It was with a heavy heart and sad eyes that the poet Jonathan Ematon left the train station by the fields. Long hours at work each day, banging upon typewriters and listening to the chidings of his editor left him in need of a good, long break. And so by cashing on what little leave he had, Jonathan managed to procure for himself five days by the countryside, in a old farm shack owned by his grandfather.
Old boots crunched on the frosted gravel as the man made his way towards the farm. Worn eyes gazed over the vast green fields, populated by woolen, fluffy sheep. The time of the year was when the lambs began growing their coats, such that every animal upon the grasslands looked like a small white cloud, come to earth after spending too much time in the sky.
People often talked about him having his head in the clouds, but this time the clouds had come to him. It was funny, in a way. Jonathan smiled.
His grandfather was waiting for him, old bones and all, upon the same old rocking chair. He remembered that rocking chair - his grandfather had used it long before he was even born. The wood on its legs bore scratches and markings from decades ago, testaments of a time long past. Back when Jonathan was five, his grandpa would take him onto his leg, smiling and smoking that putrid, ivory pipe of his, one hand tracing the scars on the chair - and there he would speak.
"Heh, my boy, I see you found me chair's little markings. Now, there's a story behind that - a real good story. See, when I was younger, about your father's age now, all tall and strong and smart, this place here wasn't quite a peaceful as it was. Oh no, it had much more. Wolves for one. Great snarling beasts, with teeth a hundred feet long, and claws ten inches wide. They-"
And then he would continue, about how a wolf had pounced upon him when he was sleeping, minding the flock, and how he had taken the chair and blocked its swipes, then hit it with the back so hard the creature collapsed onto the porch. And then he would turn over the chair, and show him the little scars and single large dent on the back of the chair, and Jonathan, eyes wide with wonder and excitement, would stare at it in shock. His grandpa told him the first time he heard the story, his mouth had hung open for the rest of the day.
Just like Grandpa to exaggerate, then laugh about it all the way.
The sharp smell of smoke brought Jonathan back to the present. Was Grandfather still smoking that pipe? He was, judging from the dead flies around the ledge. Grandpa had noticed him now, his eyes bright with mirth.
"John, me boy! How have you been" cried Grandpa, arms outstretched. For a moment Jonathan considered running over to embrace him, hugging his grandfather with all the drama of a Saturday Night soap opera. Thinking it over, he decided he'd rather not. No, he'll rather settle for shaking hands instead.
"Grandfather" he answered, returning the smile with a cool one of his own. Old his grandfather may be, but his grip was as strong as ever.
"Your old rooms all cleaned'up and ready son," said his grandfather, "just put your stuff there and we can go fer a walk - you and me, just like old times"
"Maybe" sighed Jonathan "I feel really tired right now. Perhaps in thirty five minutes...?"
"Ha, take an hour! You need the rest son, isn't that what you came 'ere for in the first place? Go getcha sleep, we'll wake you up in a while."
Precisly three hours and twenty-two minutes later, Jonathan awoke. He fumbled about the darkness of his room, reaching for the light switch that wasn't there. Then he remembered, and laughed to himself softly, just under his breath. Without looking he grabbed his spectacles from the small dresser near the window still and maneuvered around the beam post in the middle of the room. He even managed to remember to avoid the springy little floorboard that sunk into the ground. All these things he recalled, and Grandpa was waiting for him-
Thirty seconds later Jonathan stumbled out to the front porch, gasping for breath. His grandfather was still there, asleep and unmoving, the air long clear of the smoke emitting from the now-dead embers of his ivory pipe. At the sudden commotion though, one wrinkled eyelid creaked open.
"Mrm...ah Jonathan. Sorry about that, the weather's really fine today...kinda dozed off. And the cuckoo clock's all broken, never could fix it properly...you know how things disappear if you don't keep track of them? Time's a thing too."
The afternoon air was still fresh and cool, even after being heated by the noonday sun. Across the porch the sheep grazed, a cluster of small white cotton balls on a sea of bright green grass. The sky was blue, bluer than the sky in the city, which was grey and tarnished from all the pollution there. Even Grandpa, with all his foul smoking and occasional swearing, could do little to stain the sky here. Emerging from the darkness of the cabin, everything around Jonathan just seemed so...pristine.
He sat down on the ledge next to his Grandfather, being careful to avoid crushing the flies. For the moment, everything is still. Then his Grandfather sighed;
"You know John, we used to sit here a lot too, back then."
"Even when you grew up you liked to come here and sit to look at the sky. I remember you would like to lean on that spot, right there, next to the beams, where you could see the fields and the little dirt road across them, and Grandma would be there with the sheep, and she would be smiling and-" he choked.
"That was before you went to the city, of course. To write stories, was it? I remember you used to love listening to stories."
"It was...what made me want to write"
"And do you still do that?"
"...I'm not sure anymore" whispered Jonathan, and hung his head. It was such a immature gesture, such a childish reaction that he felt ashamed. Almost immediately he raised his head and looked away instead,
"What I meant was, I don't think I want to anymore."
"And why is that?" asked his grandfather, one eyebrow raised. Somewhere in their conversation he had lit his pipe, which now smoked with all the ash of a minature volcano.
Why is that indeed. What can I say? About the reviews from the magazines? About all the books and talks and seminars I've been to? What was it Mrs. Know-it-all Editor had said...
..."I know you Jonathan, and I know you can write better than this"
"I can, and I have. This is what I feel is best!"
"What you feel isn't enough John, its what the reader's feel. They want more drama...more complexity. A story like this just won't sell John, its too...idealistic."
"What do you mean?"
"Its too perfect. Too nicely wrapped up. No plot-hooks, no cliff-hangers, just one great big happy ending."
"And what's wrong with that?"
"Listen to yourself John. You're an adult writer for God's sake! Happy endings and joyful tidings are for children and mentally deranged teenagers! Adults need something a touch more...realistic."
"Things are realistic enough! The characters-"
"The characters are fine John. Your plot, isn't. I suggest you go and rewrite this. Go look around the world a bit more. Open those eyes of yours, or get some better glasses. Things aren't so bright and happy and people know it. Don't lie to them Jonathan."
And that was that.
His grandfather listened, quietly at first, then when John paused to check if he was listening, started inserting various grunts and nods just to show he was listening. At the end of the whole thing his grandpa just sat there smoking his piped, leaning back against his chair. Then he got up and spoke:
"My question would be, why write about it?"
"Huh?" said John, who was feeling rather relieved at the moment. It felt so good to just rant on about your problems, like some internal pressure value had been released...
"'Cause well, she says they already know it, yes? So why bother telling them? The worlds a bleak place and any idiot can see that. We don't need writers reminding us about it in words when we can just sees for ourselves, right?"
"Er, I don't think she quite meant it that way. You see, it was the fluff?"
"Fluff? Isn't that like the wool you get on sheep?" his grandfather was sitting upright now, but the expression upon his face was still one of confusion.
"Yes er, no. Fluff's what the writers call...excess packaging. Its what makes a reader feel good. Its sort of like...seasoning. But you don't need it."
"Because...er, it's kind of obvious, isn't it? When you eat, you eat to nourish yourself, to feed your body. Writers can be...writers should be writing stories with more...substance. What's the point of people reading your works if it don't teach them anything about life?"
"That's true, that" muttered his grandfather, nodding. Without looking he reached into his pocket to pull out a pile of strange, dead leaves, half of which ended up in his pipe. The other half ended up somewhere stuck between the floorboards, rotting slowly away.
"And so the reverse applies to fluff. You don't really need it, per say, its just...extra fittings. But-"
"But it doesn't feel right, does it?" What was that a faint sparkle he saw in Grandpa's eye...?
"...no, not really", Jonathan replied, looking away. Now he found himself staring at the field again, "but it should! A good writer, a respectable writer, should be able to shape society, to teach mankind! And if my works don't make the cut then I don't really have the right to-"
"Right to what?" piqued Grandpa, his eyes flashing and fixed directly on his, "To inspire? To create? Content's all good and all, but at the end of the day you still need fluff."
"I don't...quite...get it."
"Well, you could look at sheep - they've got fluff too, piles of it. Farmers shear it off during summer cause its so useless then, surrounded by all them heat and light, but in the middle of winter, ah, that's when them wool is in use"
"We're talking about writing, not sheep" said Jonathan, trying to steer the conversation back on track, but to no avail. Grandpa just continued on and on...
"Wool is mostly air, you know. Just like clouds. All of them is air and water vapor, or thin strands of white so fine you slice through them with a leaf, but that don't matter, cause its these tiny little fibers that trap the air, that keep the warmth and heat in, and stops it from being lost to the cold, cold rain outside"
"I can see what you mean, but-"
"Cause you see, fluff it may be, but that's what keeps them warm at night," finished Grandpa with a great big smile on his face. And upon that face was the weathering of years, the marks from a thousand battles with the wind, with the world, with himself - every wrinkle was a hundred different tales, every line a new story to tell. And in the middle of it his smile, and his eyes, sparkling with a joy and light that seemed at the moment to radiate from him and him alone, a lamp in the gloom of the day.
"And that be what keeps all of us warm too, in all our darks and nights."