Green Skies (or You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, and What You Don’t Know Can Kill You)

When Moe was still a very small child, he asked his father what to call the colour of the sky. Moe knew what the sky was, that ever-present roof that covered all the world and told the clouds where to go, but didn’t know what to call the colour. He was, after all, only a very small child.

The problem his father faced, however, was that he didn’t know what to call the colour either.

Moe and his father had grown up in an extremely isolated village; after Moe’s mother died in childbirth, Moe and his father were, in fact, the only two inhabitants. This nameless village was located precisely in the middle and just off to the right of nowhere, and Moe’s father could no longer recall which of the colours went with which of the things of the world, and this problem was further exacerbated by the fact that Moe’s father himself was completely colour-blind, so all of the things he ever saw were perceived only in varying shades of gray.

Colours? Who needed colours when your whole life was watching a half-dozen sheep? And that was exactly Moe’s father’s response the first hundred times Moe asked the question.

“What colour is the sky, Papa?”

“Why do you need to know the colour of the sky? The sheep are white. This is all you need to know.”

“But I want to know, Papa. What colour is the sky?”

“Who cares? Sheep are white.”

Being that the two — all-knowing and all-powerful father, and ever-curious and ever-inquisitive son — were the only people that the other had to talk to, this line of questioning went on for a much longer time than can possibly be imagined by anybody who knows more than one person, and eventually, Moe’s father realized that his best course of action would be to tell his son the colour of the sky, if only to get him to stop asking questions for a minute or two, and this is where he made the mistake that would eventually cost his beloved Moe his life.

Moe’s father knew the names of the colours – his darling wife had taught him before she died, even though he couldn’t differentiate between them – but as he didn’t really remember which colour went with which thing, after some strong consideration, he put his hand on his son’s shoulder and informed him, “Moe, my love, it is green. The sky is green. Except for at night, of course, when it’s very dark gray.”

Moe looked up at the sky and considered. Green is the colour of the sky. Green is the colour of water. Green is the colour of life. Green is the colour of good.

“Papa, what colour are the leaves on the trees?”

“Go to sleep, Moe. Go to sleep and dream of sheep.”

***

Many years passed, and in that time Moe’s father went to sleep one day and never woke up, so Moe put his father’s body into the ground next to where his mother was, and he cried for a while, but the sheep needed him and shortly life went back to normal, with the exception that Moe no longer had somebody to talk to. He still had his half-dozen white sheep and the beautiful green sky, though, so Moe was content.

One day, a man named Al came upon the tiny abandoned village and, parched and sore from his travels just off to the right of the middle of nowhere, decided that this would be a good and safe place to stop for the night. Al parked himself beside the well where he had quenched his thirst, spread out his pack, and went to sleep. When Al awoke, there was a very large man squatting in the grass nearby and staring at him.

“Hello, my friend,” Al greeted the very large man. “Greetings. I am a lonely traveler who has taken water from your well. I thought this place was abandoned as there was no one about when I arrived. Is this your village? What is it called?”

Moe considered the friendly eyes of the stranger, then responded, “This is Home. It is my village. This is where I live. I am Moe.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Moe. I am called Al. Do you live here alone?”

“Yes, this is my village. I live here alone. With my white sheep.”

Al nodded slowly, sad for the very large man. “All alone with no one to talk to?”

“My father used to live here, and I used to talk to him, but…,” Moe trailed off. He didn’t know the word for death, but he knew that it was different from sleep. Finally, he said, “Now he is gone. All of the other villagers went to another encampment far to the left of the middle of nowhere many years before I was born and never returned, my father told me. Now I only have the sheep to talk to, and sure as the sky is green, they never talk back.”

Al laughed aloud, goodheartedly. “Sure as the sky is green, you say? Ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha!”

Moe wasn’t sure what was so funny, but he was sure that he was being laughed at, and he did not like the way that made him feel. “Do you have a problem with what I said?” Moe asked sharply, emulating the memories of his father when he would get cross with Moe for second-guessing how to tend the sheep.

“Well, my large friend,” Al said with a smile, “Other than the fact that the sky is clearly blue, no, I have no problems. Green skies, indeed.”

Moe found himself getting angry. “My father, who knew everything about everything, told me that the sky was green. You say that it’s blue? The colour of dirt and excrement and waste? Are you calling my father a liar?”

In light of the very large man’s size, Al found himself protectively inching back towards the well where he’d left his supplies when he went to sleep. “I don’t call your father a liar, but I do call him a fool if he told you that the sky was green. The leaf on the tree, the grass on the ground, those things are green, but even the smallest child knows that the sky is blue.”

Moe considered this, and said, “I am not a small child, nor am I a fool, and I say with authority and knowledge that the sky is as green as all the water in the deep green sea, as green as your eyes, stranger, and I do not like your tone. You can leave my well and my village now, and I ask you to never return.”

“But, you’re wrong,” Al informed him with a laugh. “You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried, and even then, if you truly think the sky is green, you’d still be wrong! Your father was a fool, and he raised a fool in turn.” At this, Al produced a long blade from his supplies and said, “Now, my friend, let’s admit that you’re wrong, through no fault of your own, and then we can go together and slaughter one of those delicious fat white sheep for our dinner.”

Moe was furious! “And I assume you’re then going to tell me that the blood of the sheep is red and not yellow, or some other ridiculous lie? I think not, Al who will remain a stranger. I tell you again, leave my village and do not ever come back!”

Al thought about his long hard journey from the edges of nowhere, and he considered his long journey from here, just right of the middle of nowhere, out to the other edges, and decided he was better off where he was, even if this lumbering galoot didn’t know the colour of the sky. “I’m not going anywhere, friend. Just agree that the sky is blue, your father was wrong, and we can forget this nonsense altogether, and laugh about it over dinner.”

Moe stared at the stranger, straight into his pale blue (or, green, as Moe thought) eyes, and said, “You are a liar and you will leave my village. Now.”

Al, a well-traveled man, didn’t have much to his name. He had his pack, his supplies, a rock from his own village that his mother gave him, and the long blade that was currently in his hand, but he did have one thing to his name that he would allow none to take from him: Al had his honour, and in Al’s estimation of the world, honour was everything.

“I am no liar. You will take back your words, my very large friend. Admit that the sky is blue, or your sheep will be eating you for dinner tonight rather than the other way around.” Al proffered his blade at Moe in what can only be described as a very threatening manner.

“My father was a great man, and I am just as great! You are a liar, and you will only stay here near my well, in my village, my home, over my spilled yellow blood upon your blade.”

As mentioned earlier, Moe had grown up in extremely isolated circumstances, and had never truly been threatened before. Moe knew nothing of honour, he knew nothing of murder, he knew nothing other than that the sky was green, the sheep were white, and the world was good. And at the moment that his life ended at the end of Al’s blade, that was still all he knew.

Moe’s body collapsed to the ground in a painful heap, and he fell back with his head on the ground, eyes facing the sky, and he smiled with the knowledge of the right. “Green,” was all he said, and then he was gone, off to wherever his father and his mother before him had gone.

Al stood over Moe’s lifeless body and sighed sadly. “Your blood was as red as that of any man, and the sky is still as blue as it ever was, and now you’re dead. I hope your green sky was worth it, friend Moe.”

***

Al stayed in the village until the end of his days, and those days were many. At one point, a family of travelers came upon the village, and Al married their daughter, having traded two full-grown sheep for her hand, and they had children and prospered.

One day, many and many of years later, when Al was old and bent and could hardly lift himself from the bed that was once Moe’s, the largest storm that the world had ever seen came rolling over the hills. The air was electric and thick with ozone and humidity, causing the sky to darken and change with the energy and the moisture that was pounding through it.

Al sat up and stared out the window, and laughed to himself.

“What is it, my love?” Al’s wife asked from the other room. “What is wrong?”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Al said aloud, more to himself than his wife, “Will you look at that! The storm has turned the sky green! The sky is green!”

And with that, Al collapsed back into the bed that once belonged to Moe, and never awoke again.