efface (ih-FAYSS), verb
To erase, obliterate, make inconspicuous.
Darrel picks at his fingernails with a twig. His back rests heavily against the tall oak his grandfather left misplaced amongst his orchard of almond trees. Convinced it attracts the birds and critters like a magnet heading north, his grandfather insisted it stay there. For one hour every day Darrel savors the feeling of rough bark against the back of his sweaty shirt. His legs sprawl outwards like an extension of roots. For one hour, Darrel is exactly where he wants to be.
Today is a regular day. Darrel’s thick black hair rests on his shoulders and he decides he will get a haircut soon. His straw hat that has a whole in the top from when he drunkenly stumbled through it causes a particularly warm spot on the top of his head where the sun shines through. Darrel wears no rings, no necklace with a token of his religion nor a bracelet saying where he’s been. Darrel adornes himself with one light blue shirt stained with dark rings of sweat and one pair of shorts that were at one time pants. Once the knees rip through, he wears shorts all year.
Darrel looks upwards at the foliage above him, watching the squirrels and birds skip across branches, shaking light down from the sky. A few premature leaves tilt to the ground. One lands on Darrel’s boot. How odd, he thinks, that a leaf would fall so gently on this warm spring day. That’s not supposed to happen. The leaves are barely curled out of themselves. They are so freshly green that their bond to each branch is too strong for even a squirrel to knock lose. Something is wrong.
Darrel studies his Grandfather’s favorite tree. I must cut it down.
Darrel springs up and heads for the tool shed. It’s at least a mile away and he starts into an easy trot. His boots clunk the ground, but his long 5:15 high school miler’s legs have stayed remarkably strong. He grabs an ax from the shed and returns to the oak. More leaves have fallen to the ground.
“I hope you are going to explain some mental illness or undying need for attention I have,” Darrel looks up at me, his eyes moist.
“Otherwise,” he says. “I’m just a crazy person cutting down the only bond I have left with my grandfather.” I’m startled by Darrel’s outburst. Up until this point he has been an easily predictable, understanding character. I suppose he is still holding the ax.
I try to sound omnipresent when I say, “You already know what you need to do, Darrel.”
“Horse shit,” he spits back at me.
As a writer we are told we can mold worlds out of nothing and that we are supposed to efface our own personalities so we can say what we, as individuals, cannot otherwise say. We are both guised by our characters as well as empowered by them. But how can I become a famous author when my characters question every single thing I ask them to do? Perhaps I have not asked politely enough. I did not know permission was required in imagination. It doesn’t seem right. But I must move the story forward so I put down my pen, hold my hands quietly together and say,
“Darrel, will you please swing your ax against the very tree your grandfather worked so hard to save? It will all turn out alright in the end, you’ll see.”
I can see the blood being pushed from his knuckles as his hands turn white into fists. I’m not writing this, yet I watch him swing the ax around like the hammer throw and launch it through the orchard. I didn’t even know he could throw the hammer. He was a track athlete, yes, but hammer is only at the college level in California. Did Darrel go to college? I am not prepared for this. What can I do when I’m losing control over my own character?
“Darrel, pick that up,” I sound like his mother. I meant to sound more like God, controlling and unquestionable. I retrive my loudest voice, but Darrel is already leaning back against his tree. His beloved tree that I want him to chop down. I suppose I owe him an explanation, but I have none. I was going to figure that out later because I needed to move the story forward, to cause drama.
Perhaps Darrel is right, we don’t need anymore drama. I should have just written about a memory I am certain he had, or let him listen to the birds sing as he thinks about his grandfather and what a wonderful man he was. I just wasn’t sure that was exciting enough.