Учебное пособие по домашнему чтению no speak English Часть I




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Where You Have Been, Where You Are Going

Mark Steven Hess

(born 1966)
Mark Steven Hess has lived nearly all his life on Col­orado's vast High Plains, east of Denver. In high school, he was interested mostly in science until his senior year, when he wrote a short story that impressed his English teacher, who had just published a first novel. "I'd hate to suggest this to anyone," the teacher said, "but why don't you try writing?"

Hess took the advice, finding time to write during the summers. He also became a high school English teacher in Brush, Colorado, one hundred miles northeast of Denver. The school enrolls four hundred students, some of whom travel forty or more miles a day to attend classes. Sports are important in the school, so besides teaching, Hess coaches the Brush "Beetdiggers" teams in boys' and girls' track and girls' basketball. Hess offers this report on how the name came to be:

"School legend has it that the name 'Beetdiggers' was chosen in a contest in the 1940s. The prize for the winning student was to be a used car. Now, the basketball team's star player was a country kid who had no way to get home after practice and so was going to have to quit the team. What would you do in a case like that? At Brush High School, it was silently agreed that whatever name this player chose would win the contest. The rest is history."

"Where You Have Been, Where You Are Going"—Hess's first published story—was chosen for the 1989 volume of The Best of the West: New Short Stones from the Wide Side of the Mississippi. "The story really came out my love for Colorado's High Plains," the author says. "When you stand on the open prairie, you get the sense that you're incredibly alone. Recently, irrigation has turned the High Plains into beautiful farmland, but there are still many places out here almost untouched by humans—miles and miles of prairie and sage that could just swallow you up."

Within that context of isolation, Hess dramatizes ways that connections are made between generations. He also reminds us that in the American West, as in other "uncharted" parts of the world, the "tall tale"—like those told by the grandfather in this story—became the way explorers described the wonders they had seen to open-mouthed audiences back home. Like the land that provides its setting, this story rises and falls between different time periods. (Extra space between paragraphs signals the shift from one time to another.) In the first time period ("today"), the narrator retraces the steps of a walk in his childhood. In the second time period (forty years earlier), he relives the day of that walk. In the third time period (forty-one years earlier), he remembers the time he met his grandfather and a story that the grandfather told. In the fourth time period (more than forty-one years earlier), the grandfather's story takes place. (This flashback technique—having a character remember a past event which the audience then sees—is familiar from movies.) As the title suggests, we must remember the past in order to understand the present and anticipate the future.
Where You Have Been, Where You are Going
I shut the door of my car. I can hardly hear the noise it makes. All sounds are sifted here, broken up by the prairie, digested and dispersed in fine pieces through the air. The color is brown - brown plains of brown dirt, brown weeds rolling of north, south, east, west with a brown road slashing across them. The sky contains no clouds. It is a solid blue sheet meeting brown prairie in one straight line as if someone had pasted two pieces of colored paper together.

I walk north across a ditch, and I thank God this is not my home.

This is my grandfather's home. He was born here. He spent his life here before he died seven miles away in a rest home in a town called Arickeree. There are five paved streets in that town, each lined with elm trees on both sides. It looks like an oasis as you approach it from the stated highway - 122 miles straight east of Denver by counting mile markers. When you get there, though, you can see that the trees are only a cover for more brown - brown-faced people with lines of brown underneath their fingernails from working in their brown yards.

I only saw my grandfather once. I was four years old. One day an old man appeared in our house. Dad said, "Son, this is your grandfather." The old man shook my hand and laughed. He slapped my back. He kneaded my shoulder. He wrestled me close to him and squeezed my knee until I squirmed and laughed and wrestled his big hand to get loose and finally he could say, "You're just about one of the girl-craziest persons I ever seen."

He stayed only for a week, and when he left I kept expecting to see him still in our house. I thought I'd see him just around the corner in the hallway, smoking cigarettes at night in his bedroom, or brushing thick lather onto his face as he whistled to himself in front of the bathroom mirror. I have never seen a man since who has whistled so often or so well.

I continue north now, keeping to the right tire rut - the same rut Dad and I followed to the old homestead I have only seen once before. The ruts lead up and down the swells of the prairie to the homestead. Each swell is like a tiny horizon, and there are places where the swells are so abrupt and so close together that I do no know what is ahead of me thirty yards away. When I walk I feel as if I am climbing ocean waves. I am surrounded by waves, and though the waves don't move, I still feel threatened. I walk on. I walk on because I know that soon I will rise up over a swell and there will be the windmill - there will be the lighthouse that tells me the homestead is not far away.

It is forty years before. Grandfather has just died. I am five years old. After the funeral Dad stops at a store with a green-and-white-striped awning. We go inside and there Dad buys me a pair of black cowboy boots. I wear the boots out of the store and run down the street to try them out. They are exactly the kind I want. "Yes," Dad says, satisfied, "those are very fine boots."

Dad says he wants to show me something. We get in the car and drive on dirt roads. On the way, Dad tell me of Indians and arrowheads and how he used to go hunting arrowheads after big rainstorms when the dust on the ground was newly melted away by the drops of rain. By the time Dad stops the car, my feet have begun to sweat in the leather boots. This can't be what he wants to show me because there is nothing here. I guess he has to pee. He gets out of the car and motions for me to follow. He takes my hand, and we walk north along tire ruts. "Just watch for the windmill," he says. "When you see the windmill we'll be there." We are going to see where my grandfather grew up, a place where there were real cowboys and real Indians.

My grandfather stretches his legs out in front of him. He is a big man. He takes up two spaces on the sofa just getting comfortable. He tells us a story about a windmill.

The windmill has stopped turning. They have had no way to get water for three days. They try greasing the windmill; they try replacing the gears. Nothing works. Two Indians pass by. Grandfather offers them a shotgun and a pint of whiskey if they make it rain. They ask why doesn't he just try greasing the windmill. Grandpa throws two extra pints of whiskey into the deal. Finally they accept. The Indians dance all night. and the next day it rains - a thunderstorm. Lightning strikes the windmill, and the windmill begins to turn. It continues to rain for twelve days. No work gets done, and all the people around Arickeree get scared because they have never seen so much rain. The sheriff comes from Arickereee and arrests Grandfather for negligence in giving rain dancers too much whiskey.

Dad has dropped my hand. He walks looking straight ahead and does not notice me. Now and then I have to skip to keep up. "Can't we drive?" I ask. "Ain't no vehicle could make the trip over this land," he says. He is talking like Grandfather. The new boots hurt my feet. "Is it far?" "Not far." "Are we almost there?" "Look for the windmill," he says. "Dad..."I say. I pause. I make him see me. "My feet hurt." He looks solemn, slightly hurt, slightly pleading. "We'll try going slower," he says.

He steps, points, and turns, indicating the horizon. "Right there," he says, "settlers used to come on covered wagons. It wasn't easy out here. Sure there were Indians..."

"Indians?"

"Indians. And you had to watch out for them too, but getting lost out here was just as dangerous. You might think it's hard getting lost in such an open place, but that's just the problem. There's nothing out here to look at to see if you're going in a straight line. And then there are these swells. You get down in between two swells and you can't see where you're going or where you've been. The only thing that can keep you going is hope and that next swell - hope that soon you'd come over a swell and there would be a river you could follow, or maybe there would be the Rocky Mountains and you could head straight out to them."

"There were Indians here?"I ask, walking again, forgetting now my discomfort.

"Indians? Sure."

"Bad Indians?"

"Well, some were bad, I guess. But most of them your Grandpa knew were good."

"Grandpa knew Indians?"

"Sure. Don't you remember his stories? He knew as many as Indians as you might ever want to know. He could name all the tribes, Sioux, Cheyenne, Papoose, Squaw, Hermoso. In fact...not far from here, just on the other side of your Grandpa's homestead, is an Indian grave."

"Can we see it?"

"Yes, I suppose a fellow could walk to it. No...it really isn't too far from here."

We walk faster.
There was the windmill, just above the horizon, pushing up higher and higher over the next swell with each step as if it were growing up out of the prairie. I remember now the way I yelled the first I saw it, how I ran ahead of Dad and laughed, feeling like a real cowboy in my black cowboy boots. This day, though, calls for silence.

I walk, hands in my pockets. I feel my pocketknife there, cold, familiar. The knife has no color anymore, though it was once shiny gold, and the end of the longest blade is chipped off square from using it as a screwdriver. Every family has a heirloom - a sort of talisman. This knife is ours. Somehow...when I touch it - when I fold my hand around it - I can feel Father's strong hands, and as I hold the knife now I do not want to let go.

I am certain that Dad must have been relieved, even satisfied that day with all my running and yelling as we approached the homestead. I am certain because even now I want someone to fill this place with laughter. If I could have any wish right now, it would be that I could fill this place myself.
"How long were you in jail?" I ask through everyone's laughter. Grandfather keeps an even expression. "It was two weeks," he says, "two weeks and then the sheriff let me go." He talked while his fork rested on his plate. He talked with his fork poised in front of his mouth. He talked through mouthfuls of scalloped potatoes. He tlked through bites of strawberry shortcake.

When Grandfather returned to the homestead he found the two Indians waiting for him. They had set up a teepee and had waited there two weeks for Grandfather for the sole purpose of learning from Grandfather how to operate the shotgun he had given them. There was never a time when it had rained for twelve days on the prairie. It was as if the ground didn't know what to do with all that water, so for a while the water just stayed there, and the prairie was dotted all over with small lakes. Grandfather wasn't going to let an opportunity like this slip away, so he grabbed his shotgun and his bird dog Scooter and took the Indians out to see if they might be able to hunt a few of the ducks that flew in off the lakes.

Grandfather was a bit worried that Scooter might not quite know what to do with a duck. Scooter had never seen a duck before, nor a lake for that matter. But right away they saw some ducks and one, two, Grandfather gets off two shots and two ducks fall to the ground. Scooter brought the ducks back, not even hesitating, and neither duck had so much as one tooth mark on its body. Meanwhile the Indians were shooting wildly with their shotgun and coming closer to killing themselves than any duck. One would shoot and the kick of the old shotgun would knock him all the way to the ground. Before that one had time to swear, the other one would grab the shot­gun and fire. Then both Indians tried holding the shotgun at the same time, but both barrels shot off and knocked both the Indians to the ground. Pretty soon, the Indians got more than fed up with this, and finally they asked Grandfather to come along with them; they'd show him the real way to hunt ducks.

When they arrived at the next lake, the Indians walked up close without any noise and crouched down low into their own shadows. Now Grandfather can't figure out how the hell the Indians are going to catch a duck this way, but soon the Indi­ans start making sort of low and throaty duck noises with their palms cupped over their mouths. Sure enough, within five min­utes four or five ducks swim up close to the edge where the Indians crouch. Suddenly one of the Indians springs into the water and grabs a duck by the neck, twisting its head nearly off before the duck has time to quack even once in surprise.

An hour of crouching, springing, and twisting passes before the Indians relax. The result is a pile of a dozen ducks with broken necks lying on the ground beside the Indians. Grandfather was so happy at this that he forgot himself for a moment and shot a duck sitting on top of the water. He completely forgot about Scooter and his ignorance about duck hunting and water. Before Grandfather could do anything, though, Scooter was off and running on top of the water just like Jesus Christ. Scooter was there and back even before Grandfather had time tell him he would drown, and just as always the hound laid the bird in Grandfather's hand without a solitary tooth mark. From then on the Indians never did get closer than a careful arm's length to Scooter in fear that whatever demon that made the dog run on the water might suddenly let loose and jump inside one of them. Grandfather's brain was swiveling faster than a weather cock in a tornado, but he never let the Indians see he was affected. Later, though, when Grandpa got the chance to fill up a pipe and sit down to think, he worked it all out in his head. After then, he wasn't troubled anymore because it was all just a matter of finding a logical explanation. And it didn't take Grandpa too long to realize that the reason Scooter could walk right on top of the water like that was because Grandpa never did teach the dog how to swim, and the dog was too dumb to figure out for himself that trying to run on top of water was likely to result in drowning.

It is getting darker. The prairie is silver; the prairie is grey. We stand by the windmill. It is just an old windmill, nothing else. There are no lightning marks, no buffalo hides tacked to it. I don't know why we have to stay here so long. Perhaps dad sees more to this place than I do. Maybe he can still see what used to be here, the sod house, the turning windmill, my grandfather at the window, his face, his hands. I look at the windmill. I want to ask where the lightning struck it. I want to ask how it brings up water. I want to ask how long it will be until we can go to the Indian grave. But Dad does not notice me, so I turn sideways and try to make myself thinner, I don't want to get in the way.

Grandfather is wearing black cowboy boots that he and I polished the night before. He is boarding the bus that will take him back to Colorado. He shakes my hand. He tells me I have a strong hand, He slaps my back, kneads my shoulder, and then gets on the bus—black boots clunking up the steps.

Dad says we will have to hurry to make it to the Indian grave before dark. He starts east, each stride a mountain. I nearly have to run to keep up. At first I am eager, but it doesn't take too long for me to remember my boots. "My feet hurt," I say. Dad keeps striding. "It is only a little farther," he says. "But they really hurt," I say, letting a whine slip into my tone. "Watch the horizon," he says, "that next swell, maybe there will be that grave on the other side."

It does not work. I feel the blister anyway.

Dad is striding—flying—and I keep falling away, my arm getting longer, his hand holding tighter to mine until he is almost dragging me with him. Tears come now. My feet drag and stumble over the hard mounds of dirt. No wagon full of set­tlers can stop the tears; no promise of an Indian grave can keep me silent. I let the tears force my mouth to open, and I cry.

I reach to feel the pocketknife. For an instant my hand does not find it, and I imagine the knife already lost—already buried in the dust somewhere on the prairie. For an instant my body, neck, and head shrivel together, my trachea constricts and I cannot breathe; for an instant I want to let my body fall, fold together, and collapse on the prairie. But then I find it. I hold the knife tight in my hand and do not let go. It is my turn now to stand at the windmill and remember. Jesus ... they were handsome men.

We are almost back to the car again. Dad carries me on his shoulders, my cowboy boots bouncing off his chest. Dad is striding still, now happily, now jokingly telling me stories of rattlesnakes, cowboys and cattle drives, and how Grandma used to make lye soap. I try not to be happy. I try not to smile, but it is no use. My tears are already dry.

Before we get into the car, Dad crouches low in front of me. In his hand is a pocketknife. He wants me to take it. In my hand the knife seems much larger. "I got that knife on my tenth birth­day," he says. "Your grandfather gave it to me." I put the knife in my pocket, feeling on the outside to make sure it is safe there. We get in the car. I feel older now, grown up because I have my own knife. I look at my father and somehow he too is older.

"Dad," I say, "I really wanted to see that Indian grave."

"Yes," he says, "yes ... so did I."

I turn and walk east, away from the windmill. I watch the next swell of prairie in front of me. I walk until I am on top of the swell, and then I stop. You can see both ways here. I stay there only a moment; then I continue east knowing that over the next swell will be the Indian grave.

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