“You never run out of things,” Sixtus said as he unzipped his coat and retrieved a full bunch of grapes from an inner pocket. He was standing at a downtown corner of Eden, waiting for his girlfriend.
“You never run out of things,” he repeated, as he looked suspiciously around him to see if anyone was watching. He then held the grapes above his mouth, the bottommost couplet of which quivered expectantly just above the rising tip of his tongue.
“Mind if I watch?” a woman asked just behind Sixtus. He twirled rapidly, and at first saw what appeared to be an elongated brown African mask staring at him. He blinked, and then the face of his girlfriend June Roberts came into focus. Sixtus turned away from her, guiltily staring at the tip of the triangular grape bunch and trying to figure out how he could have missed her approach.
“You know you ought to find someplace better to carry grapes than your new coat,” said June. Those grape stains are hell to get out.” She laughed, but he didn’t. A picture came into his mind of a plastic bag, lightweight and portable, filled with grapes. He wondered why he hadn’t though of it before.
Suddenly it occurred to June why Sixtus was carrying grapes around in his coat. “Hey, I heard you’re having some problems with your dog Wilson, something about him eating grapes off your vines.”
Sixtus looked at June, and then at the grape bunch again. “Yeah,” he said lackadaisically, sensing that June had guessed the situation. “This was the only ripe bunch left, and you know how I love grapes. That damn fox won’t stop eating them.”
“I always thought foxes didn’t like grapes for some reason,” ruminated June. “Maybe I just got that from that Aesop tale about the fox and the sour grapes.”
“I don’t think I’m familiar with that one,” replied Sixtus.
“Oh you’ve got to remember the fox and the sour grapes, and how the fox couldn’t reach the grapes and so he said they’re probably sour anyway. Surely you’ve heard the expression ‘sour grapes’.”
“Never ate a sour grape,” said Sixtus. He was still staring at his bunch, and not really paying much attention to what he was saying.
June began to walk with Sixtus back to his house on Basketball Court Road, which he shared with his friends Dillard Picture and Sgt. Saucy Sales. Saucy, true to his last name, was a traveling salesman, who was at this time selling electric potato peelers to lonely wives in Stringtown, Oklahoma (using only slightly veiled sexual innuendos to help pitch his product). On the other hand, much to Sixtus’ exasperation, Dillard was always home.
“I *do* like your new coat,” June said, trying to bring Sixtus out of his shell. She timidly ran her hands along his arm, feeling its luxuriant woolly texture. “How many lemonades did you say your students had to sell to buy it?”
“300 lemonades *and* 300 limeades. Don’t forget the limeades,” Sixtus reprimanded. “Damn nice of them too.”
The reader should know here that Sixtus’ students had made this purchase when their favorite teacher’s old wool coat, the coat that he cherished dearly and which his father had given him, was destroy by a neighbor’s dog appropriately named Cerebus (a.k.a., Satan’s dog). Sixtus then thought of his art students lovingly squeezing all those lemons and limes in an old crank-style juicer at little Cindy Looper’s house.
June suddenly laughed, and said, “I remember when the students’ parents complained about how their children had all these different fruit stains on their pretty little dresses and shirts every day when they came home from your classes.” She paused, still laughing. “That’s when you had to cool it with this fruit thing for a while. People were getting suspicious.” She eyed him, and then laughed again.
Sixtus joined in a little this time, but silence soon reigned again. On his part, Sixtus was thinking about how he had driven Wilson ten miles to Lake Alma last night, contemplating seriously about letting the irritating little fellow out in the woods there to fend for himself. Sixtus was so angry that he awoke the next morning wondering if the whole thing was just a dream, and was almost convinced of it when he saw Wilson, as always, snoring in his foxhole beneath the big maple tree in the side yard. However, at breakfast Dillard told him otherwise. It was Dillard who had called Sixtus about Wilson eating the grapes yesterday, and watched as his thoroughly steamed owner yanked the quivering body of Wilson from his arms and threw him rather violently into the back seat of his 1985 Ford Escort before driving off to the lake, tires screeching.
A puzzled reader at this point may be asking himself or herself just how important were grapes and other various fruits to Sixtus? Well, to create a metaphor that will become more appropriate as the story wears on, about as important as the whole continent of Australia and half of New Zealand is to the whole world, which is quite a lot when one thinks about it. Imagine someone dropping a huge nuclear warhead on this vital part of the Earth. Where would we get enough wool to make coats for people like Sixtus to go to work in, as most of the world’s sheep would be bombed back to stone?
A second question naturally follows: What caused Sixtus’ obsession with various fruits in the first place? According to Sixtus (as he related it to June when she honed in on this fruit fixation after several weeks of dating), it began when he was a baby. While crawling on his parent’s kitchen floor one day, Sixtus, although claiming not to be more than two or three years old, states he began to become fascinated by the alternate yellow and green square tiles that covered the floor. When a little older, Sixtus remembers having strange dreams, such as a repeating one where millions upon millions of lemons and limes rained down from the sky upon his tiny dream body, which was, oddly, crawling in mid air, several hundred feet above the ground. This was also about the time he couldn’t get enough of the new soft drink Sprite, which had pictured upon its label a fictitious fruit, half lemon and half lime. He would set the empty bottle on the similarly green and yellow kitchen floor, and stare at it for as long as he could (or until his parents told him to go play with something else). He would also spend hours upon hours cutting up lemons and limes, and gluing the different colored halves together.
Now comes the grape influx. Because he became so obsessed with lemons and limes, and with the colors yellow and green in general, his parents tried to get him interested in something far removed from these hues. His father, Thomas Decker Sr., had looked up a color wheel in the encyclopedia and discovered that violet lies pretty much in the opposite direction from yellow and green on this circle. Thus they came up with the idea to feed him grapes, eggplants, and anything purple in general (This applied to drinks also, grape juice predominating), hoping that all this violet input would offset the yellow-green obsession and balance everything out. They even put down new purple tile on the kitchen floor, covering up all those detrimental yellow and green squares.
The plan was to end the violet saturation when Sixtus had returned to normal, but after six months of this (balancing the six prior month of yellow/green fixation), the boy’s mental problems mutated in an unexpected direction: he suddenly began to see horrible brown masks in his dreams, as well as brown alligators and brown monsters in general. With this, his baffled parents gave up for a while and took a well-deserved vacation to Georgia, leaving toddler Sixtus with loopy Uncle Floyd who lived next door.
Unfortunately for them, Uncle Floyd was secretly itching to get his hands on the disturbed nephew, if only to apply a homemade witchcraft to the boy’s mysterious problem. After a relatively harmless two weeks, one of Floyd’s spells finally backfired – in a very big way – when its results deflected to Sixtus’ parents. The spell was as follows: Sixtus would, through hypnosis, become fixated on a color which was not yellow, green, violet or brown, but instead the chromatically neutral hue of gray. This new focus, his uncle hoped, would psychologically unclamp him from the chromatic colors he was having so much difficulty with. The miscue was set in motion through Uncle Floyd’s use of Sixtus’ proper title “Mr. Decker” in affecting his enchantment, this being done to appease the young nephew and make him more open to the experiment. The same title would, of course, also apply to Sixtus’ father.
At the very moment this spell was being effected by Floyd, the elder Mr. Decker was piloting his private plane “‘The Steel Raisin”, his most prized worldly possession, directly over the huge granite monolith known as Stone Mountain, Georgia; in fact quite close to the famous relief sculpture of the three major Confederate leaders — Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson – which adorns one of its sides. His wife, Sixtus’ mother Vamprella Osgood Decker, was seated beside him with zoom lens camera in hand, but her coos of photogenic pleasure soon turned into frantic pleas, and, directly afterwards, blood curdling screams. This progression occurred due to the fact that the elder Mr. Decker, at the same time as his son (the younger Mr. Decker), also became hypnotized upon Floyd’s command for “Mr. Decker” to stare at the nearest gray object – which was for Sixtus a dull gray quarter on a swinging string, but for his unfortunate father, was the sculpted gray side of Stone Mountain. The Steel Raisin hit the mountain smack dab in-between General Lee’s eyes, creating a small impact crater which would forever be referred to as Lee’s “third eye”.
The next day, Uncle Floyd, who had meanwhile received a phone call from Atlanta in the middle of the night, told Sixtus of his parents’ deaths, not even remotely suspicious that his spell had been the direct cause of this tragedy. Later Sixtus compared receiving this news to learning about the end of the world, or at least of Australia and half of New Zealand. “Imagine never knowing where your next wool coat is coming from,” he said to June at the time, “because all the sheep in Australia and northern New Zealand are bombed back to stone.”
The first thing that Sixtus did upon hearing this tragic news was to go to his parents’ house (through an upstairs window he knew would be unlocked) and rip up – with his bare hands – all the new violet tile on the kitchen floor, and then the old yellow and green tile underneath, until there was only the drab gray cement foundation left. For the next three nights, Sixtus slept on this uncomfortable gray foundation until his Uncle Floyd found him, but by this time his parents’ double funeral had already passed.
After turning twenty-one and graduating college with an art degree (Sixtus’ paintings were noted for their predominance of neutral colors), he moved out from his Uncle Floyd who had taken the boy in, and back into his parents’ house. Tragically, Floyd soon died in a freak scissors accident while receiving a haircut. Because of the painful memories reopened due to this move, coupled with the death of his uncle, Sixtus’ fruit/color problems – which had been dormant during the time the boy had lived with Uncle Floyd – regenerated. This was seven years ago, and despite the successful transformation of Sixtus into an elementary art teacher, the color problems remained.
Our protagonist was mulling over all these unfortunate events of his life, as he had done so many times before, while June was walking him home. As they silently climbed the stairs in front of his house, he spied a pair of brown dyed alligator shoes positioned underneath the porch glider. It made him think of the brown mask June was wearing when he first saw her today.
“I have invented a new slogan June,” he said coldly, his peculiar mental aberration again set in motion. “Your alligator follows you everywhere. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to watch my daily quota of TV before I retire.” He looked into June’s hurt eyes, but was determined to see the aberration through to its end. “Good night,” he said as he pecked a kiss upon her cheek before motioning her away like one would a bothersome dog. June’s head hung mighty low as she walked back downtown to her own lonely apartment.
Upon entering the living room, Sixtus sat down in an easy chair opposite his black and white TV set. “Maybe I should have let her come in,” he thought to himself. “Maybe I should have,” he thought again, glancing at the clock in the corner. “Maybe, maybe… Mayberry!” And while repeating the last word he thought of aloud, he rushed to the TV, switching it to channel six (the new “Mayberry Channel”, which showed reruns of The Andy Griffith Show twenty-four hours a day) just in time to see the end of a Billy The Kid pre-fried livermush commercial. Then, after a fade to black, there appeared Sixtus’ old friend Sheriff Andy Taylor, lacking in any chromatic color whatsoever, and sitting with feet propped on desk in the Mayberry County Court House. His very amusing deputy Barney Fife was, as usual, standing beside him, this time talking about his girlfriend Thelma Lou. What great adventure will they have in store for them this time? Sixtus pondered. Will the town be invaded by an evil and immoral outsider, perhaps a renegade criminal or manipulating city slicker, or will it be something more touchingly inter-village concerning Andy’s Aunt Bee or son Opie, or possibly the town drunkard Otis? Of course, after only a minute or so at the most, Sixtus would know the whole plot, as he had seen each of the 273 episodes at least three times according to his calculations. Now he is thinking: Yes, I’ve almost got it. This is where Otis’ brother comes to town, and, uh…
But just then, Sixtus’ reverie was broken by a loud knock on the door, and the squeaky, irritating voice of his housemate Dillard calling his name. “Hey, open up in there Sixtus,” he said urgently. “Your fox is at it again.”
Sixtus catapulted out of the easy chair, and darted past Dillard into the hall and out the front door.
“I’m sorry Sixtus,” cried Dillard, running behind him. “I would have seen him sooner if Old Woman Dundee wasn’t trying to seduce me again.”
By now, Sixtus was speeding like a freshly dropped bomb toward the side yard, but managed to throw the trailing Dillard what he considered a tasty bone of sage advice. “Forget about that bitch,” he spat back harshly to his housemate.
Just after finishing this remark, Sixtus spotted Wilson, lying on the ground underneath the now almost completely bare grape vines. The fox had apparently eaten practically all of the remaining grapes, even though the vast majority were unripe, and appeared to be either asleep or just too full to sit up at their approach. But as Sixtus reached roughly around the sprawling body to shake it awake – the first act in a long string of punishments its over-stressed master intended – he realized that something was wrong, and correspondingly his emotions did a quick 180. He then gently laid the fox back down on the ground, and took several steps backwards. Sixtus was carefully contemplating its fur: for the first time he realized it was actually more orange than red, and that Wilson didn’t look as much like a fox as he had always thought. There was something about the body that wasn’t Wilson, like a house suddenly vacated by a squatter instead of its rightful owner. Sixtus realized his pet was dead; in all probability killed by the gluttonous absorption of too many unripe, yellow-green grapes. He then turned slowly to Dillard, who realized the same thing, and asked him a question that had suddenly crystallized.
“Dillard,” he said, “when you gave me Wilson seven years ago, you said he was a fox. Looking at him now all objective and such, just like he was a grape or lemon or something and not really a pet at all, it occurs to me that he doesn’t look much like a fox.”
“No,” confessed Dillard, “he’s actually a dingo… from Australia.”