Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sweeping Up Glass

I tuck the boy in beside me. We lay in the dark looking at each other. Toward morning, I drift off till something brings me hard awake. I shove my feel in boots and wrap myself in a flannel robe. I move through the grocery and peek around the kitchen curtain. Bits of gnawed rope lay on the floor, and bloody strips of sheet. Blood streaks the linoleum and the windowsill. Glass has exploded out onto the snow. The gray is gone.
"Sweet Jesus."

"Olivia, honey," he said. "We got a telegram from the hospital in Buelton. Your ma'am's coming home at the end of summer!"
I shook my head.
"We've got to start getting ready for her."
It was not possible. This woman who called herself Pap's wife belonged in Buelton, where she could not touch us. Well, as long as I lived I would neither love her nor call her my ma'am. Pad had betrayed me.
I twisted away and ran down the back steps to the garden, where I flung myself down. My face to the wet earth, I prayed that Junk's mama would claim me first. I begged God to let me eat chitlins without throwing up-to flatten my nose and kink my hair. I asked it in the name of the potato garden with its turned-up plants and rubbery stalks. I asked in the name of slice green tomatoes and cucumbers, summer squash and pickled watermelon. In the name of the Reverend Timothy Culpepper, I prayed to be colored. Yessir, Amen.

Then Pap and I walked up to the Ridge and stood on the lip of the bluff, listening to Grandpap's wolves call down the night.
Pap was tall, with long arms and legs and a bony face. He was magic, could look a thing in the eye, and it'd settle right down. One timea half-grown bear ate out of his hand.
"Listen, girl," he'd say.
I loved this story.
"My pappy first saw 'em in the Alaska sun, stretched out, cleaning their paws, caring for their young. Then it came upon him that he either had to stay there or bring 'em home with him."
"Why didn't he stay?" I asked on cue.
" 'Cause me and your grand were here, and he loved us more." Pap looked at me. "The way I love you. So he built ages--and he covered them with brush. Put in meat and watched 'em all winter before he caught a male and a female."
"And he was careful to never look them in the eye," I said.
"that's right. Hitched up mules, hung the cages on poles. Hired a half dozen fellas and lit out for the south. You won't forget that story, will you, girl?"
"There never were any wolves in Kentucky before these, but they did all right. That first spring, there was a half dozen pups with silver snouts. Nothing can happen to 'em-you understand?"

Then, too, came the promised dog--ten months old, the owners driving up in their Ford, and bringing him to me at the back door. I hid my wounded face in his fur. Bud Ida said we could not take it, could not afford another mouth to feed, and finally they got back in the car and drove away. I hated her, and I told her so.

She ate the food I brought her, and although she was allowed in our house at mealtime, she hardly ever came. As Will'm grew, I often sent him to take her tea, or a cup of coffee. Twice I eavesdropped and heard her conversation with him to be gentle and even wise. Will'm covered her when she fell asleep. More than once, he tamped out her pipe. At first it angered me that he could pull this from her while I could not. Truth was--Ida and I werre a roller coaster of hurts, a runaway ride that would never stop.
Will'm grew tall, with a soul as straight and as right as any I'd seen. He had his mama's yellow hair and great round eyes. He didn't fear work, and in the absence of a gun, which I would not let him have, he devised clever traps in which he caught rabbits and possum, the latter being stringy and tough in the stewpot--but I was grateful for the meat. He didn't bring home a single thing we couldn't eat. He loved to read, and he read aloud nights until I had heard all of Mark Twain and William Faulkner, while I sat the table embroidering squares.
Most of all, although I tried to steet him away from it, Will'm had an infinite capacity to care for hurt things. I suspect that, no matter how I worked at it, he could not separate them from himself. He was a quiet, generous child with a stubborn streak that I guess he got from me.
I was glad he never got a bee in his bonnet about the locked cellar door.

Three more Alaskan silvers down. Before long, predators will find them, and only carcasses will be left. I wish, instead, it was the hunter lying here in the snow with his ear cut off. I'd leave him to the buzzards so they could sharpen their beaks on his scrawny bones. I can hardly make my way down to the truck. I'm fevered about the wolves, and sad for Wing, angry with Ida, and miserable for Will'm. The boy has no ma'am, he has only me. And I'm sure he sometimes feels just like one of the cubs.

The one great disappointment is that I have not found Pap's doctoring books. I realize now that those books have become my personal crusade. I recall watching him make notes on the pages. Maybe it's his handwriting I need most--something to tell me he was really here.

I turn in the rain and the muddy snow. "I apologize for not first getting your permission to look through you things, I call back to her. "But I'm mad as hell at your for throwing away Pap's things!"
"Why? What good were they?"
"They were his! And now they should be mine!" I shield my face with my hand. The rain has turned cold and it stings my cheeks. "There's nothing left to tell me what he was like! Or--or who I am."
"I can tell you who you are."
"You never stop telling me!"

With Will'm beside me, I drive the pickup six miles to the graveyard. There'll be a crowd, and Miz Grace Harris will go into the earth knowing she's loved. She knew who she was. I, on the other had, know who I am when I'm selling vanilla and cardamon, or baking a brown sugar cake with Will'm. When I'm with Love Alice, I'm sure and strong. But something happens when I'm alone. When there are no other eyes to reflect my own, a great doubt blindsides me, and in those moments I wonder if I'm here at all.

1 comment:

  1. This one sounds amazing as well. I'm adding it to my list. :)