Monday, January 12, 2009

An Appalachian Tale

Mountain Dance
Carla Chandler

Treana looked around at the sparsely furnished mountain house, lit by an oil lamp. In the corner, a shelf of mom’s books stood like children waiting for candy. On the bottom shelf were only three books. One was Treana’s favorite because it was her first book. She wrote it in eighth grade and used the modest monies to buy her momma an electric cook stove from the catalog that mom had on the wish wall for eight years. Momma said it was the prettiest thing she ever saw. It made Treana sad to think how her momma would be gone by the next year. Treana and her older brother David never would taste anything so good as momma’s made-with-love, yummy victuals.

The other two books brought her world fame and a Pulitzer Prize, along with a bank account that would last a life time.

In the other corner was the wood stove that Mom stoked with wood David stocked to the brim in the wood box. Every little thing in the room reminded Treana of Momma and her stories of life in the hills and fantasies of the fun life had to offer anyone willing to take flight of them.

Treana was a slip of a girl, just five feet tall and nearly skinny, with full and thick blonde hair to the waist. She kept it in a long braid that fell over her left shoulder and was tied with the only ribbon she owned; blue like her eyes.

David was opposite to Treana. He was dark haired, dark skinned, and dark eyed. More than this, it seemed that David’s mission in life was to make Treana crazy. She thought that since he was five years older, he would be the breadwinning, responsible person in the house, especially since Mom was departed and they had to fend for themselves in this big old hard world. She didn’t understand him in any form.

Mom used to tell Treana “Jist ya wait ‘n see, daughter. That boy’ll come into hisn’ own one day. Can’t hep it cause you blossomed early in spring time. Neva know, he might jist be a fall bloomin’ boy. Jist wait, he’ll git there. He’ll git there.”

Still dreaming about Momma, Treana heard a thunderous boom then a crash and a clank in the barn.

D-A-V-I-D!! What have you gone and done now?" She screeched as she ran out the door and down the hill in the moonlit dark.

From the barn came more loud crashes and bangs. Her eyes adjusted to the bright lights inside the barn to see David standing there in Papa’s old welding leathers, a fish shaped oven mitt on one hand holding a propane torch, a lighter in the other hand and a bucket labeled chemical fertilizer (danger flammable) with the old furniture, trash, and junk burning in a pile. Just then David threw some black dust on the heap and kaboooooom!

Treana hit the floor and screamed as one boom was followed by a bang and then another boom.

“David! What are you doing? Why in the world...where did you... are you trying to make me insane?” She got up from the cold ground.

David smiled his boyish grin and said, “But, T! Yous told me to clean out the barn and burn anything we don’t need. So I just combine everything into one chore and get ‘er done at one time. That way you’d make me them mashed taters with runny eggs on top, like Momma used to make fer me ‘cause I’s real hungry like. "

David looked around with satisfaction. "Didn’t I do good? The corners all swept clean like you said and nothin’s hid anywheres.” he said.

“I didn’t say burn inside the barn or blow it up either! What is that you were throwing on the fire, and do you know you are burning our fertilizer? you weren’t supposed to burn EVERYTHING! Just what we don’t need or use."

Treana was spewing and her face was tomato red. “What that blowing up?"

David replied, "Just them cans of green beans I found in the dump. I thought I’d be fun to explode them in the fire, and it’s lots a fun, wanna try?”

“NO! you coulda killed yourself and me to boot! Put out this fire and clean this up!” she said through clinched teeth. Then she turned on her heal to leave.

David called after her, “Do I get my mashed taters and runny eggs?”

Treana kept walking pretending not to hear. She sat down in momma’s rocking chair, after a few minutes of rocking a familiar pain began below her stomach. This pain came and went, just like momma's pain in the same place; it sounded the same. Treana could not tell David because the slightest mention of pain made him pace the floor and beat his chest saying, “Yous gonna die like momma! Yous gonna die like momma, and I haven’t found the golden box and you ain’t got one for me.”

Like momma, Treana began to sweat, her heart beat quickly, her lips turned white, and the room began to spin. The rocker stopped, Treana leaned back in the chair and waited for it all to pass. Then, quick as a flash, Auntie Jill flew in the side door with a mop, boom, bucket, and a bin of cleaners and rags in hand. She wore a threadbare green cotton dress.

“Chile look at this place! Yo mamma would neva let things git like dis! What you do all day? Keep yur nose in dem books, don’cha.”

She didn’t even look at Treana as she chided and cleaned like a woman being chased by rabid animals ready to strike.

“Girl yous best get your nose out them books. Start takin’ care dis house. No man want a girl can’t keep house and with no momma or papa to help. Yous prospects is limit.”

Then the haggard old woman looked at her niece for the first time since walking in the door.

“Oh, Missy! I seen better gills on fishes I’s fried for dinner! Yous sick ain’t ya?” Auntie Jill’s voice now softer and her brow creased with concern.

“OOOH, Auntie I’m okay. It’ll pass soon enough.” Treana dissented weakly.

“Nonsense! I git you a cool rag and a git better dance right away.”

“Auntie, really…” before Treana could object further, the little woman wisped across the floor for a cloth, poured cool water on it along with vanilla and lemon oil. Then she began to sing in a painfully creaky, scratchy voice. It was a song in another language that Treana had not heard since momma sang to her last. As Auntie sang she danced wildly around the room with arms swinging up, down, in, and out like an injured animal. As she neared Treana she shrieked her song louder and danced madly. The light cast shadows behind her which made the dance seem even more uncontrollable. Then without warning everything ceased and the cool rag was gently placed on Treana’s brow.

“There now chile’, rest. You’s be betta in a flash cause the dance will do the work.”

Treana hadn’t the heart to talk back, to disagree or to say that all the dances in the world did not save her mother and wouldn't help her neither and no how.

Auntie Jill began cleaning again.

David came bounding into the house holding a shovel and pick. His shoes were muddy and he smelled of sweat, gasoline, and wet animal.

“Howdy! Auntie. When you git here?”

“B-o-o-y!” ignoring what David was saying to her. “What in the world you been up to? Why you so dirty? Stop! Don’t track my floor.”

“Auntie, I’s been golden box huntin’," David explained. "I think I’s gettin’ closer.”

“I see. Just what you thinks in that there box?” Auntie asked flatly.

“Dunno. But Momma wouldn’ta left it buried for me if’n it weren’t sumpthin’ special like.” David replied.

Just then there was a thump in the sitting room. The pair ran in to find Treana in a heap on the floor.

“TREANA!” David hollered. “Yous gonna die! Yous gonna die like Momma!”

David began pacing and beating his chest.

“Boy! Stop you fussin and hep me git her up now.”

They moved her to the bench with the cushions that Mom had made. Auntie Jill declared, “I musta not danced the right dance, she’s worse now then before.”

“What? Before, before what?" David asked, alarmed. "Ooohhh, yous gonna die, yous…”

“I said STOP!” Auntie ordered. “We gotta git her to the Doc.”

They carried her to Auntie's wagon and the three were off to make the eight-mile ride. All the while, David was repeating under his breath “yous gonna, yous gonna die, I need to find that golden box.”

They arrived at the doctor’s house and quickly carry Treana into the medical room. The middle aged man looked over his horn rimmed glasses and said, “Oh dear! Treana, can you talk to me?”

“Uuggg" was all she could utter.

“Treana, can you tell me what’s been goin’ on?” he asked.

“Dizzz-z-z-y, weeaak, headache, fever, bones hurt, rash, can’t pee.” Treana managed to get out.

“Tell me if this hurts.” Doc said as he pressed her side.

“OUCH! Hurts.” She wailed as the Doctor poked and prodded.

“Looks like her liver function is failing, and she is bleeding internally,” the Doctor said. “We need to git her to the hospital over to Champmansville.”

David began to wail. “Treana, don’t leave me, don’t leave me. I’ll find the golden box fer ya. That’s gotta have the answers. Momma left it fer me. Momma said it was just what we needed. I’ll find it, hang on!”

With that he ran out the door and all the way home. Auntie Jill looked at the Doctor.

“What’s gonna happen to her Doc?”

“Well, the E. H. virus is progressing. She caught it while nursing her mother. I don’t think she’ll be writing anymore books.”

The doctor tired to comfort the old woman, rubbing her bony hands. She started to tremble.

“I told her Ma I’d look after her. I failed…” Tears rolled down Auntie Jill’s face.

“No. Treana had to do her part. She didn’t tell us she was sick. You could do no more than you did. Is there anyone I can call for you?” he asked. “No. These two babies are all I got now. I love dem like they’s my own born.” Auntie cried.

“I’ve given her some medicine to make her comfortable. Now we wait to see.” the Doctor said.

“What can I do?” Auntie Jill asked.

“Pray,” he said, shaking his head, “And you should get the preacher.”

“NOOOO! Lord, we need her here don’t take her…..” Auntie cried.

The kindly Doctor gently put his arm around the sobbing woman. After she began to calm down he asked her again, “Auntie Jill, she needs to make her peace. Who can I call?”

With a shaky hand, Auntie Jill wrote down a few numbers and handed them to the Doctor.

“The rest don’t have no phone, I’s bout to start the holler chain to collect the rest of the folk.”

“The holler chain?” the Doc asked.

“Yep, I forget you’s a city boy. That’s where I tell a couple of folk who tell a few others and fore ya know it the entire mountain knows and anyone who needs to comes on.”

“Well Auntie that’ll take days and we don’t have…”

She interrupted. “Na sir, those that need to know will be here within nigh thirty minutes to ‘bout an hour.” She finished.

"I’ll have to remember that for the future,” the doctor said, tipping his head quizzically.

As the hour passed people came pouring into the Doctor’s white clapboard house clinic. Each person that entered asked, “Where’s David.”

“He’s huntin’ for that golden box his Momma left him to find,” someone would say. The answer was met by disapproving scowls.

“What a disgrace, his sister’s here dying and he’s out there diggin’ like it’s any other time o’ day.”

Treana was now gasping. Delirious, she called out to her Momma, saying, “Oh, Mamma this is beautiful. I missed you.” Then she became quiet.

A deaf relative asked loudly, “Is she gone?”

They all motioned no.

Auntie watched as Treana's chest became still and a death rattle escaped. What she feared had happened. Treana left to be with her Momma in heaven.

The room was filled with crying, wailing, and people talking softly about the stories of the little sunshine girl who wrote stories good enough to be made into books. As quickly as he left, David blazed into the room.

“Why’s everybody cryin’? I found the golden box! You’ll never guess what’s inside! The cure for Treana. Stop lookin’ at the floor! I got it, she’ll be okay!”

No one looked. No one replied. Auntie Jill moved toward David with a loving smile.

“David honey, she’s gone. She talked to your Momma and then went home to meet Jesus and live with your Momma again.” she soothed.

“No, I got the cure. There’s a letter in the box, medicine with a tea, and a bunch of money.” He cried.

“No son, it’s true. May I see the letter?” the Doctor held out his hand.

“Yep.” David handed the letter over. The Doctor read the letter twice, not believing his eyes. “David, Auntie Jill, come here and sit down a minute.” The Doctor asked gently. “This is a letter from your Mother David. Your Momma says that this box was never meant for Treana. It’s for you alone. When your Momma was dying Treana discovered she was sick also. Both women knew the signs of this illness. Since Treana was already too far gone, she decided to save any remedy she might find to save you David.” “But I’s not sick Doc.” David objected. “Maybe not on the outside, but you may be on the inside. This sickness takes a long time to tell you that you are sick. By that time it’s too late. The letter says that the one medicine that heals this illness is in this box and that there was not enough for anyone else but one. Your sister and Momma chose you David. Your Momma also says take the money in the box to live, get a good education, and to see the world,” t the Doctor informed him.

“Okay,” David turning to Auntie, “Will you go with me?”

“No, honey. My place is on this here mountain. You need do this by your lonesome.”

David returned home from his travels to find everything and everyone just the way he had left it. He had seen the world, got his education, and lived well. David still preferred the quite corner on the mountain where Momma and Treana loved him so much. Seeing Auntie who was a little more frail than he left her David asked to see the letter that his Mom had wrote those many years ago. Auntie’s only words were “Doc died from the same sickness ‘bout a year ago.” He could read the words now for himself. This is what it said:

My son, Treana and I love you more than anything. The medicine is for you. Treana caught the sickness here at the last and the medicine I had for her now is for you. Love God and serve him and your country faithfully.

Use the four million dollars to see the world, get your education in doctoring, and be kind to animals and people, live well. Until we see you in Heaven,

I love you. Momma.

David finished reading the letter. Then he painted a sign, gathered hammer, nails, and two lengths of chain. When he finished the job, David stood back to examine his work:

“Doctor’s Office. Free help for all.”

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Carla, This is a wonderful story. I know story telling comes natural to you as you imbibed it from your childhood in the hills of Eastern Kentucky.

I think that the story is perfect as it stands. We don't need to know exactly when David leaves to search for the box. We only need to know that he isn't there when Treana dies. It makes the story more poignant.