فصل 12

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فصل 12

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Two Sides of a Coin

A child may ask, “What is the world’s story about?” And a grown man or woman may wonder, “What way will the world go? How does it end?”

I believe there is one story in the world, and only one, that has inspired and frightened us. Humans are caught - in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their greediness and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too - in a net of good and evil.

There is no other story. A man will have only one question left at the end of his life: was it good or was it evil? And all novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves between good and evil.

Lee helped Adam and the two boys move to Salinas, unpacked, and saw the family settled. Then, one evening, he waited until the boys had gone to bed to speak to Adam.

Adam understood his intentions and spoke first. “When do you want to go?” he asked.

“As soon as possible. I’m afraid I might lose my purpose if I don’t go soon. Maybe I’d better go tomorrow.”

Six days later, Lee came back on the ten-forty train and let himself in with his own key. Adam was in the kitchen cleaning a burnt black frying pan.

“Lee!” he cried. “Is anything the matter? What happened to you?”

“Nothing happened to me,” said Lee. “I got lonely. That’s all. Isn’t that enough?”

“How about your bookstore?”

“I don’t want a bookstore. I think I knew it before I got on the train.”

“Then that’s your last dream gone.”

“I’m glad,” he said. “Adam, I am extraordinarily, unbelievably glad to be home. I’ve never been so lonely in my life.”

Cal and Aron were amazed by the size of the West End School after their background in a one-room country school, but after a few days they could not remember ever having gone to any other school.

Everyone who saw the twins remarked on their difference from each other and seemed puzzled. Cal was growing up dark- skinned, dark-haired. He was quick and sure and secretive. Even though he may have tried, he could not hide his cleverness. No one liked Cal very much, but everyone feared and respected him. Although he had no friends, he took up a position of leadership in the schoolyard.

Aron was loved by all. He seemed shy and delicate. His pink and white skin, golden hair, and wide-apart blue eyes caught attention. In the schoolyard his prettiness caused some difficulty until the other boys discovered that he was a completely fearless fighter, particularly when crying.

On the first day of school, Aron followed Abra to the white gate of her yard. “What do you want?” she said.

“I guess it will be a long time before we can get married,” Aron said.

“Not so long,” Abra said.

Aron followed her as she walked to the end of the street and turned into a field. On the edge of the field stood a tree with long, thin branches that hung down nearly to the ground. Abra parted the branches like a curtain and went into the house of leaves. You could see out through the leaves, but inside it was warm and safe.

“We’ll have a house together some time,” said Aron. “But that will be a long time.”

“Don’t worry about long times,” said Abra. “This is a kind of a house. We can play like we live here while we’re waiting. And you will be my husband and you can call me wife. It’ll be like practicing.”

Aron said suddenly, “While we’re practicing, maybe we could do something else.”

“What?”

“Maybe we could pretend like you’re my mother.”

“That’s easy,” she said. She put a soft tone in her voice and said, “Come on, my baby, put your head in Mothers lap. Come, my little son. Mother will hold you.” She held his head, and without warning Aron began to cry and could not stop. Abra stroked his cheek and wiped the flowing tears away with the edge of her skirt until very slowly he stopped.

Aron sat up and said almost angrily, “I hardly ever cry unless I’m mad. I don’t know why I cried.”

The sun was gone behind the trees. “Come on. Hurry! I bet my father’s looking for me.” Abra turned and ran away toward home.

It was February of 1915. The Trasks were comfortable in Salinas. Lee, after he had given up his dream of opening a bookstore, built a home for himself. He bought a bed and a desk and unpacked his books, put a soft carpet on the floor and pictures on the walls. He placed a big armchair under the best reading lamp he could find.

Lee also spent Adam’s money and Adam gave him no opposition. A gas stove came into the house, and electric wires, and a telephone. He bought new carpets, a gas water-heater, and a large icebox. In a short time, there was hardly a more comfortable house in Salinas.

The new icebox fascinated Adam. He bought a textbook on refrigeration and began to study it. He visited the ice factory that made ice for the few houses in Salinas that had iceboxes and for the places that sold ice cream. The truth was that Adam needed work. He came out of his long sleep needing to do something.

Adam was walking back from the ice factory when he saw Will Hamilton. “I’d like to talk to you about an idea I had,” he said. “You might give me an opinion. You’re a businessman.”

“Of course,” said Will. “Anything I can do.”

“The whole country is changing,” Adam said. “People aren’t going to live the way they used to. Do you know where the biggest market for oranges in the winter is?”

“No. Where?”

“New York City. Now in the cold parts of the winter, don’t you think people want fresh vegetables in the winter - like peas and lettuce and tomatoes? In a big part of the country they don’t have those things for months and months. And right here in the Salinas Valley we can raise them all year.”

“So what’s your idea?”

“I was thinking of buying the ice factory here in Salinas. Then I could pack lettuce in ice to keep it fresh and ship it to the East Coast by rail.”

“That would cost a lot of money.”

“I have quite a lot of money.”

“Stop right there, Adam,” said Will. “Forget your idea. People in the East aren’t used to vegetables in the winter. They wouldn’t buy them. Your train could get stuck on a sidetrack and you’d lose everything. The market is controlled. I know you don’t want my advice, but leave refrigeration alone.

“The war in Europe is going to go on a long time. And when there’s war there are going to be hungry people. If you plant beans on your bottom land, your boys won’t have to worry about the future. Beans are up to three cents now. If we went into the war I wouldn’t be surprised if they went up to ten cents.”

Will went away feeling good. He knew that he had given good advice.

“How about the ice factory?” said Lee.

“I think I’ll buy it.”

“You might plant some beans too.”

Later in the year Adam made his great try, and it was a sensation in a year of sensations, both locally and internationally. As he got ready, businessmen spoke of him as far-seeing, forward- looking, progress-minded. The six cars full of lettuce packed in ice were decorated with big signs which said, “Salinas Valley Lettuce.” But no one wanted to invest in the project.

The idea looked good. The lettuce would be sold to agents in New York at a fine price. If it was a success, many businessmen would put money in. Even Will Hamilton wondered whether he had not been wrong with his advice.

If the series of events had been planned by an all-powerful and unforgiving enemy, it could not have had more effect. As the train came into Sacramento, a snow slide closed the Sierras for two days and the six cars stood on a side track while their ice melted. On the third day, the train crossed the mountains and that was the time for unusually warm weather throughout the Middle West. In Chicago there was a confusion of orders - no one’s fault, just one of those things that happen - and Adam’s six cars of lettuce stood in the yard for six more days. What arrived in New York was six carloads of terrible mess, and it cost a lot just to get rid of it.

Adam read the telegram from the agents and settled back in his chair with a strange smile.

Cal and Aron heard the reaction in Salinas. Adam was a fool. It took experience to be a businessman. People who inherited their money always got into trouble. The twins felt Adam’s failure very deeply. They were fifteen years old and they had known so long that they were sons of a wealthy man that the feeling was hard to lose. And the high school group cruelly began to refer to the boys as “Aron and Cal Lettuce,” or simply “Lettuce-Head.”

Aron still had Abra to comfort him, but Cal was alone. For a very short time he tried to join them, but they did not want him. He was jealous and tried to attract the girl to himself and failed.

Cal felt restless and began to walk the streets late at night. On his walks he often recalled the conversation between Lee and Adam he had heard on the ranch. He knew that his mother was not dead, and he wanted to dig out the truth.

One night Cal ran into Rabbit Holman, who lived near the ranch. He had sold a piece of his land at a fine price and he was celebrating in Salinas by getting drunk. He drank whiskey from a bottle as they walked along together, and soon he had forgotten not only who Cal was but also how old he was.

And he said, “Harry, I’ll tell you what we’ll do - we’ll go to Kate’s place. You remember who Kate is, don’t you? She’s Adam Trask’s wife, the mother of those twins. I’ll never forget the time she shot him in the shoulder and ran off.” They went through the dusty yard and up on the unpainted porch. The guard at the door did not look closely at Cal as they joined the nervous waiting men.

One night, Lee heard a quiet knock at his door and he let Cal in. Cal spoke softly and rapidly. “I know where my mother is and what she’s doing. I saw her.”

“What do you want to know,” Lee asked softy.

“Does my father know?”

“Yes.”

“Why did he say she was dead?”

“To save you from pain.”

“Did she shoot him?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because he didn’t want her to go away. He loved her with his whole mind and body. He gave her everything.”

“Lee, why did she do it?”

“I don’t know. It seems to me that she is not like other people. She was full of hatred, and her hatred wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t angry. It was heartless. Tell me, Cal, do you hate your mother?”

“Yes,” said Cal. “I hate her because I know why she went away. I know - because I’ve got her in me.” His head was down and his voice was heartbroken.

Lee jumped up. “You stop that!” he said sharply. “Of course you may have that in you. Everybody has. You’ve got your father in you, too, so don’t use the excuse that you inherited it from your mother. Whatever you do, it will be you who does it, not your mother.”

Cal was growing toward manhood, and his discovery sharpened all his emotions. He saw Adam’s sadness and loneliness, and there grew in him a great love for his father and a wish to protect him.

Aron was changing too, but his feelings took a religious direction. He joined the church and spent many hours with the minister, Mr. Rolf, a young man with no experience of the world. Aron’s religion inevitably took a s@xual turn. He spoke to Abra about his decision to become a minister and never to marry. Abra in her wisdom agreed with him, feeling and hoping that this phase would pass. She wanted to marry Aron, but for the moment she did not speak of it.

Aron naturally tried to work on Cal. First he prayed for him silently, then tried to persuade him to change his ways. Cal thought he was unbearably full of his own goodness and told him so. It was a relief to both of them when Aron stopped trying to save his brother’s soul.

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