NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 3 - Fall 2018 - Page 88

three Peebo walked on. He hollered back for us to stop messing around and catch up. The trail was barely visible, very narrow, and bordered by sycamore limbs, kudzu and other mulish, insidious plants, some of them prickly and others sappy. A fallen tree stretched across the path, and we had to step over it. Sam got his foot mashed on top an anthill, and we hollered and stomped our feet, patted our legs like we were putting out a fire. We followed the trail and followed a faint sound of water. Spider webs stretched across the path, and we laughed when Peebo stopped to wipe his face and spit. During a stretch that lacked incident, so that we had lowered our guard, Peebo got behind Sam and tripped him up. I have seen many children play this prank on one another, the classic swipe of the trailing leg before falling away to pretend ignorance. “You play too much,” Sam said looking back. Then he turned his head straightaway so that I could only see the back of it, but I knew it was that serious face of his. He did not speak to us the rest of the way. Peebo ran. I thought to get the lead again, to get back to showing us the way, but he stopped and put his arm around me and laughed so that the gap in his teeth showed. I was too nervous to laugh with him. He patted my back and my shoulder, rubbed my head a second then moved away. It appeared all of a sudden. We hadn’t seen it before. Knew there was a house somewhere deep in the woods, probably a quarter mile off the road. It really did have a schoolyard flagpole out front, and two flags hanging. This, more than anything, gave us reason to turn back. The soaring flagpole that accompanied the stories had put the ghosts back in my mind. “Let’s go back,” I told them. The house was silent, yet the breeze brushing and bending the leaves and the birds chirping gave it sound and movement. The columned house was out fifty yards, but we moved with calculation and precision. I was less certain about the adventure at that point. Wondered what Peebo was doing, when he got the idea. Wondered what I was thinking to agree to it. “You scared?” “I’m just — ” “We here now… the water’s right around there.” And Peebo pointed. He could not have known. He turned and walked on though. Never slowing to contemplate a turn, never stopping to ask if we had recognized anything. He walked on, relentless steps, as if he had been at the backside of the row houses in White Hill. We heard the water running over the stones. And then we could see it, and followed the stream a long way down a slippery trail. It was a thin stream of water cutting through the woods that led us to the pool. It was larger than expected, and I was relieved that no one was there. Tall grass pushed up through the grayish water from an unknowable depth. The pool was discolored and clouded at the edges, but in the center, out away from the bank, perfectly clear. Peebo and Sam could not possibly have seen this from the back of a moving pickup. The section of road that circles around and delivers vehicles to Walton’s side of town was much closer than the section of road where we began our cut-through, and yet there was no way to see how brilliantly drinkable the water looked from any road. No way to tell how deep the water was at its center by looking at it from the landside. Peebo took off his shirt. Pants. Shoes. Dipped his toe to test the temperature. And jumped in. Howled when he came up for air. “Get in, dummies!” But only after he seemed adjusted to the water, wading there, did he say this. “What y’all waiting for?” “It’s cold,” Sam said, patting the water with his barefoot. “You got a jump in,” Peebo yelled. “Better when you in. Warm underwater.” And his head dunked down again. There was a hill. Sam hugged his knees, as he fell from the high bank, slapped the water and disappeared. He looked alive, when he reappeared. His eyes conspicuous. His mouth large. I jumped. From the same spot Sam had jumped. Held my breath. Held my knees, as Sam had done. And when I hit, the icy sting enveloped me just like that, and quickly dissipated. Peebo was right. It was warm underneath. As long as you were in the water, it was tolerable. The trees surrounding it were too tall to let the sun warm it up, but it was still much better than sitting on the porch, or sitting in the house — no question. We swam around a long while, and Peebo and Sam had long lines creasing their faces, and maybe I did too. I let myself sink under the waterline and was a frog, doing my frog stroke while holding my breath and eyes open, searching for figures weighted to the lake floor. I could not quite wrap my mind around it, but I didn’t come up for air for some time… maybe minutes. And this had not affected me. I thought about my mother and Old Man, and my brothers and sisters. I thought about Grandma and Papa Man. I thought about what I would do the next day. Then… and I do not ever recall thinking this way before that: I wondered about other days, days far enough along that one who was not a seer of the future could not know about, but I wondered still. I came up, because I knew I was a mammal, but I hadn’t needed to. And this fact had caused an uncanny feeling, but I did not speak it. Only blew air and water from my lips. Wiped my face. A blurry Sam was standing on top of the water. He was walking on the water… I could see his ankles and he was waving and smiling from ear to ear. Peebo was swimming towards him, and just as I was about to fall out from shock, Peebo climbed up to where Sam was, and I knew then that the walking on water Sam had mastered was actually a sandbar in the middle of the pond. I swam out to where they were, clambered the muddy sandbar. We walked like tight ropers along the long stretch of raised land, holding out our arms, flying planes, and walking single file — Sam, then Peebo, then me. The water was not as I had thought. It was not a large bowl that ran deep from end to end. It was more like an egg crate. It had divots. There was an island in the center. Some places were deep. Others, long stretches of shin-shallow water. Luckily, the spot where the rope sung was deep. I didn’t remember the rope, until Peebo pointed and then paddled towards it. The roped tree was sitting atop the same high bank that Sam and I had jumped from. Peebo climbed out and tugged on the rope, testing, I’m sure, its strength to see if it would support him. After securing his feet placement on the knot at the bottom of the rope, he gathered enough swing to get far enough out to fly through the air… splash… disappear. Sam and I raced hard to the bank, soon as we saw Peebo fly. Soon as we saw him reappear with a beady smile on his face, laughing hard and coughing, celebrating with claps to assure us that he was okay, that the coughing was not overtaking him or a sign of his drowning. “Get the fence,” Peebo said. And Sam did. He spread the wire for Peebo to enter… then he spread the wire for me. We looked hard at one another once all were across. It was really happening. The rustling leaves, bird screeches, and the sound of squirrel’s feet shook me. They should have been comforting sounds, but the familiar sounds spoiled my stomach. Sam’s eyes were beady. If something was out there, he wanted to see it. I thought better about telling him that everything would be okay, figuring it was best if that was unspoken. It was this intense portrayal of ignorance that usually gave one away, as was the case with Peebo, so Sam yelled at him to stop and pushed him into a tree. Peebo hugged it, leaned into it with all his weight, laughed and would have fallen over had he not bear-hugged the tree. One sign said to keep out. Another said to beware of dogs. And then there was the one we feared the most: Will Shoot. We went through the fence at the left of these signs. Peebo put his foot on the first row of barbed wire, pressed it towards the earth and pulled up on the second and third row with his hands. Sam doubled over and stepped through, arching his back away from the wire. He was in. He looked around, as if expecting someone to grab him, and Peebo and I, on the roadside, could do nothing but watch if that were to happen.