Flumes Volume 2: Issue 1, Summer 2017 - Page 64

and pulling me close to her hip, a story already shining in her soft brown eyes. I picked leaves out of my sisters’ curls and listened to Mama while watching the sky myself.

“This is where things begin,” I heard myself say. Mama sighed with pleasure and agreed with a quick affectionate hug. The sound of my uncle’s truck growled off in the distance.

“We’ll come back,” Mama promised. But we never did.

****

The last time I went home to South Carolina, my cousin B.J. drove me around Greenville in her faded green Buick. We headed out the western edge of the town, avoiding the new butterfly overpasses that channel traffic to the Interstate. Our goal was to locate a house we both remembered well, a two-bedroom wood-frame cottage, memorable for the peach trees in front and back. There, I had turned a sullen thirteen, listening to the music playing at the old Rythm Ranch dance barn half a mile away. There, B.J. had fallen in love while staying with us, spending her evenings curled up on the kitchen floor with the phone pressed to her ear so that her boyfriend could whisper his own lyrics and promises. We had talked about that house the night before, the way that place had marked us both. We remembered that it had been set on the far side of a huge open field choked with high grass and patches of blackberries. Near there, past the peanuts and the pines, the wetlands began – acres of swampy forest, thick with short pine and stunted dogwood, muscadines hanging in sheets off dark trees, and birds rising in clouds from the intermittent stretches of grassland. It had seemed then that the wild places were close in and mysterious, opening off the backyards of the widely spaced old rented houses. Now my youngest cousins live in apartments and condos, drive out to the country only on weekends, and couldn’t spot a muscadine if their lives depended on it. When B.J. and I talk about the old days, they smile and turn the television up louder.

“There were all those trees,” B.J. kept saying, as we drove past one suburban blacktop after another looking for that house. Acres of tract houses, barren of trees or blackberry bushes, confused and saddened us. Earlier, we had driven past the old Greenville County high school. It was stark and mostly boarded up, the two-block stretch of dirt playgrounds pressed down to a concrete finish. The windows not covered in plywood were shattered and gaping. We had circled it twice looking for the road where, at one time, the school buses would come in to turn around. Both of us were growing tired and frustrated.

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