Friday, October 23, 2009

How to See the Elephant - Part III

Out of money,Thetis and Sheba leave the train at Xenia and walk to Cincinnati, a two and a half day journey, working for food and sleeping out in the summer night.

I think I was awakened by heat lightning. The wind was still blowing, but with a stronger intensity. I lay listening to it restlessly pushing the trees and I remembered that even as a child, in bed at night, I had hated that sound, and hated being alone outdoors even in the daytime, and most of all I hated the horrible, gloomy forests in Ohio, the trees that went on for miles and miles, soughing and buzzing, stirring against each other. I could always feel a savageness out in the woods. I remembered a story I had been told, something about an Indian curse on the area about Mansfield, and then there began to flood back into my mind all kind of tales: mysterious lights that followed people home; blood-curdling screams from uninhabited woods; giant men, all black and hairy; strange footprints; horrible goat-like animals. And after I thought about all that it came to my mind that people said Kentucky, in the Indian language, meant “dark and bloody ground.” And with that almost all the heart went out of me. I knew it was true, because I could feel that darkness in the land as I lay there. I thought of the burial mounds, not so far from here, and I wondered how many of the dead of that lost race lay there and if they would ever let the land alone.
I could not hear Sheba breathe anymore, and I could not move. The wind kept blowing through the trees, pushing and hissing, like something alive. Far away, over the hill, I heard a fox or a dog, and nearer, the bustle of chickens, clucking in nervous response.
I knew that the worst thing to do in the middle of the night was go anywhere near a coop full of chickens, but I did not care. I wanted the house to awaken and the wife to scream and the husband to run out with a light and a gun – mostly a light, though – so I could feel I wasn’t alone in the world. I sat up cautiously, and after about five minutes, not having been murdered by a ghost or seen any mysterious lights, I scooted, still wrapped in my shawl, across the damp ground, trying to make out the chicken coop in the darkness. I had hardly gone five feet when I ran right into something. It was something small, a bin or a trough perhaps, but it rolled over, and then something else got tangled up with it and both things tumbled down the hill and must have gone smack into the chicken house because there was a crash and all the hens began a wholly unnecessary call for divine intervention, clucking frantically and shrieking and thumping like dervishes into the sides of the coop.
After about five minutes the hens died down, rather wistfully, as if they hadn’t really expected to be rescued. I felt better. Then came a thud-thud. Boots. Still no light, but a door creaked open. “Who’s there?”
I felt better now, and I had no wish to be shot at. I sat as still as possible, thinking, go back to bed.
More thuds. A woman’s voice. Suddenly a set of shutters was thrown back and light shone into the yard. I realized it was later than I thought – almost dawn. The sun was not up but the sky was graying. Early risers, darn them.
Boots again, and the grass crunching, and a boy in a wide straw hat, holding up a lantern, walked right towards me. I stood up, pulling the shawl around my shoulders.
“It’s me. Don’t shoot.”
The lantern slumped a little, in disbelief, and then came back up.
“Lydia?” he whispered.
“No – my name is Thetis. And my friend – my friend is up there. Don’t shoot her either.”
He was a farm boy, my age perhaps, but taller.
“What are you doing?”
I didn’t see anything to do but answer that directly.
The lantern slumped down again. There was kind of a rueful laugh in the darkness, and then I heard his boots moving back across the grass. He opened the door, leaned into the house and called:
“Ma, there’s two ladies or something sleeping out back!”


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love the way you describe the sounds of the forest and the uproar in the chicken coop. Nicely done.

Laura Canon said...

Thanks. I remembered when I was writing this scene how as child we used to go the Daniel Boone National Forest in KY and the sound of the wind in the trees always spooked me. (It doesn't anymore -- I wonder why?) I think being able to connect with that helped me flesh out this scene.