“If you get it done,” they say,
“That’s, of course, very well,
But if you don’t, that’s also fine,”
As their bland shrugs tell.
What other job could someone say
That not finishing is fine?
Try that at your job sometime
And see if the bosses mind.
Tag Archives: Writing
“If you get it done,” they say,
In that eerie silence, the wheezing breaths grew harsher and harsher. Matt was sure that Dad would stop any minute, but he pushed on until his swings became clumsy and unsteady. Matt heard his mom’s gasp when a stumble brought the blades swinging back towards his leg. Dad pulled it back and rested the scythe on the ground. Matt started forward, but after a second, Dad lifted it again and almost desperately swept it across two more sections before dropping it and half-collapsing, bent over coughing with his elbows on his knees.
“Sarah, go get a pail of water and a cup,” Mom said softly.
Wide-eyed, Sarah nodded and sprinted back across the fields towards the yard. Matt took one look at Dad’s red face, grabbed the scythe, and pulled it away in case Dad keeled over onto it.
“It’s not as easy as it was when I was fifteen,” Dad gasped.
“You were a lot younger when you were fifteen,” Mom said exasperatedly, “and you worked in the fields every day. Without a tractor.”
“I know, I know.” He waved a hand at her and pushed to standing with a groan. “But it needs done.” He coughed and wiped chaff off his face. “I even forgot the handkerchief. Put one over your face before you start the next section, Matt.” He coughed again.
Scythe in hand, Matt turned. The field of wheat seemed to go on forever. The tiny row that his dad had worked so hard to cut wasn’t even… he struggled to guess what fraction of the field. It was about half the width. That had to be less than a tenth of the whole field. No, less than a twentieth. A lot less. And Dad could barely stand. Matt looked from the field to the tool: a bit of wood and metal. It was impossible. Helplessly, he looked up at his parents.
“How…” One glance at their faces froze the words on his lips. They knew. They’d known before they even started. But Dad had still… Swallowing, Matt took a deep breath, dug in his pocket for a kerchief, and tied it around his face. “Like this?”
If I’d harbored any illusions about the crew’s feelings about having me on board, they were shattered like fragile historic Earth glass the minute I stepped into the eating area. The casual, friendly conversation I’d heard from the hallway stalled to an awkward, even hostile silence. All thoughts of using only modern jargon dropped out of my head under the impact of their stares, and I tried not to wince at the mix of expressions. Looking from Gri’s unreadable expression to the suspicious faces of the strangers to the captain’s outright hostility, I found myself not even wanting to ask about the different races around the table. Although, really, what could it hurt?
Ahead of me, Kith turned and gave me another long stare. The Teg, however, alighted on the back of a chair and gestured towards me as if oblivious to the silence.
“This is deathwalker,” he announced formally. He raised a hand and paused, waiting until everyone’s eyes shifted from me to him. “He is Kaihmi.”
The instant change in the quality of the silence was amazing. And while it didn’t override the suspicion or hostility completely, the entire crew was now looking me over as if maybe I wasn’t quite what they expected.
Frowning thoughtfully, Matt obediently began to gather the fallen stalks. Why would Dad need a break? Following mom’s lead and wrapping a handful of wheat with twine, Matt snuck a glance back at his dad. The motion didn’t seem very difficult… Matt’s eyes widened, and his fingers fumbled. Dad’s neck was really dark. Popping upright, Matt sidestepped quickly to where he could see and couldn’t believe how red his dad’s face was already. Beads of sweat were pouring down it and soaking his shirt.
“No lollygagging, Matt.”
Startled, Matt jumped and turned back. Sarah and Mom had already gathered the rest of the cut wheat, bound it, stacked it, and moved up to the next section. Matt bent down immediately to grab the wheat he’d dropped and catch up. Soon, he, Sarah, and Mom had fallen into a rhythm where at any one moment, one of them was cutting twine, one was gathering the wheat, and one was tying off a bundle.
But even as Matt bent and bundled and gathered, he kept one eye on his dad. Although all he could see was his dad’s back, that was enough to see the spreading darkness down the center of his shirt and under his arms. And as the three of them got better at their bundling, they began to catch up. By the time the three patches merged into one, they were moving fast enough that sometimes, they ran out of wheat to bundle, and as they stood waiting, the only sound was Dad’s heavy breathing. Even the wind was silent.
“You are going to shut what?”
On a groan, I closed my eyes and buried my face in my hands. Now, I knew how Ter Fless had felt in that business meeting. Feeling their gazes on me, I answered without raising my head.
“‘Shut up,’ means to stop talking.”
“Deathwalkers are hard to speak with.” The deep voice was lightly laced with annoyance.
“Funny. I’ve heard that, but this is the first time it’s ever happened to me.” I was usually better about staying in the right century. Or millennia at least. Rubbing my eyes, I gave my self a short inner pep talk and dropped my hands. “I apologize for the confusion. I will attempt to do better.”
They were staring again. What did I say now? Frowning, I went through every word in the statement. There shouldn’t have been any old jargon or slang to confuse them.
“I begin to see what Gri meant,” Kith rumbled. “Come, Deathwalker. It is time for the crew meal. You will join us if you wish to eat.”
Well, that was pretty clear, food-wise. I wasn’t sure I wanted an explanation for the first part. I started to reply, caught their expressions, and nodded instead. Kith raised an eyebrow and turned back down the hall. The Light One leapt off the sconce and glided before him. And I trailed behind them both like a small child on a trip to the Intergalactic Zoo.
There was no response in words. And after a moment, the strong feeling of presence faded. Matt sighed and focused on his dad’s directions.
“Take one grip in your left hand and the other with your right.” Dad followed his own instructions as he spoke, showing Matt how the left hand counterbalanced the weight of the blade and cradle (that name still baffled Matt). “You can use the weight to help your swing, but be careful. Don’t swing wildly, and aim low to the ground” He swung forcefully from right to left. Matt flinched back from it, but the only thing it cut was a three-foot swath of wheat. The cut plants were caught by the cradle and swept together to the left.
As Matt watched, his dad took a step forward and swung the scythe again. Then, he took another step. In another handful of steps, he had a rectangle cut into the field about the size of their kitchen table.
“Sarah, Matt, you can both help with this part.” Mom brushed by Matt and began picking up the fallen wheat. Once she had about enough to fill her hand, she gathered it into a bundle and loosely tied it with the twine Sarah had brought from the house.
“But…Dad wants me to help him,” Matt objected hesitantly.
“You will.” Her voice was soft and grim. “He’s going to need a break in a little while. When he does, you’ll get your turn with the scythe.”
“You speak to yourself of old things?” he asked slowly, still eyeing me warily.
“Sometimes…” I smiled awkwardly. “It’s a job hazard.”
Another silence as the two of them shared a considering glance. Kith looked at me sideways. I tried to look friendly, professional, and non-threatening (which mostly involved smiling and standing up straight).
“And this tax-something you said, it is an old law? A tradition?”
“Something like that.” I got the feeling that stuffing dead pets with sand was something I didn’t want to bring up with these two. And if I remembered right, there were laws related to it. Before Kith could ask for more details, I turned to the Teg. “And Earth sailors used to call the toilet the head.” Those gem-like eyes expressed horror better than any other I’d ever seen.
“This is horrible name!” he exclaimed. “This is not what head does!” He looked so alarmed that I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Well, I’ve heard of a pea-brain, but I don’t think that’s what it meant,” I chuckled. Then, I realized they weren’t laughing.
“A pee…” Kith mouthed with obvious disgust. The Light One shuddered.
“Oh… no, no! Um, it means that someone has a small brain, the size of a pea, a small bean…it was a pun…” I spluttered slowly to a halt as they continued to stare. “I’m going to shut up now.”