Bed Rock, страница 1
Copyright 2011 Bernard Fancher
All Rights Reserved
The story that follows is fiction. Except where clearly historical, the people, places, and events portrayed are works of the imagination.
Elgin Brick held onto the edge of the thick maple countertop, steadying himself so as not to fall down. When the spell passed, he reopened his eyes to find an altered and possibly renewed but definitely blurred vision. It seemed as though his eyes were covered by a watery scale or thin cataract, and at first he thought the steam rising off the percolator accounted for this sudden change in outlook. Determined to see past the misty impediment, he concentrated on the world beyond, attempting to focus his gaze on the approximate center of the front yard. Long ago he had decided to dislike and not to look through the new left pane of the window, broken over half a century ago during a rowdy game of catch with his brother. But the right pane, still comprised of the original bubble-specked wavy glass, only magnified the defect in his eyes, and he blinked once, and then again, tilting his head while simultaneously shifting his weight, moving a little to the left and setting himself more firmly in place; doing so, he grudgingly allowed the new glass to clear a path for his vision. Instantly able again to see clearly, he focused on one of the many flecks of verdigris covering the trunk of the old oak tree in the center of the front yard. Soon enough, he considered as well the long frayed ropes converging from a high branch to the weathered board swing; looking more generally about, casting his eyes now down rather then up, he also took note of the many red and yellow leaves, blown off in the night, lying sodden and pressed flat on the lawn.
So he noticed too the wet grass, grown high and lush, unmown since the last days of summer. Now, in the first days of fall, the lawn seemed to have entered a waiting period of near-dormant stasis. Looking to the far end of the yard, beyond where the driveway curved on the long climb from the road, Elgin eventually detected the motion of a single large yellow leaf hanging loosely on a limb. Waving back and forth, it seemed actuated by a private current of air while all the rest of the world remained still.
He poured a cup of coffee, watching the steam rise into the air, realizing too late his mistake. Long ago he’d learned milk would mix evenly if you poured it prior to the coffee. But instead of feeling vexed, he smiled to remember his mother relating what years later came to be a favorite memory of his father, telling how the first argument of their married life started the morning she relayed her discovery and he, who never drank his coffee but entirely black, responded in a manner far too knowing—and condescending—for her liking. “Why yes, of course!” he blurted out, as if it were the most obvious fact.
“You could never surprise your father,” his mother for years later concluded, all forgiving and smiling after his death. And then she would look down and Elgin would look out the window and they would both sit quietly at the kitchen table sipping their morning coffees.
With both hands, Elgin lifted the hot cup to his lips and blew an outward curving ripple across the black liquid surface which so steamed his glasses that once again he could barely see. Closing his eyes, he leaned against the edge of the counter for support, and tentatively sipped, remembering earlier, now otherwise irretrievable, days.
The coffee bit his tongue, hot and bitter. But he’d already decided to drink it this way in honor of his first dead parent. Taking another sip he wished he had something sweet to counteract the pungent bitterness which caused his cheekbones to clench, and that wish jogged his memory yet again.
He lifted the lid off the cookie jar and took out one of the big molasses cow plops delivered by Country Anne the day before. He’d called his neighbor Country Anne in jest the first time she rode up on a pony wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, red and white checkered shirt, faded tight jeans, and embroidered narrow-toed boots. Country Anne he’d called her right then and there, which made her smile and blush just a little.
The name stuck. And so did their friendship.
She would come by once or twice a week to look in on him, though he was nothing to her but a neighbor. Yesterday, her excuse for doing so amounted to no more than the fact she’d just, an hour before, baked up a big batch of cookies. She and Kevin would never eat them all, or at least they shouldn’t, she said; handing over a paper bag tied up with a big blue ribbon bow, she added, to quell any remaining objection, he’d be doing her a favor by accepting the cookies, removing the temptation. Back inside the house, opening the bag, he’d marveled at the treasure of a dozen saucer-size sugar molasses cookies, each one individually wrapped in a square of cellophane pulled smooth across the top and folded neatly together under the bottom. As he turned over and removed the cellophane wrap from one of the cookies, using the same slow age-worn deliberation and care with which he had untied the paper bag’s ribbon the day before, Elgin again wondered why he couldn’t have found at some point, for his own, someone like this neighbor gal Anne. He told himself if he were half a century younger and she were still looking, he’d be all after her—and factually, he’d said as much—directly to her—more than once. But it had gotten to be such an old and familiar joke she no longer even blushed. Instead, she’d learned to just laugh the words off, fluttering her eyes towards the heavens while sighing, “Oh Elgin, if only…”
So she knew just how to take him now, and that pleased him more than she could know. And now, consequently, she was no longer hesitant to offer him advice, neither. Or rather, she felt bold enough to tell him what to or not to do—for his own sake, she was always careful to add, either frowning (if she weren’t really serious) or smiling (if she was). Most recently he’d made the mistake of leaving the ladder propped against the barn and so yesterday while coming in the door the first thing she’d said, very sternly and yet smiling, was: “Elgin, I hope you’re not thinking about getting up on that barn roof again!”
And thus she’d extracted from him a promise he wouldn’t ever again be so foolish; in return she promised to send Kevin over soon to fix whatever needed fixing with the barn.
“It’s just the gutter come loose off the downspout,” he’d told her, turning away. “T’isn’t nothing I can’t do for myself.”
“Don’t you dare, Elgin,” she said to his back. “I mean it!”
And the way she glared at him as he turned around in surprise, he guessed she probably did mean it.
So he’d left the ladder alone and gone done something else, but just what it was now he couldn’t remember. He continued munching on the end of the cow plop until it was half gone, but even then he was no closer to discovering what he had been trying to recall.
He looked out the French windows that closed the east end of the kitchen and watched the fog bank rising off the valley below. It moved slowly along with the river, heading north, so slowly and majestically that he could credit the idea that it was indeed the physical emanation of the great white spirit of the Genesee. His brother had believed it to be so, said he believed as the Indians who had lived on this land well before them, that the morning mist was an actual ghost spirit. But Elgin didn’t want to remember any more of his brother just yet, not this early anyway. So he took another sip of his coffee and looked back out the wavy glass side of the window at the oak tree and the swing it held suspended just off the ground from a high branch. As he concentrated on the swing he remembered climbing up into the high oak branches to replace the ropes engulfed now by the limb grown up pinched around where he’d affixed them. And then he remembered one day soon after, coming in the back door, having walked home from school through the woods, to stand where he stood now, watching his mother and father at play. Closing his eyes
Elgin remembered it being the afternoon of his twelfth birthday, which placed his parents in their mid-thirties. He liked remembering them and himself then, as well, when everything seemed possible and time endless and the world’s mysteries appeared still largely benign. He wished he could go back to that day, so as to walk out front and tell what he knew: that while sharpening the scythe near summer’s end his father would cut his hand and die from lockjaw before the last leaves fell.
But he knew, even supposing he could go back, he would never be taken credibly. His father would only laugh and his mother would merely recoil, covering her mouth as she gasped, “Oh, Elgin, how could you even think such a thing?”
He would forever hear that same horrified gasp through the years.