Ginny: What’s next in ‘Witch Lightning’

Posted on September 16, 2011


He studied her face, then glanced around the cabin. Everything looked neat, fry pans and pots hanging on the wall above a white enameled wood stove, the chinking in the walls white except where blackened by smoke, a flower print cloth hanging over the window behind her. Two cots stood against the wall to his right, one freshly made, one slept in, her red packsack leaning against the wall beside it. His gaze went back to the table, to a slim paperback, the cover white and down its face a red banner with the title printed in black: Murder in the Cathedral.
He peered down at the book, the title striking a chord, and remembered wanting to slug Buddy’s fat face. Sarah’s play! Kaili turned back to the sink and he snatched the play from the table and read the author’s name: T. S. Eliot. He opened the book and looked down a page:

“The moment foreseen may be unexpected
When it arrives
It comes when we are
Engrossed in matters of other urgency…”

He felt a chill. He spun around and saw the open door.
“I’m borrowing this,” he said, holding up the book.
“Borrowing what?” Kaili stood by the washstand with mugs and a tea towel in her hand.
“This,” he said.
“Oh yeah?” she asked.
“Payment for you dragging me out here,” he said.
She looked at the book and shrugged. “Sure thing, cowboy. You having coffee?”
He slipped the book into his pocket. “What did you do that for?” he asked.
“Grab my keys,” he said.
She sighed and looked around. “It’s lonely out here sometimes. I wanted company, that’s all.”
“Pretty weird way of getting it.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Please, take the book. Keep it if you like.”
He pulled the book from his pocket and looked at the back as he stepped to the door.
“Please stay,” she said. “I make a good cup of coffee, and you can have the book. I read it.”
He turned the book over and peered at the title. “What’s it about?” he asked.
“You’ll like it. It’s about a man who stays true to what he believes in. He can’t be bought with all kinds of promises. Promises of power, wealth… A solid guy like you, Joe.”
He looked at her. “What’s with you?”
“Okay, okay.” She laughed. “Please stay, we’ll chat and have coffee, and you can go on your way, with your book.” She pointed to it. “It’s yours.”
The water began to growl in the kettle.
He nodded and relaxed a little. “I need coffee, for sure,” he said. “I got a drive ahead of me, and it ain’t exactly down Main Street either.” He turned to the door.
“Coffee’s almost ready,” she said quickly. She turned from him, set the cups on the washstand and took a tin from the cupboard. “And I have milk. Evapo. You like milk in your coffee, Joe?”
“You nailed it.”
“Coming right up.”
He closed the door and sat down at the table.
“I like to have a coffee and talk,” she said. “Do you like to talk?”
He peered at her. “Uh huh. Yeah.”
“Because you don’t talk a lot and when you do talk, well… you don’t use a lot of words.”
He laughed. “I figure I use as many as I need.”
She walked over by the cot and pulled some cigarettes from her pack. She took one out and then came over and pushed a pack with a black cat on the label across the table toward him.
“No thanks,” he said.
She shrugged and lit her smoke, then waved out the match, walked over to the stove and tossed it in the wood box. She flipped open the stove’s door and bent over and poked a couple of sticks into the fire. She put her hand on her hip, pushed out her ass, and pushed the kettle around the stove top so the water rolled and rumbled.  She turned and walked back to the table, smiling.
“The poet says that Arthur dreams in the mountains,” she said, sitting down.
He looked away. “Yeah?”
“Do you know about King Arthur, Mr. Llewellyn? He could be your ancestor.”
“I don’t remember telling you my name,” he said, glancing at her.
“I do my research. Do you know what your name means?”
“Like a king,” he said.
He chuckled and shook his head, then leaned forward and loosened the laces on his work boots.
“Ah well,” she said. “All mountains become molehills in the end.”
He frowned. “Why do you say that?”
“Experience, my boy.”
“I figure these mountains will outlive us all,” he said.
She raised an eyebrow and smiled.
“No?” he asked, turning to her. “You know something I don’t know?”
“Look at your hair,” she said, laughing. “It looks like you stole it from an old tom cat.”
He patted his head. “What’s wrong with it?”
“You’re not bad to look at, anyway,” she said.
“And all those muscles!” She sighed.
He shook his head, grinning.
“Still thinking about your promise?” she asked.
“Right on.”
“Let me read your palm.”
He regarded her suspiciously and then shrugged and held out his hand. She turned the palm up and rubbed it with her open hand.
After looking at it for a moment, she said, “I don’t want to talk about these things.”
“Bad?” he asked, smirking.
She sighed. “You have so much potential!”
“Tell me what you see,” he said.
“I see Monday mornings,” she said, peering down at his palm. “I see angry bosses. I see a body growing old and money growing short. I see kids who don’t know their dad because he’s away all the time. I see a wife tired and angry and alone. I see drunken nights and hangovers so bad you need beer waiting on the bedside table to make it through morning. I see you drinking your Crown Royal alone in your motel room and dragging yourself to work the next day. I see anger, Joe. A man humiliated by bankers, lawyers, doctors. They’ll tell you how wrong you are as they tighten their grip on everything you thought you owned.  Your only consolation will be your buddies, drinking in the bar or maybe coffee in a shopping mall food court. They listen to your complaints, you listen to theirs. You’ll call that friendship.”
His mouth hung open. “Whoa, that doesn’t sound good.”
“Do you see the same future as I, Joe?”
He thought about it. “Grim. Common enough, but I wouldn’t say it’s gonna  happen.”
“Will your love for her make it more bearable?”
He frowned and shook his head. “C’mon lady, give it up.” He glanced at the door.
“I’m offering you a way out, Joe,” she said.
The kettle whistled and she jumped up. He looked around the cabin and at her as she grabbed the kettle from the stove and poured steaming water into the mugs.
“I don’t get why you’re living out here,” he said.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “You learn things, Joe. You learn to sense things, feel things.”
She poured in the Evapo with a flourish and quickly stirred the mugs. She brought them over to the table and set them down. As he reached for his, she grabbed his wrist.
“You are like a king, Joe. You can live like one. Are you starting to believe me, just a little? Would you like to?”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, man.”
“I like the way you carry yourself,” she said.
He looked down at the coffee, reflecting light in a crescent. “This is coffee, isn’t it?”
“It’s your future.”
“You drink some.”
She let go of his wrist and sipped from her cup. “Go for it,” she said.
He took a sip and winced. “If that’s coffee, it’s got to be the worst!”
She frowned. “No good? Maybe it’s a little stale.” She sipped from her cup.
“Hang on,” he said, tipping his cup back once more. “Whoa!”
He started to feel like he was waking up, finally, and had another sip. “Oh, that’s doing it,” he said.
“Sugar?” she asked, watching him.
“Nah, I’m okay.” He lifted his cup and rolled the bitter taste around in his mouth. “It tastes better,” he said. “You get used to it.” He looked around the cabin, his eyes more alert, and then slurped down a mouthful.
“There’s beer keeping cool in the lake,” she said. “If you’d rather have that.”
“A bit early for me.”
“There’s a big sack of it,” she said.
He looked at her for a moment, thinking he’d heard what she said somewhere before. “Sure, I believe you,” he said, drinking from his cup, his eyes brighter. The coffee tasted better with each sip. “You make a mean cup, Kaili. So what did you want to talk about?”
“What do I want to talk about,” she said.
He turned his chair toward the door. She watched him closely. He felt energized, ready to run down the path through the forest and jump in the truck.
“I could use a cup of this before work,” he said, laughing. ‘Where’d you pick it up?”
“Not available in stores,” she said. Her eyes narrowed. “Going somewhere?” she asked.
He slugged back another mouthful. “Thinking about breakfast,” he said. He glanced at his watch. “I’ll make it if I hurry.”
“We were going to talk,” she said.
“Don’t feel like talking. Feel like breakfast.” He looked past her, out the window. “God, what a country. Coming up six o’clock and it looks like noon.”
She said nothing for a moment and then sighed. “They say love is giving, but I don’t understand that. A person always expects to get something. Unless love’s just stuff they make up for greeting cards.”
“I don’t know about love. Right about now, I’m thinking about sausages and bacon, eggs scrambled or sunny-side up, I don’t care.”
She jumped up. “Oh, I’ll give you breakfast for a lion! A big fry-up with eggs, and potatoes, and perogies and onions, three kinds of cheddar in your omelet. I’ll make it all Yukon-style with beer, and then scream in horror as you guzzle. I’ll sing ‘I’m Easy’ and lie on the bed, over easy. Then you better watch out for mama, listening in on your telephone calls, phone sex with your sex–er–tary. Can’t you see she’s a bimbo, you dirty old man?”
He frowned at her. “Kaili, you’re gettin’ scary,” he said.
Her face split open with laughter. “Green eggs and ham. Ha – ha – ha!”
“Think I’m going,” he said.
“I’m not invited for bangers and mash?”
He jumped up and his chair skidded across the floor.
“Men, thick as planks!” she shouted. She stood pointing a finger at him. He saw the bones in her hand, an old woman’s hand. “Love me and leave me?”
“It’s just a cup of coffee. You said —”
“I feel, Joe. I feel!” she shouted.
He didn’t know if he imagined her hair whitening before his eyes, and her hands… the nails growing sharp. He threw himself through the door, thinking that if she caught up with him there’d be blood on the ground. He ran down the path in slow motion, past the living stone, as the sky twisted and spat down on him. The lake reflected the sky, its black water jumping in a cauldron, its yellow froth clawing at the shore. He looked back and saw her on the porch. Her hair had turned white and her body had turned to wire. She lifted her arms to the sky. He struggled to swear at her but his throat felt dry as sandpaper. He plunged into the forest, her cackle ringing in his ears.
The sky crackled and breathed fire. The seconds dragged on as he ran and then when he reached the debris chute he saw a grizzly crashing downhill like a tumbling boulder. The bear glanced at him with one wild eye but didn’t miss a step, hurtling itself down, knocking saplings out of the way. Lightning had torched a cedar higher up the chute and flames shot up from it as if from a chasm in hell. It began to fall, crackling and coughing up sparks. He ran, leaping over roots like a deer, barely keeping his feet to the trail, and then stopped at a cedar he’d seen before, split by lightning years ago.  Big raindrops smacked the dirt and the hemlocks thrashed their branches like they wanted to jump up and run away. He caught his breath, thinking. The bitter coffee and the dregs left in the cup could mean only one thing: the psycho bitch had spiked his coffee with who knows what; the way he felt, probably ten hits of acid. She’d be laughing herself to tears. He slapped his back pocket and felt his wallet, reached into his jacket and found his keys, and even found Sarah’s play. I’ll be keeping that, he thought. The sick thing was she fixed it so he’d have to drive through the wilderness stoned out of his mind. Have yourself a good laugh lady, he thought. He looked up at the smashed cedar, glad lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. Then he heard something pop. The next thing he knew he was flying through the air.

Posted in: Life