Sunday

the children of field orange are trying to kill me

I live in a village with a static population. The village is called Field Orange and if we had one of those friendly welcome signs on the outskirts it would quite accurately read;

Welcome to Field Orange
Population 100

Accurate because the village is indeed called Field Orange and the population is always one hundred exactly. It never changes and has been like this as long as we can remember. That’s not to say that we don’t die because we do. At the time of one birth there is a death and with every death Field Orange receives a newborn. Population one hundred, that’s Field Orange.

The accuracy is furthered because of Field Oranges situation. This small village I call home is located amid a sea of orange fields. We grow poppies, orange poppies and they surround us as far as the eye can see. I’ve read a history of Field Orange and some years ago an errant farmer decided to experiment with the horizon. Initially he began with Red poppies but they would not take. He tried yellow poppies to the same effect. He tried carrots and broad beans, he tried cabbages and violets. He tried carnations and roses but nothing would grow except the beautiful orange poppies. Eventually this farmer was run out of town for what was assumed to be lunatic behaviour. This occurred coincidentally at the exact same time of my birth.

Everyone in Field Orange is a farmer, we all go out to the fields to gather poppies and we have no schools. We have no hospitals or stores. The women do not stay at home to clean and cook. Every morning at 6am we go to the fields to collect the poppies. At lunch time we take whatever food we want from the communal barn and in the afternoon we go back to gathering the poppies. That’s not to say we are backwards because we are not. We are educated as our children are educated and sometimes one of us goes away to university and another is born. It’s rare though, we all like it in Field Orange. At 7am a truck comes to take the children twenty miles away to the nearest school. The truck also takes a list of what we, the village and its occupants, want. Sometimes it’s food or new boots. The other day I asked for a book and an oil lamp for reading at night. At 5pm the truck comes back and unloads our supplies and the children and we load up the poppies and wave goodbye until tomorrow. We don’t gather poppies of an evening and we never gather poppies of a weekend. It is a simple but happy life we lead here in Field Orange.

Well I was happy but the last three days have made me distinctly paranoid. Remember I told you I ordered an oil lamp for my room? I like to read; I like detective novels the best and often try to read after dark time by the pale light of the moon. It can be a bit of a strain. In the big houses we all sleep in a dormitory but if we want to we can to use out-house to sleep in. Not many of us do, but new couples and snorers and other antisocial night time people will use the out houses. I thought if I had a lamp I could read in one of them without disturbing any of the other residents of field orange.

So three days ago my lamp arrives and I’m pretty excited. I’ve just got a new novel “Murder in a Sea of Corn”, which sounds very exotic to me, so I decide to make use of these outside facilities. My oil lamp is little and brass with a tapering glass top that looks crimped along the edges. It was a very pretty little lamp and I hope it didn’t cost them a lot of money (a concept I vaguely remember from my school days). It came with a strong smelling bottle of purple oil for burning and six spare wicks. I borrowed a pack of matches from Benny (who is trying to quit smoking) and took my book and my blanket out to the farthest shed in our little village perimeter. I settled happily amongst the hay on the floor. My lamp I lit and had hung from a nail on a beam just to the left of where I lay. I opened my book and became oblivious to everything else around me. I often find total absorption in books, the earth could tear in two and swallow people whole and I’d only notice when the book was torn from my hand, I swear it.

Which is why it took me a little while to register that the barn was on fire. The smell of burning hair combined with the pain on my head was invasive enough to drag me from my book world. I slapped out the embers on my hair, grabbed my book and fled. It didn’t take long for the fire to take hold. Those from the dormitories had come out and stood staring alongside me at this burning building. When we got a grip a chain gang was set up from the water pump to the barn as buckets of water were passed along and thrown at the fire. There was little hope of saving the out house but it would be a disaster for field orange if the fire spread. It might have been a disaster if I had died as far as I know no one is ready for a newborn but saying that, field orange always finds a way, field orange population 100.

We were up nearly all the rest of the night dousing the fire, there was no real harm done and no one was mad at me, I felt very guilty. The men with the vans came in the morning and told us not to worry about picking poppies that day. The children could have a day off school too. They would come back the next day when we were all rested. Everyone went back for some sleep. Everyone except me that is. When the barn had cooled I went to see the place of my shame. I thought I must have hung the lamp badly and it had fallen. I also wanted to avoid everyone for a while. Guilt is a terrible, terrible, thing. The barn was in a pretty bad state, it was amazing that it was still standing really, my blanket and the hay were little more than dust now. The walls and ceiling were black and the smell was pretty awful. My hair wasn’t too badly burned, I would ask Molly to cut it some time; she was handy with a pair of scissors.

I saw the remains of my lamp on the floor and the guilt welled up inside me and threatened to burst out of my eyes. I felt like crying, I was choked up and tired. It was such a pretty lamp and it had been such a nice idea and I messed it all up. I went to see if there was anything redeemable from my lamp. Maybe the brass was ok and I could get a new glass bulb for it. As I neared I knelt down because completely out of place and a source of confusion for me was the large round rock that sat in the middle of the shattered glass of what was my lamp. I don’t know how long I was knelt there looking at it before the next attempt on my life. I figured this out afterwards, that it was a deliberate act, but at the time all there was, was pain and a lack of consciousness.

Molly found me a few hours later, there was matted blood at the back of my head and cuts on my face and arms from where I landed on the glass, there was a rock very similar to the one amidst the glass lying right next to my head. I think it was thrown at me. I gripped it hard and refused to let go.

The others think maybe the out house roof was instable and something had fallen. They think I shouldn’t have gone there and it was my own fault. I think they are wrong.

My wounds were tended to and I was made to rest. Everyone went and feasted and I lay feeling sorry for myself and confused as to why someone would try to do this. My head hurt and my eyes weren’t focusing so well so I couldn’t even finish my book. The detective had just dismissed the character who everyone thought had done the foul deed and was about to draw a shocking conclusion. I was desperate to know who did it. It turned out I was also desperate for sleep.

I slept for some time but it was not a continual sleep. I was woken at one point by an immense pressure on my face and I had difficulty breathing. I was being smothered and I couldn’t fight back. A noise at the end of the dormitory caused the pressure to suddenly be taken off and the perpetrator fled. I was disorientated and tried to stand and to focus on who would do this but all I could make out was a small receding shape.

The noise was Molly, she had come to bring me some tonic to help me sleep and to change the bandage on my head. I told her of the smothering and she told me it was night terrors like I was imagining it. She didn’t understand but acquiesced when I begged her to make someone stay with me. Benny came and stayed with me while I slept because he’s trying to quit smoking and you can’t smoke in the dormitories.

It was early evening when I came to again, the start of dusk is my favourite time, and I decided to go for a walk. Benny had nodded off in the armchair next to my bed and I didn’t want to wake him. My head felt a lot better so with the last of the light I thought I would take my book and find somewhere to finish it. I took my rock too. There was still some blood from my head on it.

It was warm outside and I walked past the tables of people sitting and talking and still eating from the massive cook off they had held this afternoon. Nearly losing my life three times had somewhat quelled my appetite. I’m not afraid to die you understand but I want it to be when it is the right time. Not because some unknown force has decided it so. The most peaceful place in field orange of an evening is in the orange fields. All buzz and business during the day but empty and quiet at night. I knew I wouldn’t be disturbed so I went to find a spot to sit and read for a while. There was some bare ground where I had been picking yesterday so I went there. A circle cleared of poppies about six foot in diameter. I lay amidst the orange flowers and read the detectives summation. How he had removed all possibilities except one and the conclusion however improbable it may seem was definitely correct. He was about to name names I was so close when the shower of stones began. My first reaction was to look up to see who was doing this but I looked too high. The pain was immense as rock after stone after pebble crashed into my skin. I adjusted my sight and circled around me smaller than the poppy stalks they stood amongst with nasty grins and catapults and rocks in hands were the children. I cry out for them to stop and hear a shrill giggle from my left. A dark haired girl no older than 15 turns her back to me and finally I understand. Strapped to her back in tattered blankets looking fragile and beautiful is a newborn. Field Orange population 100 and she has broken the rules.

The rocks keep coming and I am almost numb from them now. I think my head is bleeding again and I am sure the bruises are bad. With the last bit of strength I have I lie on my stomach and write it in the dirt with the rock in my hand – the children of field orange are trying to kill me.

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