Thursday, June 2, 2011

Answering For--TCE 21 (or so)

Still adjusting, but here's the prompt and the story: 

"I remember.
I wish I didn't remember.
Maybe if I wish hard enough, the memories will just fall away. Like the smell of old perfume dissipating. Like the innocence of white chalk darkening under the rain. Like the dying color of that crimson blood as he washed it from my hands."

Answering For
I wish I didn’t remember.
The cup tree was a dead one, some ancient and half-rotten lightning stump of a live oak about one roof high. It was long since stripped bare of any bark, and the chipped ceramic coffee mugs and tea cups of the years shined against the pale wood. Time was, it had been a bottle tree; the glass had long dangled in the winds to capture roaming spirits; to keep people from harm.  One by one the bottles with their translucent blues and greens and browns were replaced by more practical cups and mugs and mason jars, so that if anybody ever needed a cup to break their sup, it wasn’t hard to find one.  I remember the details like these, the waking up in the heavy fogs and going out to water the taters beside the house, the smell of almost mildewed water gathered in the coffee mugs and antique tea cups from the heavy rain the night before, or the way the honeysuckle made the air so sweet at night while it crept into the clapboards of the house. It’d be nice to remember these things and only these things, but I don’t.  Life ain’t nice.
Neither is death.  
Cup Tree stood smack in the intersection of two gravel roads which met where the top of one little hill joined a great big one. At the time, I lived alone in the peach-colored clapboard house just a bit down the hills’ intersection, and figured I would every day of my life, for a time expanding as far as the eye could see, disappearing somewhere beyond, somewhere into a distance hazed with clouds and humidity and the green glow of leaves and bugs in the sun. Yes, that was what I figured.  But this is the story of how I figured wrong.

“You get any reception out here?” Allie squinted into the sun beside the house where we both stood, arm raised, waving a cell through the air with her chicken-leg arm. It was summer, an early one, and I’d been working all morning long on keeping the weeds out of the tater row.
“S’it look like I get any reception out here?”  I’d wiped the sweat from my forehead, leaned against the house. How she kept on all those layers and layers of makeup I’d never know; if she’d ever smile it’d crack like the clay dirt. “Who you tryin’ t’call anyways?”
“Jim. He’s got a new batch cooked.”
“You need to keep out’a that business.”
“Mind your own,” Allie said with a snap, dropping her arm. “I’m only fixin’ to call him ‘cuz I heard tell down at the station that the cops is fixing to bust Perkin’s Bar for sellin’, and I don’t wanna see him go to jail if he don’t need to.”
I’m pretty sure I’d glared at her.  We both knew it wasn’t  true. And we both knew it wasn’t none of my business.

 I remember the sirens echoing in the hills at my cousin Eric’s party that weekend, and knew they were heading for Perkin’s. Couldn’t hardly hear them over the music; I only noticed because I’d stepped onto the back porch where the boys were playing, and couldn’t place the key. There were notes in  the night that didn’t fit, and these boys drove up all the way from Kentucky, with one truck full of banjos and fiddles and a whole ‘nother of moonshine. They were good, mean good, and didn’t make mistakes.  I’d stood at the balcony and watched the trees moving in the green-gray dark.
“Hey Esther,”  Tommy’d called as he came over to me. It was between sets. He’d handed me a mason jar of moonshine and orange juice. “Brought you a drink.”
“Sure thing, sugar. You still living out at Cup Tree?”
“You like it?”
“Enough to die there,” I’d said. I’d meant it to be flirting-like, but it wasn’t.
“Damn, girl, you need to loosen up. This is a party.”  He leaned over the railing, picking at the whitewash  darkened by years of rain. “Hey,” he began again, “your friend alright? That Allie girl?”
“I ‘spect she’s right enough,” I’d told him.
“Well,” he said, “I think it might do you good t’keep an eye on her. She seems a little off tonight. Too much fun, I think.”
“Alright,” I’d told him. Like there was a damn thing I could do about any of it.

I found Allie bobbing up and down like a cork in the water, only she was hanging off the front porch, her belt tied around both her and one of the wooden porch collumns. She was leaning back, the belt pulled close against her back, only the edges of her toes attached to the concrete porch, her head tipped back too, swinging to the right and the left while she bobbed.
“Hey,” I said to her. Nobody else was on the front porch. “Wanna go for a walk with me? Bathroom’s full and I gotta pee out this moonshine.”
She unbuckled and dropped off the porch and began walking with me.  We aimed for the old grass fore wheeler track to the south of Eric’s front yard.
“What you doin’ out here by yourself anyway? Ain’t you wanna listen t’some bluegrass?”
Allie stretched her jaw to the side so that her skin pulled real tight. I could see the lines of her veins even in the dark.
“Mmmm. No. I mean, everyone is talking about me everyone in the party. I can tell. They don’t say nothing to me but I can tell they’s all sittin’ there talking about me I can hear them talking too you know I can hear them I can hear them and their voices I just can’t tell what they’re saying but I know whatever it is they be saying that they’re sayin’ it about me and I don’t wanna be walking around a bunch of people just talking about me and I just went outside you know out front and then I saw how beautiful the woodwork is on the porch you remember how I used to carve wood right after I read The Man Who Loved Clowns I should really get back into carving I really miss it sometimes I think and the woodwork on the beams is just so beautiful and nobody was out there talking about me hey you got any candy?”
She batted at the hair by her ear.
“No.” I didn’t really think I had to pee. I just figured she’d be coming down pretty soon, and I wanted to make sure I was there. Wait. I did have to pee. That Kentucky moonshine is a sneaky s.o.b. but it sure tasted good, the corn liquor around here ain’t got shit on it. I found a good peeing tree. Allie’s hand was still batting the hair by her ear.

We walked around for a good long while. She flapped her trap and flapped her arms and I drank from my mason jar.  It was a thick night, loud with the bluegrass drifting through the trees and the bugs and bullfrogs and whatnot. I remember that. And I remember her come-down was pretty bad. Pretty bad.  And she’d been bawling, chewing the pad of her palm till it was lumpy and red while we walked through the trees, thick and choking with the grapevine and sumac.

All’s I can say is that when she told me she wanted to die I believed her, and when she told me she already was dead and the demons were in her every corner, and in her carpet, and in the license plates of cars, I believed that too. I believed she believed it.  And when she kept saying that she wanted to die wanted to die wanted to die wanted to die and wanted me to do it to her so she knew it was actually happening this time, I believed her and I did it.  I smashed the mason jar on a rock I found under a tree and used the smooth big piece of glass near the mouth.
She bled a lot.  When Tommy saw me coming up the way all covered in blood, he shooed the two other guys on the porch into the house and told them to find Eric, and the party was over and to get everybody gone right quick. 
“Where’s Allie?”  The smell of the honeysuckle that clung to all my clothes was faint under the smell of the blood, getting fainter and fainter the way old perfume does.  I don’t think I said anything to him. But he led me inside—any other time I’d have thought he was going to ask me to come to dinner with him—by the sweaty small of my back, and we went to the bathroom as Eric got people out. I sat on the toilet seat—it’s one of those wooden ones—while Tommy began cleaning me up. It wouldn’t come off my hands all the way, and so he pulled me to standing and held me to the counter while he washed that crimson blood from under my fingernails, scrubbing till it all poured down the drain. The drain smelled like cleaners and alcohol and just like Allie.

I remember. I remember and I wish I didn’t. But I do, and I did it, and I’m answering for it, even though I don’t rightly know even to this day if it’s a crime, and even though once upon a time we learned to weed gardens together, and even though I ain’t never going to ever get back to Cup Tree.  
That’s my story; that life ain’t nice, and death ain’t neither.

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