What do you think time really is? This short story may give you an idea.
by Christina Carson
Jesse Martin sat in an old rocking chair he’d made years back, as he waited on a new day to emerge from the darkness. The curve of the rockers wasn't quite right. It made the chair’s action too quick, the rock too short, but since Jesse was more into sitting than rocking, it worked fine for him. The porch on his small cabin faced east. Early morning was Jesse’s favorite time of day. The sun hadn't broken the horizon yet. There was just a hint of pink following the arc of the distant mounds that sat in his lower meadow. His family had managed to hang on to this 20 acre parcel of land when most of his Creek brethren were being marched out of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi on their way to imprisonment in Oklahoma. His grandfather got the deed. It was up to his father and then him to pay the taxes each year so the land stayed in the family. He never wanted much: the land, the rocker, the cabin and the mounds were more than enough.
Off across the meadow, he noticed a small figure walking his way. The dusk of early morning smudged her into the scattered mounds as she passed by them making her trek look like a ghost story as she’d appear than disappear than appear again. A smile crossed Jesse’s face as he watched young Clara making her way to his cabin. She was a funny kid to him, funny as in peculiar. Every morning she’d come check on him and then make him breakfast, sometimes with eggs from her mom’s hens she’d steal and hide in her knapsack, sometimes with bannock dotted with fresh berries she’d find on the way. She was small for her twelve years, elfish in stature, eyes as big and amber as marble shooters and thin, wispy red hair that she’d slap back into place with her own spit. For all her prickliness, her heart was still a child’s, forgiving and with the wisdom of her primal instincts still intact. He didn't mind her around. She was quiet by nature and self-sustaining and at times even made him laugh when she’d take on a project too big for her and end up in a heap beneath it, and he’d have to dig her out. He understood her stubbornness. It matched his own.
“Well looks like you’re alive for one more day. How long do they give old coots like you?”
“Long enough to get kids like you to respect their elders.”
“I don’t know if Methuselah lived long enough for that.”
“My kin knew how.”
“I ain't your kin.”
He was lighting his pipe, an old corncob deal, stuffing it with a bit of home-grown from his patch beyond the mounds. It grew big and tangy there and sometimes he’d even let Clara have a puff or two when life at her place rattled her so bad she’d still be fussing after walking the three miles to his.
“Well what’s for breakfast, cooky?”
She had just reached the porch steps and climbed up them dog-style barking at him as she went past.
He shook his head never sure what to make of her but thankful she was more wild than cultivated. The few kids he did see on the rare occasions he’d go to town frightened him, their eyes empty and flat, their needs rampant. He’d not known a race of people like that. He knew arrogant. He knew racist. He knew hateful. But vacant, that felt dead to him, like he lived among the walking dead. Nothing in his culture spoke to that except in prophesy, and he hoped that surely that wasn't about to come true yet.
Clara banged around in the living room cum kitchen, clanging the stove lids down on the wood stove like they had lipped her off. Finally, he smelled fresh coffee, toast and eggs and sat back like the man of the manor, laced his hands behind his head and waited to be served. She dropped the plate in his lap because it was burning her fingers, and it now got to burn his thighs through the hole in his jeans.
“Yike,” he yelped as he sat up and then burnt his fingers pulling his shirt tail under it to stop roasting his legs. “When you bring the coffee mug, just set it on the floor. I don’t need third degree burns on half of my body. A quarter is plenty.”
Since there wasn't another chair on the porch, Clara sat on the top step after she’d brought the coffee, keeping a safe distance from Jesse in case she’d strained his sense of humor to the breaking point.
“Okay, what’s the problem?”
She looked at him and suddenly the face of a frightened child was all he saw. Then she went steely again, reset her jaw and remained silent.
He knew when the door was open and when it slammed back shut, so he ate his breakfast and watched the sun begin to pour over the top of the mounds like they were small mountains. At this time of morning, he could see the flow of the light, see it like it was water, watch it stream toward him, engulfing everything, until a wave of it passed over them, and he knew, as he always did then, that he and his departed relatives were all here. He was never alone except when this child was around. Hers was a sad case, however, and he extended this bit of shelter to her as if she was a stray dog.
Finished with his breakfast, he shut his eyes and listened to the world. It was waking, and he could still recognize the voices—the birds, the trees, the wind and the mounds. Just as he was relaxing into the friendliness of this time of day, Clara blurted out the answer to his earlier question at the top of her lungs.
“Mom says I can’t come over here any longer. She says old men are trouble and I’m old enough now to get into it.”
Jesse, still reeling from the sudden explosion of sound, held his forehead and squinted away the jarring return to this world he experienced.
“Timing is not your strong point, gal. God.” He shook his head, then looked at her.
She was staring straight ahead, stiff as a post. He felt almost as lost as she did in conversations like this. He wasn't going to talk with her mom. That was a waste of time. She was too many bricks short of a load. If she wasn't drunk, she was high with a mean streak running through her.
Jesse pulled himself out of his chair and went back into the cabin to fill his coffee mug. When he came out, he sat at the other end of the same step as Clara. He put his back against the newel post and stared at her. He lit his pipe again and hoped its smoke would clear his mind.
“You live in tough times, kid.” Jesse began. “Something’s happening to people, like they’re in a fog. Something is really wrong when family members don’t take care of each other. I saw a bit of that happening in my people toward the end of our great time, the time we roamed free and knew all our brothers and sisters. We respected the earth. We sang songs to remind us how we depended on one another. We sang songs of thanks to the Great Spirit to keep harmony among us.” He stopped as he got caught up in the images his words were bringing to him.
“I don’t have any Great Spirit, and I’d say you’re life doesn't look a whole lot better than mine. She glanced at the cabin bare of power and phone and no vehicle. “I don’t see any family here, any money or people you can count on. You might have freedom but you don’t have any way to get anywhere.”
Quiet filled the gap between them. Jesse puffed on his pipe. Clara sat stone-faced staring at him.
“What do I tell my mom? She beats me when I talk back to her. And she knows I won’t report her, because I don’t want to be taken away. I want to be able to be here. This is the only place I’m safe.”
“You can tell your mom, I’d slap you silly if you ever tried to seduce me.”
Try as she might she couldn't stop the little laugh that scenario drew from her as she processed the words. She looked him in the eye, the hitch of a curve in her mouth still there. Then her shoulders even shook a little as she obviously played that scene through her mind again and giggled inwardly.
Her door was open. He thought he’d chance it. “There are good times, ya know. They’re always here. You just have to know where to look.”
She responded to his words with a smirk.
“How brave are you? Huh? I want to show you something, but I don’t want you to go all goofy on me. What do ya think?”
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