Opal came by yesterday to ask Where they come from? and say J.’s got you mower fixed. The rain came the day before and washed us all out. Flood-plain land in a valley never does dry out. But the last storm did more: Rain water brought down some parts of washing machine and tin-roof from way up in the woods. We got us a newly delivered set of tires, says Opal and wades back out black, black angel to the sunken road.
Roady’s Place got the usual soak. A creek runs up the middle of the property now, almost year round. Doesn’t matter for living. All that remains are two stone chimneys. Nobody here knows who ever did live there. Divvy says Ghosts come out from Roady’s as regular as the sun shine. Sometimes Opal claims to hear a noise like a ghost would make, like a human noise, moaning and cackling. But she says, I don’t spy on nothin. Keep to they biness; I be at mine. Now what’s there is a teepee and some people that come from a place they had to leave.
Divvy called in to say this place is changing and asked what I cared about it. New people around don’t bother me. Opal doesn’t have a phone and they are settling closest to her. I pointed out there’s no house on the property, no mailbox either, Divvy yelled through to me on phone lines just beginning to feel the storm. The man’s got hair to the ground, and he said they don’t need a thing. I believe he said What we want is nothing. Isn’t it about the damndest, running around looking for less than what you got. By god he’ll find it here, and Divvy hung up the phone.
Henry came in just as he was turning a water-light blue. The Buffalo’d risen over its banks long ago, so he’d had to park the truck up at Tornis’ and cross over on the footbridge. I helped him pull his clothes off. The shuddering from down in him shone out of his eyes the way some eyes look after seeing the dead. This is just the start of it, and Henry stood to get dressed again.
We moved what we could—rugs, blankets, my books, the pots and sponges in the lower kitchen cabinets. And it’s simple: Put anything in a low place up in a high place. Rain against our house is like metal on metal; some sheets strike against a window like they’ll cut right through. Divvy fears storms so much he tries to turn away from them. Go upstairs and wait, I figure a rinsing out is a rinsing out, and he lets the mess fall. But Henry believes in precaution; and when we have the tables and chairs and all Henry’s good scrap wood tied back, we go out into the wind to help Opal and J. Hardly.
God Almighty we got chickens that looks wanting to die, Opal runs in rubber boots too big, her arms raised up; and lightening strikes not far off. They’ve got their house built up on higher ground and safe from most weather. But J.’s shed is level with the creek, down by the road, and that road just delivers water in streams up into his little place. The night goes on without a moon. Henry gets J. to take all his mowers and chainsaws up the hill; they leave what’s hanging on the walls to stand the storm. Get it; get that sorry; oh mighty, pluck you ass, Opal runs hunching over after the crazed chickens. We frighten them into the coup and latch the door.
The creek climbs up its banks and drifts into the road. Across the way is this new teepee. An old van is near it with doors open and children running in; a man is waving his arm to hurry. Some women carrying things with them, close to their bodies, maybe infants, duck out of the door and into the van. The headlights are on, but there is no engine sound; and they pull out, driving up the road just before it turns into a river.
Lightening splits just above us, and Henry runs, covering his head, for the porch. A bad one, he shouts, a real bad one. We all look down to the shed and J. is pulling his last engine, an old tiller, up the hill with his one arm. The winds come in spirals – slash and spit the rain on all sides. J. Hardly’s empty sleeve whips against his side. The shed door slaps open and rocks back and forth on lazy hinges. But J. has his back to it and there’s no yelling down there in this weather. You get on; you take in tonight, Opal screams as she is stumbling back down the yard, arms out like wings to soar above the fright of it.
Two days later, the rain stops and the rising is at a plateau. Takes time for the hills to drain it all down to us, Henry explains, though everyone already knows. He reads weather by the speed of clouds, Few good days ahead us now, then he hikes up his pants and stuffs them into his boots. Whole afternoons he slops around under the house looking for what is surely ruined: His ’67 motor drowned, his rims and doors and tailgates sunk in the mud, even his old tool box rusting.
I leave everything out for a sun-dry. Put carpets and pillows on the line. Some heavier cushions just on stumps out in the yard. They sit out there like islands in the darkening of water that darkens because it is drain water, already run through things and been used. But it’s best not to have them in the house either. A house can rot from the inside like that.
Opal does more wandering after the storm to see what it washed up. A few years ago she found a typewriter that might work good if it had some ribbon in it. It just fits for it not to work cause I got no use for the thing if it do, so she put it up under her bed and said I could find it and have it after she died. She keeps a collection of small bolts and washers too rusted over for use up in the mortar grooves of her chimney. What can be used she gives to her brother, J., and he puts them in the shed. I’ve heard him talk two times and once was less than five months ago. Wrenchers good for fixes mowers and saws, and he dropped his head and turned away right after that. If he still did have that other arm I imagine he’d use it to cover his face when someone speaks to him. Oh he’s been shy since a mighty long way before he was borned. Not a speck sad, just shuttered up against talking to all folk, Opal explained about them seven years ago, before I asked; maybe because she knew I never would. There’s a limit on what’s kind to ask a person.
But they were raised in the house they got now and the history of it goes through all kinds of deaths, mostly old-age ones. They own the property they live on down here and Divvy owns all the rest. When J. was near seventeen he got his right arm taken off while he was helping his daddy rig up the sawmill. No one sees it; especially not Mamma; Daddy took cared of it start to finished. Opal says it healed over better than she expected.Daddy tieds it off up there above the elbow and kepts it covered for probably three months or more. Soon as J. healed over he went back to working the best he could manage. And Daddy never did get on that boy for working so darned slow; no never anyone could; bless his broken soul. The killed part Daddy buried away for resting in peace, Opal widened her eyes, nodded her head. That was final.
Come on and look here, Opal yells to me from out in the road. The water is running a couple inches up her boots. The air smells old and is perfectly still. I wave to her. She waits shifting her weight from one foot to the other and talks quietly to herself.
We go all down the road and look over Divvy’s cow pond. More lake every time, Opal smiles. The cows are all up, nearly out of sight, by the edge of woods on the highest ground they can get to. We turn back and head toward her place. Catch what you can; mountain fish ought to be out, Henry calls out as we pass. His arms are covered with mud up past his elbows. All sorta things runs down lately, Opal says and pushes her stiff hair back.
We go slow, drag our feet through the road that’s mostly floating. There’s the teepee still standing and some children running half-naked in what’s more a swamp than anything else. They keep to they own and I’m not minds them, Opal admits. We both watch, we stare from this distance. The noises are dim and happy. Like anyone after a flooding, they sort through things, putting them up to air out. Some singing comes down the hollow between us. It’s light and whimpering; the air is almost too thick to carry it without spoiling the echo. I got no things knowing of them; but lord just looks down on ’em a time and I know they carries a story runs farthest deeper than they graves ever will, Opal shakes her head and looks at me quick before she stops and fishes an old bottle off the road.
We come right up to their camp and turn to start for Opal’s when the man calls to us, Boy, that storm sure brought some things down off the mountain, didn’t she? Unlikely things too. Opal smiles and looks up to say, Sure did sir, surleys it did.
For an instant the sound of a dry-throated bird rises up through the damp sky. Then I knew J. Hardly was there in the shed holding his own bones.