Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
Life, in a rush of energy, was moving on for Clete Scott.
In a hectic span of 32 days of decent weather, volumes of sweat and discrete planning of assets and materials required, mostly found at hand, of course, he had built his cabin. Monstrous, he thought at finish, a palace, a place to hang my weapon and my why. That expression had come out of some past moment with his grandfather, but he could not bring back the where, only the alliteration on his lips, and the full imagery and suggestion it loosed.
Measuring 25 feet by 25 feet, with a covered one-bench porch for fighting foul weather and a small adjunct room with space to swing tools about, he christened his new home as Granpa’s Place. That’s what the sign said when he hung it in a fork of a tree at the fork in the road a half mile below on the valley road, on the very day the cabin was finished. A thickly-drawn arrow pointed uphill, and a small note at the foot of the sign said, in his bold hand, “FYI, any girl named Ada, of age, is welcome, for the weekend or overnight on Hodd’s Mountain.” In three weeks he had two takers, including drivers’ licenses. Even the sheriff, Chud Budnoy, driving up along the valley road with a captured fugitive, smiled at the advertisement, and spouted about it back in town: “Boy sure brought some sparkle back with him, I’d say if I was to be asked.” The word, about Ada of course, was out and about a good piece of Appalachia, as well as an assessment of the returned native son, including Chud Budnoy’s words, “The boy sparkles some’ut.”
He was always caught up in wonder. What would he really find here? What was he looking for? The riddles moved about him like merry-go-round ponies on their roll. In all the mix, he hoped there would be the woman waiting to be found. He quickly thought, Whoever she is, she’ll deserve her own song. The humming of late had become constant.
A month earlier promise floated about the young arrival on Hodd’s Mountain as the sun slipped in and out of clouds, making shadows, taking them away in quick celebrations. He was tall, a trace over six feet, blond, sunburned, and often spent long minutes in new locations hoping to find sounds that had not yet happened. It was a habit of his, to await discovery and make subsequent translation. That in-born trait played on his senses as usual when he came back to the mountain after a sustained absence. And the mountain, with its wilderness clutch, had grabbed him, with open arms one could say. Familiar parts of both entities made smooth and literal connections. Downhill a bird, a cardinal he decided, perhaps perched on a half-dead limb alongside the valley road, saluted him and the day. The young man also determined the notes were high Cs, which he announced to himself with glee, hearing the near metallic song, what-cheer, cheer, cheer; purty-purty-purty-purty and the final refrain, sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet.
Even as he wondered again why he had come home, wide open to discovery, his heart rose to greet the song, each note of it, and the welcome of it. “Hello, Red,” he said, “thanks for the greeting, and the same back to you.” His own whistle was melodic as well and went away from the top of Hodd’s Mountain in a sharp rise and a slow fall. His hand flew out in his own salute as if he was casting birdseed. Comfort, all around, was afoot on Hodd’s Mountain.
Cletus “Clete” Scott, a 23-year-old rebel of sorts, who had contested every letter and syllable of his name from the first time it was said aloud in school, had parked his loaded ’94 Chevy Silverado at the edge of the nearly bald peak of the mountain. The piece of land, left to him by his grandfather, dead now about 12 years, spread over 137 acres of bare rock and higher-level forest of eastern Tennessee. It lay a mere 30 or so miles from Rogersville, in the heart of Appalachia, music and mining and marble sitting in the region’s front row billboards. Clete’s guitar, an old and treasured Martin in a battered case, with the safety belt cinched around it, sat in the passenger seat. The truck bed carried a month’s supply of food, a Springfield Special with ammo, a trusty Husqvarna chainsaw, an ax and a six-pound maul and two 100-year old steel wedges lashed in an old duffel bag, one oversize sleeping bag begging good fortune, a tent that could hold four sleepers on any surprise, and an assortment of fishing gear.
Another secret, to balance his day the way a split personality exerts selves, was also carried in the bed of the truck, an odd-shaped tool box with a worn red cover, about 18 inches long, and bearing a staunch handle.
If there were onlookers at the moment they might classify Clete in one of various occupations or odd endeavors; prospector, camper, outdoorsman, hunter on the prowl, fisherman slightly off course, odd vacationer, rebel about to live off the land. Inwardly he carried a long-held secret about the make-up of Hodd’s Mountain, delivered first hand from his grandfather. With all things possibly coming up right for him, Clete believed he could now begin to live here forever, and do all the things he wanted to do; write songs, play the guitar, work the stone, and find the dauntless woman who could abide that entrance to worldly peace. It was inevitable that he’d have to give the search for a good woman a shot in the arm.
For starters, now that he was without any close family, most all he had known about were in repose, he had decided to build a cabin near where he stood, more than thirty miles from the Muscain Mountain Quarry where Tennessee marble was heavily quarried. Clete had long been aware of his grandfather’s stand that the rock at Hodd’s Mountain was not limestone, as much of Tennessee’s so-called marble had been classified by geologists, but was real marble, “had once been subject to “sech high pressure and temp’ature the difference was done. I’ll not tell ‘nother body about what I b’lieve happened up there,” he had said to Clete when the boy was just past his eleventh birthday, “but that rock’s been made somethin’ special by the good Lord’s eternal fire. Be sure to take care o’it when the time comes. May be a while for you yet, out ‘n’ beyond Tennessee or whatever pulls on you in early life, but the time’ll come. Be ready f’it.”
A good sized open area, large enough for the contemplated new home, summoned him, crooking its finger, bending his ear. More bird calls rose from far below, a soft wind’s caress played games, and now and then venturing up to him from down in a long and narrow valley came the ineffable sense of silence that musicians and composers need to set a new chord or a sparse note, find a new lyric in the air, or frame new thoughts and images in the mind’s rich ore. A thinker’s silence made its way. Deliberations of all kinds rushed at and through him, and arguments of dimension stretched into his hands, into his fingers, reaching for all his art and talent.
At the site, there was sun out front and wind-screening trees behind, and, even wide open to another’s mind, a happy kind of loneliness abounded, solitude’s place of honor. Standing in the middle of the plot, he put himself into his grandfather’s shoes, and studied the view that fell away from him, to the far hills and a hasty trip down through Rod Jenkins Valley, understandably the source of the rising silence. Rod had been his grandfather’s comrade in Korea and, according to his grandfather, had earned the right to have the valley named after him. “Special deeds get to have special names,” somehow qualified past circumstances without offering up any details, though Clete knew they had to be “damned special.” On the side, his grandfather had told him Rod was a hero, but no angel. “Fact is, he carried the same load of cinder blocks on his truck for close to nine years, where he poked white lightning down into stuffed hay for safe delivery. Rod was special to me,” he’d say and wink the whole inside story wink for Clete, who could practically laugh away a whole afternoon with his grandfather, “or else a whole weekend whilst we’re at’t.”
His grandfather’s sudden death set him out on the road from Tennessee in the first place. And those thoughts might have brought him back home, after one night on a lonely beach far away when he felt the ground shake, the family roots sneak up into his mind, graven images snap into place. For the first time in his life he was accosted by shake, sneak and snap as they came upon him, all with a move towards illumination and clarity.
Clete decided the view of this place had been commanded for him, and unloaded the truck without hesitation. The food he locked in the truck’s front seat, set up his tent, managed to circulate his tools and other goods to best working advantage, hung the Springfield Special bore-down on a loop just inside the tent door flap with ammo looped in a pouch. The portable radio had a list of weather and news stations schedules taped to one side, and he put the small set on top of his special tool box.
“Take good care of your tools, Clete,” his grandfather had said a hundred times, “and they’ll pay you back some day down the line. Keep ‘em dry as you can, and sharp as they’ll let you do ‘em.”
All his assets, he finally agreed, were in place. Work could begin and, along with it, the next phase in his life.
The idea that he was back in Tennessee made him vibrate; home had been a long time coming. This time he was saying, an oath as ever announced, I will never leave here again. At last his road experiences had made good a decision for him; he had learned to trust his own assessment of what was about him, ahead of him. With this latest move came a notion that life as it was, had been changing on the long road, and now took on a dramatic change, a hands-on change. He nodded, looking upon the strange tool box, sitting on the floor of the tent, the radio perched on top.
The special tool box held worn but shiny hand tools; a 1 kilo hammer, a soft-head hammer, an assortment of chisels and files and rifflers and pointers, the tools of a stone worker. In Clete’s case, a marble sculptor. He also had come home to break open his grandfather’s secret that this share of Tennessee marble was not really limestone, that at his feet, in a vein for the ages, true marble waited for his developing talents. Treated as an oddity of sorts back in Oregon, he had had two one-man shows, one with his guitar singing his own songs, breaking the edge of country itself, and the second one in a very small but select gallery, with four distinctly beautiful marble busts, all four of them were men in GI battle dress. The quartet had been dubbed The Sodden Survivors, and one art critic had called him the artist with two pair of hands and war on his mind.
After Oregon, the great adventure, all the way from the Chosen Reservoir, was stepping out again. Clete was haunted by old names and hunted his memory for them, for comrades his grandfather had shared in composed moments, a Rod Jenkins delivery in hand, light from the night fireplace sufficient for recollection and disbursement. Recalled, re-affirmed, standing once more in the ranks, came the cohort in battle fatigues, the unforgettable lot of them… Pete Leone, Frank Mitman, Pete Margolotti, Chuck Greenwald and Chuck Rumfola the mechanical genius, Tommy Durocko lost on another mountain, Frank Butcher at odds with life, John Henry Russell judged by a judge to be fit for the Army or else, Bobby Breda with the penetrating mind, the Mechanical Wrist Stan Kujawski from the Chicago’s Industrial Softball loop, Earl Peterson of W9SH Ham radio, Jack Slack and Londo Leuter lost but never gone too far. All the old memories of his grandfather were shaken loose, on Hodd’s Mountain, in eastern Tennessee, where true marble, if anything, was precious… and girls who went by the name Ada, supposedly for the nonce, or likely so, which he’d soon project for notice.
The night the cabin was finished he went down off the mountain to celebrate, his guitar beside him in the truck, like some totem drawn from another existence. He was humming a new song, one he called My Cabin Song, when he parked at Ma Taylor’s Saloon for Not-so-Evil Men. The change of clothes made him a new man, but most of the patrons recognized him immediately, a prodigal who kept to himself, who worked hard, who had given just about all of them (a good dozen early nippers) something to talk about.
The first speaker, introducing himself as an old friend of his grandfather’s, said, “Nathan Gambaw from backaways, son. Hear good stuff about you, like your grandpa meant somethin’ special come of his procreation for Hodd’s Mountain. Was a most likable man, I do say. And they tell me, without my goin’ up there alookin’, that you did him proud with a new cabin they’s tellin’ stories ‘bout already. You brung a lot of hootin’ an’ hollerin’ circlin’ ‘round Hodd’s Mountain, I can imagine.”
He arched his brows while he rested to catch his breath. “You know I’ll never git up there, less’n someone drives me, so tell me what you done built folks talk so much about. And don’t leave nothin’ out; me an’ your grandpap goes back farrer you can smell.” He tapped the bar for two drinks. “I allus buy the first one, but don’t ever know how I’ll finish.” He slapped Clete on the back. “Welcome back here, son. Welcome back.”
More than a dozen miles away, at Shirley’s Place where she waitressed and occasionally tended bar, Rod Jenkins’s great granddaughter heard about the sign at Hodd’s Mountain. Everybody called her Honey’s Hannah, though her driver’s license said her full name was Ada Hannah Jenkins, telling her with no sly idea she was wide open for Hodd’s Mountain excitement… the imaginative entreaty of advertisement and the unknown promise attached, having made the quick draw for her interest.
Ada Hannah Jenkins, hair dark as the back side of a trout, blue-eyed like some spots on the trout’s underside, could say on her biography that she was 21 years on this earth, knew harmony in her life and her voice, could spell words that many people never heard before, and had her teacher’s certificate. She was actively looking for a position in a mountain school where desire and dedication more than experience were most needed. The music of good words continually rang in her head, whole litanies of them leaping within her in the coupled grace of metaphors. She sang songs nobody else ever sang, and could recite poems only a few people on God’s good earth and in this end of Tennessee had ever heard.
Plus, for any advantage she could call on, or others would grant her for consideration, she was extremely good looking (a head-turner, for sure), extremely well shaped (another head-turner from every conceivable angle), and extremely content with most things about her (most things). She had been on the lookout for the man-to-be in her life for a few years when she heard about the odd-named sign maker over on Hodd’s Mountain, and the Ada invitation hanging in the tree at the foot of the mountain, the invitation tickling her no end. He would be worth a look sometime, him parsed and defined, as the image of Clete Scott opened for her.
She marked her calendar; a Friday, for good openers, she thought, and chased that thought with a rational touch… of course, she’d fix her hair, perhaps Aunt Jessie Holcomb would do it up for her, and drop a few more tips. “I was you, girl,” she might say as tipster, “I’d be out and about, doing all the good stuff when my mind tol' me it was now and proper. There is only so many good chances comin’ down the pike, you got to be wide awake to see them live and movin’. They all be dead soon enough. My three men’s proof o’ that.”
Ingenuity and minor inner explosions had special draws for Ada Hannah Jenkins, and she was convinced, long before she would step out on that narrow road to Hodd’s Mountain, that the sign maker was indeed special, had already made a mark on her… though she would not even tell Aunt Jessie about him, or about the hopes that caught an edge of her small inner explosions. She did this even as she wondered, circumspectly, how many Adas had been licensed in this end of Tennessee, or had climbed Hodd’s Mountain.
Chud Budnoy, aware of Hannah’s legal names, all three of them, saw her staring at him as he sat at the bar in Shirley’s Place, in his spot at the turn of the bar, usually left vacant for him. For a dozen or so years, when time and circumstance allowed, he would cap his end-of-the-day there with a scotch and water, saluting his normal off-the-clock hours as sheriff. It was Friday and some recess of mind lit up with an idea… he had locked together Clete Scott, the kid on the mountain, the charismatic kid with a told variety of talents, and this lovely granddaughter of an old acquaintance, long before either one of them would know of the imposed pairing. He found it all highly tantalizing even as it classified itself as a duty of his office to foster community spirit, for the common weal someone had said back down the line someplace. He was sure of that too.
Odd words for some time since his arrival back home had been floating about Clete and about Hodd’s Mountain’s atmosphere, from other local denizens who had kept themselves at a respectable distance from the new cabin. But that respect no way interfered with quick generation of suspicions, suggestions, conjectures, rumors… how he apparently has a host of talents, how he has “built hisself a log cabin almost a palace in these here parts,” where “music sifts down from Hodd’s Mountain just about every evenin’ when lights get lit and often in salute to mornin’ the way day itself should be brought up to account”, where “strange chunks of shiny marble near big as life itself get hauled or dragged by his truck to the cabin from odd holes in thet old mountain itself.” One lone hunter swore he heard “the tattoo of the oddest sort comin’ from thet nice new cabin thet boy built up there, like he was playin’ notes with a hammer agin the whole damned mountain itself.”
Without any self-proclamation or bombast, the prodigal was becoming a small legend on the mountain, and in the winding valleys below.
As Ada Hannah Jenkins stared at the sheriff, resting her tray full of empties on the edge of the bar, and eliciting some kind of connection he was sure, Chud Budnoy conjured up the sight of Rod Jenkins racing his truck down the valley with the years-old pour of cement blocks in near eternal posture. Memory, and the senses touched, flooded him, all those alerted stimuli showing their teeth, biting at him. In one unforgettable scene, when his father had taken him fishing, Rod’s truck slid to a stop beside the stream and Rod, like a wide receiver with a huge vertical leap, jumped up on the truck and withdrew a wrapped bottle from cover and handed it to his father. The grin was a yard wide on Jenkins’s face and a small sum of money changed hands. The fishing subsequently took on a rosy hue for the whole day, even the trout obliging, and the stream dreamy and filled with music until darkness came home.
Rod, he remembered with stark clarity, had big shoulders, a big smile, and appeared one of the happiest men Chud Budnoy had ever known. Rod’s granddaughter, he knew, carried the best of those happy genes. In another flicker of light, punctuated with an enjoyable grin, the scotch moving on his breath, he precociously named Ada Hannah Jenkins The Mistress of Hodd’s Mountain. In a further salute, he ordered a second Scotch and water.
Along with the scotch and water tickling his throat, he was renewing the essence of good old white lightning that Rod and a few of his comrades scurried home for on weekends from Fort Devens in Massachusetts. That was in the early ‘50s when their throats threatened to go dry for good old Tennessee liquid fire on the vast war playground where they trained for the real stuff. Dry coming home and wet going back to the army, full of building legends and peppery talk coming from their new life in the northeast corner of America, he envisioned them on the long road to soldiering. The road, for many of them, grew longer, spanned water, continents, islands, and all existence in between… the noise, the clamor, the long and fruitless war. Some of them came home legless, some in boxes, some did not come home at all. All the measurements, he understood, had created both a tolerance and a sense of respect for things not obvious to many eyes. It made him an understanding sheriff, and a highly respected one, who could sit alone, sip his scotch and water at the end of day, let his mind wander with goodness and his way of mountain life, though sadness was never far away.
And he could not let go of the images that came with Clete Scott’s dutiful labors up on Hodd’s Mountain and all that might eventually belong to him. Coming in a stream from a variety of sources were whispers and asides, about Clete and all his enterprises, accompanied on the other end of rumor by the generally hyperbolic noises, like “that y’ung un totes chunks a Tennessee marble aroun’ like he’s a Vol’nteer runnin’ back, I swear to God.” Old George Blummit on Foster’s Hill said one evening at the bar that “on good clear nights the music comin’ down to me’s like or not comin’ clear from Nashville, good bumpin’ stuff makes you think he’s talkin’ his stuff to that Ada whomsoever.” He slapped the bar top with joy. “Ain’t that the picture of dreams allus hangin’ on us old folk! Be damned if it ain’t.” He slapped the bar again, and completed a picture, “'Specially on Sat’day nights.”
The sheriff had visions of Clete at hammer and guitar pick, chipping away for whatever target he had in mind, and Ada Hannah Jenkins looking on, nodding, smiling, found new words filling her head and momentary visions too pleasant to ignore.
And so it was, the return home accomplished by the prodigal, his cabin built, his announcement and advertisement in place, the sheriff and all the locals aware of a demographic and sociological change in their midst, all the characters at beckon and call, that Ada Hannah Jenkins, on a Friday with the subsequent weekend off from work, started up the rude road to Hodd’s Mountain.
With ease, and with no adverse thoughts grabbing her attention, she passed the sign still hanging in the fork of the tree, The Ada Invite as now called, its momentum slowly seeping out of Appalachia. And timing, her timing, suddenly became most important. It all made her smile, a full and bright smile, thinking again that Clete Scott, right from day one, presented himself as imaginative, energetic, intriguing, sexy, and highly entrepreneurial. This last dictate had become her great convincer, that Clete Scott would undertake all risks for the sake of final profit; she would, in the end, be worth his every risk. She stared in the rear view mirror and assumed she looked her very best, with Aunt Jessie’s hair-do in place, her face scrubbed clean, her eyes filled with expectant surprise. This would, she vowed, be a day for pleasant surprise on top of sound expectance. Aloud, to the earth in general and to the loving tipster, she said, with a wide smile, “Aunt Jessie, I do contend you made the fundament help look its best.”
Relatives loomed for her with that look in the rear view mirror, at Aunt Jessie’s work and the road through the valley named for her great grandfather. She struggled to find bare snippet memories of him, a few words that distance was trimming, and his smiling face whose grin time had twisted. At length she expected to find warmth that the mountain, and Clete Scott, might sustain, perhaps embellish.
Her body kept telling her that she fully expected a sexual incident would take place before the weekend was over, which was why she had started out so early… to beat every other Ada, if there were any new ones on the horizon, to the attractive, imaginative, intriguing and sexy young man of the mountain. Furthermore, Hodd’s Mountain had awakened her to a new and greater hope. She could feel the bounce and drive working her over, deep feelings making more demands, touching at last all her wakeful parts, with deep release and full wake-up.
The seat of the VW grew warmer, torpid air caressed her brow, slid about her body, caressed her. Whether it was heat or some unknown energy, she had fluctuating ideas. Odd and inert muscles loosened and then tightened the length of her body, and she swore she could smell smoke and not see any smoke. These impacts were not entirely new. That she was bringing some kind of richness with her, not as bounty but as gift, filled her to overflowing. Lack of confidence had never been a fear for her; she felt the load of confidence, and the explosions that might come of it, to be continual, lasting, daring explosions filled with richness, and good old fashioned desire.
Memories of a few false encounters piqued her for a small portion of the ride along the valley road. They were, she knew, engendered as part of her soulful preparation; bringing memories back… a haymow experience where young Jud Hamlett had placed her hand elsewhere and she had bolted from the loft; a harsh and irreverent incident at a college party that cooled her ardor for a full semester, catching her roommate with three upper classmen on her dorm bed; and a neighbor, a doctor no less, who pretended to be what he wasn’t.
This new encounter, on which she swore an oath, would be on her terms. She would ascend the mountain, view the subject, make up her mind, like Tag, like Ring-a-leevio, like,You’re it, buster. She felt resolute as she shifted into a lower gear.
She was more than halfway up the mountain. The 7-year-old VW crunched and slid on the narrow road, the steep climb occasionally making hard demands on the engine. Full alert was working its way in her mind, when the engine suddenly quit. It flat-out quit on a harsh turn in the road. Urgent tries made no impact on the little motor that could no longer climb, as if frozen in place. She pulled up the rear lid and looked at nothing knowledgeable under the engine cover, nothing at all familiar. She started blowing the horn. In minutes the mountain blond was at her side, coming in through a copse of young trees, an ax over his shoulder.
“You like these little bugs, do you.” He nodded at the little orange car immobile there on the road, like the last drone had made its play outside the hive, now silent. He was not being solicitous, she mused, as the sun played all around him, shirtless, muscled, sweaty, alive as any man she had seen in months and months. His smile was slightly crooked, the way second messages are carried.
“Are you an Ada?” he said. The strange, sinuous energies lit through her again, the wires all touching the way they might never touch again. Comfort zones were knocking at each other. His voice was marvelously in tune with something around them and he was so direct, so handsome, the early sun lighting him up, making him vibrant. For the first time in a long while she was alert to every part awake in her body. It was as if her mind, or his, had leaked out secret directions. She heard herself think up words she had not said before, “Oh, God, I love you.” The exclamation sat weighted at her mouth and she was frightened he could read her lips. What a giveaway that would be. Yet the pot boiled again, the cauldron amid the flames, all her life perking; it was beautiful, it flooded her, made her almost fluid, yet traceable, a form and format exposed… she was the image of desire.
The happening was there, his smile had lit her whole body; unsaid words on his lips, blue eyes that found instant agreement, the whole, fast, blood-lovely aura of youth. The beauty of it, and the promise, assailed her. He could tell her anything, and she’d believe it. “I love you already,” she said again to herself, even as she tried to separate her thoughts and her feelings, all the mash coming upon her at the same time… the numbers of Adas that existed around them, the unknown climbs by unknown numbers up the path to Hodd’s Mountain. The scales of measurement came to play within her mind, noting the sun bouncing off his sweaty but muscular arms, the blond locks sitting on his forehead like some pennant flown for messaging, his eyes too at a near liquid measurement of her own healthy attributes… all of them. She was comfortable in her own being, she could pass any inspection. The sly, sliding eyes, though, were not really that sly, the way they paused and posed. All of it became electric, the wires so familiar, the whole grid work of them, the endless connections. Aunt Jessie’s supposed hasty introduction to life and her own false alarms had rounded her into shape for any encounter the weekend would bring.
She had made herself ready, mostly.
“I am Ada Hannah Jenkins,” she said, and all wariness was gone as if it had fallen down the mountainside.
He had already noticed parts of her and stared into her eyes as if she was the Burning Bush, perhaps all the elements of youth. For a long moment something unsaid but understood hung in the air about them. At length he said, “I will make songs for you. I will show you my stone people. You will find me all at once, I swear.” His eyes locked on hers again, the blue came back from wherever it had gone. She hoped it was a day dream, a quick perfection, a proper introduction. She tasted maple syrup on his breath.
“Come on up,” he said, pointing the way uphill. “We won’t need this little engine up there. Later, on another day,” he added with a raised eyebrow, “we can spin it around and coast it downhill. Take it to a mechanic. I’m not much on engines.” He closed the rear hood on the VW. “If that’s your backpack in the back seat, better bring it along.” He started up the trail and she followed. The sun was shining all round him, showing muscles at work, showing balance and attraction. The word symmetry leaped up at her and was quickly followed by keeping and eurythmy, all of them working in place, allowing that she was in some semblance of control, and reception, as small edges were being known once more.
Small brush broke away as he passed up the hill and curiosity leaped from all her pores. “I hear that you play music up here a lot and work with stone. I hear that you’re a musician and a sculptor.”
Leaning against a tree, he said, “You think it’s odd? You think they don’t go together? We’re all what we were meant to be all the way along the line. It was all laid out for us, by our folk; every word said, every act done. I have the distinct feeling you agree. I’ll not play any music for you this early in the day, I’ll leave that for the birds. But later we’ll have some music.” He held his hand up as he stood on the path. Coming from somewhere downhill, Ada Hannah Jenkins heard his pal Red’s morning salute, as if on cue, and the triple trilling rose to feed her happiness, fill in her wonderment. And the marveling about the Ada attraction continued to swell.
“It must be all in the hands and the heart, and if someone else has shaped it, then most likely you would be able to track it back to inception.” She thought she sounded so foolish. “I mean, awareness is the great attribute.” She almost coughed at that pronouncement. “I mean… ,” she stopped, thinking better of her small talk. She thought, It sounds like I’m trying to kiss his ass. She had another vision and her face colored. The cardinal sounded again, farther off, lower in the valley.
“I knew we’d agree on a few things,” he said. He held his hand out at a small break in the path. She took his hand and all the immediate warmth he offered. She felt lovely again; the cardinal singing, the sun shining, the young and beautiful singer/sculptor starting his day with her. Ada Ada Ada sounded in her head. She could hear him call out her name in the night. Tonight the sheriff would probably guess where she was; at least he’d wonder. Her smile came back as they broke into a clearing and the cabin, neat as a set table, sat a postcard welcome across a small stretch of grass. A full cord of wood stood its trim corrugations between two young trees off to one side. A rope hammock hung between two other small trees. On two shelves on one side of the cabin she spotted the aligned tools of the woodsman; a maul, two absolutely worn-down wedges as old as the world, an extra ax handle, an emery block. On the ground, upon a strange-looking, homemade contraption on three legs, was nestled a grinding wheel, the small wooden seat as shiny as a bicycle seat. The gathering warmth filtered through her body and her memory; such sights leaped again from her past where family members continually harvested firewood from the mountainsides, in whose firelight her mother and grandmother had read poetry to her for hours on end. Words, at a distance, as much a hum as pronounced, arrived for recall.
For a few hours of the late morning he played and sang for her, songs that mixed love and excitement and loss. As ever, the words grabbed her with their sincerity, words of songs he had written, words from poems that seemingly blessed every thought, every idea. She fell deeper in love with him, even as he prepared a late afternoon meal for them. It was all happening so fast, yet the comfort squeezed itself between her toes, made soft touches on her thighs, at her backside. The work done on the cabin was admirable. He had finished off every horizontal joint of the logs, the chinks filled with a gray matter and a smooth touch. He was an artist in all he attempted; the neatness rushed at her. She kept finding order of every kind in his life, and it continually amazed her, his being so contemplative in all he did.
In the early evening she fell asleep after the meal was topped off with a few glasses of a delicious red wine. The comfort kept at her, as if she had arrived at a safe house of a sort, the welcome wide, the security tight. The big sleeping bag was near luxurious and she went to sleep quickly, soundly, Morpheus taking her by the hand and leading her away. It was well after midnight when she woke. Stars fell in the small skylight he had installed in the roof, appearing to be centered on The Seven Little Sisters, and that sent her thinking to far bounds. The deep pleasures were weighty and full of self. She tried to find a burden in them, but they evaded that attempt, so, suffused, spoken for as it were, she let herself go on. Even the thinking, she thought, has a weight all its own, stretching across the five senses as well as filling the body with appreciation of one kind or another, until it reaches a point where the threat of loss enters the argument, either deep-sixing imagination or balancing the whole action.
Had she lost this man before she even had him, before she had borne his weight or who had borne hers in moments of beautiful madness, this man whom she truly loved so early in the game? For a barely known second, she saw his whole face, the total blond and blue-eyed beauty that seemed to rush through her at that junction. The love she knew, deeper than belief held for a whole lifetime… consecrated, sworn to, by, upon… came again.
Her flung arm touched nothing.
Alarm came on her as she wondered where he was. For the saddest part, he was not in the large sleeping bag with her. She had expected him to slide in beside her sometime during the night. Had looked for it. Now missed it. Silence sat about her as if she was in a bare choir loft. At first, as thin as a far echo, she heard the stone-work sounds from the second room of the cabin. The door between them was closed, with light as a fissure peaking underneath the bottom. Listening, his deep breathing came to her, each breath audible, coded. Then the chip chip came to her, different from the earlier music, but deliberate, tuned, choreographed or composed with calm. A master at work, she thought. Night air, the soft touch of it, the absolute silence between owl break-ups, floated upon her. The comfort was supreme, oozing, again making warm inroads, making friends with all of her being. Love, she thought, seizes all territory, spreads upon itself, asks acceptance, begs acceptance, then demands acceptance for all it’s worth.
In soft cotton pajamas, a trade-off from the beginning, as sexy as a crutch she conceded, she peeked in on the noise maker. Shirtless, under an overhead light in the small area, he stood over a nearly-finished marble bust of a GI in battle dress. The gasp caught in her throat at the remarkable sight. The marble he worked on she easily identified, a bust of her great grandfather, Rod Jenkins, hero to Clete’s grandfather, and comrade in arms. She didn’t know where the positive memory came from, from what day or place of the past, but it was as alive as she was, the helmet thrown back on his head as though he was taking in sunshine, yet the grime of war surfaced with the whole presentation, the coating of battle a visible patina. An unimaginable sense of achievement pounced on her as she shared the artistic victory.
Yet she was rocked at the same time by gain and loss, satisfaction and hunger. “Why didn’t you come into the sleeping bag with me,” she said, unable to hold it back. “I thought that’s why I was here, that you wanted an Ada. “ She shook her head and threw her hand out. “All this asks for more than I can offer. It’s breathtaking. I can feel his pain. I can see the stain of war. I can see his last battle. How did you come by all this?” Her warm hand rested on his shoulder, the way a woman might talk to a man.
His eyes were brilliant with another light as if all secrets were being let out, more secrets than one lifetime could hold. “We’ll talk about that, the rest of the night if you want, and we’ll make love before morning,” he said, “when your grandpap’s all done.”
“I don’t care if you do call me Ada,” she replied, as his arm slid around her waist and the riffler fell noisily from his hand.