end of the month. His feet carried him across the road, through the irrigation ditch, through three large commercial farming fields, through the barbed wire fence, and down the drop-off to the fertile ground at the edge of the Old Red River. Zach wondered once again why it was called the red river, since it was filled most of the year with bunches of brown silt, and the rest of the year ran clear, pristinely chattering as it burbled over the rocks in the shallows. He picked up a stone and threw it into the river, hearing the plop and splash with a great deal of savage satisfaction. The second stone made a louder plop, but not nearly as much splash. With the third stone, he achieved the skip he was attempting for, and watched the rock bounce off the top of the wavelets three times before it spun into the depths of the river with one last gurgling plop. It wasn’t as though his sunflowers needed any help, or any work to watch over them. His father, a commercial farmer, believed that brawn and hard work was the answer to every question, but Zachary believed deep down in his heart that before the brawn even entered the picture, many problems could be solved using brains alone…and the rest of them would go much faster and easier if the brains were applied to the puzzle before the brawn. It was obvious that pushing would eventually move any rock, but it moved a lot easier if you evaluated the situation and determined the best place to do the pushing. His small patch of river bottom land was doing very well on its own as he grew the giant sunflowers and sold them to the sunflower seed company. What his father didn’t realize was that Zachary had long ago figured out an automatic irrigation system that took no effort, kept the plants watered automatically, and needed only to be checked about once monthly, unless there was a thunderstorm and the possibility of storm damage to the miniature canals he had dug to and from the river. Though he had constantly flowing water through the heart of his crop, the field was also well drained, and his sunflowers flourished. Zachary picked up a straight stick of bamboo that he kept near his field, and, making certain he was well below the high bank of the river, started humming the melody of his music, and practiced his dance and twirling routine once again. With any luck, his practice would pay off, and he would be chosen as drum-major in the band when school began again. It was a prestigious position, and maybe, just maybe, his father would finally come to approve of him dancing about in front of people, leading the music, raising the school spirit, and twirling his sissy-stick.