Story by Charles B. Cross
Art by Clinton Van Inman
“Cling to the land and wait; let nothing beguile it away from you.” -Orion Clemens
Teeming with roots and equanimous life struggling from the tawny earth, the mountain spoke to Ruth; it welcomed each bare step as an old woman’s simple supplication to return home. Moisture from the passing rain propagated the tract. Her denim legs soaked through and chilled the aged bone. The bottoms clinged to thorny vines and rigid limbs, tearing holes and halting her passage. Reaching acutely to her ankles, she rolled the hems up into a bulk to free her step. Further, she removed her footing and placed bare into the earth. A sheaf of twigs and leafs burrowed under the heel and snapped and echoed about the trees. The mountain spoke to her...
Every footstep forward on the mountain path is as brief in the present as it is an intimation toward the approaching past. Whether it’s the cries from a blighted pine or the hope reflected in the movement of a running stream, all things in the present were here before us.
Ruth thought nothing of the mountain law. It was not for her to mull over. It was instinctual. An inheritance from the ancestral life of her surroundings perpetuated and imprinted in Ruth’s being by Time’s will. It was a given as she raced up the mountain once called home following only her fondest memories—those of a daughter, a sister, an adventuress. The moments that play in the whimsical days of her heart’s youth streamed with wonder.
Roots ripped apart like the brittle hands of child friendship as she lunged with her back arched in the appropriate angle to meet the mountain slant.
Ruth and the mountain had an understanding. Their relationship was one without possession. It’s because they were family. People forget that they are born to more than man. Human hands and blood are only the beginning to an Appalachian who learns from all facets of the land and its breathing monuments. We learned to grow strong from the stretching limbs and bountiful needles of the White Pine. The wondrous formations of the worn-down rocks planted deep within the water’s motion gave us a lesson in what age had in store if we were stubborn enough. If we kept our head up, the circling Blue Ridge Raptors of the sky would teach us of death and its foreboding. And the mountain spring would learn us to drink. And we would drink in our youth with the belief that this water contained some mystique. As it trickled down our throat, we felt like some Virginia shaman had blessed us with the power from yonder. Nothing can compare to the sip of cool spring water fresh in the ground. It is the quintessence of life. The old woman thought of this as she dug into the mountain’s side.
Her daughter shouted from a distance, “Mom! What happened to your shoes? Put your shoes back on!”
“Mammaw...not so fast! Where are we going?” cried her grandson.
“I’m gonna leave y’all behind now if you don’t hurry it up!” shouted light-hearted Ruth in levity.
She sure did too. And it was no shinny up the mountain, but a graceful and commendable ascent as if a cherub gently arose to the high-top, before vanishing in the ethereal.
A narrow path of auspicious wealth was hiding between a fallen bough and a patch of scrambled sweetbriar. She reached down to further curl the bottom hems of the denims drenched and sullied by the coarseness of her journey. Swelling cuts on the tops and bottoms of her feet were worn like maimed badges of honor.
At the end of the trail, sat an old shack the size of an outhouse. It had no windows and the wood was so rotted that the structure was soon to cave. Closing in on the house, something wrapped itself around her toes. “Lester’s old guitar strings,” she, reminiscing, said to herself.
Cow and sheep intestines were once a regular ingredient used to make strings. Even cat-guts were improvised along with silk thread. This changed during WWII when nylon was introduced by a slick New Yorker; but in the poor lands of Southwest Virginia, folks weren’t accustomed to novel luxuries like city-folk. They made due anyway possible.
She tried to picture Little Les sitting on a tree stump with his homemade guitar pick’n to the old fiddle tunes and mountain ballads. And Glenn always the protector. He would help the others in the fields, or with livestock, any job that would help Ma at home, while Pa was slaving in the mines. Pa didn’t mind though. He said that working the earth was nothing to be ashamed of. At the table one night, he told the boys that finding the light in the darkest of places showed your closeness to God. And that work’n in those mines was how he felt that closeness. And sweet Samuel. Ruth tried to imagine, without crying, a boy with no demons who said “eenie-meeny-miney-mo” like the rest of them. But that was before the devil of the drink took him away. It was hard to imagine the brothers as children. Most of them had grown tall and stern with families of their own to fend for and provide.
An old dress with several patches hung with a pair of darned-up overalls in the center of the house. How they survived the decay of age when nothing else did was a mystery to Ruth. The dress belonged to her sister, Lee. There were three sisters growing up. Lee, the strong bird who always looked after the babes; Patsy, the light-hearted Robin who laughed and played and kept all merry and then there was Ruth. She was a bird untamed with wings that never wanted to let down. In fact, she was still flying.
A background noise suddenly caught her attention. She grabbed the garments, careful not to let the house close in on her, and started towards the sound. A ways down the mountain was the old spring barely visible. On her knees cupping her hands like a child beggar, she sipped with tired lips from the spring.
“Mammaw! What have you got there? What are you drinking?” asked her grandson who had finally caught up.
Her eyes were bright as the ray of light bouncing off the water; free as ever.
“This is from another time. And this is so you never go thirsty, baby boy,” said the untamed bird you will find to this day still flying.
Charles B. Cross is a young writer out of East Tennessee who's recently made his debut with a book of poetry titled If I Settle Down... The author is currently working on his second collection of short stories and poetry called Pedestrian.
Clinton Van Inman grew up in North Carolina, graduated from San Diego State University in 1977, taught in South Carolina and is currently a high school teacher in Tampa Bay where he lives in Sun City Center, Florida with his wife, Elba.
Belle Rêve Literary Journal is a southern literary experience. Our mission is to capture everything that makes the South and its residents unique through the best contemporary literature we can find. We publish new works weekly.
Passionately Ran, Compassionately Fed.