Blueberry Pie with Jet-Puffed Cream
He dreamt of horses, this man. He dreamt of boundless fields and farmland.
Spinning around, open-armed, head tilted towards the sky, eyes clenched shut: for just a moment, there’s absolute peace. I’m nothing but a boy in a vast field of dew-kissed grass, spinning. Ankles dampened. No sound. The blackness of these lids ensures this moment is placed under lock and key, forever making it a memory.
The constant buzzing brings me back, brings it all into perspective. Eyes unclenched, I look down to find the buzzing monsters dancing playfully with the wildflowers nearest my toes. I never really liked bees. Bad memories meant for a later date. Yet still, I crouched down in the grass. I loved to watch them closely as they waltz with the innocent flowers.
They were such a tease, those bees. How they strutted their stuff around each silky petal, flirting with the flower before swooping down to strip them of their pollen and fly off into the sunset—most likely in search of another pretty flower in distress, one could reason. They’re a pretty fickle bunch, I thought, watching as one of the monsters hit and skip a pink poppy.
Unlike bees, my own love affair resided with the field gnats, the way they stuck together out in the open, swarming steady in the air, taking part in mini gossip huddles in the most random of places. But I’m not this weird bug boy, mind you. I was in love with their timed motions. How peaceful and strategic they went about living and doing their business. That always seemed to capture my attention. It was quite mesmerizing, really.
The thing that also struck me about these gnats was that they rarely, if ever, ventured out alone in the fields like me. They needed each other. One should never gossip alone. With no siblings or cousins, busy parents, and my own added lack of effort at socializing with others my own age, I was the furthest thing from a field gnat. I needed no one.
But it didn’t really bother me much. I was the oddball who embraced time spent alone. With peace as my virtue, I could spend all day out on the farm. It didn’t matter if I was with the chickens, the cows, or simply hiding myself within the haystacks. I loved it. Especially the time spent out in these fields where the horses came and went freely.
The horses here were “owned” by my family, yet they didn’t need to be confined in the barn or weighed down with saddles and halters to prove it. They were ours in the freest way possible. I felt that was why our horses never wandered. They got full bellies, shelter from storms, and an unfenced land to graze and have babies in. They had no need to stray from humans that genuinely cared for them.
Still crouching with the bees, I stood upright, perhaps too fast. The sudden action swirled my brains to batter. Momma always did say not to rush life. Life will rattle your brains right back. Her voice crept in my head. Dizziness getting the best of me, I hunched over, resting my hands on my knees. Defeated.
When the rattling subsided I arched my head to look to the sky, a very lovely blueberry pie with jet-puffed cream awaited my eyes. But that wasn’t what held my full attention. The sun gleamed off the bareback of a black Murgese that made its way beneath an oak tree some fifty yards ahead.
Perfect day for riding… I stood upright slowly this time, heeding my Momma’s advice.
This particular horse was the only black Murgese on our land. I know, because he stood out, strong and magnificent among all the rest. His toned muscles were enough to make a grown man cry, his black mane sleek and straight enough to make a woman double her hairbrush stroke twice over at bed.
He was the best horse on the farm to ride, and easily the friendliest. I had ridden him plenty of times. He was the horse my father taught me how to ride when I was old enough. This Murgese and me, we went way back.
I proceeded to mount him using a low lying tree branch from the oak for support. Swinging myself up, I latched my leg over the right side of his body, stroking his mane in a calming manner as I mounted. My father taught me at a young age to assure the animal even if you weren’t so sure yourself. It’s gaining their trust that makes a good man sure. His words echoed in my mind.
But clearly, I wasn’t a man. I was but a boy whose father’s knowledge failed this go around, because the Murgese spooked as soon as my buttocks touched his back. He rose up high on his hind legs in a sudden rage—or was it fear?—and the next thing I knew, I was being thrust into the sky, falling backwards, back kissing tree. The thud knocked the wind out of me on impact; the back of my head growing warm.
I was sure I was caught in a blood ritual with the tree. I hadn’t needed to touch the wound to prove it. But I did so anyway. Shaky hands exposed a good amount of blood, its rusty scent checking my gag reflex. I doubled over, dry heaving on the grass before me, my stomach convulsing, lungs fighting for air.
As I opened my eyes, I saw the sole wingless bee that lay dead on the ground in front of my face. Its body was positioned so that its own beady eyes faced mine. I didn’t think much of its wingless nature until I sat up, a rock in a sea of a hundred dead wingless bees. I poked at one with a small twig, not wanting to scoop it up even if it was dead.
It was a bee massacre, and I had missed it. I also must have missed a majority of the day I now realized at the sight of the gray overcast sky. A significant chunk of time had passed. It looked like it was about to rain as the early morning sun made its way to seducing the tree line for another night.
I stood slowly, touching the back of my head. A mountain of scabs greeted my fingers. At least I won’t need stitches, I thought, rubbing my eyes with the back of my hands. That’s when I saw what I hadn’t noticed before. The wildflowers all across the field were closed up tightly like a seal. From up high, the ground looked like it was covered in mini flower capsules.
I began my trek back to the house over the hill, thoroughly confused. It was as though the flowers rebelled against the bees. I continued towards the house, making my way nearer to the barn, certain that Momma was going to kill me for my wounds and Father would disapprove of my horsemanship.
I made it halfway to the barn when I realized I hadn’t had any gnat huddles to dodge along the way. Around this time, gossip hour raged on for the gnats. Their huddles across the field generally doubled in numbers. But now it seemed as though only a few strays wandered through the air. No gossip. A solo act.
Clearly I was just delusional. My head was pounding with perspiration beading on my forehead, all contributing to the accident. Everything was truly fine. I just needed sleep. And so what if the gnats weren’t out and about? Maybe they just decided to stay home for the night. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re gnats, just gnats.
But what about the bees? My mind questioned. What about the flowers?
I discarded the thoughts and went on my way until I reached the barn. Once there, I had to double-take at the closed door. The door was never closed. It was always open for the animals, always. That fact was made clear by the brightness of the red and white on the door in contrast to the rest of the fading barn.
Still longing for bed but too curious to continue on to the house, I pulled opened the door. Entering, I found the chickens were lined up against one wall in cages. They weren’t in their coop out back, and the few cows we owned were all squeezed tightly in one of the horse stalls.
But that alone wasn’t what got to me. It was the sight of the horses: they were saddled down, haltered, and harnessed all together. How had they got here? Why were they tied? My head hurt. My arms felt heavy and weak as I stood there, my own two legs tied to the floor. In an instant I regained my bearings and quickly made my way over to the horses.
They needed to be free. They couldn’t be like this. I began ripping off a halter from one of the Chestnuts. She whined in agony. Once free, I unsaddled her and unharnessed her from her companion. She fled the scene in an instant.
My lungs felt magnified inside my chest, arms growing heavier and weaker. I began undoing another halter but it wouldn’t budge. It kept reattaching itself as though an unseen force was forcing it back. Each time I yanked it my lungs deflated inside myself. I couldn’t breathe. I was coughing, hacking even.
So I let it slip back into place and began working on the saddle instead. But that only seem to make my arms weaker. They pinched and began to bleed. Even when I stopped messing with the saddle, the pinching continued.
I just wanted to crawl up in a ball, it hurt so badly. I didn’t know how long I sat there on the barn floor, head pressed against one of the wooden pillars. I faintly heard Momma calling in the distance. It must be late for her to be calling me like that… I thought, rolling my head to look at the horses still tied up. They whined softly in response to my face.
They had needed help and I had failed them.
“JOOOOOOE,” I called his name for what seemed like the millionth time that morning.
He was really out of it today, speaking of a barn so fiery red, big, and beautiful. My eyes hadn’t seen it, but I nodded anyway just glad to have heard his voice again. That thick Italian accent was like music to my ears.
All day he fought his oxygen. Ripping it off in his sleep, blabbering on about how the horses needed to wander freely, really emphasizing ‘freely’ as he spit it off his lips. He had done the same with his IVs. The nurses had to come in a few times to clean up the blood and reinsert a new line into his vein. They didn’t feel it was right to bind the poor man’s arms to the rails. It was “against hospitals policy.”
Obviously they didn’t care how much blood he shed on the sheets. It was so hard to watch him thrash around like that every time he slept. He only grew wild hours into his sleep, right before waking up and calling me Momma, saying how sorry he was to get blood on his shirt.
At first I used to tell him the truth. I wasn’t his Momma. I’d tell him he was only dreaming, and that I was his granddaughter. He was my grandpa. That used to clear things up for him until it only made him angry and more confused overtime. He began to think I was tricking him. And so I did what the doctors had suggested, I played along.
My grandpa was my son.
I constantly assured him it was fine. I didn’t mind the blood on his shirt. It wasn’t his fault. “An accident,” he’d mumble childlike. I would nod my head in agreement, trading the tears I had for a smile that stretched from ear to ear.
Our talks always consisted of the farm and the horses, nothing more. He’d talk about how hard it was to upkeep a farm, but at the same time praising it: “Everyone should have a farm!” He very often talked of the horses and how their coats were a shiny mixture of marshmallow stages; daisy white, lightly golden, and burnt black.
I was never really sure where he was in his mind, if he was just making stuff up, destined to be an author living his story till death, or if he was lost in his memories taken aback to his childhood. All I do know is that it was always nice wherever he was.
“Blueberry pie with jet-puffed cream!” he told me once.
It was sunny, breezy, and beautiful there. But here there were no rays of sun to lather our arms, no breeze to caress our bodies or shine our hair like the Murgese. But there are clouds. This entire room is blanketed. But where he sees jet-puffed cream, I see lightning and tear-filled thunder.
I suppose it’s better that way. It’s better to envision horses running freely than to live in the reality of tubes and needles tying him down, or knowing that he is sick and dying. No, he isn’t free anymore. Only in his mind the halters disappear. He’s not pricked. He’s not prodded.
He’s but a boy—that man, dreaming of horses, of boundless fields and farmland.