August 31st, 2010
|09:10 am - From the Trunk|
This morning, on my morning run-walk: "Look out, they're gaining on you!" said my friend E, smiling, as I passed him and his wife's dog at the top of the street. Behind me, the pounding of footsteps, the local high school cross-country kids leaping in manner of gazelles as they passed me. (If gazelles were engaged in conversations like, totally, and can you like believe what that dude said... Yet perhaps that is what gazelles talk like! I have no good information on that.)
I'm back to this LJ after a two-week elsewhere to be, and I feel the days gaining on me.
So, today, I'm going to post a story from my writing trunk. I haven't been able to place it, and I rather think the time for sending it out has passed, so... that's why I have an LJ, right?
Magical realism in West Texas, cut for your convenience...
“Something's got to be done about that damn windmill man,” Callie said into her pillow. “Can't get any sleep with that guy talking crap.”
Dal, half-buried under his own pillow, grumbled something about photovoltaic cells and bologna, and then said in a dreaming voice, “Yeah. Okay. Dealing with things of the wind is a woman's job.”
“Go back to sleep, babe. Really.” Callie pushed at his shoulder until he crawled all the way under the blankets and began to snore.
Once he was settled, she threw back the covers and went to the open window. Moonlight couldn't defeat the deep of night out here in nowhere, west Texas, but she knew what she was looking for.
Near rose the old barn – their garage, Dal's workshop, and her tumbleweed storage – and the satellite dish and the ordinary windmill which drew the water for their house. Next field over, past the first line of barbed wire, stood the windmill man, spinning and chattering even though for once the wind was barely a breath.
Have to run have to drink have to eat have to swim away swim away safe.
Callie put her hands on the sill and leaned out into moonlight and the scent of fresh water in a dry land. “Hey, you!”
Even at this distance, she could see him clearly. The sucker rod at the center of his shadowy heart expanded and contracted as it moved up and down, and in the moonlight the tarnished metal blades winked in a back-and-forth smile. Aerm, one big blade read, although Aer was what Mother Jane had called the windmill man when she'd first shown him to Callie all those years ago. Callie didn't call him anything.
Carolina Elena Hernandez, the windmill man said now with his familiar rattling sigh. He never shortened her first name or used her married name, but stuck to the form with which she'd been introduced. Have to run have to swim away swim away from this place.
She felt a wave of sympathy before the usual anger broke over it. “No, you don't.”
The windmill man hissed loud enough to disturb the moonlight. She knew the sucker rod at his shadowy heart would be moving faster, expanding and contracting, up and down, knew the water would be rushing up the pipe too fast. She heard the splash of it over the edge of the old stone tank, smelled the earth soaking it up.
Waste, that's what she called it. Waste and malice.
The blades moved faster now, even though the wind hadn't changed. The windmill man's muttering worried her. She'd caught him traveling a time or two, woke up once to find the shadow of the wood-and-metal tower looming over the house. Mother Jane had always said not to fear him, the windmill man was fine if occasionally a little peculiar, but Callie still didn't trust him. He might be their damn guardian, but he didn't talk sense, he might go too far one of these days.
She pulled on her boots, threw one of Dal's old Rice sweatshirts over her pajamas, and went out herself. On the way she grabbed her talisman made of mesquite.
Scent of water was stronger once she was walking in the moonlight. It made her remember her adolescent and early adulthood immersion, first as a swimmer, then a swim coach: hours and hours in those artificially blue pools in the Arizona desert where she'd grown up, hours of noise and splash. The chlorine-wash had both cleansed and tainted.
The first time Mother Jane had brought her to meet the windmill man, Callie had tasted the purity here – not just the water in the old stone tank, but the reservoir depths and the solitary dark below that. The windmill man's shadow couldn't touch it. She'd smiled and stretched her hands back just like she was getting ready to dive in, and as if a valve had opened, untapped power rose up in a wave to meet her. Mother Jane had smiled back and said, “You'll do fine once you open your eyes, my girl. You'll do more than fine.”
“Thank you, Mother Jane,” Callie said now into the moonlight, which poured white enough over the fields to make the land look like the sea. “Miss you.”
I miss her too, said the windmill man. Carolina Elena Hernandez doesn't know doesn't know Mother Jane would know storm coming.
“I do know. I watched the Weather Channel.” She didn't look toward the north. The clouds hadn't shown themselves yet – a day or so away, the meteorologists said, but it was likely to be a bad one.
Blades spun around once in the still night under the moon. Wood-and-metal tower creaked with the effort. Sucker rod expanded and contracted like a beating heart.
But the windmill man didn't say anything in the wind he'd created. This time silence worried her more than nonsense.
Her fingers tightened around the talisman hard enough to mark the skin. “What's the problem, windmill man?”
Blades spun, tower creaked. Water rushed up and over.
Staying away from the new mud, she went to the old stone tank and rested her hands on its lip. The water trembled, lap lap lap against the side, then smoothed. Above her head, the blades stopped. Beside her, the sucker rod at the center stilled.
She pressed down into the stone and the wood, summoning her power just in case. “What's the problem?” she said again.
Carolina Elena Hernandez storm's coming, was the whisper.
“You've seen a lot of storms in your time. You know how to spin with it,” she said. “You'll get your fresh wind to eat and your rainwater to drink.”
Different storm. From the depths came a humorless gurgle. Want to run want to swim swim away safe.
“'Want' isn't the same thing as 'have to,'” she said sternly, and without another glance or word she picked up the talisman and turned. Stepped around the new mud. Walked to her home and her sleeping husband without giving a backward glance.
As she went, however, the wind rose, and she heard the windmill man whispering secrets to himself.
Her dreams that night were filled with moonlight on the sea, with the rustle of waves loud as any windmill man's dark chatter, with a mage-woman's last breath as she went under.
Dal said over breakfast the next morning, “Callie, why don't we go to town this evening?”
She looked up from her cereal. He sat there with his organic oatmeal and the latest issue of Sustainable Living, his black hair uncombed and his chin unshaven and the rip in his oldest jeans getting bigger by the second. Just an ordinary morning, except his dreamer's eyes were uncomfortably sharp.
He'd looked at her like that the night they'd met, all those years ago. She'd traveled from Phoenix to Houston to see her cousin Catherine get married, but there'd been too many people at the reception, too much fake laughter and bad perfume. Tipsy, Callie had escaped an insistent sous-chef friend of the groom's and a local band singing (badly) “Don't Fear the Reaper,” and had wended her way through hotel corridors, her fingers on the wall to keep her steady. She'd stepped outside the front doors and into mist, only to find a lanky, rumpled man elbow-balanced on a bench and staring absently at the streetlamps, muttering to himself about the speed of light. She'd seen him drinking at the reception, but he hadn't seemed any happier there than she'd been.
When he'd turned to look at her, his blue eyes had focused all at once, as if he saved his attention for only the most important things. “Hey there. My name's Dallas, Dal for short to avoid confusion with the town, and, sugar, I can tell you've got you some real magic,” he'd said in a matter-of-fact drawl. Then he'd held out his open hand, and she'd taken it.
The first time Callie had met her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Mother Jane had said that all the Burns men had the gift of sight. “Not that they use it for much beyond sex and crazy inventions,” she'd added tartly, “not that they have actual useful skills to take care of the water and the things of the wind,” and Dal had reddened and then retreated into dream.
He was awake now, though. He pushed at her with his foot. “Hey now, sugar, you hear me? What do you say to a trip to the city tonight?” His smile was wry. “I mean, who could turn it down -- bright lights, big Lubbock.”
Her foot and her smile touched his, but she shook her head. “Didn't you see this?” She reached over to the muted television and tapped the screen where a map of the United States flickered. A blue line was dipping ever closer to this edge of Texas. “Storm's coming, babe, not a good day for traveling. I have to be here.”
“Do you?” he said.
“You know I do.” She moved her foot away and began to stir her cereal.
“Do you?” he said again.
She pushed her cereal to the side. “You seeing something else, Dal?”
“I could drive,” he said. Then, “Don't want you out in the fields in this storm, Callie. Please.”
A wave of cold fear, before the anger broke over it. “It's not your business. Except if you see something really bad on the way, you better tell me. Please.”
“I don't like the look of the clouds, that's all. I just want....” He lost his words.
“'Want' isn't the same thing as 'have to,' Dal. It's my damn job.” Then, relenting, she put her hand over his. He was holding his spoon too tight, she had to uncurl his fingers. “You brought me here, babe, and I love it. Love you. Don't worry.”
“Might as well tell me not to breathe,” he said, but he leaned over the table and kissed her so deep and sweet she could taste blueberries and honey on his tongue.
After breakfast, though, he hovered at the back door for a moment, jingling his five lucky dimes. “So, sugar, what else you got planned for today?”
She rinsed the last bowl and set it on the draining board before she turned. “Collection this morning – got another order from that indie producer, did I tell you? And then Carmen asked me to spell her at the store after lunch for an hour or so.”
“Is that right.” Staring down at the floor, he rang the coins against each other one more time. Then, with a nectarous smile, “You know what, I think I've been real selfish. Mom would have said I needed to learn to share.”
“No, babe, that's one thing you're good at.”
But he ignored her protest. Took her hand, turned the palm up, and poured his lucky dimes into the hollow. The metal was warm and clean, just like him. “You carry them today, just as a favor. All right?”
“All right.” She would have kissed him again, but he was already drifting out the door, muttering to himself about turbines and the cardinal directions.
The windmill man was muttering too when she went outside. In the morning wind the blades spun fast, Aerm a blur of rightside upside downside no smile, and the sucker rod kept time. His voice was as dark as the line of storm marking the north.
Want something want something. Run drink eat swim away swim away safe.
“You just hush,” she said over her shoulder. “Or rather, you say something sensible and I'll listen.”
Mother Jane would have listened any of the Mothers listen listen good.
“Well, none of them are here,” she said, and went through the gaping door of the barn. Once hidden in the dimness, however, she sank to her knees, covered her eyes, swallowed saltwater.
The first Mother Jane had come to this place with her husband Gus Burns back in 1919, twenty years before oil was discovered nearby. He'd built the windmill first thing, and she'd walked out one lonely autumn morning, laid hands on the wood-and-metal structure, and called the windmill man into life to nourish and protect them all in this arid land. It was her job to take care of him in return.
Dal's great-uncle Albert used to tell this story about the things of the wind and the changers, and then add, “Gave the woman airs, it did. Change-magic just led to votin'”, and then spit. He'd never married.
Callie's mother-in-law had been the third Mother Jane. Against all reason and normal familial practice Callie had loved her the moment she set eyes on her, loved her and learned from her even though she didn't have all the gifts. When Mother Jane had announced she was leaving the land and the work and going to Corpus Christi to retire in a little place on the water, nobody'd argued more to keep her here than Callie: “I don't have enough,” Callie had said, flexing her fingers, “you have to stay,” but Mother Jane had just shaken her head. Now Mother Jane wasn't anywhere she could be called.
Crying you're crying, said the windmill man, too close. Shadow of the wood-and-metal structure was creeping toward the open door.
“Shut up and get back where you belong,” Callie said, and tossed a mesquite chip at the shadow. The windmill man retreated at the hint of thirsty, uncontrolled tree-magic. When she got in her truck, she slammed the door hard enough to send the shadow running the rest of the way.
She felt more in control once she was out on the land. She'd made a morning routine as soothing as a long, slow swim in a private pool, meditative as stroke and turn. First she drove out to the furthest field, where several old pumpjacks pulsed up and down. She circled the next field in, where the greedy mesquites were hemmed in by barbed wire and her magic until such times she and Dal and her best friend Carmen's husband Jorge would cut some down, collect some flowers, strip some bark. They used everything they could.
She sat for a while by the third field, gazing at its emptiness. Something needed to go here, but she didn't know what.
A real mage-woman would know, the windmill man said. His voice sawed the air, cutting at her nerves. Wind was rising.
“I'm not a pattern-maker or a real changer, now, am I,” she said, and she put her hand in her pocket and jingled Dal's lucky dimes to calm herself.
You're not a lot of things Carolina Elena Hernandez.
Refusing to dignify that with a reply, Callie drove to the field in between the emptiness and the windmill man. Here, which she also hemmed in by magic, she cultivated tumbleweeds for internet sale to crazy people who needed them for movies, or parties, or any damn thing. But Russian thistle was a weed. Even with gloves it cut her hands when she lifted the dry dead balls into the shipping boxes, and alive it was thirsty, just like the mesquite. Which made her think, and as she closed the last box--
“Say, windmill man, is this stuff drinking too much from you?”
Hurt hurt hurt. His shadow lengthened. Have to run drink eat swim away swim away safe.
“That's not really an answer.”
Leaving the newly filled boxes in the truck, she opened the gate and went through the fading sunlight toward the windmill man. Closer she got, the more agitated he was – blades kicking upside downside no smile, sucker rod churning, scrape and rattle and hiss.
She put her hands on the wood-and-metal tower, curving fingers around the old poles just where the second Mother Jane had carved handholds. Windmill man was shaken to his core, the touch told her.
She looked to the north and the storm, and shuddered.
She didn't have the magic of a changer or a pattern-maker, but she could hold on with what she had. “Sorry, man, can't stop that. But it's going to be okay. You'll get a good drink tonight.”
The hidden water ascended, and on the surface, waves lapped lapped lapped against stone. Windmill man didn't say anything else, nor did she.
She looked toward the north. In a flicker the stormline had come even closer, the dark rushing forward like the sea. She watched it for a while. She held on til their shaking eased.
At lunch – Dal had fixed his favorite cold-weather lentils and cornbread, which as always she suffered without protest – the two of them ate to the muted accompaniment of the Weather Channel. Although she sat with her back to the TV, she felt the tidal pull of the blue line. Dal tried to make conversation, but he kept running into his own silences. He must be on the border between dream and invention, she thought. After the storm she'd ask him what he was seeing.
Before she left on her errands he kissed her, a press against the wall and a liquid rush in and out. “You be careful, sugar,” he whispered. “You sure you don't want me to drive you there and back?”
“You'd be bored out of your gourd at the store. Do your own work,” she whispered in reply before nipping his earlobe. When he yelped and stumbled back, she laughed, then bolted out into the afternoon.
Chattering something she couldn't make out, the windmill man waved at her when she drove down the lane. Blades were already blurring even though the real wind wasn't here yet. Rain swelled the clouds now, almost ready to fall. Callie briefly regretted not letting Dal drive her, after all, but then punched the gas and drove through the flatland to their little town.
Her post-office errand didn't take much time. Even so, when she walked through the doors of the Shop-Smart there at the city limits, Carmen leapt out from behind the counter. “Callie, where have you been?”
“Sorry,” Callie said. Carmen was in full drama-mode, black braid almost sticking out with tension, shirt fluttering, boots sliding on the too-bright linoleum as she ran toward the door. “What's wrong? You're taking Inez to the dentist, right?”
“No, new problem. Mama. Rest home. Said she saw the face of Cthulhu in a cinnamon roll yesterday. Why she couldn't see Jesus or Selena or the Virgin of Guadalupe like any other damn person, I do not know, but I got to go convince Mrs. Doring that Mama's not a Satanist or some such shit.” Carmen air-kissed Callie's cheek in a breezy rush, then stopped. “Honey, I sure do appreciate this, especially since that ugly norther's coming. I'll send Jorge over before the rain hits so you can drive home in the dry.”
“Sorry,” Callie said quietly, swallowing shame and salt. “Love you, hon.”
“Love you too,” was carried on Carmen's breeze as she went through the doors and into cloud.
The Shop-Smart was humming-light quiet. Callie took her place behind the counter. The register hummed too -- its red-lettered scroll telling everyone Coke 12-pack 4.00 and Buy Bread Here.
She looked outside. Wind was starting to whine. Clouds were cresting. Soon cloud would become rain, the fall of it a weapon.
She thought of a mage-woman's last breath as she went under, and then turned away from the windows to the red-lettered scroll.
During the next hour a few customers came in. Gas, milk, playing cards, cases of Bud, and the local produce Carmen stocked went out. Callie smiled and asked after children and spouses and sick animals, took the money, made change. In between that, she watched the dark rush of storm. Wind sounded too much like the ocean swallowing up the world.
After the last customer left, she felt itchy -- yearning for safety, wanting to be home. She remembered the windmill man's cries, and, eyes closed, she spun around once in new sympathy.
On an impulse she took out Dal's five lucky dimes and placed them on the body of the register. “So tell me something I need to know,” she said to it.
Coke 12-pack 4.00... Buy Bread Here.
“I'm sure not a changer,” she murmured, laughing a little in old disappointment. Then she curled her fingers around the display. A wave of... something washed over her. A gift from Dal, she thought, or a gift from elsewhere.
Clouds crested, wind crashed, register hummed. She had to fight for the next breath.
“Tell me something I need to know,” she said again.
Somehow, in the glitter of metal, the grip of fingers, and the rush of words, a valve opened.
The dimes caught the overhead lights. She smelled chlorine, tasted salt. She heard the ocean and Mother Jane's last breath before the waves took her. The register hummed louder, the red-lettered scroll moved faster.
Go home my girl... Coke 12-pack 4.00... Go home and do your job... Buy Bread Here... Go home go home go home.
Callie, shivering, had just caught up the dimes when the door opened on a gust. Jorge ran his hand through his tumbled hair. “Hey, chica! Sorry I'm late. Gonna be a real sombitch of a storm. Anyway, did Carmen tell you, I got something for Dal--”
She was already running. She barely had time to grab the envelope he held out for her before another gust picked her up and swirled her through the doors into the early-running cold.
When she was still a mile from home, it hit.
Waves of cold grey washed over the windshield so fast and hard she couldn't see. It was a reservoir burst, an ocean redrawing its coastline five hundred miles inland.
Callie's hands slipped on the steering wheel, her throat filled. The world was water, all of it water, going to take her just like Mother Jane on that strange moonlit night when the tide had swallowed her up.
She put her foot down on the gas. In her pocket the lucky dimes rang together, although she didn't understand their song.
Almost there. Through the whip and rage of the storm came the windmill man's voice. Help us help us want to stay, he hissed and rattled, and then, a whisper, Carolina Elena Hernandez come home come home safe.
She breathed. She cut faster through the waves.
When she drove up to the windmill man's field, Dal stood by the barbed-wire fence. Too much wind-driven water to see his face, but she recognized his old yellow slicker and the way he was holding onto the post to keep from going under. Hold on, damn you, she thought at him, and slid into a stop.
Wind punched her on her first step out of the truck. Rain blew sideways, changed from soft grey to nails tipped with ice. Help us help us, the windmill man said. She forced her gaze up.
Too much water coming up the pipe, splashing into cold. The blades kicked out of control, rightside upside downside no side. The sucker rod pulsed up and down, in and out, so fast that she feared his heart would burst.
Aerm had become Aer. Red-letter malice had washed off, or it was she who'd changed at last.
“I'll take care of you, windmill man,” she shouted, then put her hands on Dal. “What the hell are you doing out here, babe?”
“Saw the storm was bad, so I've been watching for you. Breathing, worrying.” When he turned his face toward her, she saw the deep red cut across his cheek, the trickles of blood mingled with rain. “We got some dead stuff blowing around.”
“Oh, Dal.” She kissed the blood away before shoving him toward the truck. “Get in there, babe. It's safer.”
“I'll watch here for you,” he said as he came back.
“No. Watch from inside.” His five lucky dimes singing in her pocketed fist, she kissed him again. His blood became water became honey on her lips. “Please help me this way,” she whispered, and he cursed under his breath but then turned around.
When the truck door slammed like a gunshot, she pushed off and dove into the storm. Her boots slipped on mud, her hair whipped against her neck, her throat and eyes filled like she was drowning. But she told herself, Stroke and turn. All she needed was stroke and turn.
Too much water from the pipe, too much water coming over the lip of the tank. Blades too fast, sucker rod coming apart. The windmill man wasn't talking any more. Couldn't talk.
“Hold on,” she shouted, and then reached him, and curved her fingers around old poles.
She felt the beating of water and wind inside and out, felt his heart-burst coming like storm. Want to want to stay.
“You and me both,” she said.
With one hand she held on. With the other hand she took out her mesquite talisman and one of the five dimes, put them on his support-structure, and pressed in. “Now then, windmill man, let's not waste all this good water and wind.”
Magic went in and out of fingers and body, in and out of metal and talisman. Mesquite always was a thirsty tree until it was controlled.
Above her head, the blades slowed. Beside her, the sucker rod eased. Up and down, in and out, stroke and turn.
“Hold on,” she said. “Breathe. We're staying.”
The windmill man--no, she thought she'd call him Aer now—chuckled in the lap lap lap of water against stone. The four dimes in her pocket sang to the one.
As Aer ate wind and drank water, her eyelids fluttered shut. Inside, in ripples of new-made vision, she saw Mother Jane and pools in the desert and Dal's blue dreaming eyes. In her hand against the pole, the talisman drank too. Holding on, she turned her face to the dark sky and opened her mouth to taste blood become water become honey.
She let the power breathe.
The worst of the storm passed soon enough. But she didn't let go until Aer said Carolina Elena and his clean wet blades slowed to a smile.
“All right then,” she said, “you'll do,” and took away the full talisman and the lucky coin. But she patted him before she turned away into the remnant rain.
Real mage-woman now, he said. Change change change.
“Don't push it, Aer.”
The windmill man's chuckle accompanied her back to the truck.
The new mud was thick on her boots when she got in – on the passenger side, as Dal had spread his long legs under the steering wheel. “Damn it. Now I'm going to have to clean this out,” she said crossly, wiping the first layer of mud onto the vinyl mat.
“Hmmm,” Dal said, then began to mutter about cornbread and engines. When she looked over at him, his closed cut shone red, and he was staring absently at the windshield. A sheet of paper rested on an envelope on the dashboard.
She picked up the paper and squinted through the rainlight to read it. Some alternative-energy company wanted to see more of Dal's plans for a new kind of wind turbine.
“You and Jorge thinking of putting wind machines in our empty field, babe?” she said.
Dal blinked, then focused all at once, then smiled. “Um, well, maybe. If it's all right with you, sugar. If you can handle it.”
She considered this: Aer talking in one field, and just a field over, there'd be ten or twenty or fifty white whirling towers with different hearts, chattering and chattering day and night once she'd touched them...
“Jesus,” she sighed. “Well, all right. Dealing with the things of the wind is this woman's job.” She turned around, her back to the cold-edged door, and put her still muddy boots in his lap. “But I'm here to tell you, Dal, I'm keeping your lucky dimes.”
Change change change, Aer said with a gleaming wet back-and-forth smile. She thought about telling him to shut up, but just this once she didn't.
May you outrun whatever's chasing you today!
|Date:||August 31st, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)|| |
Thank you thank you, L. (And a good Tuesday to you!)
|Date:||August 31st, 2010 02:23 pm (UTC)|| |
This is wonderful.
Thank you, A, thank you for reading! :-)
A good Tuesday to you, too.
5 lucky dimes ...beauty.
Thanks so much -- not to complain, but we could use something besides hot and sticky over here.
Y'all will be getting hurricane outer rainbands in another couple of days -- but I suspect that's not going to help. ;-)
Anyway, thank you thank you for reading, H_P, and a lovely Tuesday to you!
“But I'm here to tell you, Dal, I'm keeping your lucky dimes.”
Thank you thank you, A. :-) Much appreciated!
Hope your slide into Wednesday is a good one. :-)
Positively hypnotizing. I loved it.
Thank you so much, E, thank you for reading this original piece and for sending such kind words.
Thanks thrice, and a good Wednesday to you!
Such a good story, and Cthulhu in a cinnamon roll makes me out of reason happy.
I also am rather taken with the track team/gazelle conversation idea.
I wish I could use the 'Cthulhu in a cinnamon roll' bit in a story someone would buy... [sighs in melodramatic fashion]
[sends gratitude and beams your way]
Thank you thank you, S, with hugs and gratitude and leaping teenage gazelles.
Beautiful, engaging story.
I'm sure gazelles do talk to each other like that.
Thank you thank you, S_C! I am so glad you liked it. :-)
And heee, it seems to be a consensus re gazelles' conversation!
Happy Wednesday into Thursday, too.