A grape on the tongue, and language is born. Or is it dream? Or is it memory?
He was riding his bicycle slowly over the bumpy dirt road that ran between his father’s vineyard and the neighbor’s. It was late summer. The atmosphere was warm and still, and the air was heavy with the scent of ripening fruit. As he wobbled along, he noted with pleasure the tracks of birds woven in the dust, the funnel-shaped holes made by ant lions, the footprints of roaming dogs, ant hills, jackrabbit droppings, and the imprints of his father’s heavy work shoes. He hoped to see a squirrel or coyote, but none were about. His father wasn’t fond of the creatures, but he wasn’t intent on killing them like most of the neighbors, who seemed to think their ownership of the land gave them the right to destroy anything on it. He was sure the animals sensed this, and chose to live on their farm as a result. His father thought so too, and said he got a kick out of harboring them when everyone else in the neighborhood was trying to wipe them out.
When a pheasant erupted into the air, he stopped his bicycle and watched it fly over the vines. The bird dipped out of sight and landed in the vineyard about fifty feet away. His heart was pounding. He had been so focused on the ground that he hadn’t noticed the pheasant just ahead.
Instead of resuming his ride, he got off his bicycle and laid it on the ground. A nice bunch of grapes in the first row of vines caught his eye. It was high in the vine and exposed to the sun. The grapes were yellow and fully ripe. The stem was thick, so he cut through it with the pocketknife his father had given him and taught him to use. He picked a grape from the bunch and put it in his mouth.
“Ross? Are you all right?”
He looked up into Jacobi’s face.
“Some people over there had a cell phone. They called the ambulance.”
Ross Freeman smiled. He punctured the grape with his teeth and felt a riot of sweet juice running over his tongue. Then he held up the bunch and examined it. A small brown spider was nestled in a spot about a third of the way down, where the bunch began to narrow. He picked another grape and ate it.
A woman said, “Is he all right? Maybe there’s a doctor inside. Shall I go see?”
The voice sounded like his mother’s. He looked back the way he’d come and saw her walking toward him. She was carrying a bucket that contained several ears of corn. “I just picked these from the garden,” she said. “They smell so good.”
“Mom,” he said. “You’re here.”
She looked at him, puzzled.
“I missed you,” he said.
“I was in the garden,” she replied.
“You’re alive. I’m so glad. It’s so good to see you again.”
His mother smiled at him and at the bunch of grapes he was holding. “Come back to the house,” she said. “We’ll go together.”
She turned and walked away.
He tried to pick up his bicycle, but it was rooted to the ground. He called after her and told her to wait. She didn’t answer. He looked at the bicycle. It was now a coyote that had recently been shot. Its body was still warm.
“It’s okay,” Jacobi said. “Hang on. They’ll be here in a minute.”
His mother was gone. He was alone. He hadn’t heard a gunshot. Who had killed the coyote? He looked for a shovel to bury the animal. It was so sad to see it lying there, its fur matted with blood. He dragged the coyote into the vineyard where the dirt was soft. Using his hands, he hollowed out a nest in the shade, put the animal in, and then covered the area as best he could. The work made him tired, but he didn’t care, because he knew he was doing the right thing by providing a decent burial. He found a dry piece of brush from the previous year’s vine growth and placed it in the ground at the head of the grave.
The ambulance arrived. While Jacobi described what had happened, the paramedics ran an EKG and started an IV. When they were ready to put Ross Freeman inside, Jacobi told him he’d follow in his car and join him at the hospital.
The author gave his hand a little squeeze. “Good boy,” he whispered. “There’s still a lot I have to tell you.”
Chapter 14, The Smiling Eyes of Children,
an unpublished novel written in 2001