Art: Time: A Myth for Children by Chelsea Gilmore
Story by Austin R Beck-Doss
I was supposed to be wiping dust when dad called me from the yard. I yelled back “coming!” because I knew that would buy me a few more minutes with the objects on the windowsill. By age eight I had already learned that if you yell “coming!,” you can dawdle for two extra minutes because dad won’t know how far away you are and therefore how long it should take to get to him. By age eight I was already playing with patience. I had learned the word “dawdle” from dad.
Some of the objects on the windowsill were hose nozzles. Some of them only had one tiny hole. I loved to picture all that force of the garden hose being pushed through a single hole. I wondered how far the stream of that single hole would shoot. Even when I wasn’t looking at the nozzles, I would often wonder about that. Sometimes I would wonder about it while I looked out of the classroom window.
Other nozzles had many holes, and they reminded me of our shower, which always sputtered for a few minutes before the cold water began to fall like heavy rain. The nozzles with many holes spread the water out, I knew that much. Dad used a similar nozzle to shower the colorful plants in the front yard while I kicked a ball on the pavement and tried to avoid treading on the garden.
Next to the collection of nozzles was a pair of model trains. These were the only trains I had seen. Sometimes I walked along the broken-up train tracks behind the supermarket and imagined diving out of the way as the real thing came roaring toward me.
I ran to the yard to make up for my dawdling with the objects. I was out of breath when dad asked me how dusting was going and I said it was going fine. “Son,” he said, “we’ve got a goddamn gopher problem out here.” From a paper bag, dad pulled out a pile of 5-stick packs of Juicy Fruit gum and explained his technique to me like he was passing along a cherished family secret.
“Son,” he said, kneeling down on a mound of fresh earth, “take a half-a-stick, and put it into any gopher hole you can find.” I followed the path of his finger with my eyes and spotted a gopher-sized portal into the underground. The hole was only a few feet from his cherished apples trees.
I chewed juicy fruit as I worked, fascinated that something so delicious could be the solution to dad’s war on gophers. The wad in my mouth grew by four or five sticks as I patrolled the orchard, combing the bumpy surface with my eyes and pondering hose nozzles again.
After 15 minutes, dad set down his pruning shears and called my name, beckoning with his hand like a basketball coach storming the court, desperate for the referee to see the time-out gesture.
“Look son, you’re all over the map. I’ve seen a headless chicken walk straighter than you.” I held the gum in my cheek. He demonstrated how to walk back and forth across the yard in a pattern. He immediately found three holes. Years later, I would use this grid search technique to search for a friend buried by an avalanche.
Dad’s rivalry with the gophers wasn’t new to me. Years earlier, I had found a garter snake while searching for pet crickets under a rock. After picking up the creature and showing me how to hold it, it peed on me and dad released it down a gopher hole. “These are our friends,” he explained with a smile, “they keep the damn gophers in check.”
Another time, our dog had crunched the neck of a gopher at my feet. I cried and dad quickly buried the thing, but a while later I heard the sounds of the dog receiving praise and treats through my bedroom door.
Dad didn’t say that the gophers would die after eating the juicy fruit, but I knew that he was aware that I understood. When I came across a large and fresh-looking hole, I removed the hunk of gum from my mouth and dropped it inside. My thoughts returned to the objects in the windowsill.