The Big Chair

Joanne stood by her car in the parking lot of Blue Hills Nursing Home and filled her lungs with cold October air.She’d spent the last hour sweet-talking her mother into eating tiny spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and gravy, waxy green beans, and stringy chicken. She took another deep breath and felt her shoulders relax. She remembered using balloons to show her seventh grade science students how much air their lungs could hold. Joanne loved teaching. Loved giving those young minds scattered by hormones hard facts that would survive every test of time. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” She’d tap her chalk on the board beneath the words hoping to convey the rule’s broader implications.

She missed the classroom but after her daddy died her mother’s Alzheimer’s became undeniable and she’d moved in with Joanne. Being a full-time caregiver proved to be more about endurance than reward. The strong will that had served Ida May Cox well for sixty years quickly turned to a fear-driven determination to protect her withered mind. Witnessing her mother’s demise so soon after her father’s death held Joanne in a state of mourning. When her mother went through a stage where clothes made no sense, Joanne’s husband and teenage daughter said, “No more.”

Joanne unzipped her jacket to air herself out. She imagined her hair and clothes smelled like what her daughter Angela called “pee vapor” but she didn’t have time to go home and change before the Downtown Revitalization Meeting. It was almost dark. Civil twilight. Another lesson from the science book. The time of evening when just enough light rose from the horizon to still make out the surroundings. Bare limbed trees looked as if they’d been stenciled against the deep orange sky merged with shades of blue.

From the parking lot, Joanne could see inside her mother’s room. Renata was with her now, arranging the pillows behind her back. Joanne watched her mother dig a spoon into a plastic cup of ice cream. Her mother did better with Renata, which made no sense to Joanne. There was no way in the world she could even understand a word the girl said. Renata spoke a mix of Spanish and English in a tone so low you could barely hear her. Joanne tried not to resent how her mother lit up when Renata came into the room. More days than not she didn’t seem to recognize Joanna. When she’d asked Dr. Harris about it he said, “Alzheimer’s is tricky. Could be Renata reminds your mother of someone she knew fifty years ago.”

Joanne doubted that. Fifty years ago there wasn’t a Hispanic person within a hundred miles of Glendale, Virginia. And, if her mother was going to remember somebody, it looked like she’d remember her own daughter who had never been away from home for longer than a month even during four years at Radford University. The daughter who tended to her every need for eighteen months until she walked into the kitchen stark naked while Angela and her cheerleader friends were making pizza.

Joanne believed there should be a new law of nature added to the seventh grade science book. One that said: Don’t be surprised when not a damn thing makes sense, when nothing adds up. When everything you know turns inside out and backwards. When your daddy walks down to the mailbox and dies. When your mother walks into the kitchen naked and doesn’t even remember ever having a daughter. When your hometown becomes a tourist trap and a fancy coffee shop is named after a creek that used to be so polluted green steam rose from the water. Joanne imagined the illustration to represent this new law of nature would be the twenty-eight foot tall ladder-back chair Agnes Bevins was fixing to plop down right in the middle of town.

Joanne was tempted to skip the Downtown Revitalization meeting. What was the point when Agnes and her posse of Yankee retirees pushed and shoved until every single crazy idea they had was set in motion like that ridiculous chair? Joanne had fought the big chair until her husband told her to back off. Jerry reminded her that the nearly ten percent increase in the half-back population—northerners who moved to Florida, didn’t like it, and moved half way back—had raised the town’s tax revenue over five percent. That these retirees were the town’s new bread and butter since the factories had all shut down and unemployment had crept up to twenty percent. Jerry sold real estate. He liked numbers. Numbers and halfbacks. “We’ll just put ‘em all down there along the river until they have to go to Blue Hills, then we’ll haul in a new bunch. Quick turnover, works for everybody.”

Everybody except for Joanne. Joanne thought the weekenders were enough; the way they took up both lanes on Main Street in their SUVs, cleaned out every single solitary estate sale down to the last tea cup, and had the price of fried apple pies at Farmers’ Market up to three dollars and fifty cents.

Glendale sat atop the Blue Ridge plateau between southwest Virginia and North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Mountains were the gentle offspring of the Appalachian chain with rounded crests that gave way to waves of rolling hills and wide valleys. The town lay in one such valley between the Blue Ridge Parkway and a stretch of the New River. Joanne had grown up sheltered by mountain walls that looked like the silhouettes of sleeping giants. When she saw the The Wizard of Oz, she asked her daddy what they’d do if a tornado came. “Why one of those things never would make it over White Top Mountain,” he’d said. Her daddy had an answer for everything back when furniture and textiles kept everyone employed, and although Glendale was a factory town of have and have-nots, there was only one Main Street to cruise in the evenings, one high school football team to cheer for, and one Dairy Bar where the hotdog basket suited all tastes. Back then Glendale seemed as sturdy and enduring as the heart-shaped Galax leaf that grew wild in the woods. But harm did come despite the mountain giants, despite her daddy’s answers. When the world opened up, the town shut down. Imports from China increased bottom lines. The families who had owned the factories for generations, who had lived and worked and raised their children in Glendale, started talking about efficiency and price point competition. One by one the factories closed or became front offices for import operations. At first, nobody talked about how the hundreds of laid-off workers would make it. At first, nobody even thought about how the town would survive.

But when Ronnie Davis ran for mayor he told everybody he’d been to Asheville and seen the Promised Land. He came back from a tourism convention with a box full of brochures and all kinds of ideas about how to transform Glendale into what he called “a destination.” Committees were formed and action plans were printed up and distributed in four-color folders. Norfolk Southern took up their railroad tracks and donated a fifty-seven mile stretch for a state park called the New River Trail. Press releases were written and mailed, and weekenders showed up from Charlotte and Winston-Salem loaded down with high-priced paraphernalia to walk or ride bicycles along the shady, rhododendron lined paths. Others came to kayak down the benevolent river. They had their cabin cookouts, bought commemorative Galax leaf pottery, and then high-tailed it back to where they came from. Joanne felt sure there were a gracious plenty of outsiders to sustain the town without a bunch of northern retirees moving in who seemed not to even understand the English language when it was spoken the way God intended.

Jerry, on the other hand, was a walking, talking welcome mat. “If I can just sell a five acre tract to one out of every ten of them son-of-a bitches who come to town, we’ll be rolling in it.” Every time he said that, Joanne pictured how her daddy’s Border Collie, Sadie, used to roll in manure down at the farm. When Jerry asked Joanne to join the Downtown Revitalization Committee, telling her it would be good for his business, she’d laughed. But he did that thing with his face that reminded her of a road-dumped puppy and mumbled about how his mama had worked right alongside his daddy all those years at Burlington Mills. “That’s how marriage ought to be, one for the other,” he’d said. She told him to hush, she’d do it. Going to the meetings was less trouble than having to hear Jerry complain about how she didn’t care about their financial future.

He told her to be especially nice to Agnes Bevins. The Bevinses had “more money than God,” according to Jerry. He sold them ten acres of prime river property and meant to find more ways to help them “invest.” Joanne hated the way Jerry played up to the half-backs. “I’ll change my name to John-Boy and play the banjo barefooted if they’ll keep writing me checks.” And, Jerry wasn’t the only one. Seemed like the whole town bent over backwards to make the fast-talking, big tippers happy. Sherry Lineberry had even added bagels and cream cheese to the menu at the Skyline Diner.

“We had a big chair in Binghampton,” Agnes Bevins had said six months ago at their very first meeting. She had raised her crooked arms above her head. “A twenty-five-foot rocking chair.” Agnes was a tiny woman with a mouth that protruded like a snout. Her thin, wiry hair—more red than brown—was so thin you could see her scalp. Age spots and deep wrinkles made Joanne think she had to be close to eighty. Agnes shook her hands in the air like a corpse waving from the grave. “We won awards from the Restore New York program. I was chairman of the publicity committee, and I’m telling you, people came from all over to see our chair.” She dropped her hands and stared down Mayor Davis like she’d thrown a handful of aces on the table.

Well, I wish you’d go back to Nu Yawk and sit in your cher, Joanne had thought to herself.

A gnarly finger shot back up in the air. “You have a furniture manufacturing history here. A big chair would be a tribute to that.”

Mayor Davis had rubbed his index finger back and forth beneath his chin like that would help him dislodge the right words. “Well, see, that’s the thing, Mrs. Bevins,” he’d said. “With all the factories gone, and folks out of work, I’m not so sure it’s the best time to celebrate chair making.”

A.G. Jones spoke up, “Yeah, who’s going to build it? The Chinese?”

“Maybe we ought to just build us a big Chinaman,” Horace Lineberry said.

A.G. grunted. “We could put ‘em down there by the Henderson plant. Nobody’s using that parking lot.”

Joanne hadn’t laughed with the others. Henderson Furniture was nothing now but a crumbling brick monstrosity with broken windowpanes and sagging fire escapes sitting between the creek and the old railroad line. A monument to how quickly the world could change. Joanne believed her daddy would be alive if it hadn’t been for the factory closing. Buddy Cox went to work at Henderson Furniture when he was sixteen years old. He did every job from cutting lumber to rubbing varnish until he was made supervisor, then production manager. Nothing made him prouder than to take his daughter to the factory every fall and show her the new suites headed down the mountain to High Point’s International Furniture Market. It was as if he’d carved every headboard, varnished every chest of drawers with his own two hands. He’d seen Henderson Furniture grow to a multi-million dollar business, and then he’d had to watch it all end. Lay-offs, three-day-weeks, two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off. Joanne’s father was only months away from turning sixty-five when the factory closed. He died the next year and when the doctor said his heart just stopped, nobody doubted the cause.

And Agnes Bevins wanted to set a big chair in the middle of town. The natives said there was no way it would happen. The town couldn’t afford it. The mayor would make nice, throw the half-backs a barn dance or another old movie night at the renovated Carlson Theater. But the natives had underestimated Agnes Bevins. She found a big chair in Texas. A ladder-back built for a furniture store chain that had gone out of business. Twenty-eight feet tall with a beige cushion made of fiberglass. The Texans were anxious to make the town a deal. Agnes raised the $8,000 before the committee could come up with objections. Tonight’s meeting was the last before the chair came to town.

Joanne let herself into the Chamber of Commerce conference room. The meeting had already started. “We’ve got the Rocky Mountain Boys playing from eleven to noon,” A.G. said. He read from a spiral notebook, his voice a monotone. “Johnny Sizemore and the Shriners are going to cook a pig, and Charles Henderson will give a speech on behalf of his family and the Glendale furniture industry.”

Agnes Bevins smiled like A.G. had just announced that Charles Henderson was going to open the factory and put people back to work. When the meeting ended, Joanne went for the door but Agnes Bevins grabbed her arm.

“Joanne, I can’t tell you how much Walter and I loved your farm. We think it will be just perfect for our son’s B&B.”

Joanne stood a half-foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than Agnes Bevins, yet Agnes’ grip on her arm felt like an assault. She wanted to jerk away, but good manners wouldn’t allow it. “I’m sorry,” Joanne said, “my farm?”

“Your family home. Jerry showed it to us this morning. Our son has promised that he will move here if we find just the right place. He’s an outdoorsman, and with the bike trail right there and the river so close, it will be just perfect for him. We’ll have to do quite a bit of extensive renovation, but,” she shrugged her shoulders, “we can do that.” Agnes dropped her hand and smiled.

“Jerry…” Joanne wanted to say that Jerry was wrong, that her mother’s house was not for sale, but the words stuck in her throat. She turned away, good manners be damned. Every week, folks lingered by their cars and said all the things they wished they’d said during the meeting. Joanne walked past them, her right hand deep inside her leather bag. She would call Jerry, ask him what the hell he’d done. She found her flip phone. Her hand shook so badly she dropped it and the phone broke in two. She kicked each part as hard as she could across the parking lot.

Your farm, Agnes Bevins had said. The homeplace where her grandparents raised eleven children, where her daddy had died. Joanne drove through red lights one after the other. If she got pulled over the police chief, who’d she’d gone to kindergarten with at the First Methodist Church, would just have to put her in jail. She turned up the winding road that led to the top of White Pine Mountain. She remembered how proud she’d been to show off her big new house, how she’d stood with her daddy on the back deck. “I like how you can see out from up here,” he’d said. “You can sit right here and see everybody in town.” He’d smiled at her, “And everybody can by God look up and see you.”

Joanne was still shaking when she pulled in the garage. She heard the TV before she got the backdoor opened. Jerry sat on the couch with the lights out, slack-jawed, lost in an episode of CSI. She turned on the overhead light and found the remote. The TV went to black.

“What the hell,” he said.

She stood over him. “Where’s Angela?” She didn’t want her daughter to hear what she had to say.

“Over at Cynthia’s, or that’s what she said, for God’s sake, give me that remote.” Jerry leaned forward.

Joanne stepped back. “What did you tell Agnes Bevins about Mama and Daddy’s?”

Jerry put both hands on his head. “Oh, shit.” He looked up at her. “You know your mama’s never going home. You know that. She put that place in your name for a reason. It’s time to think about selling. It costs a hundred dollars a month just to keep the heat on low.”

Joanne couldn’t speak.

“Business is shit right now, and not getting any better. And Angela goes to college next fall? How you think we’re going to pay for that?” Jerry stood up. “You gotta face facts. You haven’t been right since your daddy died, and that’s been three damn years ago.”

Joanne started up the stairs.

Jerry yelled after her, “You can’t even stand to go down there, you said that yourself. What good is that place doing anybody sitting empty?”

***

The next morning, Joanne got to Blue Hills a little after eleven o’clock. “I thought we’d go down home today,” she said helping her mother into a denim jumper. “Ride out and look at the fall color.”

Joanne took her mother out every Saturday, usually back to her own kitchen in hopes that a taste of red velvet cake or the smell of collards would bring her into the world. Jerry had been right. Joanne did avoid the farm where every worn rug, every whiff of stale pipe tobacco, served as undeniable proof of all she had lost.

An hour later, Joanne had her mother and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken in the car. “Mama, aren’t the leaves pretty?”

Her mother pulled her red corduroy coat tight around her. Joanne had pinned her grey hair up in a neat knot. She knew it would make more sense to cut her mother’s hair, but she didn’t have the heart. Her mother’s frail body shifted right and left, backward and forward, unable to hold steady against the car’s motion.

“Mama, look coming up at the red maple in Billy Frye’s yard. It looks like it’s on fire.”

Her mother kept her chin tucked to her chest, her eyes half shut against the too bright sun.

Joanne reached over and put the visor down. She looked back at the road just in time to break for a curve. They’d left the flat spread of town and began crossing the ridge that circled west Glendale. The narrow road dipped and rose. She slowed up for Thrill Hill, a bump that would send a car airborne if given any speed at all. Grey weathered barns and brick ranchers, trailers and two-story white farmhouses sat hither and yon back from the road. Fields of dried, stubby corn stalks beside green rye grass yards gave the hills the look of a patchwork quilt with fencerow stitching. Random islands of trees splashed yellow, orange, and maroon against the brown and green. Joanne pointed, “Look, out there, Mama, Terrance Anderson spray painted his hay bale to look like a Jack-O-Lantern.”

“Where are we going?” her mother said. She sounded angry and a little scared, the way she sounded every Saturday. But Joanne could not stop trying. She kept hoping to incite a flash of memory that would bring her mother back if only for a moment.

“Home,” Joanne said. “I thought we’d go down to the house and have some lunch. I got your favorite, Kentucky Fried. Can you smell it?” The heavy grease had Joanne’s stomach churning. She rolled her window down an inch and turned onto Iron Ridge Road. Deep woods sat on either side. Yellow, red, and orange leaves swirled and whirled around the car like confetti.

“Where are we going?” Joanne’s mother said again.

“Just down to the house. You know this road. Look out there, you know where we are.”

They crossed the low water bridge over Chestnut Creek where the New River Trail began. Joanne waved to a man and woman taking bikes off the back of a Ford Tahoe. She didn’t know the couple but a quick wave was a habit in these parts. She remembered what Agnes Bevins had said about her son. The outdoorsman. “They have a pretty day to ride their bicycles,” Joanne said.

When Joanne was a girl, Iron Ridge was a gravel road. The smooth pavement still felt out of place beneath her tires. She passed the white clapboard Church of God and saw that the mums she’d planted in her father’s urn still held their golden color. The three-year anniversary of his death was coming up Sunday. She remembered how the preacher had used every fall analogy possible at the burial. He’d talked about the seasons of life, about the nature of change. She remembered thinking at the time that he did everything but set up a chart to explain the cessation of photosynthesis. But there was not one thing natural about her father’s death. It was manmade. One hundred percent made in America.

She started up the steep incline and then eased around the hairpin curve, the last before the turn off to the Cox farm. The wooden fence her father had been so particular about was in bad need of paint. The field between the road and the house looked bare without horses grazing. Joanne turned down the bumpy gravel drive. She glanced at her mother but saw no signs that she had any interest whatsoever in their destination. She stopped beside the white farmhouse. The rooster weather vane caught the wind and spun round and round with an eerie screech.

“We might have to start a fire in the cook stove,” she said. Her mother stared at her lap. Joanne got out and walked around the car to help her out. She towered over her mother. Joanne had inherited the big-boned Cox family genes. She looked like her daddy, something she was glad about now, but growing up, she’d wished for the fine, petite features of her pretty mama.

The house was cold and the room had a smoky smell that came from the black iron cook stove that took up one end of the kitchen. Her mother had only used it on the coldest days of winter to make her daddy a pan of biscuits or a pecan pie. He swore food tasted better when it was cooked in the old stove that had been his grandmother’s. Wind whistled outside the window and the damper of the stove rattled. She sat her mother down at the round oak table. “Let me get our lunch out of the car and I’ll turn up the heat.”

When Joanne came back in the kitchen, her mother wasn’t there. She put the bags on the table. “Mama?” She found her standing by the cherry four-poster bed she’d shared with her husband. Joanne put her hand on her mother’s shoulder. “Mama, do you know where we are?”

Her mother looked up at her with such anguish Joanne felt cruel.

***

The next Saturday, the day of the big chair dedication, could not have been a more ideal Indian summer day. The string beat of bluegrass music and the sweet aroma of barbeque had even the naysayers in a festive mood. Joanne had driven every way possible around town to avoid seeing the chair since its arrival on Monday. But there it sat, as tacky as she had imagined. Stark, beige, and odd. A wide red ribbon encircled the legs awaiting the mayor’s oversized scissors. A low brick wall had been built to give the space a park feel, but there’d been no time for landscaping and Joanne couldn’t help but be glad that it looked nothing like the attractive rendering Agnes had used to sell her big idea. Joanne spotted Jerry working the crowd, glad-handing. They had barely exchanged ten words in the past week.

She led her mother to the folding chairs set up facing a low stage where the ceremony would take place. “Let’s have a seat right here.” But her mother pulled away. She parted the crowd with long, certain steps. Agnes Bevins, clipboard in hand, waved her arms as Mrs. Cox made her way around the stage. “No, no. Wait until after the ceremony. You have to get back.”

But Mrs. Cox kept going. “I’m sorry,” Joanne said.

Joanne and Agnes followed as Mrs. Cox reached out a hand and touched the ash-colored chair leg. She laughed a laugh Joanne had not heard in years.

“I’m so glad you like it,” said Agnes. Mrs. Cox, suddenly agile, ducked beneath the ribbon and walked under the chair like she had been hired to inspect the work.

Joanne started to cry before she knew she was going to. “She doesn’t respond to anything anymore,” she said. “Alzheimer’s…”

Agnes nodded. “I see.” She stepped closer to Joanne. “This is not something I want repeated.” Her voice was low. “Walter is in the early stages. That is why I desperately need my son here. Jerry said you were against selling your mother’s home, but please, Joanne. I need my son here to help me with what’s ahead.”

As if called upon, a tall, dark haired man joined them. “Steven, this is Joanne Lundy,” Agnes said. “She served on the committee with me.”

He stuck out a hand. “Nice to meet you. Thank you for helping Mom get her own chair down here. Even bigger than Binghampton’s, huh, Mother? Not that you’d be competitive.” He smiled at Joanne. “You’ve probably noticed my mother is quite a force of nature.”

Before Joanne could think of something to say, her mother was back. She looked Joanne in the eye for the first time in months and pointed to the chair. “Buddy made this.” When Joanne didn’t respond, she looked at Steven. “My husband, Buddy, he made this.”

“Well, he did a fine job.” Steven’s wide smile looked nervous, but sincere.

Mrs. Cox nodded and walked back to the chair. “Excuse me,” Agnes said, “I need to find the mayor.” When she was out of earshot, Steven said, “I appreciate you making my parents feel so welcome. My mom has been really homesick for Binghampton. Maybe now that she’s got her chair, she’ll relax a little.”

Joanne had never once imagined Agnes Bevins homesick. She felt guilty that this nice man mistook her for a good person, one who would make his elderly mother feel welcome. “Well, she’s done a lot. She’s done a lot for the town.”

“She wants me down here.” He tilted his head and lowered his voice. “What do you think? Got room for one more Yankee?”

Joanne felt her face flush. “Of course.” Could God strike her dead on such a clear blue day?

“So, help me out here,” Steven said. “What are those leaves that woman over there is selling in little bunches?”

“That’s Galax,” Joanne said. “It grows in the woods around here. Used to be a moneymaker for the mountain folk, real popular with florists, but now everybody grows their own. Things change, you know.”

“Tell me about it,” he said.

She heard resignation in his voice. “I need to get mama,” Joanne said. “Nice to meet you.”

“You’re a good daughter,” he said. “Well, we do what we have to do.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m figuring that out. Thanks again for the southern hospitality.”

His attempt at a southern accent made Joanne laugh and she tweaked her own to outdo his. “You’re most welcome.”

Renata and her three children were with Mrs. Cox now. She was showing them the chair as if she’d just purchased it for her home.

“Come sit with us,” Joanne said. The ceremony began and the mayor introduced Charles Henderson. Joanne had gone to school with Charles, the latest son to inherit the furniture factory his great-grandfather had begun. She’d heard that the import business wasn’t going as well as the Hendersons had expected, but she had grown up believing the wealthy were invincible to hard times. He had the same goofy grin that had infuriated her at her father’s funeral, but today Joanne saw it as a mask that didn’t quite do its job. His heavy down jacket looked worn and wrong for the mild weather and she was surprised by how much he’d aged since she’d last seen him.

Joanne listened to Charles say all that he was expected to say. Fine, hardworking people. Tradition. Like family. The newcomers beamed like extras in a Hallmark special. Everyone else fidgeted like they were ready to wrap this thing up and have some barbecue. Like family, she thought. Maybe so. Every family knows a little sugarcoating goes with the territory.

Mayor Davis rocked on his feet, his arms crossed over his belly. As irritated as she’d been with him about all his tourism talk, Main Street had come a long way. Teddy Owens’s fiddle shop across the street was getting a national reputation for hand-carved instruments. There was a bookstore on the corner run by a woman she’d gone to school with and a gallery that sold work by local artists.

Joanne saw Angela and her girlfriends decked out in new fall sweaters, posed on hay bales hauled into town for the occasion. Her daughter was practically grown. In a year, she’d be gone. But maybe she’d come back. Maybe the new Glendale would bring her back. Steven stood between Agnes and Walter with his arm around his mother. You do what you have to do.

***

By the end of November Joanne had worked out with Steven Bevins what she wanted from the house and what she was willing to leave. He was especially fond of the iron cook stove. The week before Thanksgiving while Steven was still in New York, Joanne left home at dawn and drove to Iron Ridge. When she passed the cemetery she said, “Hang on, Daddy, I’ll be right back to get those dead mums out of your urn.”

She turned down the driveway to the farm. Steven was thinking of getting horses and she hoped he would. He needed to get the fence painted. She parked beside the house and smiled wondering who would turn out to be the biggest nag, his mother or her.

Joanne took her bucket and trowel and stepped into the woods behind the barn. Dried leaves crunched beneath her tennis shoes, and the musky smell of winter rose from the black dirt. It had been years since she’d walked to the big rock pile where the Galax grew. As a kid, it was the first place she’d take anyone who came to play. “Take a hoe in case you see a snake,” her daddy would say, knowing Joanne liked to scare the other kids just a little, liked to be the brave one. She came to a steep slope and had to reach out and grab hold of a redbud tree to keep from sliding. These woods were as familiar as any room in the house she’d grown up in. And timeless, so much so that it seemed odd not to hear Sadie running around, sniffing the ground, hunting for moles, but only the caw of crows broke the quiet. She saw the rocks and almost cried. She’d been about half afraid they’d be gone, or not like she remembered, but there they sat. Grey boulders mottled with lichen and moss, piled in a way that looked like an old, tired elephant if you held your eyes just right. Metamorphic rock, her science brain told her, minerals frozen and thawed, pushed and squeezed from ocean floor to mountaintop millions of centuries ago to become something that would last lifetimes.

She knelt down and brushed away a layer of rusty leaves. Evergreen clumps of heart-shaped Galax leaves sprang up like they’d been waiting for her. She was careful with her trowel, but the ground was hard and she had to strike at the dirt to get deep around the roots. With the soil loosened, she dug her fingers into the cold earth and gently separated the thread-thin roots from the soil before lifting the plants out of the ground and placing them carefully in her bucket. Every object in a state of rest tends to remain in that state unless an external force is applied to it. She’d have to baby them. They’d need tending to.

Sunlight filtered through bare branches. She found the place in the rocks where the crevices made steps. She was careful but found her footing. When she got to the top, she laid flat on the mound of hard granite and looked up through a tangle of limbs like she’d done hundreds of times before. The stone seemed to come to life beneath her. Rising, falling, with each breath.

Patti Frye Meredith grew up in Galax, Virginia. After graduating from Virginia Tech, she enjoyed a career in television and has lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. She is currently packing for a move to Louisiana. Her short story “Revival” won honorable mention in Still: The Journal’s 2010 Literary Contest, and another story, “Beggars,” was named as a finalist in the Salem College Reynolds Price Fiction Awards Contest. Meredith received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Memphis and hopes to soon find a home for her unpublished novel, South of Heaven.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *