What Will Fade
BY ANNE FULLER
It is after dark when you get there. The hills like cartoons rise out darker against the dark. You begin to wake up because of the sharper turns, and then you sit up when the tires leave paved road and hit gravel. The car vibrates running over the cow-guards, signaling the final stretch. You have been transported in the night. And doors are thrown open and the farm dog jumps up on you. A long “Hey” comes from the porch and you embrace a tall, bony man and an obese, short woman. They are your grandparents.
Climbing up the almost vertical stairs covered by green carpet, you enter the room with red carpet and wood panel walls. You get the futon with the Garfield comforter. That night maybe you dream about a
person you don’t know, but you probably don’t dream at all, lulled by the box fans in each open window. In the morning the landscape becomes clear and you remember the details you had begun to forget: how the barn is pinker than red, the difference between store-bought and farm-fresh eggs, that your grandma never talks but yells.
You re-acquaint yourself to the land as from past trips, remembering old games and imaginings, and creating new ones. That one room in the barn is no longer a prison but a secret hideout, and that crick that dried up is no longer a lush river but a barren land and you must search for water. Some pets have died and new ones are hanging around. No more Mollys or Blues instead there are Suzie Qs and Barnyards. You don’t take as much interest in the farm animals as you did before, and this will be even truer next time you visit.
And you think nothing about this place you call “The Farm” will change. Maybe you won’t come back for longer in between each visit, but it will stay the same. It has to. It has to because it’s separate from the rest of the world and not just separate but otherworldly—it’s spiritual.
It is after dark when you get there. It has been a long time since the last trip. This time you are an adult and drive there in your own car. The hills look interesting but don’t awe you. You notice the political campaign signs and judge the people who live in the hills. This time you are not transported, but like a rite of passage you journey there on your own and some of the magic fades as you fill in the map. You wish you didn’t but you begin to feel disappointment. As you reach the gravel drive you notice a dog chained to a post in the headlights. The first thing your grandfather tells you is his dog got run over last week, found dead on the side of the road.
And you also feel dread, knowing that the place has changed, and you have too.
Once more, the light reveals the details you forgot. You do not like what you see. Homemade biscuits are replaced with frozen ones; your grandparents have discovered Netflix, and they watch in separate rooms; the pond has almost dried up and is choked by cattails. There are meds and heating pads and canes in every room, and the fridge is full of insulin vials—both for your grandma and her diabetic dog. You want to explore the attic but hundreds of flies buzz and bang against the panes and curtains. Dead corn stalks stand in the garden with shriveled corn that was never picked, surrounded by undergrowth of rotting tomatoes still on the vine—unharvested remnants from past crops like apparitions. So you set out to re-acquaint yourself with the land, but this time you know it won’t be easy. It has been a long time.
This time you know that your grandparents are going to sell. For years now they leave the place from Thanksgiving to Easter, and it begins to have the air of something abandoned. Your dad tries to start things—mowers, cars, weed whackers—but they have not been used in a long time. Stinkbugs spill from the weed whacker, from the nooks they have crawled in, and struggle in the grass. Like the stinkbugs your grandparents try to find a warm cavity to spend the winter, so they go to Florida. You and your brother don’t make it far because the fields are so overgrown with briars you cannot walk through. You settle on a walk through the woods, and your brother stops to pull out a switchblade.
“Leave your mark,” he says and scratches “JF” into a birch.
But this bothers you. You begin to ask yourself what marks you have left behind over the past twenty years. Did you even leave any? You can’t think of any physical evidence you have left in this place, except for the penny you stuck into the thumbhole of the upstairs closet door years ago. You decide you don’t care about carving your initials into a tree because you hope place isn’t as forgetful as that, that somehow it remembers its past. Like the vegetables in the garden that grew back from habit, from being sown year after year, some things take a while to be utterly erased, smoothed out. Some things still linger.
What is left?
When The Farm is sold, or abandoned, or bulldozed, will it remember the barn before it lies, sticking up like the skeletons from slaughtered cows in the pasture? Will it remember the lifetime your grandparents dedicated to the land? Will it remember you? Like smears on glass revealed in the steam of a hot shower, secret messages are everywhere. People and things sink into the landscape where they are absorbed like carbon paper and recorded. The past is not so separate from the present.
You were not always sure of this but your mother has told you about her ghosts. She sees them sometimes, she says. She’s your mother so you believe her because you know she feels things better than others. Sometimes the ghosts appear to her in dreams and other times in her waking presence. Your mother tells you a ghost story: once, at The Farm, there was one standing at the top of the stairs. It was a woman and she was old and just standing there at the top of the stairs. My mother recalls that the two women simply exchanged glances. You never noticed these things about The Farm before and you are glad of it. Even still, you know that your mother isn’t the only one with ghosts. People carry their pasts with them, as does the land. You know it though you always feel the universe growing disordered. You feel the past like a fading imprint despite the insects and the weeds and the death that come creeping in.
Anne Fuller is from Charlotte, North Carolina, and is currently a junior at Covenant College studying English and art. She is the editor-in-chief of Covenant College’s student newspaper, The Bagpipe, and enjoys nonfiction, Toni Morrison, Cookout BLTs, and a cool glass of water.