Carolina Twilight

22Jun12

I

The noose swung and danced in the breeze, dangling carefree, a brother to the festooning Spanish moss hanging down from tangled ends of massive branches, a son of the ancient oak tree supporting a canopy of murmuring leaves that tell age-old secrets that only the passing winds can decipher.  This noose without a neck, though slightly disturbing, was not nearly as ominous as the burgeoning clouds in the distance, as the stagnant, saturated air cutting through the breeze that heralded the oncoming storm.  It was almost unbearable to breathe, for at any given moment, the respite of cool air was rudely interrupted by a stifling dose of humidity-laden air so thick it was not inhaled, but choked down.  This old majestic tree stood strong, silhouetted against a sky of the darkest, smokiest shade of blue, a tempest blue, like the deepest, most turbulent and murky depths of the ocean where Leviathan awaits her final battle.  The tree no longer seemed that it belonged in this moment of time.  The golden light from the setting sun on the clear side of the sky shined upon it and each green leaf seemed too vibrant to be real.  It appeared a cardboard mimic, pasted against the sky, its true presence only given away by the chorus of rustling leaves and creaking branches, and of course, by the swaying rope.

I hung the noose myself.

One boring summer day, I took a worn hammer from my daddys toolbox and the rusted Maxwell house can full of assorted nails from the shed in the back yard, I nailed pieces of scrap wood up the tree to form a makeshift ladder that scaled the massive trunk all the way to the lowest branch.  Through the eyes of a child, that lowest branch seemed one hundred feet high, but it was still high, definitely over twenty feet.  I stood precariously on a rung while I hammered two nails in each piece of wood.  At first, I only used one and the nail became a pivot and I nearly fell out of the tree, as I no longer had stable footing.  That wasnt the only time I almost fell.  The second time I looked down, got vertigo, and lost my balance.  I grabbed the rung just in time.  Even though the height made my stomach churn, I was determined to get up that tree.  At first, I was fueled by ennui.  I did it just because I wanted to see if I could do it.  Once it was complete, I discovered that I had a perch.  The rest of the summer I would spend long hours suspended in the sky, lounging with my back against the grandfatherly trunk and my bruised, mosquito-bitten legs splayed out in front me.  I would look up and see patterns in the leaves, talk to the squirrels, daydream of ancient forgotten cities, or read books that children should never read.  It didnt matter anyway.  I was no child of the light.  I had no friends and I knew mostly pain and suffering.  My loft became a respite from a hostile life, my only chance of escape.

I was traipsing through the woods, as usual, when I came across a very thick rope peeking out from a pile of dead leaves.  I pulled and it was a little rotten but still strong, I pulled quite a bit of length when I noticed there was a hangmans knot on the end.  My morbid little mind thought it could have been from a lynching.  It was possible, but who knows for sure except for the rope and the trees and they wont tell.  I coiled the rope around my body, brought it to my aerie and hung it down from the branch. Suddenly, I realized that I had control of my life.  The noose would always be waiting should I want it. I scaled down from my tree and admired it for a while; I then turned my back on the tree and walked up the creaky porch steps, opened the screen door, and went in to face my tormentors.  I never climbed the tree again.

II

I dig my feet into the cool, coarse sand, curling my toes.  An angry summer brings me back to my childhood haunts to make peace with the past.  The twinkling crystals of the sun reflecting off of the brackish river pierce my eyes. Tiny waves lap at the shoreline, pushing driftwood and foam to and fro.  It is a beautiful day.  I shield my eyes and watch an osprey circle and dive for its prey, menhaden and mullet, fish any local fisherman would use as chum, as bait; however, it makes a tasty meal for a hungry sea-eagle.  As she dives, there is a tremendous splash and she rises up with a rather large mullet thrashing for his life in her talons.  She lights on her giant twig nest that perches atop an old, dead cypress trunk.  I hear the voracious chirping of her hungry offspring and wonder if she would ever push her awkward fledgling out of the nest, if she would poke its eyes out with her powerful beak, if she would simply ignore it until it died.  It is very rare in nature that a mother casts off her young, unless it is something cold blooded.    I look down at my mother and hold her cold hand in mine.  When I needed her nurturing, she was unavailable to me.  When my father did the horrible, awful things he did to me, she knew and she was silent and now remains next to me and still says no word.  Who can blame her? She is chum.

This cold, stiff, severed hand, its fingers curled like a dead spider.  It looks so foreign.  I gently but securely wrap it with twine, weaving in and out of the fingers that once ran through my hair in the dark of the night, the only love that I can remember.  Ill need to leave about three feet of string.  I hold the end of the string and the hand dangles in its very own noose.  I bend down and pick up its sandy mate and holding both in one hand, Is imagine myself some sort of mad puppeteer.

An old pine tree lay prostrate on the sand, jutting out over the shallows, its roots still clinging to the earth from whence it was violently uprooted.  No doubt some cyclonic storm felled it, but it refused to give up and lay half alive, a few scraggly ever green branches ever hoping to reach the sky.  I step up on to the trunk and feel its smooth weather-worn bark underfoot.  I walk up the trunk to where the branches splayed over the water.  My plank, my dock, my pier, this old tree is the truest form that any of those would ever hope to hold.   I fasten each end of the twine to some branches and one by one and drop these hands into the briny river watching them slowly sink into the reddish tea.  Walking back down the trunk I grab my long-handled net and patiently wait.   The strings begin to twitch, small jerks that let me know I am ready to retrieve my prize.  I gently pull the one of the hands to just below the surface.  Two large blue crabs are feasting and picking, unaware of my presence, their crustacean minds only concerned with filling their guts with the rich, unexpected meal.  With one hand on the twine and the other on the net, I deftly scoop my net underneath them and they are now mine.  I carelessly drop the hand back into the water and hold the net with both hands, walking back down the trunk again, stepping back down into the sand.  I open my cooler filled with half melted ice and flipped my net inside out.  One of the crabs clings to a knot for his life.  I pry his claw open with my fingers and he drops into the cooler, audibly bubbling from his maw in seeming protest. Schadenfreude, little crabs.

The sun begins its rapid descent to its cradle of distant Carolina pines.  The world begins to take a more golden hue and it is nigh time that I depart.  I pull the hands out of the water, waterlogged and picked to the bone in some places.  The flesh is ragged.  I cannot leave these tied here, so I begin to swing them around.  The trajectory is just right and I let go.  They fly into the air like awkward birds and plop in the water with a satisfying splash.  May the tides take them to the ocean, but if not, if some fisherman should happen upon one, there is nothing left to distinguish from whence it came.  I look over to my little six pack cooler packed with crabs, angry and snapping, attacking each other in their dismay.  I close the lid.  Walking one last time down the old familiar pine, I step down onto my secret beach.  I put on my backpack, pick up the cooler in one hand and my net in the other, wave goodbye to the osprey and her ravenous family, and proceed to leave through the swampy wood down a precarious path that only my feet have ever tread.

By the time I reach the house, it is the dark blue twilight before night takes over.  The first stars begin to twinkle.  The oak tree still stands stately and the noose is still there, though the ladder has lost rungs and the remaining ones appear rotten and unstable.   The house appears worn and weathered, the wood behind the house has been smothered in kudzu vine and the porch looks suspect to caving in.  It has been my home for months now.  The neighbors thought mom was already dead.  Daddy, well, he was damn lucky he succumbed years ago to a heart attack before I could get to him. I leave my trusty net on the porch and carry the cooler into the house, to the kitchen.  I grab the huge pot from the cupboard next to the sink, fill it with water and salt, and bring it to a steamy boil on the range.  One by one, I drop the crabs in as they wave their claws in protest, and admire how they change from confederate grey to turncoat red.  Schadenfreude, little crabs.  As I am drawing the butter, I begin to feel an odd peace settle about me.  I have never felt so relieved, so calm, so happy.  I dump the pot and its contents into the sink and rinse.  Heaping them on a serving plate, I remove them one at a time and crack open each shell and claw, devouring the edible contents I can find, innards and all.  I stuff myself full, eating the entire lot, butter dripping down my face, nearly to the point of vomiting. I finish, looking at the pot filled with the ravaged remains and I laugh maniacally with my mouth full of crab flesh. It was pure joy.  Nothing in my entire life has ever tasted so good

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