“Jesus, Tracy,” Morris says. “You look scared.”
He’s standing by the fireplace, looking at Carpenter family photos. Oliver’s ancestors look back.
Tracy studies Morris. He resembles the man she knows in some ways, but he’s unlike him in others. She realizes, clearly, that he’s right. She is scared.
“Hi, Morris,” she says. She’s smiling, trying to grip a fleeting dynamic, the energy she’s accustomed to between herself and Morris. It not only suddenly feels like the two of them have never had a moment alone, it’s like she hardly knows him at all.
“Why are you scared?” Morris asks.
There’s nobody else in the living room. But someone moves above.
“Who’s up there?” she asks.
Morris doesn’t take his eyes off hers.
“Why are you scared?” he asks again. Tracy knows he’s asking for himself. Asking why he’s scared.
“I’m not,” Tracy says. She’s still gripping her suitcase, both hands on the handle. Like a traveler arriving at a hostel. All strangers here.
She steps to him, lowers her voice.
“Morris, where is everyone?”
He leans in and smells her. Makes a face.
“You smell different,” he says. “Have you always smelled this way?”
“Morris,” Tracy starts. Then she thinks: Honesty. Morris ate honesty.
“Does Oliver know you’re here?” he asks.
“No. Nobody does.”
“Why are you here?”
“Hey, listen to me,” she says. “I really need to know where the others are. Where’s Karen?”
He looks up. Frowns. “Baum got into some bad crops.”
“We’re worried sick about him.”
“Okay.” She breathes deep. “Okay we need to get everyone together and get out of here. And we need to do this now.”
Morris looks at her like she’s crazy.
“You think that’s a good idea? Didn’t you hear me, Tracy? Baum is sick. No. We can’t leave yet.”
Tracy has no way of being prepared for this moment. She’s an artist in New York City. She shouldn’t be here. She should’ve left this farm and everything about it behind.
“Where’s Baum then?” she asks.
Morris points up.
“Okay.” Does she go to him? Does she leave?
“You ever wonder who you were in a past life?” Morris suddenly asks. It strikes her that he isn’t wearing his blazer. She can’t remember the last time she saw him without it. Even under punishing summer skies, Morris wears that blazer.
“What?” she asks. But this is good. Whatever this is. It’s an everyday question. He isn’t asking about crops. He’s thinking. “No,” she says. “I’m not sure I believe in that sort of thing.”
He shakes his head and looks into the fire. Just days ago Tracy and her best friends performed prompted lines in this very spot.
“I can’t quit thinking about it,” Morris says. “And I don’t want to. I think… I think I believe in that. The recycling of people.”
Morris smiles. Tracy realizes that one of the differences between the man she knows Morris to be and this man, is that this man is shy.
“Sounds lofty, huh.”
“No. I mean… yes.”
She smiles and with it feels tears rising. She says:
“Morris, I’m going to go upstairs.”
“Okay. Why are you telling me this?”
No humor. No wit.
This isn’t the Morris she knows. So she tries to itemize, silently, what she does know about her friend, the way he was. What would it take to put him back together again? It feels like a shelf runs the ring of her skull and upon it are dozens of hand-labeled jars.
“Morris, I’m going to help you.”
“Help me what?”
She keeps her voice low.
“I’m going to help you become yourself again.”
Tears well in Morris’s eyes.
“I don’t want that,” he says. “I don’t want that at all.”
“No.” He’s agitated. Starting to pace by the fire. “I mean it, Tracy. Please, stay out of my business. I like who I am.”
“Do you remember who you were?” she asks. “When we arrived here?”
The tears escape his eyes, but he doesn’t make the face of someone who cries. He only stares at her. Tracy feels it, a momentary recognition, a feeling that Morris sees things the way they were.
“Yeah,” he says.
“Okay, well, I think it’s important that we get back to who we were before all this happened.”
He wipes his face with his hands.
“No. No way. I didn’t like myself when we drove out here. You must have known that? I was tired of playing the funny guy. Seriously, Tracy, I never liked him. He wasn’t as funny as he thought he was. He wasn’t even a good actor. None of us are. We’re all just people who wanted to be other people.”
He’s crying hard. Tracy doesn’t know how to comfort him. If she should at all.
Does she stay? Does she go?
What could she give Morris right now that would bring him back? Which jars contain the right stuff, the crops that’ll show him that right now he believes this, but the real him would not?
Then, an all-too-obvious thought: maybe she didn’t know Morris as well as she thought she did.
“I understand,” she says. “But I think–”
Morris falls to his knees in front of the fire. As if, perhaps, the heat might dry his tears. He’s suddenly rambling. Talking about the end of the world. How existence is not about life, but death. How there is no God and everything anybody does is done in the name of coming back.
Tracy doesn’t know what this means.
“… all in the name of survival, you see, children aren’t legacies they only add more traits…”
Somewhere in Tracy’s horror she finds the resolve to move to the foot of the stairs.
Who’s up there? And are they are as far gone as Morris?
Baum got into some bad crops. We’re worried sick about him.
She climbs the stairs for the second time since coming back. She pauses halfway up, stricken with a quick rush of feeling sick. She remembers this feeling from her first night out here. Morris continues behind her, on hands and knees, how the world is an empty bowl, how there is no meaning. And maybe it’s his tone of voice or possibly the idea of Morris playing this particular character, but suddenly Tracy finds it a little…
She tries to resist this, tries not to laugh at Morris who can’t stop crying, can’t stop preaching emptiness. But it’s funny, isn’t it? The way Morris sounds like a newscaster alone on a set, talking monotone, letting everybody know that nothing matters?
She’s not two-thirds up when she really starts laughing. It’s too much. The house, the pantry. The pantry! Ah, simply amazing. Jars full of traits! It’s incredible! Truly. Incredibly funny, too. Oh man. The handwriting alone is hilarious, enough to make her double over, cracking up, as the suitcase slips from her hands and tumbles down the stairs, crashing open before the home’s front door. Jesus, it looks like it’s frowning, the suitcase, sad for having been dropped! Too funny. Too–
A thought interrupts her fit: Brandy in the pantry.
There was something in the brandy she drank.
Tracy tries to shake it. The laughter. She tries to physically push it with her mind. She understands there’s nothing funny about what’s happening here. Morris is not Morris. Baum is something she’s afraid to see. And where are the others? And where is Oliver?
And isn’t the name Oliver… kinda funny?
She grips the railing and pulls herself up one step. Another. If she could only stop laughing it would be so easy to hurry up the rest of the way. But she can’t. Old Tracy is shouting from a frighteningly far distance. She says:
GET OUT OF THAT HOUSE
Tracy makes it another step. Needs to see Baum in the attic. Needs to see how he’s changed. Needs to fix her friends, here, before taking them home again. Because there’s no way to do that in New York City.
No place like Oliver’ Farm.
The top of the stairs now (she made it!), she pauses to catch her breath. Okay. She can do this. The room Karen and Baum used is right here. No problem. Just gotta enter the room and open the door to the attic.
She looks to her suitcase at the bottom of the stairs.
The old man is looking through the bannisters at her.
Tracy stops laughing and flattens herself to the wall. She turns quick for the bedroom and the motion is fuzzy, makes her tired. She remembers this, too. Of course, each of her friends falling asleep as Oliver told them about his farmhouse, his fields, and The Farmer.
Standing in the door jamb she turns, sees The Farmer is halfway up the stairs.
She moves slow (too slow!) through the room. Sees the bed is made. Where do Karen and Baum sleep?
Creaking behind her.
The Farmer is nearing the top of the stairs.
Tracy reaches for the attic, feels too warm, too fuzzy, like she might not be able to open this door.
“Come on,” she says. And she feels it. A hint of what she swallowed. Just enough to recognize a feeling, a perspective, as new.
The Farmer is in the bedroom now. He’s coming toward her, hands at his side. Tracy shakes her head no, there’s simply no way she can open this door, get inside, close the door, climb the steps, before this man is upon her.
“Stay back,” she says.
But it’s too late for that. The Farmer takes her hand, the one reaching for the knob.
And Tracy sees.
It’s brief, the image, but it’s bold enough that, even in this state, she knows she will never be allowed to forget it.
It’s a series of fields is what it is. Probably. But it’s flesh or something like it. Like the arched back of woman lined with rows for crops. And in the rows grows no corn. Not potatoes nor wheat. Rather (and Tracy isn’t sure how she knows this, isn’t sure she ever wants to know how she knows this), what thrives here are the pieces of a person, men and women in slices, but not bodily, no not in the rows, here grows the essence of a person, what differentiates one from another, things rooted much deeper than what is known even as personality, each of them their own color so that the vision is not illuminated and certainly not a rainbow (these colors do not blend, they do not compliment), but so that she can see, really see, the individual strands of an individual person, no, people, YES: in these columns grow the traits that made up people, once alive, now dead, the dead not ghost not zombie not specter but crops, so many crops, people not reincarnated like so many think happens but broken apart, the crowded pieces of those essences available, right here, on Carpenter’s Farm!, for the taking, pluck one, pluck many, an unfathomable farmland comprised of all colors, all strings, all yarns, unknitted, displayed individually so that Sally is not recycled here but the bountiful elements that made Sally so, Sally spread in small portions across a woman’s back, row upon row of bright character, THIS IS HAPPINESS, THIS IS JOY, THIS IS COWARDICE, THIS IS COY, a vision so powerful that Tracy even becomes momentarily, exhilaratingly aware of her own strands, Tracy her own field now, below her neck the soil, her quality through the prism, split, cleaved, everything in it’s own place, but of a piece, yes, humanity, all the dead not the dying, all the dead never to be reincarnated as a single person but as the cruxes and cores that made up those people and will soon make up new people who will breathe, live, like Tracy does now, like her friends do now, like Oliver Carpenter himself who no doubt is privy to this fleshy farmland prism, this unfathomable rectangle of roots.
Then… it’s gone.
Tracy stands in a bedroom on the second floor of the farmhouse. She grips The Farmer’s hand. For support. For balance.
Without it, she would fall to the floorboards, fall asleep.
She lazily reaches once more for the attic door, but she knows this is for show. She isn’t climbing any steps right now. The Farmer is walking her to the bed. She’s sitting upon it before she knows it. Looks the old man in the eyes. She nods. Says, yes I know, sleep, have to, came all this way to free my friends but haha you know how it is, gotta sleep sometime, right?
Then she’s lying down. Eyes closed. Sinking into a sleep as dark as a nest of black yarn. But she can still think, Old Tracy and New, and Newer, too, perhaps, as the thing she thinks about, the tiny prayer she makes, is to wake, yes a prayer, despite having just been shown a vision in which there is no soul, there are only mergers, alliances of traits, but yes a prayer to wake, still, to wake at all, but most of all to wake with courage.