LETTER FROM OBSIDIAN BOARDER

ERIC WESTERLIND

 

Marble—we work and it holds our hammer strikes.

 

I catch up in this “apprenticing to high things” afterglow. Kevin, a fat tabby, has left a bit of his dander in the corner of my eye that begins to itch—only the unfamiliar cat does it—Myr Charlie who I’ve lived with now for months can lay flat across my iris and I’d practically feel lotioned. But the new cat, this little fellow—he’s been eyeing me for days and takes every opportunity to leap up and lay out his claws, catch on the cloth of my trousers and pull himself along. Mustard honey eyes. A practical cat. He’s run across the donkey paddock a few times when it got sunny enough to stretch out past the mud—every other day has been drowning in it. We live in galoshes—“wellies,” as they are here, on this fragment of England in the south of France.

 

Alyssa communicates rapidly with her thumbs beside me. I take advantage of my now-worn hands, one finger bandaged—last night I was peeling potatoes with a regular laziness that comes from the titling “sous-chef” rather than “head chef.” The same secondary status probably arises in “contributor” and “assistant editor.” Perhaps why my writing suffers, whereas the “leadness” of my webmastering brings up my most attentive work.

 

Perhaps doesn’t do the surety I feel there justice.

 

Jed, “Jealous Edward,” the English Setter with a bonus fifteen pounds, just managed to eat the entire dinner off the table. Grandparents have arrived on the farm, have ferried eighteen hours to Spain and driven the remaining five across the Pyrenees. They look very clean. They’ve asked if they can leave yet. Stuart, father, has a nasty yelling voice when he sends the guilty hound to his doghouse.

 

All that’s done now. An hour and some later—we recovered enough slices of quiche to sit everyone down and get the best out of the grandparents. They’d been talked of poorly all week; they were, in fact, the reason that we had to leave when we did, as they’re not particularly good at accepting the festival lifestyle of volunteers on the farm. Frankly, they don’t seem very accepting of farm life in general. Madhouse, they say. Yes, it is, but no, it’s not.

 

When you land on the farm, it’s like walking through a curtain. It touches you and you notice it and you say it’s a curtain but then over time, you just are so invaded that you never really notice it except when you leave. Notice then how your tolerance has risen. How you rise to each task without eagerness but without hesitation. I remember coming here five years ago when I was 23 and meeting new volunteers when they arrived and finding the experience more jarring for me than any task I was set to, because of how wildly self-conscious each new one was—how they wiped at each fleck of dirt or tried to avoid the dogs’ noses, same as these grandparents are doing.

 

They’ve closed their door and are stepping into what old people sleep in.

 

It’s not bad, it’s a natural crossing of boundaries. Something planar-shiftish about it.

We head for Paris tomorrow. Alyssa is leaving some small change for the children, Phoenix and Harmonie; enough to help them buy a new app for their tablet. They escape the farm that way, same as I did through Avatar MUD. Phoenix told me when he was holding my hand walking towards the pigs: I wish we didn’t live on a farm.

 

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

He looked at a bush.

“I hate how muddy it is.”

 

They play Minecraft, he and his sister, and I did one day with him, in his lower bunk. Harvesting cubes to make more cubes. Going virtual-manic, I suppose, breaking up pigs and zombies and creepers and the mysterious teleporting enderman with his ender pearl. Come back here, enderman. I want your ender pearl, said young Phoenix, blue diamond sword ahead.

 

We never found an enderman. Not in survival mode. Nor any obsidian, which I was hoping to mine to build myself an obsidian observatory. Phoe only wanted diamonds. Diamonds are everything, right? He said to me, half-question, half-obvious statement that didn’t need a whiff of agreement.

 

Down another shaft, setting torches in search of magma and water, beside which the diamonds sparkle in 8-bit luster.

 

Alright, friend. A few things from here. Coming away with four lovely gifts—King Rat, the first book of China Mieville; an H.P. Lovecraft anthology; a Parker fountain pen gifted by an aunt more than 30 years ago to replace the one that disappeared on my arrival; and a spliff. I leave two organized sheds, a fixed gate, a charred plant ready for rebirth, a trimmed interior room, three chicken coops cleaned and re-strawed, a clean refrigerator scrubbed of gum and glue puddles; 200 euro to pay for the next set of volunteers’ food, because I can only hope this farm remains a whipping flag.

 

 

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