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Jan/Feb 2009 Fiction

Crossing

by J. A. Tyler

Artwork by Robert Hoover


She was a blue flower pinned to the shoulders of a giant, sky tall and shooting still upward. Trampling forward even in dusk with its stars and no moon. He was drunk. Legs wobbling and turning against his own knees. In and out and out of tune. She was a saddle on a horse. Jostling. Bleating in giggles.

His arms were owl wings spread open and splayed at the fingers. Palms rough and square, honed and planed like boards. Attached to his fingertips was a girl shrinking alongside his hulk. Smiling at his bow and skipping in the weeded shallows. Attached to his fingertips was a boy reluctant and sometimes callous. Hooked to his father's paw like a fish tied to the shore. Tangling along with him, spools of family spinning out.

Pillars of clouds broke from the growing dark of the sky. Spilled themselves in intermittent splashes of light. Purple. Purple. Purple. Thunderhead drops slowly banging on greased and ribboned and pinned hair. On flat and dry hair. Falling against struggling ground. Shattering on the spines of dry bristle weeds and plainsong branches.

The bar had been gusting in warm air and a sense of changing skies. Cornbread in cast iron. Sweet milk and curtains of print dresses. Shrouds of leathered hands and boots. The turn of a ragged guitar formed in blistered wood. Girls manic and peppered, running in and out of themselves. Men with beards and gaping teeth. Women as geese flocking and tittering. Boys like windblown seeds scattered in edges.

There was a first crack overhead and a shift of dirt, a quick finale of last dregs and packing. Hugs and scraping handshakes. Parting like waters ready, some leading horses and some nothing but feet. Turning back to homes miles in and out of the nearly disintegrated sun. Family herds like nomads, shuffling back to another day in many.

The draw was lean and contemptuous when the rain came. Staring them down like the muscles of burling men. Anchoring into the world like them, the straggling piss poor dust. The draw that led them to sometimes school and tottered on its own shy cliffs. A riverbed ravine that would flood as quickly as it would recede, loving the pelt and hammer of rain.

It came in drifts like snow and the wind smiled with it. The girl atop and the boy and girl at the end of his owl wings, stretched, all inhaling the way it rained. Ahead the draw filling. Curving smooth in the weight of new-found water. Curling in on itself like a fireside. Winding around. Ahead they watched it and smiled, the rain plating their faces in sweetness and temporary cool.

She followed just behind. A basket woven rough and rampant, clutched in her firm palm. In front of her the rain and the family, both draining out of themselves. In front of her a rise and a fall and a draw sucking into an unsalted ocean. Filling like a brimful hat. Unnerved by nothing. Her ankles fierce and snake proof, tussling the ground as she walked, seeing her husband and children play ahead of her in the rain.

Five stood on the shore of a deepening flow and laughed at its grandness. Reveled in the nature of god. The man spit in its waters and the boy glared at its streaming. The girls chastised their father's arm and shoulder for the string of tobacco spit now a part of the draw. And her, the one behind them clutching a basket full of half eaten pie, she saw him stretch his head to her, a smile wavering, her lips returning. How they pooled together like the waters of rain.

The girls' shoes laced half way up and unlaced in their girl hands. Tied and then thrown together over shoulders. The boy was barefoot already, like he was always, like a piece of the earth itself. And in the pinched fingers of their father they stood as he steadied her like a rock would steady the sky. Stood thwarting the rain and taunting the thunder as she cupped his shoulder and unlaced her own boots. In a fleeting and momentary pause.

They ventured into the draw, baptizing themselves again as they went. In the name of the son and the father and the holy spirit. Mud thickened beneath their feet. Rain dripped from their noses and skated through their hair. A feel of euphoria rustled abruptly beneath their clothing. The sky ripped with noise like wagons clanging to starts. Teeth in the flashes of light. Smiles broad and laughing.

On the other side they were swept by the wind. Towering in rain. And the other girl took her turn atop his giant shoulders and the boy ran handless through the stalks of ankle green. Feet tingling like the newly awakened, he led them to the barn's side door, thrusting back its planks like ripping open a heart. Into the shifting feet of cattle and the punch of straw.

The rain broke into sections through the four paneled windows and the five of them collapsed in a heap of limbs and wet hair. They lay breathing in small gulps of happiness. Pleased by the rain. Loving the rain. Understood finally by the rain. And the girls looked to the father and the father looked to the son and the mother looked to the men and the girls. Melting into feed and floorboards, none wanting to move.

She passed the tin of leftover pie from hands to hands to hands and they each one of them scooped two or three fingers full. Delighting in rain soaked glistening. No one spoke. A mouse scrambled over a barrel and across the floor, the boy missing it with the heel of one of the girl's boots. They laughed like the moon was full. Until the pie was gone and the rain was trickling through the valleys of the barn and outside, through the yawning cottonwood leaves.

In the darkness and the hooves of rain, the children fell to sleep and he unlaced her back. Over and through until she was unsteady and naked, sticking to his own unclad skin, rubbing flint against him, like steel. Their lips melted into it, kissing thunderously. Lighting their faces in the stillness of the barn and the last drops of rain pecking their way through the remaining night. Unbound by one another. Filling like the draw. Smoothing out for once and again the sharp and shy cliffs of their own. Like rain after such a wait.

 

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