I am the madman at the side road of the road. I wave things on.
I am here every day, standing. It is my job. I wave at the horses, the carriages, even the hearses. I wave at everything that comes along.
If I did not wave they would stop, and we would not have people, or tools from the town. We would not have harvests. We would starve, all of us.
Children would cry, dogs would grow ribs, cows would die with their young.
Only the crows would be happy.
The crows would start, if everything stopped. They would eat the cows and the cows’ young. They would eat the corn. They would eat the mothers and babies, if I didn’t wave, if time stopped.
I am the madman at the side of the road. I wave things on.
I even watch the angels in the sky.
They must not fall.
I wave them on, so they do not.
I was watching the harvest so we wouldn’t starve, when the stranger came along the road.
I waved him on.
But he stopped.
I waved him on again.
He climbed down from his horse. He straightened his coat.
I stopped waving.
He spoke to me.
— Afternoon. I’m from the Pain Road.
I rubbed my knee and looked at the sun. After Noon. Yes.
— I’m James R. Pierce, advance representative.
Someone in the field stopped to watch me. I waved them on. If they stop then we starve, and if we starve the crows will chew at our skin and muscles and eyes. I’m strong, very strong. I wave. I have muscles. I eat my supper at the back door of the farm. I get bread, and the dogs get meat.
I drop crumbs for the scarecrows, sometimes. They must eat too.
I always have bread in my pocket.
The angels do not like bread. Nor do strangers.
— Thank you, no. I’ve eaten. Perhaps you could tell me, who is the landowner here?
I needed an angel.
To call an angel you open your arms and look to the sky, like the man in church. Church is white. Corn is yellow. Crows are black, like the stranger’s hat.
I looked at his hat.
I did not think we wanted the Pain Road here.
— You know, before the Pain Road comes people think they don’t want it. After it’s come, they laugh at themselves and seek me out and apologise. Everyone wants the Pain Road in the end. It’s the smoothest, quickest travel on God’s own earth, sir. Now, who is the landowner?Mr North owns the land, but I looked up and there was the angel, above me.
Close your eyes, the angel said to me.
I closed my eyes.
This is what the angel showed me in the dream.
The Pain Road doesn’t come.
Mr. North is the landowner. He comes.
— Well, Mr. North, let me tell you: it’s the smoothest, quickest travel on God’s own earth.
— I won’t have your road through my fields. No matter how much you offer.
— Perhaps you should hear what folks down the road say about it.
— Perhaps you should hear what my gun says about it.
And the stranger leaves and the Pain Road doesn’t come.
Then, in the dream, a crow flies down and lands at my feet.
The dogs. The dogs that eat supper with me leap from the corn.
They tear the crow in two with their teeth.
More crows fly down, and land in front of me.
The cats join in. The men, the children. All of them leap from the corn and rip at the crows.
Crows are very red on the inside.
Even the women holding babies, even the horses, even the cows. They all have feathers in their mouths.
Other things happen.
The plough is broken.
The cart is set alight.
The scarecrow is thrown in the river. He floats on his back, arms wide, like looking at the sky to call an angel.
No angel comes, though.
And every tooth in every mouth is red.
I wanted to open my eyes but the angel told me keep them shut. He showed me a different dream.
The Pain Road comes.
I am sitting in a box, which has an open side. I am dangling my legs out, like sitting on the bridge. The sun is warm. The box is moving down the metal tracks.
It’s the smoothest, fastest travel on God’s own earth, sir.
I wave at the people by the side of the road. They have come to watch, and they wave back.
The angel sits next to me, dangling his legs. Scarecrows are green and brown from the rain, but the angel is clean and dressed in white.
He smiles and holds my hand.
Nobody has ever held my hand. Nobody has ever waved back. No one at the harvest, no one on horses, no one in hearses ever waves back.
But when I am in the box people wave to me.
All the crows are flying in the sun.
People by the roadside wave me on.
After the dream I opened my eyes.
The angel was next to me.
The stranger was speaking to him.
— Are you the landowner?
No, I’m the agent for this sector, said the angel. Just making sure things progress as they should. Pleased to meet you.
— Likewise, I’m sure. Will the landowner be a problem?
No, said the angel.
The two of them shook hands. The stranger looked pleased.
I put out my hand to him, the man in the black hat.
He hesitated. He looked me in the eye. Nobody does that. Nobody looks at me, properly. But he did.
And he shook my hand.
— Pleased to meet you, sir.Likewise, I said.
It is evening now.
I am the madman at the side of the Pain Road. I wave things on.
Mr. North is dead and gone to heaven.
The angel is looking down at us and smiles.
Nobody eats crows.
The sun is setting and the boxes pass on the metal tracks.
I am the madman at the side of the Pain Road. I wave, but it is strange. There are no people.
There is just a box full of cows, passing.
Their eyes are wide between the slats. The next box has cows as well.
Their eyes are wide.
The sky’s too red.
Something is wrong.
I barely wave, and the boxes slow.
If I hesitate then things will stop.
I could break the slats. The cows could climb down and go home to their families. They could sleep in their fields. They could close their eyes.
The boxes halt.
But the angel will come down to me.
I will dream of feathers.
I will dream of teeth.
Even in daytime. Even in sunshine.
I do not like dreams.
So I wave, but I do not wave properly. I do not use all my muscles. I wave a little. I wave just enough.
The boxes slowly start to move.
I look in the eyes of the last box of cows.
They know where they are going. They have heard new stories of faraway machines. They want to tell me.
But I cannot hear those stories. They are worse than dreams.
I look away.
I wave them very hard until they’re gone.
I am the madman at the side of the Pain Road.
There are no angels, there are no strangers, there are no dreams and there are no stories, as long as I don’t stop.
So I am the madman at the side of the road.
And I wave things on.