Sven

by Scott Larson

The first time I met Sven was the day the potatoes cried for the beets and the beets bled and the wheat crumpled in sadness and were stained red. The day was sunshine and hot; the leaves had yet to fall from the trees. When Grandpa saw what had happened, he cried. He lived for the soil and what came from it. His wife was resting in the soil and she would not come back. He walked to the barn and hung himself.

Sven was tall and blond and ran like a deer.  I know this because he ran the two miles from the barn to town and was back with the doctor before Grandpa’s pants had a chance to dry.  I’ve already said it was hot. The barn smelled like cow’s afterbirth.  The doctor grimaced and grumbled as he cut grandpa down. He wondered why he had been called instead of the coroner.

Sven was going mad and blind. He had syphilis.  In the heat of the day, he sat on the porch and read the same five pages over and over licking his fingers each time he turned the page.  He muttered, “yes, yes of course,” in evening’s twilight, put the book down and ran to the edge of the farm where the cottonwoods grew.  He climbed one tree after the other.  He reached the top and perched on tender branches. He cupped his hands over his eyes like binoculars and scanned the western horizon muttering, “Yes, yes of course” before climbing down.

Sven knew something no one else did. I was jealous. I tried to read the secret book but my mother saw me and scolded me shouting, “If it’s the Inferno you read, its in the inferno you’ll spend eternity.”  She whipped me with a cherry stick.  I didn’t cry.  Once I asked Sven why he climbed the trees.  He murmured, “Soon enough you’ll see.” He said his skin was already beginning to burn.  He tore off his clothes and lay naked in the creek.  The cool water bubbled over his head.  Not satisfied with his answer, curiosity tearing at me like crows on carrion, I asked him why he climbed the whole row of trees instead of just one.  He said the view changed and I would find out soon enough.

Sven was afraid of the dark; he slept with the light on.  This made the other boarders mad. They wanted my mother to kick him out but she wouldn’t.  She said he was the devil incarnate but that in this world his money was as good as a saint’s.  She said he would pay the price for his sins, that he would find out soon enough the power of God’s wrath — that his wrath burned like a tempest.

The last time I saw Sven the wind blew like there would be no tomorrow.  The sky turned black; the birds went to their nests.  Sven held tight to a creaking branch and swayed with the tree.  I yelled for him to come down.  My words were buried in the wind. He held tight.  The day was like night.  His image froze in the lighting.  He began to scream, “The sun, the sun, I can’t find the sun!”  His words vanished in the wind.

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Scott Larson farms in North Carolina. While picking strawberries he occasionally daydreams about being a character in one of Dostoevsky’s novels.
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