A Fire In The Cane
A story written entirely in monosyllable except for dialogue.
A Fire In The Cane
The sun flashed red as it rose to the top of the peaks, the sky went blue, and on the ground, where plains of cane ran green to the dirt road, men cut at the growth. Stalks of ripe cane lined the field in rows.
In these fields, gangs of farm hands tried to get their work done in time for lunch. Most of them put their faith in a man who had the will of a serf and threw more strength with swings of a blade than a mad bull in a charge. He made quick work of a job that put to shame the lot done by three men. A bad air kept close on him and in his wake, and he knew the feel was not right, yet he did not warn his friends of his fears. The clip of his blade through stems and the shift of his feet in leaves did not calm his ills, and they got worse when he heard a far off noise in the sky, a bird cry.
When Abe heard it, he dropped his blade to look. A gull swooped at the heads of cane, a white blast of tuft on its wings and breast, and a fire etched in its beak-it made a pass at the men. Abe knew the life of these birds and found it odd to see one dive in hunt, not for fish, but for looks from men too much in their work to care.
"Did you hear the bird? It's warning us," Abe said, with a wild gaze at Ted.
Ted's fat ears twitched. "What you hear there pal?"
"Look." He forced his friend to look up. "You see it? That bird flying there. Can you hear it?"
"You've slipped your goose, haven't you, ya Jap? I don't see a damn thing."
Abe grabbed Ted's arm.
"Oww! Knock it off! That hurts!," cried Ted.
"Look. Over near the mountains, you see?"
He raised Ted's hand to point at the gull as it made a climb for the blue.
"Yeah, I see it. But let go, you're hurtin' me."
Abe let go. Ted, stunned, fell back with a wry look on his face. He thought of the pain he would have to bear for the next two weeks thanks to his friend's harsh grip. Ted never liked the Japs, and less so now since he'd heard on the news of the wrongs they had done to girls and youth in the west. If bombs could not end the job, they went through streets to rape and kill. It made him sick to think of such things, but he knew Abe was not of their kind. No, Abe stood at the head of a new breed, born from the mix of loam and wash, built tough as the land, but whose thoughts were pure and left with the need to make good. The farm hands could not help but like the child in this grown man with a black beard. His tan skin, dark from months in the sun, bulged with rocks of flesh formed out of the throw he put with a stroke of his great blade.
"Ya know what?" Ted said. "I bet you wouldn't mean to hurt a dog even if it was misbehavin'."
"You joke too much." Abe made a thrust with his blade at the sky. "I tell you that bird is warning us!”
"Warning who? Not us guys. He's probably jus' circling some dead carcass out there.”
"That is what you think."
"Don't worry about the damn bird," Ted took up his white hat from the ground and put it on his head. "It's jus' a bird."
Abe went back to work. He thought his friend might be right and that chance had sent the gull from its beach to these plains. When he was done with a row, he brought out a rag from his belt and wet it in a tin can strapped to his leg. He gazed at Ted, a white shirt far in the mist, who took his line of cane at a slow pace. Ted's knees were hard pressed. With the end of each cut, he took a step, and with less punch than the last, swung at a stalk. All this strife went hard at his weak frame, a rack of thin limbs, arms slim as wire, and he had to halt at times to cough. Ted could not be one of the strong men. He smoked too much. When he was fired from his job as a clerk in Pearl, his lungs went out the door as well. A thought came to Abe that he should help his friend with the work, but once more, a cry from the bird made him look up.
"Something is wrong," Abe said.
"What is it?" Ted laid his blade on the dirt and ran up to his friend.
"It has come again to warn us."
"Of what?" Ted asked in a sweat and put a hand on his brow to shade his eyes from the sun.
"I don't know."
"Of course you don't."
"I'll go over to it and see what it wants," said Abe.
"And leave all of the work? You're nuts. Only crazies chase birds."
"But this bird is not crazy. It carries a message."
"If it's the Holy Spirit, I say go right ahead and fetch it, but don't ask me to finish your work."
"I never asked."
"Well then, go right ahead."
"Will you come too?" Abe asked.
"Then I will stay."
"Well then, whaddya throw a hoot and holler over it in the first place?" Ted put his hand on his friend's mouth to quiet his say. "Don't say a word, I already know." Then he sat on the ground and laid his hat in front of him. "I reckon if it's so important to ya' I can't complain. But, jus' the same, I'd like to get the hell out of here. We've been here since four in the mornin'."
"You want a break?"
"Yeah. Let's go into town and get a couple of smokes or somethin'. Anything to leave this country of flies and rotten humidity.”
Abe laughed, his teeth white in the sun's glare.
"Hey, whaddya think about that, Abe?"
"No, to sleep, whaddya think I'm talkin' about?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Of course, of course." Ted drew out a pack of smokes from his shirt, took one out, and lit it. "So where do ya' wanna go eat, Pearl or Honolulu?"
"Pearl," Abe said.
"Pearl it is."
A drone was heard from the north. Ted knew these sounds as planes in route from the west coast. They would come in on church days to jump folks out of bed and send them on their way to Mass. These blares had passed through his ears with no end and he paid as much heed to them as he would a fly that had clung to his shirt. The same could not be said of Abe, whose nerves got high with stress when he heard these planes. He glanced at the peaks, now in a dawn mist, and felt his heart ache.
"Do you see them yet?" he asked.
"You mean those bombers," Ted said as he let out a puff of smoke. "Yeah, they're probably some of those Fortresses they got flying in from California. Don't worry about them.”
"These sound different."
"Now you're talking silly again. Are you comin' with me to town or what? Or are ya' jus' gonna stay out here and work your—”
"Quiet, listen," Abe cut in.
Ted knew it would be in vain to look at the sky, but he did so to please his friend. His red face glanced up for a bit, then down at his boots, where a bug had just crawled in to sting his foot. He could live with flies, but the pests that ran out of rocks to bite pissed him off.
"These damn beetles, they're everywhere." He stomped on the ground. "Goddamn things, they sting at anything they can get their claws on, and this one's gotta damn pincer in my toe. I can't do anything with crap running in my shoes, Abe. How's a man to get rid of them?”
"There are hundreds," Abe said with his eyes on the peaks. What was meant by his words did not have to do with bugs.
Ted kept quiet. This was the first time he had seen Abe in this gloom. The drone rose to such a high roar that it shook the earth and forced Ted to close his ears.
"Geez, they are flying' low today! They don't ever do this!" he yelled but he saw Abe did not hear him for he was too much in a trance.
Up in the air, crowds of dots seemed to pop out of clouds. Some of them came fast and kept at the front of the pack as they spilled down the peaks to low ground. It was a new sight for Abe. He had seen the wrecks left on strips in Pearl, full of rents in their steel and not able to fly, and knew they could not match the grace of these planes.
"Damn those things are fast!" said Ted. "Look at them go. They leap in the air like rabbits!"
These steel birds were not of their land, but with a glance at wings, each craft shone red discs. They flew at the cane, and both knew, these birds had come with change, and the day would be rife with new ill, a bad time for all…the start of a world war.