NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 3 - Fall 2018 - Page 86

Mama was sitting on the couch with two bowls at her feet, pulling peas from one and podding them into the other. She looked up at us coming in. “Who that there behind you, Duke? That you, Peebo? Reckon it is… where you been, Peebo…? Ain’t been down this way?” Peebo sat all the way to the back of the couch, and his feet touched the ground. He grinned. “Been busy.” “Getting busy to the point can’t get down this way…? I don’t believe that now… not one bit.” “No, Ma’am.” “How you… Sam?” Sam sat by himself beneath the calendar on the far wall. He straightened up at the sound of his name. Peebo told my mother no thank you. Sam still did not speak. He shrugged his shoulders — all of it in this beautiful elegance that I remember him possessing when he turned from the counter at Red’s the day I bought the candy bars. My mother had watched us all come into the room. We sat. She told Peebo and Sam to keep me out of trouble. I stared at the bare wall just above her head, wishing she’d not talk about me in front of my friends. I just looked at the wall and focused on that. Our walls were wood paneled. A pecan wood with dark grooved vertical pinstripes. Most times there was a picture hanging of the annual trip the high school took to Atlanta, downtown on Auburn Avenue, where they passed out revival leaflets to those in the streets, in an attempt to invite as many back to the country as they could for a weeklong meeting. You knew a revival week when enough cars collected on a section of 27 to be called traffic, and the spot just before the Crossing became a parking lot. It only got like that three times a year. I looked at the log stove that took up the space just off the center of the den, papers and magazines and loose mail lay cross the top of it. A laugh echoed from the back of the house where Rita and Kaisha were. Peebo lifted his head, peered down the hall. “Get you some water,” my mother said. “Duke, get the boys some water. Get yourself plenty water ‘fore y’all fall out. Know y’all like outdoors, but it’ll kill you, you don’t get no water.” When we were in the kitchen, I told them to get their own water. I wasn’t their slave. I said that real low, so my mother wouldn’t hear. Peebo slapped me in the head, and I covered my mouth to keep from yelling out. Reached up in the cupboard, pulled down three glasses and set them on the counter. Turned on the faucet, filled my glass. When we were on Lou Walker, Peebo asked had we ever been out on 109… across from the old feed store… way out like you going to Mr. Walton’s. When Sam and I told him yes, he asked had we ever seen a pond across from there. “It’s deep in those woods and ain’t but one or two gaps, so you got to be looking good.” Sam stared at the large wooden fork and spoon that was the decoration on the wall, and I remembered him telling me he had that too, wondered why many of us had that. What was the significance of a giant wooden spoon hanging on the wall? It had to be for something. Not a coincidence. If nothing other than a certain some-time-ago- woodcarver who had tapped into or fashioned the craze of the late thirties’ Canebrake folk and made a relative killing, like it was beauty supplies sold door to door in 1906. Peebo’s kitchen had the same fork and spoon, but it was a darker wood. Later, when we will have grown much closer, his mom will pull it off the wall and chase him out the house. She was always fussing, he complained. Wasn’t ever happy about anything, and if she was, she never showed it. I will not be able to tell in this act years later if Mrs. Tucker is serious or not about hitting him with the spoon, because Peebo will have a grin on his face, though he is screaming murder and holding his back pockets as he runs, chest leading the way. Peebo struggled to describe it with words and hand motions. When Sam and I failed to bring anything to mind, he stepped over to the side of the road and threw his mouth wide. Kept looking in our faces for a sign that we would at anytime remember seeing it, but we didn’t give any. I could not recall seeing any water — ever. Plus, it had been a while since I went in that direction to go anywhere. The Waltons owned everything that way. Crossing the Flint River on 109 into Meriwether County was crossing the bridge that led to Walton land. Fields in every direction. And a great big house, pillars… balconies and all. Unless we were heading east, out of the county, there was no reason for my family to be over that way. We all washed our glasses out and walked back to the living room but did not sit down. I stood watching my mother pod the beans, until she paused and looked up at me, and then finally said, “Ma?” “What you want?” “Can I go down the road with them and get a ice cream sandwich?” “Go head. Tell your sisters to come ‘ere.” “How could you not see it, Sam? It’s a pool a water right there through them trees when you going to Walton’s. We pass there every day, and you ain’t never seen nothing?” And then Sam said that he remembered it, like he trying to save himself from embarrassment. He saw the water some time ago while on the back of a truck going out to Mr. Walton’s with the rest of the families from White Hill. He remembered his little cousin pointing and saying that he saw water, but nobody else had. There were hickory and red gum trees and bushes and branches that blocked Sam’s view but he thought that it was possible he had glanced a slice of water and hadn’t known anything like it was back there. Sam’s recounting of the spot was convincing. His eyes gripped us, were opened on us like a paralyzed, deciduous forest coyote that had been waiting for something to step close enough to corner. Peebo told us that the water was the Jacob’s Lake people talked about. I’d heard of it. It was actually a pond or better yet what you would call a swimming hole, but Jacob’s Lake had a better ring to it… or folks didn’t care for the distinctions. Anyone from the Canebrake and beyond will tell you they grew up listening to ghost stories that had been located in and around Jacob’s Lake. So it goes that countless people had drowned in it, and the apparitions that were said to emerge were fully dressed. According to the tales, it looked like a giant bowl of shifting reflection. That’s how many of the stories begin — with ripples of sky in a giant bowl of water. Sam said that he didn’t see all that, but he did spot the water. “That’s Jacob’s Lake,” Peebo said. He left a silence… and then said he wanted us to swim in it. We were no longer walking. We hesitated at the end of Lou Walker Road on hearing Peebo’s plot… too wrapped up in it to make the turn. I looked back down Lou Walker at my house and at the barn and cows that dotted the field on the other side. I could also see Mr. Pritchard’s house midway down. I turned to look up 109 then. Aside from ghost stories inspired by the place, rumor had it that kids played there — they swam, of course, but there was also a rope tied to an oak and the kids climbed and swung on it, letting go so their bodies flew reckless through the air. Instead of ghosts and fully clad bodies, pockets filled with stones to weigh them down, I imagined swinging and letting go of a rope and flying. We knew the kids Peebo talked about were white, since it was near the feed store. It was white kids that flew through the air. White kids that clapped and celebrated without trepidation impeding on the water’s charm. Still, I envisioned it for me. Looked at the blue house on the corner and thought about my mother who would expect to find me there, when she came trudging up along the road’s edge, looking to see could she spot any of the berry bushes ready for picking, and then we would have the fruit raw that day and the day after, a pie or cobbler. “So we going?” Peebo was looking at us, and our gazes were fixed along 109 at the spot where it bent the corner. “We can cut through those woods so we ain’t got a go all the way round.” Sam nodded. Then looked at me. I thought about Old Man. I thought about eating. Sleeping. Morning. The field, chicken coop, cattle, the smokehouse, the market. Red’s. Then I thought about sitting. Not swimming, just sitting. The pool is right there beside me in this thought, but I am sitting and watching the steady ripples of pond water radiate outward bound, until it is as still as a glass table top. Sam hopped down, picked up another rock and tossed it across the fence near one of Old Man’s cows, so I stared at him but didn’t say anything about it. I wanted to find out what Peebo was grinning about. I had to tell my mother we were going up to the corner, at least. She yelled down the hall about the screen door slamming, when I wondered had she heard us talk about swimming, since everyone knew the pool in town didn’t open up for us until the second to last week of August, less than a week before school. “Fish still in there, if you change your mind — Peebo, there some fish in there. Get you some.” “Let’s walk,” he finally said, eyes on mine, like he was reading me and could tell that I had pinned him for the story he was about to build on. But before I could come out and say it — you a story or you fibbing like a fiddler — he quit the lie short, and not being able to keep it from us any longer, hopped down where he was standing with his head tilted so as to ask what we were waiting on.