When he spoke, it sounded to the young boy like he was gargling gravel and grit. The quality fascinated him as he listened to his grandfather intone the prandial prayers. As the runny eggs and the bacon were being finished and the last cup of coffee was slurped, he’d been given instructions as to the chores to be done before heading out to set endposts in concrete. They’d later loop barbed wire diagonally in an X around the two thick stumps. He’d be given the task of twisting the barbed wire to increase the tension. The pliers he would use would slip, slicing off his fingernail. Between now and then there would be silence. He would be expected to remember and to know all that he had to do. This was the way of it. Questions might be answered once, but after that greeted with exasperation. Then silence punctuated with a grunt and the shaking of the head. He’d have to figure it out himself.
It was a hard way for a young boy to prove himself.
As he grew, he learned to navigate the silence. A hard working father whom he more often heard driving out to the highway to go to work than saw provided another kind of silence. There was no time and no means by which to bring the questions a young man has. So he took from the silence what answers he could, never sure that the whispers he heard are ones that can be trusted.
Over time, the more often such things were repeated in his heart, he simply came to believe them. “You’re on your own. Ain’t no one here to help you. And who knows if you’ve got what it takes?” He wanted to prove the answers wrong, but such things fill in of themselves the blank spaces of the heart. A young man might excel in school, in sports. It won’t be enough. It wasn’t enough.
After that there’s only one place left to go, and it is always the wrong place to go for a young man. He finally met the woman. In reality it was several women, some were nicer than others. All gave answers that were far of the mark and unsatisfying, however well meant. A couple of them gave answers that savaged his heart. The same answers he’d heard from the silence as a boy.
After the endposts were set, the young boy had been proud of his mangled fingernail. It had hurt, but not too much. He never shed one tear. But it had bled, oh glory how it had bled. After the blood crusted and the nail hung a dry and yellow fragment from his finger, he didn’t want to wash it or bandage it. It was the only thing all day that had given him evidence that he could take a wound like a man.