The Straw Child
In the summer of 1979, Lloyd Greenwood received a precious gift; a gift many people go to their graves without ever receiving. Lloyd Greenwood was gifted his lifelong purpose.
He was thirteen years old.
Sunlight spilled onto the rustling August cornfields, rife with the scent of closure, the pugnacious odor of a summer coming to an end. It was a siren scent that drew children to play with the abandon of one who knows not when life will end, and has no reason to care, for in the twilight time before school has begun to rein in its charges, there exists a time warp, a bending that allows each day to be stretched into forever.
A snaking, lazy creek flowed through the woods and was parceled out to the fields to drown the thirst of the corn. The glassy water promised reprieve from the summer heat, and like flies to a wet cotton candy cone, the boys came in ones, in pairs, in groups of five or more to swim, to wade, to float their skinny bodies in the cool mountain water and let nothing but the pleasure of the dog days float through their placid minds.
Bland American cheese and thick bologna freshly ripped from its red plastic on white bread was standard lunchtime fare; the day broiled, and even the most dedicated mother considered igniting the stove anathema. The children wanted their food quick, portable, and simple. Spring water mixed with bright-colored sugary powder and ridged, stale potato chips rounded out the fare and the children were back at play while their last game was still fresh.
Lloyd slipped through the screen door, leaping over the back wall before either of his grandparents even knew he had left the kitchen table. His grandmother peeked through the linens she was pinning to the clothesline and shrilly shouted, “Be back by supper, boy.”
Lloyd shrugged her off with a wave and a smile of innocence as he ran with a mercury inspired stride, through the blackberry brambles, beneath the limbs of old man Roger’s oak tree, down the alleyway, onto the street where the others were gathering, moving towards the cornfields. Darren gave him a wink and a high-five. Forever was only halfway over, and the potential of the afternoon stretched farther than one could see.
“Hide-and-go-seek,” said Darren, his raven eyes pulsating with glamour. A prediction, not a suggestion, and the four boys flew to the cornfields on wind-swept feet.
They were quick to choose the first to count, the cat that would hunt, the trap that would catch, and, as always, it was the smallest, the slowest of the entourage, Jim. Jim found his place, face against arms, leaning on the great oak tree, counting out the seconds, and so the others took themselves into the sweet-smelling corn, through the green of the crop, rustling, choosing, squatting, and hiding.
Darren clicked his fingers at Lloyd, a snap and a point, and they broke off in opposite directions. Lloyd caught the last glimpse of his blood brother’s red shirt, and then fell to his knees and began crawling into the maze. Still could he hear Jim’s chant, “…eleven, twelve.”
Lloyd navigated deep into the field.
His eyes fell upon the guardian of the pasture, the soldier of the corn, the scarecrow. Here was a pretentious place to hide, so near the only landmark, and he took up his post within view of the clearing and stilled his rabid breath. Jim hit fifty, turned from the tree and threw himself between the cornstalks, hands open to catch his prey, delighting in the game, resolved to make another ‘it’ so his role as weakest would not see an encore.
Lloyd listened, his ears quivering. Jim was moving away from him, towards the path Darren had taken. Delightful!
Lloyd took the time to be still and ever watchful, and there, opposite the post the scarecrow hung from, he knelt like a sprinter to wait for the right moment, the precise time when he would dash from his sanctum to catch the great oak tree in both hands, screaming at the top of his throat, “Olley Olley Oxen free!”
Jim’s meandering through the corn was burgeoning with noise; even the tiny field mice fled in terror at the clumsy footfalls of the searcher.
Lloyd was satisfied that Darren would hear his pursuer and make the circle back to the tree before Jim could start another hunt. He relaxed a bit and sat down, lazily gazing at the passing clouds. Such wondrous shapes, who could give attention to a game of hide-and-go-seek when a panorama was exploding over their very heads?
Lloyd let the daydreams in and stretched time. Arney would be panicking now, wondering if he should dash for the sanctuary of the Oak. Jim could be lying in wait; knowing the precise place his quarry would seek; Jim had learned that lesson long ago, having been chosen to be the first, and certainly not the last, seeker in more than one tournament. Lloyd went on making shapes of the passing clouds.
Another rustle, this was not the seeker the hiding boys feared. A girl’s giggle and the deep voice of a boy- not quite a man- pierced Lloyd’s daydream like a whistle through a soap bubble.
Lloyd lay so still, so very still. His grandfather often took him hunting. Lloyd knew how to be still and quiet; let the wind through the corn husks blow over you, let the stalks make rustles with the breeze, but be stock-still my boy; and pay them no toll. You are the hunter, the quiet one, the watcher. Lloyd blew this sentiment into his heart and let it ferment there. It was not long before it proved fruitful, for soon a season entered the Scarecrow’s grove.
This season didn’t belong here. This season was ripe with promise, and full of bounce, awakenings, and the sleep seeds wiped from blurry eyes. This was spring, and with her, a dark-haired boy: a high schooler. Spring did not belong in the autumn field, and Lloyd cursed it with bated breath.
They were gropers, for sure, their hands intrepid explorers. Sweat saturated clothing began to come off in trades.
Lloyd looked on in astonishment, steeling his breath, hardening his muscles so that he wouldn’t shiver and betray his presence....