Chapter 4 – Callie on the Mountain

Time Untime

I was down at the creek fetching water when the first pain hit.  Not just in my belly.  It grabbed hold of me like the jaws of a bear trap just as I was starting to dip my bucket in the water. And then this little fish looked at me and its eyes bugged out.  I would’ve laughed if I could’ve but I hurt so bad it was all I could do to howl as that bear trap pulled me apart. I stayed fixed where I was, holding on til the pain eased up some.  Soon as it did, I grabbed my bucket out of the creek and started up the hill to the cabin, knowing my time had come.

I saw Grampa on the other side of the bottom, burning off the cane, but weren’t no use a’calling him as he couldn’t hear me that far off; he was half-deaf anyway. Old Maude told me I’d have more time than I cared about to get hold of her, as the first youngun took a long time to get borned, so I told myself weren’t nothing for to fret over.

The next pain struck me as I went in the cabin door. I dropped my pail on the dirt floor, squalling to beat all.

The room started goin’ round, my heart pounding in my head, tearing it to pieces and the next I knowed I’m up there in the corner of the room watching Grampa leaning over me, crying and trying to git the youngun out.

It took a mite afore I knowed I was dead. 

Being dead ain’t what I thought it’d be: going to Heaven to be with Mama and hearing angels sing.  I got stuck up here on this mountain and had to watch it all happen again, watch my whole life pass on down there, cause I knowed I was supposed to learn something from it and I didn’t know what it was, and I still ain’t learnt what it was.

The worst part, at first, was watching that Indian hurt me, the one what made the baby, and living through the pain all over again.  Yet as I watched that little baby grow, without his mama, he was the sweetest thing I ever seen. I knowed he was meant to be born, just didn’t know why it had to come about that way. I would watch him playing in the cabin and sometimes he looked right at me with them big brown eyes, like he could see me, and he’d smile, showing his first new teeth sticking through his little gums, and I wanted to pick him up and hug him but all I could do was cry.

Time don’t have no meaning here. I’ll be watching the baby, and then I’ll be watching the man he become, or watching one of the younguns what come along.  One of them was named for me, and when I want, I can see her lying in the place where the trees don’t grow, in the blue flowers blooming there.  I try to tell her what I know, and sometimes I think she hears me, or at least she hears something but she don’t know what it is.  Her younger brother just died, and I think he hears me too, but he’s caught out in the bottomland there, waiting for folks to find his body what got lost.  I try to tell him it don’t matter none, just leave it be, but he don’t hear me yet, and he won’t until he’s a mind to.  

Maybe he hears me but can’t let on.  Sometimes I hear whispers too, from this other place, telling me to go on down to where the river flows ahead into what they call the future.

But I’m bound here, recollecting times what they call the past, when I was a youngun, and hid in the hollow trunk of a tree while playing hide and seek with Janie May, whose folks lived under the great rock sticking out of the mountain while her papa cut enough trees to build them a cabin.

They come after we did. 

We was with the first to come, and the mountains was so steep.  One time I looked straight up the side of one as we cut through a narrow path Pap said was made by buffalo, and he laughed when I thought he meant the buffalo had worn down the path from the top of the mountain.  The steep cliff was made by God, he said; the buffalo had just worn the ground so hard nothing could grow on it, making us a place for us to walk between the trees and the bushes. The buffalo is gone now from this place they call the present but they done left the paths behind.

When I go to that part of the river where I’m just a youngun, I get too close to that other time I don’t like to remember. It’s upon me afore I know it.

The time when I was become a woman yet was still a child.

Mama and I was scrubbing clothes on the rocks by the creek, laying the wet things over the bushes to dry, while Pap and Grampa planted squash in the bottom where they had burned the cane.

A wild sound come out of the bushes between the creek and the cabin, making Mama and me to jump like we’d stepped on the tail of a copperhead.  I was grabbed from behind, and saw Mama, her mouth open to scream, fighting against the strong brown arms that held onto her.  She screamed and kicked and almost got loose, but another Indian picked up a large rock and struck her on the head with it.  Mama dropped to the bank and rolled into the creek, blood running out of her head and spreading across the water.

I’m crying so hard I can’t hardly see as the Indian who holds me carries me off.  But I know Pap and Grampa are running towards the creek from the bottom, and they’ll try to save me. Then I see Pap pull Mama from the creek, and fall on his knees while he rocks back and forth, holding her like a mama holds her youngun.  Grampa keeps running after the Indian what’s holding onto me but he gets smaller and smaller; and then falls to the ground, grabbing his head with his hands.

When I finally got home again, the things Mama and I had laid on the rocks to dry were still there, rotted into rags, and I was no longer a youngun.  It was on my fifteenth birthday I got away, while the Indian who used me lay snoring on the forest floor after getting drunk on moonshine he’d stolen.  I felt something move inside me and knowed I was with child.

When I come out of the trees and seen the cabin I was so weak I almost couldn’t make it to the door. I stumbled inside, my feet covered with sores, the moccasins on my feet worn through the soles. That evening when Grampa struggled up the hill from the bottom, he found me there. I awoke to his hoarse cries as he held me in his arms. I tried to raise my arm to pat his face but my arm refused to move and I went back to sleep.

When I woke up again he told me Mama and Pap was both dead, Pap dying of a broken heart that day while he held my Mama, her head bashed in.

Grampa waited on me til I was well again, and seeing I was with child, made me drink tea from the roots of the Sassafras.  He came to like the tea he made for me, and I would fire up the stove and put the kettle on when I saw him stopping in the bottomland to look up at the cabin, knowing he was getting ready to start up the hill.  “Callie,” he would call before he reached the cabin door, “Put the kettle on. I’m ready fer my tea.” 

After I passed on, I would watch him walk up the hill, call out “Callie, put–,” and then he’d break down beside the cabin door and cry.  Folks started calling the mountain Calliput after that, and when Grampa died as a very old man, my son Archelous, a boy of sixteen, a good boy, had gave him the happiest years of his life, growing tall and strong with his black eyes and dark skin, helping Grampa plant and harvest the crops, reading the Bible to him when Grampa’s eyes got bad. The night Grampa died, I was beside Archelous in the room and held my son’s hand as he held Grampa’s.  I think he knew I was there.

I thought Grampa’s spirit would see me when he passed out of his body, but he went on by me to a different place, where folks ‘sposed to go to when they done right with their lives.  It ain’t that I done wrong.  This place here just a’hanging onto me, won’t let me go.  When I get a wishing to go on ‘round the bend in the river something tells me no, Callie, you gotta stay, gotta watch what all comes about in this place. Like I been kept here for remembrance.  It ain’t like Joe Ray out there watching.  Only thing holding him is a hankering to see what they gonna do ‘bout his body what got lost.  It tickles him and I feel him laughing.

Now Callie Jane’s come home, I’m thinking my time of waiting is ‘bout over.  Maybe it’s for her I been remembering.

2 Responses

  1. Exquisite; absorbing.

  2. Thank you. The part where Grandpa calls out as he’s coming from the fields “Callie, put the kettle on, I’m ready fer my tea” came from something my mother told me about an ancestor of my dad, who was said to be “quite a character” and would say this to his little girl who liked to “make tea” for him. I can just see him, this gruff old mountain man, taking time to “have tea” with his little girl. Sweet.

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