A mild wind, from the south, blew outsized waves which crashed upon the shores of the small town where three brothers, Henry, John, and Rand had always lived. Now, they stood on that gravel beach, and Henry, toes wiggling in the water, spotted a fish darting between the waves. He longed to grasp it with his fingers, and, once cooked, savor its soft and mild flesh. Yet law forbade him catch more than 2000 fish a year, and with taxes paid, and homes repaired, and heat, that left hardly a fish a day to eat.
It was a small fish, perhaps no one would even notice, but that was the thing about small fish, why catch a small fish, when a large one could just as easily fill the quota? Henry squatted down to get a better look, and Rand, after a disinterested glance at Henry and the fish, stared out to sea.
“There!” he pointed. "There lies an island out at sea. Small and
uninhabited, but enough for us meager three.
We will go there, and live lives of liberty.
We’ll never pay a dime in taxes, and eat all the fish we please."
“Eh?” John looked up at the horizon, “I suppose I do see a black line out there on the horizon.”
Henry search the now black water, having lost sight of the silver streak. A few moments of silence passed between them and Henry said “let’s be getting home now. I’m hungry, and this breeze is growing cold.”
They walked together, up the beach, among the stones, to a small path, and then, to a row of cozy houses where they parted ways.
Henry looked into his smallest pot,
only rice, and not a lot,
and as he swallowed it, he thought
Perhaps Rand is right, and flee we ought.
They reached the island in a rickety boat, which one man oared and two men bailed. They earthed upon a bar of gravel, ten meters from the shore. Henry and Rand hauled as John held the craft steady. Finally, staggeringly, they stood upon the Isle of Liberty.
Heavy breathing slowed.
“Here, we shall be as free as the birds.” Declared a solemn Rand.
“Amen” came the echo from Henry and John.
Having hauled the boat to dry ground, the three began to walk up the hillside. The ground was hard and rocky, jagged stones mixed with equally sharp golden grass. Further up, the ground softened, and there were fir trees, moss, and finally, bare grey rock.
At the summit, spread out before them, was a three faced ridge. The face which they had scaled consisted mostly of grassy plateau which spread down to the gravel beach where their boat was shored. The second face had many more trees, and but one small and steep triangle of grass adjoining the plateau. The third face was an equal mix of tree, brush and grass. “If we divide the island evenly, than each man shall do with his allotment as he pleases.” John proposed. The other two nodded, already summing up which face they should choose. It was not long, before it was clear to Henry that he wished the second face. He knew that below the cliffs would be rocks, rich with oysters, muscles and crabs. Rand, on the other hand, foresaw himself transforming the plateau into an ample field of wheat. John saw value in balance. So it was decided without need for speech. And they parted.
Henry walked down to a group of fallen trees which he lifted into a slanted roof against a stone. John cut a passage into tall brush, in which he could lie and sleep. Rand was left to lay in the overturned boat on the hard and rocky beach.
The next day, the three men got to work. Each began to break the soil with the blunt edges of knives they caried, and sometimes, with broken rocks. It was hard work, and not two meters had been plowed before Henry felt his back begin to strain. Rand continued, not like man, but like machine, and John plowed at a steady rate, slow but steady wins the race. Henry walked down to the cliffs, then, lowered himself through the crevices to the rocks below. There he found many types of muscle and oyster, the largest he had ever seen. He pried an oyster from the rocks, and smashed it with a stone. Then he let the fat belly slide into his mouth. He looked about him at his fortune. He had never felt so free in his life, and soon he began to shout and sing. He stripped down to bare skin and strode out into the water. There he saw the red of crabs, and many sleek and silver fish. He sat, letting himself absorb the realization of liberty.
The cold water, having eased the pain in his back, and the spirit of freedom having filled his heart with join and energy, he pulled on his pants and bounded up the hill to return to work.
That evening, the three men met on the ridge to sup together. John had with him fish and berries, Henry brought a large orange crab, while Rand had but a thin morsel of fish which he had caught among the surf. There was not a little envy in Rand’s eyes as Henry sucked soft crab meat from its shell. They did not speak much that evening. They were tired, and each went to bed before the sun had set.
It took three weeks for Henry to get that meager triangle of grass tilled, but by the time the sun was growing long in the sky, little heads of wheat were poking themselves out of the ground. Henry the sat on the ridge-side as Rand tilled on, or walked among the rocks bellow his cliffs in happy solitude. In fall, he gathered grain and when winter storms set in, he boiled porridge by his shack. Even the winter snows did not seem too cold, for he had all the wood he’d ever need.
Years passed this way, and there was happiness and peace on the Isle of Liberty. The following years, the tilling went easier, and Rand built a round house away from the wind. John too expanded his dwellings into a dug out, with a door looking out to sea. Now the men ate many fish, and joked, and cursed the government of their forsaken village.
But come the fourth winter, and trouble came. The storms were long and fierce, and for many weeks, Henry could not make his way down to the rocks bellow the cliffs to fish, for the rocks were battered by great waves. He grew tired of porridge, and then there was none and he was hungry. For one day, he was too proud to ask for help, but come night and neither pride nor strength endured. Cursing bitter winds, he trod his way to John’s side of the mountain. But John, with sad eyes, sent him away, “there is not enough for one, let alone two”. So Henry found his way to Rand’s place, with such large fields, Rand must have wheat to spare.
Rand nodded his head and let Henry inside, “so you’re hungry,” Rand said. “I’ll see what I can do. But, ehem, you’ll have to pay. I worked mighty hard for this wheat you know.” “Come the end of this storm, you shall have all the crab and oyster you can eat!” Henry replied. “Ah, but it is my wheat, you see, and I shall name the price. I’d like that triangle of field you own.” “But you have plenty of fields here, my Rand, and more wheat than you can eat.” “I have made my wishes to you. And surely, on the Isle of Liberty, I can dispose of my things as I please.”
Henry thought a little while. He was surprised, shocked even, and felt himself growing angry. He would not give up his land willingly! The very concept of losing any part of his dominion, of his self, of his ration of liberty, was absurd! He trod heavily, home across the cold windswept hillside.
That night, Henry lay awake, his mind buzzing with energy, anger, and contemplation, he lay there for hours, the ache in his stomach, and the seeping cold, robbing him of clarity of thought.
When the sun rose, he did too, his shoulder and back, upon which he had lay, ached so as to fill his very chest with tremor and weakness. And thus, in his stupor, he trod his way back, along the barren hillside, to the house of Rand, where he ate his fill and took rations to last him the storm.
The loss of that small triangle of field greatly bothered Henry. He felt violated, and the sense of freedom he had once felt, no longer came to him as a burst of lightness and joy, but rather, as a burdensome worry. How would he prepare for winter when he had no fields in which to grow wheat? He tried felling some trees in a lower part of the forest, and he did manage to clear a small patch, but the going was too slow to yield any sizable farmland, and the ground bellow the trees was no good. He hung fish above the fire to dry, but in the night, the sea birds ravaged them. He thought of packing oysters on high ground, but he knew they would spoil within days. So with no other option, he gathered an arm load of the sweetest crabs he could catch and he headed off to Rand’s to purchase some wheat.
Rand met Henry with a broad smile and grasping Henry’s arm, he cried “What have we here? Those are some mighty fine crabs you’ve got! Would you like to buy some bread? Fresh from the stove!” “I’ve come to trade for wheat” Henry replied. “To store for the winter.” Rand looked down at his toes and said, “haven’t got any of that for you.” “How come?” Henry shot back, “with fields like yours I’m sure you’ve got plenty to spare!” “That may be true,” Rand replied gravely “but it’s my wheat, and here on the Isle of Liberty, I’ll dispose of my things as I please. You are welcome to buy my bread time you want, but my wheat is not for sale.”
Henry left, carrying his crabs with him, and went to see if John would be more willing.
John spotted him as he came over the ridge, and stopped his labors. When Henry got down low enough on the hill that he could see John clearly, John was standing with a nervous expression on his face, hands clasped, looking up at him. When they were standing at arms length, Henry offered, “I’d like to buy some wheat.” And held up the crabs. Johns eyebrows pressed together with a sense of pain, and his left hand fell to his side, his right still clasped before him. “I wish I could. It’s sure been a good year for it. But… Seeing what’s come of you, I dare not risk running low on wheat myself.” Henry’s shoulders dropped, he looked down at John sadly, and felt a wave of emotion, what was it? He felt the need to protect John from the fate that had befallen him, and felt, glad, that his offer had been denied. “Want some crab? Can’t eat them all myself, t’would be a pity to see them spoil.”
They ate in silence, looking out at the grey horizon. Then, Henry went home.
That winter was a mild one, and though gusts of wind did blow causing sharp waves to lash out at the foot of the cliffs, none of the ominous dreariness of the previous year prevailed. Henry sat atop the cliffs, and a sense of beauty and belonging washed over him. Great billowing clouds covered the horizon, but above him the sky was clear. Seabirds circled and swooped to the surf. Henry commanded himself, be strong against the hunger! He sat, back straight, legs crossed before him. And the sea birds circled, and his gaze rested on the rolling of the sea. Days passed, and the gusts of wind did not let up. And the sea birds circled, and Henry, hypnotized, felt the feathers of their wings brushing against the insides of his stomach. And his spirit withered, and his shoulders sank, and he slouched his way off to Rand.
Henry carried with him an arm load of wood that he had chopped in his forest.
Rand greeted him with a smile, raising his arm in welcome. “So, you’ve come to buy some bread?” He asked congenially. “Yes, I have chopped some wood to trade.” Rand waved his hand and frowned quickly. “I have no use for your wood.” Rand paused, “but I wouldn’t mind trading for your forests.” “How could you! Take my forests for a loaf of bead?” “I’ll dispose of my things as I please, on the Isle of Liberty.” came the well oiled reply.
Henry threw down his wood and began to leave. But a wave of hunger struck him and he lurched against the door. Rand stepped around him alike a dancer, holding the loaf before Henry’s nose. “Are you sure you’re not hungry?” He asked. Henry lifted his hand to shove the loaf away, but his fingers grasped the fresh crust, and he tore away a chunk. Then, the act begun, he began to devour the bread. Henry was without soul or purpose, he ate because he was hungry, and when he was full, he sat, dull eyes, downtrodden, defeated.
Two more days had passed, Henry sat upon the cliff, looking wearily down at the furious waves. His spirit was beaten and he had no will to fight the hunger. Rand had won, and each day, Henry had gone to Rand to get his bread. Each day, he received orders in return, like a servant or a slave. “Chop this wood”, “stoke that fire”.
Today, despite his hunger, Henry did not feel like eating, and he held his bread limply in one hand.
He saw a seabird, on the wind, floating with such ease
He stared down at the rocks below, where once he’d felt so free
He tossed the seabird chunks of bread, which it caught with glee
And he wondered how he’d come to be, a slave to liberty
Then, without a word, he cast himself into the sea