Marcy Waters. How I remember her now, standing there by the banks of the river, with the summer light warm on the current of eastbound water and in the swift current of blood beneath her white skin. She lifted her skirt to show me where the briars had bit at her ankles and she laughed, tossing her long red hair, squinting her summer-green eyes.
We were both just ten, both stumbling between the inner world of dreams and the outer world with its many colors and its slow days and the confusing ache of impatience.
If there were indeed a world beyond our small New England town, it was only in pictures and others people's words. We knew the shapes of the seasons well enough, though... the cold-quilted hours of snow, the rusted glory of apple-fat autumn, spring like a garden of colored ghosts and summers that seemed many, the hot days stitched together by lightning.
Somewhere on a hill, east of a great swamp -- full of swallowing shadows -- we sat and told stories of Indian spirits that moved like deer. Marcy swore she saw one once when rain flew down from Canada and geese in great numbers fidgeted on old John Whitney's fields. Crouched as a spider and swift as a fox, it flitted in and out of wet shadows.
Another time, so she had me believe, they were in the trees about her house, with owls. I told her she was a liar and she cried and when next we spoke, she showed me a box made of strange grey wood. There were patterns in the grain of wood, like owls or skulls or soft watery things that only walk this earth in dreams.
She found it in May, when John Whitney died in that queer accident. It was behind the wood pile where he'd been chopping. She hid it all summer, when blackberries peered out from their thorny vines and climbed crazily over cool stone walls. It was only when September brought soft rain and squirrels that she dug it out from the hollow log where it had sheltered. Only then did she hear the birds inside, and feel their eager flutters, unborn against the wood.
Dear Marcy. Her heart was too large and soft a target for the world and a boy with a tongue like mine. It was a trick, I said -- birds could not live in a box for as long as she claimed. Well that had her crying for sure. Open it, I said.
No, no, not here, she said; it had to be opened at the Indians' graves. She ran with her prize. I followed, over the hill with the river below and sunlight bright on her dress and her hair an envy of every autumn. I heard her call out when she dropped the box and it went tumbling down the hill and I heard the birds in the box screeching and the hiss of the fast dark water.
Marcy Waters kissed me because the moon was pale and wandering and the years had forgotten so much. Her lips were bitter from the wild strawberries -- like half-formed hearts -- that we found coiling and trembling along the ruined boards of old Whitney's fallen barn. We were fifteen summers out of the womb, gangly and white in the darkness, our bodies shivering and brittle-seeming without clothes. I felt the bones through her back and the press of her budding chest against my own hard ribs.
She laughed and lied and I believed her and told her that we were over dead Indians' graves, and that they had killed old Whitney with his own ax and she pretended to believe. Then we lay down like birch branches on the grass.
They all knew the baby was mine -- but didn't it look like an owl, feathery-haired, and round-eyed and with strange arms that should have been wings. Marcy never spoke to me after that and they say her father sent her off to live with an aunt in Connecticut, but I saw her sometimes when rain made the river high and the dark waters shaped her face briefly and broke it up again. Maybe her father drowned her there where she used to dream and where she lost the box to the eastward current and cried as the crying birds gurgled. They were the souls of Indians, she said, and they cried for their land and their graves where we raised our corn.
I blame myself now and picture Marcy Waters with her freckles and the quick green of her eyes. In spring I imagine her laughter and in autumn I imagine her grief. I found the box three miles down the river, the wood dark and soft and the latch a blur of rust. I could tell by its weight that it still contained the bones that old Whitney had dug up out of his field and stashed behind his woodpile. I broke it open and waited for the sound of birds, but there was only the sound of a river squirming past the muddy banks and the half-remembered screams of old John Whitney that day that I smeared my face with owl blood, like war-paint, and killed him with his ax.
© Scott Thomas 2001.
This story also appears in Scott's collection,
Cobwebs And Whispers (Delirium Books, 2001).
Delirium Books can be contacted at
PO Box 338 North Webster, IN 46555, USA.
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