The Ghosts are Dancing
by Rosanne Griffeth
When Joel emerged onto the wide front porch after supper, the wind was up. The gusts had driven the bullfrogs down deep in the mud and stilled the singing crickets. He pulled a pouch of tobacco from the front bib of his overalls. His eyes narrowed, looking to the forest swaying with the wind. He rolled a cigarette and put it between his lips.
“Think you going to be able to light that thing in this gale?” the soft voice of his wife, Trudy said.
He hadn’t heard her come up. She was always the quiet one with her softness and strawberry blond hair. She laid a hand on his arm and he felt the roughness of her palm-- it was a good roughness like the roughness of the land and the roughness of the sky.
Joel pulled a lighter from his pocket and showed it to her. “Give me a shield, Baby Doll?”
She laughed and used her body to block the wind, leaning close to him and cupping her hands. The flame flickered between her palms and Joel drank it into himself. The cigarette caught and glowed on Trudy’s face. He put his arm around her shoulders in the way of those who speak without talking do.
“The trees are bringing their hands together in praise,” Trudy said, as the trees tangled their branches.
“Hmmm.” Joel took a drag off his cigarette and blew the smoke into the wind where it disappeared like mist in a hurricane. “Probably lose some of that roof tin on the barn tonight.” Loose tin on the tobacco barn clanged in agreement.
“Hmmm,” she echoed. “What say we turn in? We have a busy day tomorrow with Lurlene coming home.”
“It will be good to have her back. Won’t it, Trudy?” He searched her face to see if it really was all right.
“Of course, it will. It will be good to have another set of woman hands in the house. She’s family. ‘Sides, it will do the boys good to have their cousins to grow up with. They don’t hardly know how to act around girls as it is.”
Joel laughed. “I reckon you’re right.”
They went inside and he put a night log in the woodstove and turned the damper down. Trudy stood in the door to their bedroom and watched him. He dusted the wood dust off his hands and they smiled in a way that said everything when there was nothing left to say. When they turned back the quilts of the big bed--the bed where he and his sister were born--and climbed into the cool sheets smelling of sunlight. It was like wrapping themselves in home. Sleep came with them spooned together with the sound of the wind whistling through the stovepipe and the roof tin.
Lurlene couldn’t sleep. She listened to the wind race through the trees across the Pigeon and heard the river’s roar. It sounded cruel with the wind moaning and crying.
Bridey curled up on the other side of the bed, the side where Roger used to sleep. Her soft black hair fanned on the pillow like a wave of shine. Lurlene stroked Bridey’s soft baby cheek, soft like a moth’s wing, all fragile and silky. Bridey snuggled deep in her nest of quilts and balled her body up tighter. Lurlene sighed and wished she could sleep like that--snug and innocent.
The dim light from the bedside lamp gave poor light to read by, but Lurlene did not need it. She had read these letters so many times until she knew each word, each comma, each period by heart. They were the letters Roger sent her from Viet Nam. She kept them in a hand carved box to read when the girls slept. His signature was worn off in places where Lurlene traced the curves of his writing, as if she could touch his hand across time and death. The onionskin paper was faded and brittle and some of the ink smeared in teary watermarks.
Some of the tears were from that time, when they were eighteen and he fought so far away. She wept and prayed to Jesus for him to come home. It was eighteen months of constant prayer. And when he did come home, he came back different. His eyes, haggard and hard from what he had seen, no longer lifted at the corners when he laughed.
She prayed him home with her breath and her faith. She gave her prayers wings to fly him back to these Tennessee Mountains. But God works in mysterious ways that are at times cruel. Roger died six months after he came back from that tour. Lurlene wished she could be thankful for those six months. She wished she could pray like that again. But, truth be told, she thought God called that one wrong and she wasn’t ready to forgive Him yet. She knew she shouldn’t feel that way, but she just couldn’t help it.
Lurlene was awake when the rains began. She heard the first few drops hit the tin roof in hard fat pings. Windy evenings often begat rainy nights in the mountains, she thought. When she crawled beneath the covers, she thought the din on the roof would lull her to sleep. She wished for sleep though she did not pray for it. She had lost her faith in prayer.
When her eyes closed, she thought the rain louder than usual, like a wall of water falling in the darkness. Bridey sensed her as she curled up in the bed and rolled over, seeking her mother’s warmth. The toddler slept right through it. Bridey slept right through it. And Lurlene, she finally slept and she slept right through it.
She slept through it because she was tired and weary. Weary in her woman’s bones.