Jennifer Donnell (story)

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Red Barn Philosopher

My hair was tangled again. My long blonde curls were embedded with traces of dirt and straw. I closed the barn door, the sturdy red one my father had built when the last barn blew down, eight months ago. The sun doesn’t always shine in Southern California, at least not where we lived. How he’d cursed and shouted when the wind had ripped off the roof and tore down the old barn’s walls. All I heard was “curse(my father), followed by “shhh…” (my mother). It’s always strange to hear your parents use the words they’ve spent years telling you to avoid. He was an angry, petulant child and his lower lip stuck out, until my mother reminded him that the barn was insured. At least, after thirteen years, I finally knew who I’d inherited my moodiness from.

I walked inside the house, it smelt of my mother’s lasagna and the next argument they’d have. Probably over something silly, like her asking my father to do the dishes only to have him refuse. He asked for a beer, an amber hued one straight from the fridge. He told me to squeeze a lime into it.

“You’re a bartender in training.” he complimented, his career expectations for me low.

“I want to be a philosopher.” I countered.

Since the barn had been built, I’d been reading Aristotle and Nietzsche. I wanted a phrase attached to my name, a brilliant worldly insight. If Aristotle owned inductive reasoning, and Nietzche was given credit for “God is dead”, then I was working on something about choosing to look on the bright side of things. I’d even written an essay about our authentic selves being free as the wind. My parents had laughed their heads off when I recited it, thinking it was about a much more crude type of wind- human wind, gas.

My father’s eyes narrowed now, as he took-in my appearance.

Although it had been months since the new barn was built, there wasn’t so much as a chicken living it. It had been turned into a big, red garage. He had collected two cars and a boat, all in need of repairs. My mother hated what she termed “a pile of junk”. My father felt complete. To appease me, he had bought two stacks of hay for the second story loft, which is where I now spent most of my time. It was airless in the loft. In summer, the wind didn’t even enter the room. I often lay there, sweaty, on a heap of hay, and imagined how I’d redecorate- a billiards table on the left, a sink to the right, an air-conditioning unit, an arcade game, a couch, a full wall dedicated as a library.

“What were you doing in the barn?” my father asked, suspiciously surveying my tangled straw filled hair, staring at me as though I was a harlot. An avid reader, I recognized the face immediately, his expression of disdain.

What had I been doing? Well, first, I tiptoed across the half finished porch, balancing on each beam like a tightrope walker. Next, I tried to dance like Madonna, the singer Madonna, not the other one. Then, I tried to find a comfortable spot in the heap of hay, when- take it from me- hay is not comfortable. After itching and sneezing a bit, I read a book about Plato and Aristotle’s inferior view of women, but there was no way I was telling my father that. I was already upset enough about having some of my favorite philosophers fall from grace. I didn’t know much about feminism, but I was pretty sure I’d grow up to be one.

“Were you…” he couldn’t say it, was turning red, disgusted, could barely spit out the words, “kissing a boy!?”

I froze. If I said yes, I’d have a fake reputation and possibly be grounded. If I said no, I’d have to explain that I’d been lying on a bed of hay and reading philosophy, pronouncing words in Greek as though they were better than any kiss.

“Yes.” I said, bracing for an impulsive swat or an unforgiving punishment of a month in my room.

My father blinked, looked relieved.

“Alright, just don’t do it again. For a second I thought you were reading those stupid philosophy books. What will people say if my daughter is always up in a barn reading books by dead people!?”

He asked for another beer. I got it and wiped away the invisible kiss from a nonexistent boy. I squeezed the lime and puckered at the sour of it.

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by Jennifer Donnell

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