We Understand Each Other

We Understand Each OtherA thirteen-year old boy stumps over to a corral fence. The leaves on the trees overhanging the fence are still green, but the air has gone crisp with fall. In the corral stands a donkey. The boy coaxes the donkey over. The donkey takes a few steps. The boy speaks to it.

“Donkey I just met,” he says, “there’s no hope for us. You’re here on this vanity farm . . .”

The boy swings his arm around to indicate the farm, which is impeccable.

“. . . which someone has set up as a mirror. They like to walk out here and think, I’m simple and love the country. Then they drive to work in a bank, where they refuse to use a gold standard to back their money, which, as I understand, is bad.

They pretend the mirror will show them as they are, except that they’ve modified the mirror, drawn in better cheekbones, sharper eyebrows, and so on. They look in the mirror. They admire the self they’ve drawn in. They live with this false image, worship it, as though it’s made out of gold, which is good when it’s the standard of currency, but bad when it’s a carven image.

They’ve established you, donkey I just met, on the farm as an example of their large-mindedness, or humor. You are a pawn in their game. Look at yourself. You are useless. No one needs a donkey. Just as no one needs me.”

The boy takes a deep breath.

“Yes, it may surprise you to know, my friend, that I too am a pawn. I know, I put up a big front, what with my elastic waisted jeans and this hooded poncho. My mother has brought me here with my infinity of younger siblings to view this farm, and to press apples. Crush sweet apples and drink up their juice. Instead, I have seen through the façade of this place, seen the sadness here and the sadness of a donkey, and the only thing that has been crushed is my heart.”

The donkey moves closer to the boy. The boy’s face changes, becomes lighter.

“Donkey, I have been shown the dark-side of humanity. Today and every day. For instance, my mother brought me here, and also required that I complete a full set of Saxon Math problems. But that is neither here nor there. I cannot hope to connect with this alleged humanity.

The boy moves toward the donkey. He pats the donkey’s neck.

“Maybe somewhere there are humans who have freed themselves from these petty tyrannies, and perhaps even a society which still uses gold to back its currency, but my experience has not made me hopeful.”

The donkey moves in toward the boy slightly. The boy continues to pat the donkey’s neck and now leans his head in against the side of the donkey’s head. The donkey reacts, jerking away. The boy is  not put off. He leans in, puts the side of his face against the donkey’s long neck. The donkey tolerates this.

“I hope you do not think me forward, donkey, but I believe that you understand me. I am no rationalist. I have been raised on Narnia. Of course I believe in the possibility of interspecies communication. It seems utterly right to me that in the cold, uncaring world of humanity, that you, an instance of nature, with unmediated access to the simpler elements of the world, should possess a greater kindness. Who am I to say, Donkey? Perhaps you even have an understanding of the dangers of unchecked inflation.”

The boy stands there in silence. The donkey stands there.

“Donkey, though we’ve just met, I believe that . . .”

In the space of a half-second, the donkey pulls his head out of the embrace and then swings it back, walloping the boy—crack—directly in the head. The boy staggers. The donkey moves several paces away, and reaches for the leaves of a nearby apple tree, lips rippling.

“Jerk,” the boy says and rubs his head.

A small blonde boy runs up in sweat pants and a shirt featuring a football field and the words “In Overtime!”

“Mom says you can come drink some cider and then we’re going to leave so we can make it to St. Mary’s for the open swim,” he says.

“Alright,” the older boy says. They walk away.

“Hey!”

They hear a voice. They both turn to the voice.

“Hey,” the donkey says. “You’re boring. I was as bored as hell. You’re tedious.”

“Cool donkey,” says the younger boy.

Image by Gabe Stevenson

We Understand Each Other

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