Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Melungeon-Colored Part II

I bit my tongue as I watched him fight against the wind. He got it pushed to. I knew he couldn't hold it there. "Hand me the hammer and nails here," I heard him yell. I went to turning around and around. To save my life I couldn't think where the hammer was. A big flash of lightning come. It run all over the house. I thought the world was coming to an end. It looked like the whole world was on fire. "God damn it, hurry up," I heard Ad yelling. "On the fireboard."

I handed him the hammer. I couldn't hold the door to. I tried to drive the nails while he held it. Mashed my finger. More bad luck. And I stopped to think of that right there. I wondered how Cordia was taking the storm. I hoped she wouldn't have the baby that night. It come a keen crash. I hollered out that lightning struck the house. Ad said for me to come on to bed and stop that damned foolishness.

I couldn't go to bed. For the last nine days I had been feel feeling all turned upside down. The feeling I always had when something was going to happen. Something was bound to take place that night. I recollected about hearing death bells in my ears before midday that day. That meant somebody was going to die before midnight. I thought it meant the whole world. It looked to me like everybody was going to burn up.

I caught myself hoping the world would come to an end. So Cordia wouldn't have any trouble. I tried not to think on Cordia. I went to telling Ad the world was coming to an end and singing. "Will you be ready for that day to come?" I kept thinking about that Melungeon boy that had helped Mos all winter. Ad said he was mighty talky around Cordia. That made it worse. It all hopped around through my mind. I got in the bed behind Ad. I didn't even fool to turn my shoes upside down. Corns didn't matter any more. Not then.

I pulled the quilt up over my head. I had rather not see the lightning. I thought there wasn't any use in trying to stop God's plans. I had almost been warned but I hadn't done anything about it. I thought the Lord would understand.

I heard a noise that wasn't just thunder. It was a tree falling. Sounded like the whole earth was being tore up by the roots. I made up my mind to go. I never had done any harm to anybody that I could think of.

I thought I heard somebody calling, "Granny." I was scared so bad I thought it was the Lord. I heard it again. I was making up my mind to do what Preacher Jarven said and answer, "Yes, Lord,'' when I heard knocking at the window. I called Ad again.

"Aw, God damn it," he said. Then I heard him hollering louder, ''Yeah--yeah, all right, Mos." I felt Ad getting out of bed. It was Mos instead of the Lord. I listened. "Cordia wants Granny to come over there," I heard Mos say. All I could think of then was getting over there and helping Cordia. I remembered that the door was nailed. I was afeared to open the window on account of the wind. The only thing I could think of was to lift up a plank and crawl out under the house.

I heard Ad scolding me. "What are you doing?" he yelled. "Go on out the window like somebody with some sense." I minded him. It looked like the whole ground was a branch. I thought I would be drowned. I heard a screech owl hollering. "A screech owl hollering in the rain, Mos," I told him. Then I said to myself that it needn't be telling me. I already knew death was nigh.

Mos said, "Slop Creek is rising like smoke from a brush pile. I guess the foot-log is gone by now."

That meant we would have to go way up the creek and cross that swinging foot-log. I didn't think I could ever get across it. It was kind of rickety anyhow. I made up my mind I didn't care if I did fall in. The wind was something awful. Things kept roaring in my head till I thought it was going to bust. "Mos, what was that?" I asked.

"A tree. It just browed up by the roots," he said.

I kept talking to Mos. "Mos, we'll be kilt dead before we get there. I know we will. I dreampt about snakes last night. That lightning."

He answered me real calm-like, "The ground is soggy. These here sod soakers make pine trees and cedars easy to blow up by the roots."

I heard a loud noise--sounded like a gun going off in my ear. The woods were roaring in my ears. I felt like the whole woods were blowing up. It looked like there was a tree falling right on me. I wanted to yell. But I didn't have enough breath to yell. ''That was just a limb broke off in front of us," Mos said. He said we had better go straight up the edge of the creek from then on. Then he said, "You will be the only one there. The Shin-Bone branch is up so big I can't go after Ma."

I was almost glad he couldn't. The water was roaring so I was afraid to go near the bank. I was afraid it might come down in a big gush and wash us away before we got to Cordia. Then I pert nigh wished it would. I never would have known how it all ended up. I heard something squealing--some kind of animal squealing. "Look," Mos said. ''There goes Dona Fawver's hogs down the creek. And good God, cow too."

I was so tore up I didn't care what washed away. I made up my mind to pull myself together. I never had been into such a shape before. Then was the time I needed to keep my head. We got to the foot-log. When it lightened I could see the foot-log swing in the wind. I wished it wouldn't lighten so keen. I didn't want to see it swinging in the wind. I felt like if I set my foot on the foot-log I would fall right off. Then I would go down the creek with Dona's hogs and cow. Hogs and cows and me, I thought. There were worse things to be with.

Mos took hold of my hand. Both of us would go together, I thought. I wondered why the wind had to blow like that, why the branch had to roar. I got to thinking maybe the world had already come to an end. I thought maybe that was hell. Preacher Jarven said it would be raining lightning bolts all the time in hell. Every drop would be an arrow of blazing lightning and it would go through your body.

I went to thinking about that song:

"Will the waters be chilly, Will the waters be chilly When I am called to die?"

The water would roar and the sinner would fall into it. It would freeze around his neck. His head would be left up on top for the burning arrows to stick into. And the thunder. But I had enough sense left to know that wasn't hell. I told myself I had better keep my head. Something picked me up. I thought it was the water. I could feel myself floating against a cow.

"I'll carry you across," Mos said.

"Don't drop me," I kept on telling him.

He set me down. I couldn't bear to look back. The foot-log would be gone in another second. Mos walked so fast it was hard for me to keep up with him. We got in sight. It looked like the house was on fire. The tree in the yard was browed up by the roots. I seed that the next thing. I wondered if Cordia had heard all that racket. We had to surround the tree to get up on the porch. Cordia didn't open the door. The first thing I thought about was that she was dead.

"Push it open--I can't come," I heard her say from inside. Mos pushed the button off with one big lunge. I followed him in.

"It is done over. Hurry up," Cordia said.

I threw back the quilt. "Heat me some water. Bring me the scissors. Mos," I said.

Mos come running with the scissors. "Its skin!" I said. "A Melungeon! I knowedit." I don't know what made me say it. Mos give the baby one look. "That's why that devil wanted to stay here," he yelled.

I seed him pick up a stick of stove wood. I didn't know what had made me blurt it out. I just didn't know anything. I reckon Cordia was too weak to pay any attention to what we were saying. She was shaking. I seed she was having convulsions. That was what it was. And I took note of the stuff by the side of her bed. She had took too much gunpowder.

"Mos! " I yelled. "Don't!"

But it was too late to yell. I stood there like a post, trying to think. I felt Mos take a hold of me. I thought he was going to kill me too.

"Listen to reason," he said to me "Are you in your right senses ?"

I jumped. I don't think I knowed for sure whether I was or not. I saw I would have to quiet myself down. The baby was alive. With Cordia dead. Mos's eyes--they were as green as a glow worm.

"Me and you can bury her up yander on the hill in the morning," he said.

I stood there. But I recollected the hill. Mos's grandpa and grandma were buried up there. It would be for Cordia's good. It would save her name. All that went through my head. Nobody would blame Mos. Nobody would know about the burying. Nobody would come to the burying anyhow. Both creeks were up too high. I seed it was best. We could tell folks that we had to bury her. I thought of the baby.

I've thought about the things that happened that night. All night me and Mos hammered on the coffin. Old rough planks that he tore out of the house loft. Right there in the room where Cordia was. And her more than my girl. And the little funny-colored baby that I prayed the Lord would let die before we got the coffin made. But it didn't. It kept on whimpering and gasping. I never could have stood it if I had been in my right mind. I was scared out of my right senses. Scared Mos would hit me in the head with that hammer. Somehow, I wasn't willing to die, even if I did think I wanted to.

When we got the coffin done we didn't even stuff it and put a lining in it. We piled some quilts down in it and laid Cordia on them. I did wash Cordia and wrap her up in a new quilt. But we had to break her knees to get her legs to go down into the coffin.

And the baby, it kept on living. Mos, he just picked it up and put it on in. I stood and watched him. Stood stone-still and watched him. We nailed the lid down. It was about chicken crow then. I had to stay there in the room while Mos went to dig a grave. And the baby alive.

It poured down rain while Mos was gone. It was dark as pitch outside. And that cat. That cat kept on clawing at the window. It meowed and screamed and went on. Then I heard that panther scream right out there in the yard. It sounded like a woman's screaming.

A big puff of wind come and blew the door open. And that cat kept on. I was afraid the panther would get in the house if I didn't go shut the door. But I couldn't move toward the door. I couldn't move any which way.

The grave, it was full of water by the time me and Mos got Cordia carried up there. About halfway there we had to set the coffin down in the mud so we could rest a spell. And that cat. When we set the coffin down, it jumped upon it. Mos couldn't knock it off. It fit him right back. It followed us every jump of the way. I could hear the baby smothering and that cat meowing.

I'm not even sure we buried Cordia with her head to the west. We might not have. Cordia may have her back turned to the Lord when she raises up to meet him.

It was seven months after we buried her that the funeral was. I had a good notion not to go to the funeral. But I wanted to hear what was said about Cordial Mos tried all winter to get a preacher man. The roads were "outed out so bad he had to wait till spring. Then Preacher Jarven come. It was a pretty day. A spring day when the bees and birds and spiders and hens and everything thought about their babies. It would have been a pretty day for Cordia to get married.

It was a big funeral. Everybody in Hoot Owl District was there. I wished there hadn't so many folks come. They all said they pitied me and Mos because the branches were up so big we had to do the burying by ourselves.

There were already several folks at the church house when me and Ad got there. I thought we would be the first ones. We started soon. Looked as if the folks were all staring at me like a cat trying to charm a bird. I thought I saw Cordia setting up there on the front seat by Mos. I told myself to keep my senses. But there was a woman setting by the side of Mos.

"Me and you are supposed to set up hyear with Mos and his woman, ain't we?" I heard Ad asking. Then it come to me who that woman was. It was Mos's new woman. He hadn't waited till the dirt settled on Cordia's grave. That woman looked like Cordia. Cordia pale as a sheet. Mos was pale too.

I wanted to tell Mos how it was. But I knowed that would disturb Effena's peace, because I had promised her. Effena would come back and haunt Mos. Mos would be haunted and I would be haunted.

I tried to listen to what the preacher man was saying. Something about Cordia. Something about he wished everybody was as ready to go as Cordia was when the Lord saw fit to call her home. Something about them that weren't ready would cook in biling molasses the rest of their lives, and smell burning sulphur. Something about Cordia making a bee-line for Heaven.

It begun to get dark. I thought a cloud must be coming up. It was time of year for such. "April showers make May flowers," I went to saying, and thinking about how everything was planned out. Then I heard the leaves. Sounded like there was a whirlwind outside. I thought I could smell something burning. I thought about sulphur, about the church being on fire, about the woods--but the woods were green.

I took note that everybody was standing. Ad pulled me up. It seemed like everybody was hollering about something. Then I seed. They were just singing loud. I went to singing too:

"In vain to Heaven she lifts her eyes
But guilt, a heavy chain,
Still drags her downward from the skies To darkness, fire and pain."

Darkness, fire and pain. They were what I had been through. But God said he understood.

Me and Ad went on out behind Mos. We stopped down there in the hollow and I picked my dress tail full of poke sallet for supper. The sun was going down and the air felt good and cool-like. A honey bee flew around my head, and some pretty pied butterflies. I felt peaceful as a kittten.


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