*** This will be a serial story during the month of February, Look for it each Monday.***
The Ghosts are Dancing
By Rosanne Griffeth
This was what the old women told me when I was a girl. The dog came to the man and said, “Build a boat for a great deluge is coming.” So the man built the boat for his family to ride out the great storm. The water rose until it covered the tops of the mountains. When the waters receded, the man and his family built a fire in celebration. They heard in the night, drums beating in the distance. They went to look, happy others survived the great flood. But all they found was a great pile of human bones and they realized--the ghosts were dancing.
He had farmed the holler all his life, as his father had farmed it before him, and as his grandfather had before his father. When he looked at the broad bottomland, with the rotten rock cliffs rising up from the banks of Cripple Creek, his heart felt at peace. The ghosts of his ancestors kept him company as he tilled the fields, whispering in his ear in a way he could hear, somewhere deep and hidden in his flesh.
Needs a bit more ammonia, Joel. Watch out for that rock, Joel. You’ll break the plow. There’s a storm coming.
A hound shimmied out from Joel's old Chevy truck and plopped down, back legs splayed. The dog straightened up, arched his back and scratched the sweet spot on his belly. His black rubbery lips stretched in a wide grin and his ears tightened against his sleek skull. The sun kissed the hound’s back and warmed the tender green of the fields. Joel slapped his thigh and called the dog to him.
Such was the day before the night the rains came.
Lurlene, his twin sister, had toiled by his side until she was fourteen. She moved down the mountain when she married Roger Holt and had her first baby, but Roger died in a logging accident leaving Lurlene a widow at twenty with two babies.
Lurlene was coming back home with her babies. That was what family was for, Joel thought. He was happy that by late summer, he’d hear Lurlene singing in the field as they staked tobacco. They would end the day splashing in the creek and stripping the field dirt from their skins as they had when they were children.
They grew up as two halves of the same person. They shared a womb and were birthed on their parent’s bed here on this farm. They were native stock of this place where the two branches of Cripple Creek cradled the inky dirt of the bottom. The sound of the water never strayed far from their ears. To Joel and Lurlene, it was the sound of home, as familiar as their mother’s heartbeat.
Lurlene stood on the porch of her cottage on the banks of the Pigeon River. A tear escaped the corner of her eye. She scrubbed the back of her hand at it, annoyed she couldn’t be strong enough. Lord, she thought, I miss him so.
Everywhere she looked, she saw his spirit in the things he left behind. When she thought she’d gathered enough strength to go on, she’d see his coffee mug, or the rake he’d discarded in the yard she’d fussed at him about, or the martin house they’d built together. When she thought she'd had her fill of weeping, her eyes flooded and her heart hurt.
His bright blue eyes stared back at her from the faces of her two girls.
Lurlene felt a tug on her skirt and looked down, trying to keep her heart reined in, like a mule fixing to haw. Her throat constricted and her chest tightened with the effort.
“Mommy, don’t be sad. Daddy’s with Jesus now,” her oldest, Bridey, parroted the words she’d been told in her baby lisp.
Lurlene dropped to her knees, hugging the six-year old tightly, desperately. Bridey squirmed, though she did not pull back. Lurlene put her hands on Bridey’s narrow shoulders and squeezed.
“Yes, Baby, Daddy is with Jesus.”
The toddler woke up squalling and Lurlene went in to check on the two-year old. She walked through the house, now stripped of all of furnishings and piled with boxes, to the back bedroom. Lacie rubbed her eyes with her chubby little fists. She alternated between rubbing and wailing.
Lurlene picked the baby up and bounced her. “Shhhh--shhhhh. Lord, you are getting to be a big girl, aren’t you?”
Lurlene spied the lost pacifier and stuck it in the baby’s mouth. The toddler hushed and sucked while looking up with smiling baby eyes. She was harder to lug around these days and Lurlene’s back twinged in protest.
Lurlene balanced Lacie on her hip and grabbed Bridey’s hand. “Let’s walk down to the store and get a treat? What do you say?”
Bridey jumped up and down, grinning, all sadness gone with the promise of a candy bar.
“Yes, yes!” she lisped, tugging on Lurlene’s arm.
“Well, after tomorrow, when we move back to the farm, we’ll have a long walk to get treats--so I s’pose we may well have one last trip to the corner store.”
The three went down the steps of the little white house on the banks of the Pigeon and strolled to Mr. Naillon’s store. The sun felt warm and sweet on the early spring day.
That was what Lurlene and her babies were doing the day before the night the rains came.