This One Time, 90

This one time, back when I was a little elf, I was chasing grasshoppers out in the fields behind the little subdivision my family lived in. The baseball diamond, the next field over, was dry and little dust devils were running the bases. The grasshoppers were the size of my father’s fingers, or even larger, and the game I was playing was to charge through the grass at top speed, yelling and waving my arms, to see how many of the buzzing dollops of green and yellow-striped brown I could get aloft at the same time. I’d get three or four in the air in front of me then spin around, running backward, to see if there were any still in the air behind me. The record so far, for the day, was eight. I was frustrated because I was sure I could get twice that many if I could run faster, or maybe had a dog to help me herd them into the powder blue sky.

At the other edge of the field was an old man sitting in the grass. He had one arm up as if waving or pointing, and the his other hand was up to his face, like he was shielding his eyes and looking up at the sky. I decided to charge over and send some of the grasshoppers his way, though I was a little worried this would get me into trouble. Enduring a hail of panicked grasshoppers was a bit of an acquired taste as I had come to find out.

As I got closer, I saw that he had a pair of binoculars — and I knew for damn sure I would be in trouble if I made him drop them. My father had a pair that he treated as one of the most valuable things he owned. I skidded to a stop outside of reasonable grasshopper range to think about things and wipe the sweat out of my eyes. The wind sprang up and blew a grasshopper right at my head, so I ducked it.

From where I stood, I could see this wrinkled old man was kneeling on the grass, holding onto some kind of string tied to the sky. He was using the binoculars to look at, presumably, the other end of the string. I followed the string up with me eyes as far as I could, then skipped ahead a bit, straining to make out anything in the painfully bright blue beyond the little floating spots I’ve always been plagued with, but I saw nothing.

He motioned me over and spoke in a language I didn’t understand. One of the words sounded kind of like “kite,” and things suddenly made sense. He handed me his hefty binoculars as if he handed expensive items to five-year-olds he’d just met all the time, but I already had them in my hands before I realized exactly how stunned I was. They were far heavier than I expected, and my hands were sweating, but I didn’t want to just hold them in one hand while I wiped the other on some handy denim, so I just kept a white-knuckled grip, held them to my face, and tried to follow the string up. I looked around as well as I could, taking minutes and half panicked that he would become unhappy and demand them back any moment, but all I found in the sky was a daytime crescent moon and a puff of cloud in a big damn hurry. As far as I ever knew, he had the string tied to one of those.

He kept up a stream of steady incomprehensible chatter that, even if I could have understood it, was mostly lost to the breeze.

My arms were tired from holding up the binoculars to my face, so I handed them back before I got so tired they slipped from my sweaty fingers. At the same time I handed them over, he handed me the string that was yanking at his own withered arms. I’m sure all he wanted to do was wipe the binoculars off on his plaid shirt or maybe loop the black plastic strap around his wattled neck, but the next thing I knew was that I was being dragged backwards across a swath of staining, pungent grass by this string tied to the sky and that I would catch holy hell if I let this man’s precious kite, of which I still had only a garbled inkling for its existence, escape.

I bounced on my ass a couple of times, scattering more grasshoppers and knocking the breath out of me, but I took the opportunity to wind the string around my hand a couple of times and kicked off the ground the next time it yanked me, hoping to spin around and face forward so I could fend off the ground with my dirty sneakers. I started to worry a bit when the ground went a bit farther away from me than I could jump on a good day and was taking its own sweet time about coming back.

But, man, the grasshoppers were flying. As I climbed farther into the sky, I could see at least ten or fifteen aloft, and I wasn’t even chasing them and waving my arms. I wasn’t shouting either because I still hadn’t really gotten my breath back. Also, I had other worries.

At one point I was sailing backward again, because I remember watching the man stand up and turn around, looking for me. I remember the comical look on his face when he saw me sailing off. He stood stock still, propped up on his spindly legs, mouth hanging open, fists clenched in what remained of his white, wispy hair. He was probably shouting something, but I couldn’t hear it. And then he was pounding after me in a sprint, fiercely concentrating.

I only weighed about forty pounds at the time, but still the string was digging painfully into my hand. In my heart, at that moment, I knew he was threatening to flay me alive if I lost him his kite. Now I’m pretty sure I knew better. I also know now that I didn’t have the spindle that must have been bounding along on the ground behind me like a puppy in pursuit. All he would really have had to do to save his kite and, incidentally, myself was to step on it.

After a couple of thirty-yard bounces, I got snarled in the top of the chainlink fence that separated this field from the baseball diamond, my toes digging into the spaces in the weave maybe two or three from the top, but allowing me to drag myself down to the ground. The old man got to me just as I was in reach of soil.

The odd part was that as early as the day before, I was certain that fence had never been there. And the reason why I know is that I had been chasing tennis balls batted by a neighbor kid from that very diamond and had been devoutly wishing that there had been some kind of fence to keep him from knocking the balls so far out of the field. I must have run through the spot where I was snarled in the fencing at least ten times less than twenty-four hours prior.

Regardless, I thrust the string into his hand the second he screeched up, rolling the coil of cord off my purpling fingers. And while he stood there dumbfounded, before he could start shouting again, I bolted for home, dusting off my britches as well as I could without breaking stride.


March 31, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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