Pauley had been born tall. But in infancy they called him long. "Such a long boy, Ezra!" his neighbors would exclaim to his father. And Ezra would beam with joy. His first and only offspring would be the center of the universe during his remaining days.
Pauley's father was older when he had married his mother. The middle-aged crippled woman from across the sea had taken pity and married him. At least that's what Pauley's father thought. What he did not understand through his cheery disposition was that she was desperate and poor. She was poor enough to marry the "village idiot." Although Pauley's father was no idiot, a simplistic approach to life made him appear so. Several women in town became furious because "that foreign woman" had taken advantage of "that dear man." After some time, though, the couple appeared to make a go of it, so the town's women settled down to their usual routine of ignoring anyone who would not or could not be a source of gossip.
Pauley rapidly transitioned from long to tall when he got his legs unfurled and his feet planted on terra firma. It was always comical to see the grade school photographs where Pauley was seated in the back row and yet still towered over his classmates. A shock of black hair would never stay down, despite his mother's insistence that the hair grease did the trick.
Pauley, though long and tall, was a delight to his friends, parents and neighbors. He was genuinely joyful, rarely angry—although sometimes at injustice—and always oh, so helpful. When tree limbs could not be reached by the owners and when cats got stuck up on tall poles Pauley was sure to help. When small children fell down deep holes, these were the times he was most useful. While several men would work hard at gripping his sturdy ankles, being careful not to get struck by his enormous and flailing feet, Pauley would stretch low into the hole, speaking gently to the trapped and frightened child the entire time. Some said they could hear him singing quietly as he descended for the rescues. With the child clinging desperately to his long neck Pauley would emerge covered in grime, his teeth flashing an absolutely brilliant smile in contrast to his filthy face. Later that night or the next day Pauley's family would be indulged with pie or some other freshly baked treat—a small price for his gracious rescue.
Life started narrow for Pauley and his family when the Grangians came to town. The Grangians—a surly breed from across the sea—poked their noses into the business of other people on a regular basis. It always seemed like the sea was their sole reason for doing this. Perhaps they just got bored on their flat, inarable land. Some called them "the sea peoples." But, anyone who could tolerate their raucous tales got a true sense of their origins in heat, grit and cactus. The sea just gave them an excuse to work out their drive for dominion.
So when the Grangians entered Pauley's town everyone knew they were in trouble. Doors were locked, windows shuttered, children were not allowed to play in the streets. The Grangians’ water tanks—amphibious-to-land war machines—rumbled down the streets shaking the walls and causing rings to dance in every pool of liquid from the coffee in the cups on the café tables to the fish ponds on the outskirts of town. Bartenders and waitresses took deep breaths and prepared for the onslaught of abusive language and opportunistic groping. On a good day that was all that would happen. On a bad day people disappeared.
Pauley bent over his breakfast while his father told stories of the last campaign of the Grangians. He said it had been just after Pauley was born. He had slipped his three-person family off into the night to wait out the reckless and ruthless journey of the Grangians through their neighborhoods.
"Why didn't you stand up and fight?" A dab of oatmeal clung to Pauley's chin and a raisin plopped back into his bowl spattering milk around his toast.
"Your mother is a Grangian." Pauley’s father said this as if he had just made a comment about the weather. Pauley's mother smiled a bit sadly as she came around the table to mop up the milk spots.
"Mama, you were Grangian?"
"Yes, son. I am Grangian." She reached up and patted him on the shoulder. "Finish your oatmeal, dear."
Pauley sat stunned at this news. "Are we going to leave tonight, too?"
"I'm not sure, Pauley. We are in a bit of a different situation now."
"It will be dark soon. I can carry Mama."
"Yes, indeed you could. But it would be hard to disguise you. The Grangians have glasses that can see at night and they would be sure to spot you anywhere we went."
"Oh, Pop. This is my fault!"
"No fault to be made, Pauley. It's just the facts."
Pauley's mind reeled with ideas. He was trying to figure out how to make himself short—hiding in the back of the wagon, crawling on the ground, slipping inside a bag. But every idea was smothered by the reality that he could not hide.