What I know to be true is Anna Ray has no teeth. Her lips move like curtains in a sputtering breeze. She is leaning against the remains of her car staring proudly across the street at her oldest son on the only day I can recall Lamar working. Born in Good, Pennsylvania, she is anything but, her face a map of the crags and hollows of the Yankee hills west of Gettysburg. She is not one of us, nor is her son, Lamar, nor is his father, Charlie One, though Charlie One was born here but only just, coming into this life in the bed of a swayback panel truck as his folks lumbered desperate across the West Virginia line, a flint gray whisker width ahead of the law. Consuela, the harpy harpist who lives upstairs, calls the whole brood of them “the Malunguns”, a name she and her sister gave to people with jug ears and large bushy eyebrows when they were children living in New Madrid, Missouri. Now I call them that and worse.
Mary Catherine sees them. I can see her craned at her window, dark-slit blue-flame eyes pressed close to the squinting blinds, her robe pulled fist-tight against the loneliness and chill. I imagine her fueled by caffeine, hate and occasional nibbles of dry toast. She is perched behind her Gothic blinds, a vantage point that allows her to see plenty her nights on watch, especially now that our tender, leafless oaks yield a clear shot up S. East St.. The Malunguns maneuver and grunt in the fractured shadows, with a large tumbling, twisting victim between them. All is shades of black squirming and then they are inside, and there is a loud slam, and what twitchy light there was, is gone.
Mary Catherine is a woman of indeterminate age. Once beautiful, she has dust gray hair and wine-vellum skin. Looking at her the other day, I remembered with no connection, that polar bear hair is hollow and clear. There was an article recently in the Culpeper Citizen saying the Richmond Zoo’s polar bear had an algae bloom in his hair making it green. I don’t know what they did for the algae.
There are never enough words to say, most especially if you don’t practice saying them. Should I tell her it is her skin I have my first memories of-soft, smooth, and for years confused with the lilac that caresses the Big House, and me clutching at the supple flowers with clumsy child fingers, saying, "Momo Atti, Momo Atti," laughing and laughing, so she has said? Or should I say, it has for many years been her face I first saw after an accident or a fall, beginning with the first mauling by the Malunguns’ mutt dog and moving on to these tumbled days? Even when I awoke in the hospital while in the service, I thought it was Hattie standing over me. It was much later I realized it was a young Navy nurse and perhaps an easy mistake. Should I tell her that she is who has put me back together when I have been unrecoverable to myself?
But I believe my speciality is in areas other than words. I gave Hattie flowers from the florist’s on Main St. and a Whitman Sampler. A stranger would never guess her love of chocolate from the loose fit of delicately flowered dresses over her reed thin body, her arms revealing the course and flex of each muscle and the steady pulse of her heart. As a child in her lap, I remember staring at her forearm, watching it move with each beat and connecting the movement to the sound in her chest as I curled in her arms, reaching out with stubby fingers to touch her vein as the blood coursed through it. I wonder that was ever me as she is unchanged.
Hamilton, after claiming the better seat next to Hattie, squeezed me between Mary Catherine and Lucy B - three shriveled husks waiting for our own piles of dirt and peace, the air clinging to us in muggy desperation as if to remind every one, least we forget, what a blessing it is to die. We sat in pools of our own sweat, each of us, fingers clinched to the calloused pew in front riding a holy roller coaster. The incense lamp hung and swung as choral voices dripped from dank beams. Crickets clicked secrets while we sat hands cramping, looking at the pale sheen boards and Edna June, reminding me the future is a pine box and not forty virgins as I once hoped.
The Reverend Forrest Ball said his words in a harmony that implied he will not meet the same fate as the rest of us. We sat knuckles white, shallow panting on the smug eternal oak intoning, "Life is fleeting, love is fleeting, but hate is the wafer slow to melt.""Washed by the blood of Christ. Washed by the blood of Christ. Washed by the blood of Christ," to the Reverend Ball’s breathy cant.
Mary Catherine reached across the great rift and encircled her dry-husk bones into mine. Her hand was cold, my palm dry, long past the memory of sweat. I felt Hamilton miss nothing. His hat, not having moved a hair on his head, lay smug, slumbering in his lap held by perfect limber, lanky, manicured fingers ringed by gleaming white cuffs. A peal bell flush and everyone rose to sing Amazing Grace. Mary Catherine pulled me up and I felt pulled up. I sang and was shocked by the cool river of my own tears across desert cheeks. The drops vanished into the sand. The voices stopped, and there were only the crickets and frogs and the still righteous shade.
A Rare Find
This is the most delicious and beautifully crafted story. I am hopelessly in love with this work and am so happy to have discovered it. A treasure.— Banshee
Don't try to skim!
This is not a book to read if you're impatient or in a hurry; it can't be skimmed! Its true Southern literature that has to be relished, word for word, page by page - like a fine aged whiskey or a hand-crafted micro-brew. I enjoyed the imagery and rich descriptions of place and person, plus the reflections on recent and past (Civil War) history; all seemed appropriate to the meandering story.— Daniel P. Fischer
Worthy of notice and recognition, a brilliant first on all levels
Call it bow to tradition, a wink to poetic rhythm and a nod to family and tradition but this first novel marks a great beginning for this talented and thought-provoking writer. With words sometimes raw and always delicious, Mr Jones weaves a tapestry of intrigue, history and character development that is unique, educated and provocative. The author artfully blends Civil War history with the goings-on of a mysterious neighbor and daily life in a Southern town. As the title implies, the journal affords the reader an intimacy and perspective that is refreshing and, at times, shockingly self-revealing. I recommend this fine work to anyone who wants to have an affair with a book that is both prose and poetry.— Christopher Vardas