Crows in the back field, behind the bar, Jim’s Bar & Grill, apt, since Jim has no imagination beyond mixing the perfect Manhattan. He is all grim and gray, the secular saint of alcohol, the ghost of hangovers future. The crows screech and they tumble in the air, showoffs, like high school jocks unconscious of their own fluid beauty. They holler their hauteur, and invite their own kind to a kill or the freshly wounded. They are galling, and stutter across the plain white sky, bold, full of ego. We don’t care what you think, we fly, we are a dark symphony. Sit down on your stools and order your tequila and sugary cocktails. We will still be here when you leave, and our music will make you anxious. Jim can also pour a decent sour.
“Gin?” he asks, as if it’s a real question.
She nods, and can still hear the crows over George Jones, and will for the duration.
The weak construct of flesh, this abstract defiance,
reliance on the skin of want, of evergreen,
bold for a moment, then humbled,
the impalpable heart lay upon crossed swords.
Words of comfort and distilled pity mean less
than the soft-boned mortality; the only strength
is what it gives, why it lives in paused glory.
It was a very tall summer in 1957, and I’ll tell you why…
And so begins the most terrible summer for Charlotte Windover.
She and husband Jeremiah began a new life together surrounded by a wide expanse of a corn and sky. After years of brutal disappointment, she finally resolves to change her life. When Jeremiah is suddenly killed at an abandoned homestead, life becomes more isolated and harrowing. And with the threat of random fires being set by a mysterious figure known only as Croy, Charlotte’s life has become even more desperate.
In a land of big skies and small dreams, A Very Tall Summer is the tale of a woman’s resolve to overcome her broken past, and at any cost.
“The land takes hold and humbles and diminishes. It punishes a soul for the vainglorious hope of harnessing it. Rich brown, powder gray, it makes no difference; it overwhelms and chokes a man’s thoughts. It lodges itself upon the skin, under the fingernails, inside work boots and carburetors, it’s always there, at the foot of the bed, in the washing machine, behind the ears, laying claim to you, reminding you it’s there and soon you won’t be. You will be buried in it in time, and even if a hard wind comes and pulls your bones out of the ground, it will mock you, mock your arrogance.
“This was our life, and we expected no more than a decent crop, grocery money, medicine money, repair-the-tin-roof money. Warmth in winter, clean water in summer, the haunting fragrance of corn to placate our shabby mortality.”
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The creek is a place that haunts me. And it haunts Efrim. We still talk about it, but in our separate confines, like priest and sinner. I think it odd that he sees us in those roles, I as the one who hears the confession, and he, needing my exculpation. But he was as innocent as I. We were participants in different ways. He urges me to forgive him, but there is nothing to forgive, other than, I suppose, in a biblical sense… the sins of the father visited upon their children.
Those were different times. That’s what I tell myself. It’s a panoptic excuse for the silence we inflict upon one another. It’s always a different time. We move on, but we’re still standing by the water. They’re the same moments relived in degrees of clarity. Our lives, really, were determined on that day and at that place.
When a boy turns sixteen, he’s still a boy. He thinks this sanctified number is a passageway, that the hinges have finally swung open just enough to tease a view of adulthood. After all, he carries a wallet in his back pocket (with movie stubs, what’s left of his allowance, maybe a condom he found in his father’s night stand — flattened by the faux-leather folds, but still useful as a balloon, should water-balloon warfare kick in). He wears a shiny Timex on his wrist, and there’s a shadow on his cheeks that could maybe possibly be whiskers. He carries a boy’s certainty of his own manfulness, and he’s at the apex of his faith that mortality is for others, and he alone may be an exception to Old Daddy Death’s fiat. But he’s still a boy.
The year David turned sixteen, he held that same faith. He knew he was different from the other boys, and not just because of his skin color and Georgian accent. He was not particularly interested in the things that they pursued… sports, girly magazines, sneaking Canadian Club out of the dining room hutch. He preferred reading, writing short stories, spending time with his family. True, he had a girlfriend who he thought was eternal, and he wrote hopeless poetry about his devotion to her… not quite grasping the meaning of his own words. He thought commitment meant always being together, and that was the furthest stretch of his imagination. It was a boy’s thought. He was still a boy.
“Efrim tells good stories,” said Elani. “He makes them up in his head and they’re wonderful. Fields and fairies and adventures.”
Efrim grunted and turned away.
“Do you ever want to write them down?” asked David.
“I’m not so good at that,” he said. “We hafta stay outside most times, and when Daddy’s home, we have to do chores and stay out of his way. He doesn’t like it when I daydream my life away.” He grunted again and pushed his Tonka tractor over a small anthill.
“We have a storytelling place,” Elani whispered. “It’s the other side of the fence. We go there when Daddy’s in a bad mood. There’s a creek there, and trees, and rocks. It’s like the country. We’re not allowed to go there when the water’s too high, but sometimes we go anyways. But we’re not s’pposed to step in the water. It’s not deep, but Mommy doesn’t like us to get our pant cuffs wet and we’re not allowed to take off our shoes. But sometimes we do.” She grinned.
“Elani, you ain’t supposed to tell no one that. That’s our secret place.”
“But David’s our friend now, Efrim. You can tell secrets to friends, can’t you? You won’t tell no one, will you David?”
“Mum’s the word.”
“I won’t tell a soul.”
“See Efrim, I knew he wouldn’t. You can tell just looking at him that he’s an honest boy. You’re honest, right, David? Because I’d be really mad if you weren’t. Nobody thinks I have a temper, but I have a fierce one, right Efrim?”
“Fierce,” Efrim sighed. “You’re a sprite with a temper.”
“A sprite. Like Tinkerbell.”
“Yeah. I’d shake my fist at you. I wouldn’t yell loud, because Tink doesn’t yell, but you’d know you’d been yelled at without hearing it.”
“I wouldn’t want that,” said David. “Your secret’s safe.” And then: “Can we go there now? I miss trees. Do ya’ll have peach trees?”
Efrim gave him an odd look. “Like canned peaches?”
“Yeah, I guess. But they grow on trees.”
“I guess, but I’ve never seen any. We get them in cans here.”
“Maybe we can pretend,” said Elani. “And Efrim, you can make up a story about them.”
“I guess I could,” he said. “You’ll have to describe them to me, or I could make them up. Like marshmallow trees. You remember that one, Elani?”
“I do,” she said. “I dreamed about them for a solid week.”
Efrim pushed himself up. “We can go there for a little while. I hope you’re not afraid of getting your pant cuffs wet. You can roll them up, if you want, but the water won’t be deep, not this time of year.”
“Sure. And we could look for frogs.”
“Ain’t no frogs. Just stories. I could make up stories about frogs in peach trees.”
“That’s funny, Efrim,” said Elani, and she laughed like a sprite.
*a work in progress*