The rain wouldn’t stop raining nor the creeks rising, too strong now for walking home, so I waited, daydreamy, thinking of a she-bear I hankered to see feeding on berries, though not so close as her to sniff me, just to watch her eyes gleaming and hear her snort like a rutty shoat. It was come a damp smell in the coat room, but I liked the window’s view of the west meadow, Dollar’s red barn on the hill all blurry in the rain with its Mail Pouch Chew, fog rolling bluish, and I could hear Miz Jessup my daddy called Widow Jezzy on account of her lip rouge and the loss of her man long ago, though he’d not say it to her face, as he was one of them fearful of her learning. I knew she’d disremembered me dawdling after the others skedaddled, so I kept to myself and studied on the rain.
Her papers made the scuffling sound. Likely she was marking our history tests—Patrick Henry, Molly Pitcher, our old kinsman Boone. I’d not heard a car machine nor whiffed a horse, but a boot scraped the stoop, then the porch, a body striding across the owl-faced pinewood planks that couldn’t keep any secret.
“The scholars all off for the day, Miss Lily?”
It was a voice I knew from sermons and booming his bully bass on “Roll, Jordan” and “A Mighty Fortress.” I could’ve spoke up and said, Not me yet, preacher, Alice McSpadden, just trying to wait out the weather. But I didn’t care to shout out, and his being her lost beloved’s brother made my skin prickle, though why I wasn’t sure.
“You know so, Cratis. I’m just fiddling with their reports. It’s past time to shut up the door and windows against this torrent, and the dark coming on soon. Time to strike out home.”
“Torrent, you say, Lily?”
“You take my meaning.”
“But you waited.”
I was quiet as a snake slipping ahind the door. I figured to be more hid there and to hear better, but what was next was just two people crossing the flooring, straightening desks, shutting and shading. Cratis Lester himself came into the nook room and drew down the roll- shade just when the rain came crazy on the roof, like some demon pouring, but he never looked to my direction. Here and there was a leak dripping, water snaking down the wall.
I could just scarcely see them through the gap atwixt door and frame. In a trice they’s all clutched together, kissing and embracing, sweethearty but almost like a tussle, and then she was laying on her desk, their clothes all tousled up, moving that way people do, and animals, making congress. You live in a one-room cabin, you know. Over the rain I could hear them moaning or whispering, their voices like shears cutting. Then Cratis Lester rose up from her form, taking on his church voice, saying, “That is the message Tom sends you from beyond forever,” and she thanked him. I couldn’t see her face, but her voice said she was smiling. “I appreciate the communication, kind sir.”
The schoolhouse was tight with the smells of wet dust and worked-up bodies, and then it was over, followed by adjusting of stays and trousers, re-pinning her hair whilst he erased the pronoun lesson from the wall slate: I, me, our. Then the chalk smell was stronger than the smell of rain. It all felt to be closing in around me, everything, the “beyond forever,” and I was sure to be discovered, but quick as anything they were going out the door, silent against the downpour. It wasn’t long before I could hear his coughy Ford out on the mud road, and then nothing but the rain, and soon I slipped out the window and lit out through the wet.
I wanted to dig a hole and tell it into the dirt, then cover it over forever, but that night I laid on my pillow and with no sound shaped the words “from beyond forever.” What I could hear was rain and the shadow of rain on the roof shakes, striking the splash pans, and the words in my mouth tasted of water from Sow Mountain’s willow spring, sweet and forbid, where the mud-colored copperheads take their ease and the fiddleheads curl up and sway. Someday, I swore under the blue chenille, I would venture there alone or with another, but not till I was more ready to understand, not till I knew was I meant to forgive.