Where You'll Find Me

Written By Branden Boyer-White

Published by Alaska Quarterly Review

1.
The Wizard had given to each of us the thing we wanted most. 
To the Tin Man he gave a heart that was a clock, red as an apple. You could hear it ticking. 
I had not yet gotten my brain but still, I was sure Tin Man had been gypped. What did you need a clock for, in Oz? There was no time because nothing changed. Day followed night like two halves of a ball rolling, with everything and everyone the same as we had been and would be. Always. 
A brain—now that was something. How can you have anything in life without a brain to know you are having it? When the Wizard passed me that paper record, I felt it. Everything I could ever want in my hands.   
Then I watched as she clicked her heels. She had wound her wrists, slight as birds, around my neck to say good-bye and just like that, she wasn’t here anymore.  
I returned to my field.     

*

I had a lot of thinking to catch up on. I stood with the corn, the yellow road running past the fence, the Emerald City down one fork, Munchkinland down the other. Beyond it all stretched the edge of everything, the faraway hills, over which the Wizard had drifted in his balloon until he was so small, he wasn’t at all.  
I stood, I thought. I began to feel the way the days and nights collected, gathering into a mighty measure like the height of a great tree. I waited for my head to fill but instead I felt something in my chest like an itch, soft as the movement of mice through my straw, and then it was like a buzzing, and then it was constant and regular and soft-striking. A ticking.

*

The day the figure appeared was like all the others. When I saw him on the road coming towards my field, I waved. He stopped and waved back. The hair on his chin was thick and gold. He scratched it and looked at the fork in the road. He wore loose trousers and a shirt of dark fabric printed like a banner, proclaiming something about a Green Day.  
“Where did you come from?” I asked. 
“Kansas,” he said. “Hey man, do you know which way I should go?”
I couldn’t believe I had heard that word again. “Where is she?” I asked.  
“Who?”     
I jumped the fence. I ran, losing straw like a comet’s tail, down the road toward Munchkinland. The house had fallen in a heap next to the town square and the Munchkins gathered around discussing the mess. I shoved through the crowd to its open front door. Stopped. I didn’t need to go further. I could feel it. Empty.  
I stayed. Munchkinland had a field to watch, full of tall corn and soft wheat. An orchard close by, and a tripping stream alongside. 
I stood. I watched. The sky stayed clear of anything but bluebirds. The ticking in me ran onward with the days and nights collecting. 
I thought, I finally understand time. It had always been but I had just never felt it before. I never had something to wait for.     
Then all the houses came. 

*

Another house fell, then another, and soon houses dropped into the Munchkin’s vegetable patches regularly as the moon growing full. They stopped dancing for the arrivals, only grumbling and scooting whoever had stepped through the front door down the road so they could start clearing the crumpled walls and roofs. A special section of Munchkin carpenters was created for the task. 
Houses fell. Each was bigger than the last, huge and smooth and white as teeth. It seemed everything in Kansas had become giant. 
A Munchkin farmer worked the field. I said to him, “Maybe there are simply more houses in Kansas now.” 
    He said, “Maybe there are more of those ‘Tornadoes.’” 
Houses fell two to a moon. Escorts from Emerald City arrived to help take the Kansas folk away. Commotions arose as contraptions were built to transport them—carriages the color of grass, small jade balloons hissing with fire. This I could stand so long as they weren’t lit near me. I watched them all make their way toward the faraway hills, and the Escorts return. No one had seen the Kansas folk come back, so they must have made it home. Or they hadn’t.    
Houses fell. Whenever a figure stepped through the door, I squinted across the small distance to see. Dark hair. A small dog. Sometimes the figure had one of these, but never together, and never her dear face, brows floating like boats on the tossing of her thoughts.

*

A house fell. Like some of the times, there was a swing of dark hair through the front door. 
But for the first time since that one, the figure left the Munchkins and Escorts standing at the border of town and moved up the road, toward me. We met on either side of the fence. She laid her hands on the beam between us. Her eyebrows twitched and then folded tight together as she tilted her head.
I said, “Dorothy.”  
She said, “You’re her scarecrow, aren’t you?” 


2.
She told me to call her Thea because that’s what everyone called her. She never went by Dorothy because it was an old lady name.
“She wasn’t old,” I said. 
“She got old,” she said.   
There were differences. She had no darling dress but wore trousers of a hard, dark blue cloth that fit to her legs and a soft shirt, the color of poppies, with sleeves and a hood. Her hair hung half in front of her face so she ran it back with her hands as often as I stuffed straw into my sleeves. Bits of silver shined on her ears. 
“She was my grandma’s grandma,” she told me. “I heard all her stories from my grandma when I was super little. She told them like a broken record.” 
She had no Toto. Instead she had a small, impossibly flat box that folded up like a piece of paper or opened to the length of her hand and glowed into her face when she stroked her fingers over it. It spoke to her. She called it Phone but always put “my” in front of it. My Phone. And it was, indeed, very dear to her. She kept it in a pouch in her shirt and worried over it constantly. By its voice her Phone was a woman, and said things that made no sense with the situation, mostly declaring that it could not detect a signal here.  
“Well this sucks,” she said, staring into her Phone’s face, pacing half the field away from me, coming back. She looked around at the dirt, the corn waving, the tilting posts of fence. “And I’m guessing there’s nowhere to charge this?”    

*

The important difference was her shoes—black and white with a hard-soft, bouncy bottom and toe, and strings that laced up the top of her feet. Not ruby at all.
There was nothing to click. She couldn’t go home. 

*

I watched her watch everything. She explored and touched and I answered her questions. When she slept I shooed away any bird that hopped close enough to wake her. She dozed late into the mornings, lying on the fallen hay and grasses and then sitting up with leaves and bits of stalk and straw woven into her hair, rubbing her swollen eyes with a yawn so wide I could see her back teeth. She would look at me and say, “I’m hungry.” 
She was always hungry. She still loved apples and was delighted to get to pick them from the trees, who let her this time because when they had thrown a fruit at her, she threw it back and her aim was better. She ate everything she could harvest and had a curious belief in food—namely, that she didn’t believe in it. 
She elaborated on this frequently. I can’t believe how many plants you guys have. I can’t believe you can just eat as much as you want from this field and no one guards it.  
“I can’t believe you don’t have to ration,” she said once, taking bites of a glazed, nutty bun a Munchkin had left. The Munchkins liked to feed her as much as I did, because of the greedy delight that shone from her smile. She sighed through her nose during the first bite as though she had never tasted something so good. It made you feel like a wizard, feeding her. 
I tried the word out in my mouth. “Ration.” 
She bit the last crumb of sticky nut from her finger, then licked the spot. “It wasn’t as bad when I was little. Now we have to get everything from the state, and only what they can give.”  
“State of what?”  
“You know. Like your Emerald City, I think. Mine’s Kansas, and then America, and then WORCO. That one’s new. World Resource Control? They made it a few years after I was born.”   
I didn’t like that word near her, that blade-sharp word. “What do they, uh, control?”
“Food, water. In places with a lot of refugees they control housing.”  
I would make sure to ask what Refugee was later. “Why do they control food?”  
“Because there isn’t enough.” 
“But you have those.” I pointed at her Phone, held by her not-sticky hand. 
“Well, communication and stuff is important. Power.” 
“Power?”  
“Yeah. Like electricity. Or fuel.”
“Why is it important?”   
Her eyebrows moved up her forehead like they were stretching. “Um, you need power to live.” She turned from me and hugged her face closer to her Phone. “Jeez, I thought you had a brain now.”  

*

I was distressed when she told me that her Phone had died. It looked no different in her hand except it had stopped glowing, its face blank and black as stone.
“Died! Are you sure?” I put my hands on her head, her shoulders, smoothing her down. I couldn’t see her cry.  
She didn’t cry. She said, “It just kind of sucks,” and tucked her Phone into her pouch.  “I couldn’t do anything on it anyway, but now I have no clock.”  

*

The biggest difference was that she didn’t want the thing that she had so desperately wanted. She didn’t seem to want to go home.
We did not walk the road toward an answer. No witches appeared. The Munchkins even stopped visiting as she came to seem as much a part of the field as I. 
When the houses after hers fell, she was excited and stood on her toes to see who would step out, but when they passed with the Escorts she hid herself in the tall corn.
“Are they wicked?” I asked. 
“They’re strangers,” she said. “That’s the point. I don’t know. They could be terrorists or rebels or perverts!”   
    “Oh my!” I said. I didn’t know what the words meant but her eyes darted like birds fighting as she crouched in the corn.  
The days blended into one long one, rolling and rolling. We peeked into nests we found and planted flowers into bouquets and stuffed my stuffing back in. She walked along the fence rails and I caught her if she fell, but I wasn’t good at catching so we would land in a heap together and laugh until we could only lie still, listening to the breeze and the sighs of the plants and the birds in the trees. If we listened long enough, even the clouds started to make a sound. We tried to describe it to each other and finally settled that it was the sound of White and Soft, the same that snow made but without Cold.    
She started to call me Straws. She told me that in her world, having something called a Nickname, a nice one, meant that someone loved you. 
“Like in my family,” she said. “There was your Dorothy, and my grandma we call Dot, and I’m Thea.” 
“And what do you call your mother?”
She turned her face from me. She said softly, “I called her Mama.”  

*

She filled my head. She taught me so many words, even ones I had heard before but which had very different meanings in her world, telling me about them as she pulled the petals from flowers or braided and twisted corn silk into dolls. Reserves. Oil. Gas, Natural Gas, Natural Disaster. Corporate. Carbon. Drought. Sea Warming, Sea Rise, Sea Wall. Migration. Militia. Alien, Undocumented, Africa, Post-Arctic, Protest, Political, Geopolitical, Geoengineered, Food Security, Scarcity, Famine, Flu, Superflu, F3, F5, F7, Grain Price, Shortage, Hoarding, Marketing, Market Share, Black Market, Bidding War, Resource War, War Lord, Damage, Danger, Endangered, Extinct. 
    She also told me beautiful words, about a place she went called School where she was given ribbons and honorary titles for being a faster runner than all the other girls her age, and a day called Christmas that was her favorite of the year and had special songs, some of which she sang for me while we picked berries or hunted for ladybugs.  
    Once, against the song of evening bugs I asked her about that most important word. Home. Beneath my question lay a hidden one. Why was it worth wanting more than anything? Why had it been worth travelling for—braving witches, facing wizards? 
Leaving?  
“Your field is your home,” she said. She flopped onto her back in the grass. I flopped beside her. “Don’t you love it?” 
“Any field is a field. They’re all nice,” I said.      
“Well then it’s not like that,” she said. She shut her lips together. Her eyes looked as if she was sorting through her brain like rummaging objects in a trunk and she couldn’t find what she wanted. Finally she said, “But you need a field, is the point. How would you be a scarecrow without one?”
I hadn’t ever thought about it.
She yawned then, and leaned her head into me. “Home is like that. You’ll always need the place that is yours, because it’s part of what you are. Do you get it?”
 “Yes,” I said, folding my arms around her. 
She closed her eyes. “You’re like a pillow made of grass,” she said. “And you’ll always be here, won’t you?” 
    “Yes, always.” 

*

She taught me more than words. She gave me a thought: 
Tin Man had gotten the gift that was most like a thing possessed by the Wizard himself, who always wore a clock on a chain at his waist. So did the mayor of Munchkinland. Important people wore clocks.  
Important people know what is important. They already know what I had to think to find out. That time is the really precious thing. It marks the difference between when you have any other precious thing, and when you don’t. 

*

I couldn’t find her one night. She wasn’t in any of her sleeping places and as I searched the dark, the ticking in me ran faster and faster until it whirred like the sound of a hard wind, a speeding twisting wind that could blow me apart straw by straw into empty. 
Then I found her, standing at the farthest edge of the field under the stars. My ticking stopped dead. She bounced her shoes together in threes.  
“I’m sorry,” she said when she saw me. She cried, a huge wet faced breath heaving crying. “I love you and I love it here but I need to go home.”
“It’s not safe there!”  
“But it’s my home. It’s mine, and no place else is,” She bounced her feet again and again. “Why isn’t it working?” 
She looked at me, choking on her breath, eyes grown huge with sadness and I knew why. I remembered back to long ago-not long ago, when I watched her in this exact same way, time rolling and rolling around inside of me or maybe me rolling around inside of it.  
“It will work,” I finally said. “You just have to really want to go.”
“I do.” 
“My heart, you have to want to go back more than you want anything else. Even more than you want to stay with me.” 
She wailed then. “But what about you?” 
The moonlight shone on the wet streaks running from her nose. I pulled on my cuff and wiped her clean, gently as I could.
“Me? Silly old Scarecrow? I have my field to watch.” I smiled. “I’ll be fine. I promise.”
She nodded, took a big breath. Bounced her heels twice. In her sweet voice she said, “Bye, Straws,” and bounced again. 
And before I could say good-bye, she was gone, so the last thing I said to her was a lie.  

3.
Houses fell. I did not look to the front doors as they swung open. Sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes the houses were empty, and torn and gray with windows missing like broken teeth or blank holes where eyes should be. I stood. I thought. The sun shone and I watched the moon pass overhead and then some night, I realized that the moon had come and gone, again and again, and no houses had fallen at all. 
Oz had noticed, too. The Escorts returned to Emerald City. The Munchkins closed themselves back into the way that things had been and would be.  
I said to a Munchkin farmer, “Maybe there are no more tornadoes.” 
He said, “Maybe there are no more houses.”  
I stood in my field and listened to the clouds sound White, the ticking in me running onward toward the edge of faraway. I knew it meant I had no brain at all but still, I waited.   

*

There was no commotion in Munchkinland—it lay sleeping in the silence of barely morning when even the birds were just waking. And yet I turned. I could feel it, a figure walking up the road. 
She stopped at the edge of the field and pushed a hand through her long dark hair. 
“Hi Straws,” she said.  
She was taller, and thinner in places and fuller in others like someone had shifted her stuffing around. Her cheeks were still smooth but lines slight as the veins in a leaf gathered at the corners of her eyes and mouth. 
I said, “My heart.”    
The important difference was her belly. It was big and round as if she had been over-stuffed in the middle of her front. She held it with careful hands.   
She said, “I need to stay with you for a while.” I helped her over the fence and into my arms.  

*

Her shirt and trousers were the color of stone or the sky after a storm, and spattered with mud and soil. Sticks and leaves tangled so greatly into her hair that three Munchkin maidens had to work to unweave it.  
She had walked right into a tornado, herself against the wind. 
She wore no shoes at all. “The grass is soft here,” she said, wiggling her toes through it, making the pleased noise sound she usually made when she ate. Her voice was hers but deeper. Slower. 
    “We still have apples, too,” I said, opening my arm toward the trees. I wanted to serve her all of Oz.  
One of her dear brows was slashed in half so you could see the skin beneath, shiny and twisted like tree bark. A Scar. You could only get them if you had skin. “Someone sewed me up, like you,” she explained. I touched it and it did not seem to hurt her. 
When I had first seen her belly I felt the ticking in me move, not faster, but toward it, pulled by what was in her. She placed my fingertips on her to feel. There, like a butterfly living under her skin. She said it was kicking but I didn’t know why it would kick her. I said I thought it was practicing running. “For the ribbons at School,” I said, and she smiled.  

*

She did not have her Phone. “Grid melt,” was all she told me when I asked after it. I did not ask about Grid. I had asked too many questions already and wanted her to still believe in my brain.  
I had asked about all she had taught me the time before. 
“Do you still Ration?” 
“Yes. So much.” 
“Are there still Disasters?” 
“Yes, but most of them are humans.”
“Are there still Refugees?”   
“We’re all refugees,” she said, and a look crossed her face that I had seen before but could not quite remember.   
She had many Scars. You could see them when she slid off her clothes to splash stream water on herself. In the sun they glistened on her like teeth, her bones sticking out beneath them. 
The Munchkins and I fed her and soon she filled out so she looked smooth and full and warm like she was stuffed with ripe things and afternoon light. She slept on grassy mounds under the sky with the ground curving up to hold her bending back, which was the only thing she complained about. It ached.  
    I remembered the look, one day, as I watched her watch the clouds overhead with her face serene and strong, tipping it back as she closed her eyes to the sun and sniffed the breeze. She looked calm as one who knows they can do dangerous and brave things because they have. She looked like a lion.      

*

I ran for the Munchkin doctor when I became afraid. She panted and whimpered, her cheeks gone red as a tomato, then onion white. Her hair slicked wet like rain and she tried to comfort me for as long as she could but then was taken over by terrible sounds, as if her own breath were trying to kill her from the inside.  
The baby came with the sunrise, pinched and wet as a grub. She was huge in the Munchkin doctor’s arms but so tiny in mine.  

*

The Munchkins brought us cloth and blankets. For a few days we had a steady stream of them at the fence. It was very exciting, the giant tiny baby. The field mice helped us to make a bed of hay and corn silk, and the birds brought extra feathers to line it. 
In the quiet weeks after, we sat and felt the field grow around us in time with the small body as she fed the baby from her own. The days rolled over. The baby stretched longer. Her eyes brightened and caught on things. She learned to smile, then laugh. We sat and with the land soft beneath us, sang her a lullaby. 

*

Small teeth appeared like dew from the pink of her gums. Little Dorothy began to walk, and she looked terribly silly in the dress of a Munchkin lady but it was what fit her every-day-taller self. Her voice was weak as dandelion fluff but when she fell and opened the skin of her knee she could roar so loudly it drew the Munchkins from their houses. They brought treats to feed her and her mother to make them smile and I felt the ticking in my chest steady and strong as a purr. 
Even the trees loved little Dorothy. They would lower their branches to her upturned palms and give her apples and peaches, which she brought to her mother who would bite small pieces out of the fruit, pluck them from between her teeth, and hand them down. She taught me how to do this too. She said it was important that I know how to care for her. She watched me from the field’s edge with her cat’s eyes as I played with Dorothy, showing her how to run and catch butterflies and drink from her tiny hand in the stream. She would smile when I looked to her, and nod her head. Sometimes when I looked again her face would be turned the other way, nose to the breeze, mind rummaging behind her eyes.

*

We sat in the grass. Dorothy ran through the corn chasing the bees who would never sting her but only settle on her soft hair to try to collect pollen from it, from the pink curls of her ears. We watched and laughed. 
I said, “She needs a nickname.”
“Give her one.” 
“I’ve never done it before. I might do it wrong.” 
“No such thing.” She pulled up a tuft of grass, lifted it to her nose. Then she said, “You can call her anything, you know. She doesn’t have to be Dorothy.”  
“Yes she does,” I said.
“Why?” 
“Because she’s your daughter.” 
She shook her head. “No. She’s a record.” 

*

One night she was not in any of her sleeping places. I searched the dark until dawn, and in the dusty new light I found her footprints at the field’s farthest edge where her feet had ground in one, two, three as she tapped her dry heels together, leaving marks in the soil like a bird with wings spread, flying, away. 
I went back to Dorothy, curled in her bed of hay and feathers and silk, eyes shut tight with sleep, fists fruit-fat as her cheeks. I stood to watch until she woke, holding my chest with careful hands, the empty spaces between ticks lasting tall as trees.    

*

Dorothy grew. One by one her teeth fell out and I was frightened that the rest of her would follow but then the teeth grew back again, too big for her mouth so her smile looked bubbling over with extra of itself. The cotton softness of her voice fell away and became high and bright as silver. 
She grew, strong enough to climb the fence though her knees stuck out like knots in the strings of her legs. She became clever enough to make up games for us. She called me Straws, because. Because.  
She grew, and then moons passed and I realized she wasn’t growing anymore. 
She was not as tall as the other times, her arms and legs skinnier and her body shaped like a little bean. I watched her sleep at night and wake up the same every morning. I fed her and worried and then stopped worrying. I could hear it, everything in me silent and still as the faraway hills. 
I do not need to be a wizard to figure it out. I have a brain, and endless days to stand in my field and think. Without anyone left in her world to look at a clock, for my little Dorothy, time simply stopped.  

*

There are differences. Dorothy’s hair is long, but golden as wheat from living her every day in the sun of the fields with me. She is lovely but her face does not move in the same ways. She has only one thought and it is to be happy with now, so her brows and eyes and mouth do not have as many places to travel to on the breeze of her brain. I want her to be happy, but I miss the other face. Hers. I see that she should be here but she is not. Dorothy is a child of our world, knowing none of her own to miss, and it is only on a rare, rare moment that I catch her paused in her play, brows tying themselves into a knot at the center. I think it is then that somehow, something in her stumbles on a moment from the farthest faraway edge of everything she knows. But then she is off laughing and galloping again.   
For this is her home, a beginning with no end. She will live here as my sweet forever child, chasing the rolling ball of day and night, happy to be doing it, on and on to nowhere.    
And me? Silly old Scarecrow? I promised I’ll be fine. I have a lot of thinking to catch up on. So far what I have thought is this: I was wrong.
Time is not the precious thing, because without something to wait for, to take its measure by, it ends of its own unimportance, and you with it. You have a heart and then you don’t. The difference is there in one tick. It happens faster than you could ever think.