Between Two Roads
They rose like dark spires from the earth ––– the burial mounds of a forgotten civilization, tombs of forgotten kings ––– these great towers of dirt, stretching across the landscape. From the edge of the corn fields we looked on in silence, watching as massive machines tore at the ground with their sharpened teeth, opening the soil to its secrets, building the foundations of the empire that would succeed our own.
The early stages of our civilization were like those of any other: we began as mere nomads, six children wandering the orchards, horse farms, and corn and potato fields that lay between Mitchell and Butter Lane. We were driven by the same desire to test our limits, both of strength and of territory, the same fascination of what lies over the next hill ––– a fascination which never leaves us from our childhood but simply expands to greater boundaries where hills become mountains, ponds become seas, groves become forests ––– that drove our ancestors as they followed the sun with no foreseeable end to their journeys.
I always wonder who led our ancestors’ expeditions, and why? Was it the tribal chief who sought lands more abundant with game, or the tribal mother who wished to find a different climate to raise her children? Was it the children themselves, like us ––– as I like to believe ––– whose imaginations brought them to the edges of the world, forcing their families to follow?
We evolved like any other civilization: the wild days of fractured melees and prehistoric squabbles ––– an earth and sweat-governed anarchy that reigned until dinnertime when our parents could apply Neosporin and Band-Aids to our wounds and curiously ask where we had been all day ––– soon giving way to an urbanized, golden age. When the corn grew high over our heads us we stomped our roads and paths within the folds of the crops, weaving together broken stalks to build walls to designate our new cities ––– an intricate web of townships and principalities ––– a hidden empire within the shade offered by the corn’s green foliage. Literature grew out of our swift expansion: we drew maps of our empire in notebooks stained with apple cider and dusted with graham cracker crumbs, marking the areas where spider-webs stretched between unripe ears of corn, or where the farmers drove their tractors, causing the earth to exhale, spewing dust clouds into the air. We wrote down our feats of courage in imagined battles and carefully documented our daily harvests from the orchards or the blackberry and honeysuckle bushes. We even recorded our arguments to settle them peacefully and finally scribbled down our origin tales that had been orated since our early years, performed as dances in late summer, when the winds blew stronger and colder, scented with the sea, and began to shake our walls and roofs.
And like all civilizations, we fell: there was no eclipse to signify our end, no great battle, no disease or tragedy. There was simply a sign-post hammered into the earth at the edge of Mitchell Lane, our empire’s western border, bearing two words: FOR SALE.
For a few days we looked at these words, knowing what they meant, but not believing their meaning. Then came the tractors and cranes, then came the cohorts of workers, then came our silence as we watched our land opened up like a surgery, brand new, off-white beams of wood emerging from the ground like exposed bones. Then came the cars that crunched down newly laid driveways and the nighttime spotlights that dispersed the owls and bats. Then came the laughter of children we didn’t know and only glimpsed in shadow behind murky glass.
At first, we tried to negotiate with the intruders, bringing gifts of threaded grass and cooked corn, small Tupperware bowls of blackberries and haw fruit. But upon seeing us, before we could ask for our cities to be spared and our borders restored, we would be turned away by angry calls from hefty men with cellphones attached to their belts and dark sunglasses covering their eyes, telling us we were trespassing. We tried to tell them they were trespassing, only for a fresh bout of yells to disperse us back into the corn.
Then, we tried to fight, pulling beams from unbuilt homes in an effort to halt the construction, uprooting and desecrating signs that mentioned the names and phone numbers of those who believed they could give away our land. But the stacks of wood never shrank, the signs always seemed to replace themselves and multiply, stretching down the lengths of both Mitchell and Butter Lane.
So when it became clear our small hands would alone not be enough to stop the intruders, we consulted with our god. Not with God, of Whom we knew very little. But with the old, rusted tractor that sat within a small grove of evergreen trees. The tractor was a relic of some bygone era we never knew, abandoned by the fathers or grandfathers of the solitary farmers we watched carefully from afar. We always wondered what it was like in those days, and would approach the tractor seeking answers to our questions: did other children come before us? Did they also build their cities between the two roads? The tractor would never answer as it tried to forget a past we knew was filled with sorrow, a sorrow that had caused it to settle within the shrubs, alone, shedding each of its memories in each of the flakes of paint that chipped from its hull and dispersed in the wind or were buried beneath the pine needles. In its silence, in its mystery, our veneration for it only grew. So once again we approached it with our questions: who were these new settlers on our land? Why did they come?
Again, the tractor did not answer. But this time, not because it wished to remain silent, but because it had finally perished, we knew, collecting its memories with our hands, our pockets bursting with the paint chips, our own sorrow repainting its surface. And all the while the construction continued, unabated, unfettered by the death it had caused. So we abandoned the body of our god, forced to retreat to our original homes, our origin places, to be consoled by our mothers and fathers and the knowledge that our empire would always persist in our memories and in the memories of the tractor we had brought with us. Such memories could be passed between us and down to whomever would listen, we told each other. Perhaps they would even be written down one day, as they are now.
Between the two roads we left behind evidence of our stay: fragments of our crumbling walls are still visible between the great fences that have been erected between the tall privets, separating what was once inseparable, evidence waiting to be discovered by archaeologists, waiting to reveal an unknown history of an unknown people cast aside by new inhabitants who would have no knowledge of the history of the land on which they now lived, the land that had once belonged to six children. With the fragments we left behind our laughter and our tears, our joy and our abandon, our anger and our hopelessness ––– all the many threads that had formed our empire and the quilt of childhood that had once kept us all so very warm.