The corn grew wild with no one left to harvest it. Simeon took refuge in the shade that his front porch provided, listening to the stale silence of the day. It was too hot for the birds to sing, the heat waves dancing above the crop. He used to wish for days like this, when he toiled in the fields. Hot as shit, but no clouds meant no rain, which meant no excuse not to work. Now, when there was no purpose to any of it, the sun was a curse. Everything was a curse.
He buried his father yesterday out next to the barn that was missing half its roof, blown away in a storm a hundred years ago. No one had cared enough to replace it, they’d just built a new barn, but by now the red paint had stripped away and it didn’t look much better than the first. They both stood as monuments for a family that no one would remember once Simeon was dead and gone. Even he, the last of his line, could hardly remember his grandmother’s accusing eyes, or his grandfather’s sneaky grin. Their pictures had been confiscated and burnt and Simeon’s memory wasn’t what it once was. Too many bad things had replaced the good, and now he was left with the thoughts he wished to could forget, while longing for thoughts forgotten.
The shovel leaned haphazardly against the house next to Simeon. He didn’t care to look at it, but there wasn’t much left that reminded him of his father, and so he kept it close. The mud still clung to the rusted metal. It felt like a sin to wash away that dirt.
Something moved through the corn, snapping the dry stalks. Probably a deer, foraging what was left of his family’s hard work and dedication. He thought back on all the time he’d spent in those fields, ruining his body just to get by another day. For thirty-four years his entire focus was on the crop, the seasons, the farmstead; the family. A lifetime wasted, and not only his life but his fathers as well, and his father before him, back four generations. Dozens of people had worked their entire lives to guarantee Simeon could stand where he stood right now.
Fourteen years ago, Representative Cal Benson won a bitter run for the presidency. Simeon still cringed when he thought back on how he’d voted for the man, along with fifty-six percent of the country. He had run on the promise to provide, and who didn’t like the thought of that? Simeon had been paying the government his entire adult life and had never seen a cent back. In the cracked lens of bureaucracy, his family had been relatively wealthy, with miles upon miles of black Midwestern soil. Simeon’s father had to sell most of it when his grandfather passed away, because evidently taxing the broken man his entire life for money he hadn’t actually had wasn’t good enough. The taxmen came knocking on the coffin.
After President Benson took office, he’d offered citizens everything they could have ever wanted; free schooling and healthcare, food for the poor and retribution for the wicked. Simeon remembered the grin that had broken out across his weary face when he’d received his first check, the Citizen Dividend (cutely labeled by the press as the Benson Pension), merely for being an American.
Finally, he’d thought, finally his hard work was being recognized. His family had helped feed the country for generations after all, why shouldn’t they be recognized for their sacrifice? Why shouldn’t they get a little bit back from what they’d put in? Hell, it wasn’t even a gift; Simeon and the rest deserved it! That’s what he’d thought, and that’s why Benson won his second term in a historic landslide. Over 180 million people had voted him in, by far the most of any president before or since; that was the last election held. Even his opposition, a man whose name Simeon couldn’t remember, had admitted afterwards to having voted for Cal Benson.
Everything was better than it had been before. You know a man is popular when both farmers and city folk are going door-to-door for him. But then reporters began to spot the chinks in Benson’s armor. He’d cut funding to the military to pay for it all, and now the money had run dry. Taxes on even the poorest of citizens were raised to 70%. Simeon stopped receiving his Citizen Dividend, and instead got a bill in the mail. His family was expected to pay 90% of their earnings. In return, they’d be taken care of for the rest of their lives. But Simeon and his family were proud folk, who had always believed in reaping only what you’d sown, and they weren’t about to hand over the farm to a thief and a liar. Funny how quickly minds change. Everyone’s willing to take a check, until they realize it’s signed in their own blood.
A rebellion quickly rose and was just as quickly stamped out. Simeon lost two brothers in that silly thing. He blamed Benson for it all while shaming himself for having handed the man the reins in the first place.
And so he stood watching the corn turn brown in the August sun, waiting for the men he knew would come. Everyone had these damned trackers under their skin now. It had been a hard sell for Benson, but in the end the citizen’s concerns were washed away with the promise of the benefits. The tracker was merely to make sure everyone was healthy and fit, and would alert emergency personnel at any sign of distress. No one thought that the government knowing where they were at all times was a bad thing, not back then. Now they could listen in to anyone at any time, know where they were, what they were doing and with who. They knew when someone passed away, and when they should come to collect what was left in the dead man’s pockets.
So Simeon waited, would continue to wait forever if he had to, as vengeance was his final purpose. He wouldn’t have to wait long. The medicinal drone had flown over while he buried his father yesterday. Simeon knew it had fed the scene live back to HQ. The suited men would arrive at any moment. He looked to his right, down the dusty gravel road he’d walked countless times to retrieve the mail, to wait for the school bus, to secretly meet his friends on a brisk summer night. That road used to lead toward freedom, to a well-earned break. Now it signified the setting of a blood-red sun.
He listened for the crackle of gravel under tire, watched the horizon for rising dust, but no one came, not yet anyway. He almost wished they’d get on with it. He was sick of being alone with his thoughts. They only ever caused him trouble.
He remembered when he’d told his father who he was casting his vote for. The first time his father shrugged his tan, bony shoulders. He never had a mind for politics. The last president he’d voted for was Reagan. But when the midterms rolled around and everyone knew the name Cal Benson, his father had walked up to him as Simeon was heading out to the fields.
It had been early, as it always was when they began their work, and the moon was still visible on the horizon as it set, the sun rising opposite. It felt like they were stuck between two distinctly different worlds and as his father approached, hat in hand, the wrinkles deep and resonant with all the stories of his years, Simeon realized they probably were.
“You votin’ tomorrow?” his father had asked.
“Yeah.” Simeon palmed the cigarette in his right hand, tucked it behind his back. His father had known Simeon smoked ever since high school, but still he hid it out of respect. “Guess so. You?”
“Shit no.” His father looked at the endless fields that surrounded the farm house. Simeon felt stranded half the time, like Robinson Crusoe on a desert island, but at that moment he felt safe within the green ocean. “You shouldn’t either.”
“Why’s that?” Simeon dropped down to one knee, secretly put the cigarette out and tucked it under his boot before re-lacing them. “Those checks haven’t hurt.”
“That’s the truth,” his father said, nodding. He put his hat on, pulled it down firmly on his bald head. “But no one gives somethin’ for nothin’.”
“We’ve already given more’n our fair share, if you ask me,” Simeon said.
“Well that’s the point, Simmy. They ain’t asking you, are they?” His father walked out into the fields then, disappearing among the tall stalks.
Simeon looked out at the corn that used to come in green and sturdy but now stood dead and brittle. He half hoped his father would walk out of the fields, where he’d walked in twelve years ago, the same man he remembered from then. Not what his father had become, broken and beaten half to death more than once for not meeting quotas. Not dying hungry and sick and sad. That’s no way to leave this world behind, regretting that you’d stepped foot on it in the first place.
Simeon sniffed and spat into the dust. He squinted, saw the dust rising in the distance. They’d be there within half an hour. When he was a boy, he used to watch for that brown cloud, would listen eagerly for the roar of his dad’s old pick up. That meant happiness. It meant warmth and comfort, discipline and meaning. His dad meant all of those things, everything that made us human, that crafted a man out of a boy. That was his dad.
The bills had begun shortly after the midterm, each month becoming more and more threatening until men had showed up with guns demanding their taxes. His father had paid, what else could he have done? But Simeon’s brothers wouldn’t stand for it, left to go after the men that night and never came back alive. He remembered his father that night, when the bodies were dropped off. He’d taken up the bodies, one over each shoulder, and bent-back brought them behind the barn and buried them himself. He wouldn’t let Simeon help. His father never blamed him directly, but the silence that night, the tearless digging until dawn, the thud of his brother’s bodies dropping into their graves. That was blame enough for Simeon.
The fact was that Simeon was a faithless man. He didn’t keep a god around to blame for his woes and mistakes, and he knew full well what his vote had done. Cal Benson would have won regardless of how Simeon had casted his ballot, or even if he hadn’t left the farm at all. But being that he’d chosen the man meant that those graves, one fresher than the rest, were dug because of him. You can curse Cal all day, but when you get down to it, he only had one vote too, same as Simeon. You can’t blame a man for believing in himself, but you sure as shit can expect more from the rest.
His dad had expected more from Simeon and he’d let him down. The entire country had let him down. He helped his father to bed last night, laid his broken and bloodied body down never to rise again.
“Why’d you go to town like that?” Simeon had asked. “Causin’ a fuss for no good reason.”
His father held his bruised ribs, blood coming out of his nose and mouth.
“No good reason?” his father had said between watery coughs. “Shit, Simmy, thought I raised you better’n that. Ain’t no better reason to stand than to prove you still can.”
Two hours later, Simeon’s father was dead and buried next to his sons. Simeon was the sole survivor. The only one who had chosen this fate was the only one left breathing. He reached into his pocket for his cigarettes, found the pack to be empty. He supposed he didn’t deserve much better than that.
The men were pulling down the driveway in their black cars, with their black drones hovering above, come to claim the money they hadn’t earned from his dead father who didn’t have any to give in the first place. They’d take the farm and send Simeon to the camps to pay off what was still owed.
His father had been right. He’d raised Simeon better than that and had gone to the grave knowing that his own son had helped put him there. Well, he wouldn’t make that mistake twice. He would show them that this family could still stand.
The men parked and got out of their cars. Simeon picked up and wielded the shovel that had buried his father.
Read more from Sam at Think Liberty here.