Dec 29 ● BY Clark Knowles
Mary sings a song. I look at her hair, the flowers, the birds, a small brown spider strung from the garden to the wood pile on a web so long it can’t last. One of the dogs runs underneath it, and his tail comes up close to the web and the spider keeps crawling. Then Mary singing. It is her singing, but her hair too, that I am thinking about. The big planes are coming down to the airfield behind the trees. Drop on in, Mr. Peete says as the planes come down. Sometimes he waves to them. He is burning papers in a barrel. He has boxes with old cards and envelopes and bills and checks and he is putting in one thing at a time. So long useless junk, he says to me or to Mary or to the planes that come down. The dogs are brown and gray streaks in green grass, but they aren’t paying attention to Mr. Peete or the fire or the planes. They aren’t paying attention. They aren’t listening. The planes buzz and growl. Goodbye you old junk, one sheet and then the next. And Mary, Mary. She is back by the closed-off well where the rope goes down. She sets her basket on the stone that covers the hole where the rope goes down. The planes come down over the trees. They come all morning and all afternoon and while we eat supper.
When Mrs. Peete takes the food from the top of the little black stove she slides it into bowls, first the food from the skillet, brown and sizzling, then the food from the pan on top of that. Then she carries all the bowls and sets them on the table and Mr. Peete says, Lord bless this food and this family and thank you for all you provide we are all in your service we thank thee for your grace. He is picking up his fork before he is done talking and then no one says anything we just eat. The bowl is blue with a stripe. I am holding the bowl, holding, smelling, breathing, looking. Eat now dear, Mrs. Peete says, don’t let it get cold. The planes are coming down. The dogs are running back and forth under our feet. Click click click click. Mary hums and eats with her fingers. I live here on this property now. The spoon is heavy and down it goes and up it comes and down it goes into the bowl.
* * *
It is very dark when Mr. Peete wakes me and says, I can’t believe you didn’t wake up. You are the soundest sleeper I know. The room is dark and the window is dark. I am in bed covered with a sheet. What? I say. It’s a crash, he says. Come walk with me through the woods and we’ll see close-up what happened. What happened? Yes, what happened. The dogs are at his heels. Their tails stick straight up. Put some clothes on, Mr. Peete says. One of the dogs pushes a nose onto my pillow, his hot breath. The dogs want you to get up, Mr. Peete says. They want you to go see what’s what. I sit up and get dressed. I follow Mr. Peete downstairs. Mrs. Peete and Mary are in the kitchen looking out the back into the dark. Mr. Peete puts on his jacket and boots and Mary comes in without talking and stares at me. Shoes, Mrs. Peete says. Her robe is pulled tight. Her hair is pulled back. She puts her hand on Mary’s head and Mary looks up at her. Mary sucks on her bottom lip. The room is dark but for one lamp yellow and pale. I sit down and pull on my shoes. Mrs. Peete found the shoes for me. Each night I brush them and clean them and leave the laces loose and the tongue pulled straight like Mr. Peete showed me. The jacket is too big but Mrs. Peete says I will grow. She said the jacket was mine now. It is brown with silver buttons and a dark red inside. Each night I straighten the sleeves and collar and hang it in the mud room. Mr. Peete has a flashlight from Texaco in his hand. We go outside and down the drive and to the street and then out to Farmhouse Road and down to the airfield and whatever has happened.
Farmhouse Road is dark when we start and darker when we get to the gate and the only light anywhere is the little Texaco light in a circle out in front of us. Mr. Peete helps me up and over the gate and then climbs over too. I am close to him when we walk so sometimes my arm brushes his leg. Each time it is like something going by me in the dark. The light is a long circle. Some moths come to us. Thank God the mosquitoes are merciful tonight, Mr. Peete says. When we get to the end of the road, Mr. Peete turns off his light. We walk across a field of tall grasses toward another light coming from the ground where Mr. Peete says the airfield is. Mr. Peete puts down a hand to my chest and stops walking. The plane is down in the gully burning bright. That is what happened. That is the noise that happened. I did not wake up or hear the noise. It’s a military plane, Mr. Peete says, and we can’t go close. You never know about them, he says. There are trucks on the other side of the gully. Mr. Peete and me crouch down. There’s nothing we can do, he says. The men are there yelling and running up and down the hill. The airplane is big and bent at the middle. The back of the plane is burning. Smoke comes up and stays at the top of the gully, over us like a ceiling. More men come in more trucks. Mr. Peete says, They are airmen and the plane is a cargo plane. I don’t know why he asked me to walk out here. The grass is so tall I have to move it away to see. Mr. Peete says, I thought that’s what it was. I never heard a plane crash before. He says the dogs didn’t even bark but when he went by their beds, they were sitting up with their ears straight and eyes wide. They were waiting for me to tell them how to act, he says. They didn’t know what to do. I told them it was all okay. I told them it was okay and they were good dogs. I never had dogs before I came to live with Mr. and Mrs. Peete. Mrs. Peete says the dogs act towards me like they’ve known me their whole life. She says that’s a good sign. She says the dogs know how to read people.
We watch the plane burn for a while. The men are yelling and more trucks come and some leave and big lights are set up and the whole gully is bright down below us. I lean into Mr. Peete. He holds me up. The men spray the plane with white foam. The smoke sits above us. Then Mr. Peete says that we should go back. Back across the field and down Farmhouse Road and over the gate and down the street and into the house. I take off my jacket and straighten the sleeves and collar and hang it in the mudroom. I take off the shoes and brush them and loosen the laces and straighten the tongue. I set them where I set my shoes. Mr. Peete goes with me upstairs and tucks me into the bed. I hear him down the hall after he leaves. Hear his voice talking to Mrs. Peete. Their voices go up and down and then after a while nothing. When I am almost asleep, there is a noise. A noise like singing. A noise humming or whispering but a song too, like maybe Mary is singing or maybe someone else. It comes from far away.
* * *
The next morning Mrs. Peete tells me that Jenny Roland is coming to see me and talk to me. Jenny Roland brought me here after I was lost from the family I stayed with before. She met me and touched my shoulder and said my name. She said I did not have to talk to her if I didn’t want to but if I wanted to she would talk to me whenever it was good. She said her name again. She stood in front of me and put one hand on my shoulder. The light was behind her head. She reached back and touched her hair. Then there was time I don’t remember. I went to sleep. A man brought me a sandwich and an apple cut into pieces. Jenny Roland came and said my name and gave me a Hershey bar. A man mopped out in the hall and he was singing I fell into a burning ring of fire. This was for a day or two. Then Jenny Roland brought me here and Mr. and Mrs. Peete waved to me from the porch. Jenny came around and opened my door and asked if I would like to come out. The dogs were running around the car. I nodded and said yes. She looked at me and held her hand to her cheek. Yes? she said. Yes, I said. She said, this is Mr. and Mrs. Peete and then she said my name to Mr. and Mrs. Peete and Mrs. Peete crouched down and said, Look at you. You look like you need a meal. There was a flag on the porch. The flag moved in the wind back and forth. Mary was under the flag. She was leaning onto the railing. I nodded. The dogs were running back and forth and smelling me and wagging their tails and whining. Look at these dogs, Mrs. Peete said. It’s like they known you their whole lives.
When Jenny Roland comes she is dressed in a blue dress and has a black bag full of papers. She is wearing glasses. She says my name and how good it is to see me. She says that I look good. Yes, I say. It’s quiet here today, she says. Yes, I say. And then I say, Mr. Peete has gone off with the dogs. Will you sit with me, she says, so I can ask you some questions? Mrs. Peete says, Why don’t you sit on the screen porch. There is a nice breeze today and I’ll bring you some lunch. Jenny Roland says that’s not necessary, but Mrs. Peete waves us off to the porch and then comes out after us with lemonade and pimento cheese sandwiches. The wind chime rings above my head. Jenny Roland takes out a pad of paper and says, How are you today? The screen porch is big with chairs on one side but we are sitting on the couch near the big window. The big garden starts just on the other side of the screen. Bees are buzzing up and down in the flowers. Mary is out there leaning over the flowers. The bees are all around her head and she is laughing. She holds her hand up and one bee sits on her finger and she leans in close. She says a word like Oooo Oooo and laughs. The bee flies up and Mary waves. Her hair is what I’m looking at. Are you settling in with the Peetes? Jenny Roland says. A car door slams in the driveway. I am eating and Jenny Roland is eating. After a long time Mr. Peete comes out and the dogs come with him. He takes a sandwich off the tray and says, Hello Miss Roland. The dogs are here and there. Jenny Roland leans down to pat them. Can I talk to you and Mrs. Peete together? she says.
* * *
After dinner, Mr. Peete asks me if I want to go with him. Where are you going? Mrs. Peete says. She is between rooms with the light around her. She has given us dinner and Mary is holding a pitcher of water. They are both in the light. I cannot see their faces. Mrs. Peete has an apron tied at her back. A little bow with two tails. Mary sets the pitcher onto the counter. Mr. Peete says, Over to look at the salvage. The newspaper said for people to stay away, Mrs. Peete says. They won’t know we’re there, Mr. Peete says. We’ll be like two little mice. He winks at me and touches my shoulder. When he stands, I stand and then we sit down in the mudroom and put on our shoes. We take our jackets off the hangers and put them on. Mrs. Peete says that I should have my own light and hands me a Delco flashlight with a red switch. When we leave, Mary is on the floor laughing at the dogs licking her face. Bye, she says. She is laughing. Her hair is caught in the air, reaching into the room. Mr. Peete clicks his light on and off. The outside is not yet dark enough for the lights. We walk down the street. A lamp buzzes on its pole. At the house at the end of the street, a woman is setting a trash can at the end of her driveway. Mr. Peete waves and shouts hello to her. Evening Helen, he says. Hi Evan, the woman says. She brushes her hands on her apron. A little boy is by her leg. He is watching us. My thumb is on the red switch on the side of the Delco flashlight. The woman turns to her house and the boy follows her. Mr. Peete and me go down Farmhouse Road and climb the gate and walk close to the trees and cross the big field to the gully. The gully spreads out beneath us. We kneel down again and Mr. Peete puts his arm around my shoulder and holds me close. The men are working in the gully. Two men are pointing to the plane. Some other men are using a machine to take part of the plane apart. Another man is driving a truck down into the gully. We don’t say anything. There are other men walking on the sides of the gully. A man at the top of the gully on the other side is talking into a radio. We wait until he turns away and Mr. Peete squeezes my shoulder and points with his head that we are leaving. We stay low until we are away from the gully and then go through the trees where it is dark and Mr. Peete says we might as well give our lights a go. Our lights make little circles on the ground. Mr. Peete goes to the trees away from the road. We go into the woods with our lights. It is full dark now. Mr. Peete says, you alright? I shine my light up and down. Yes, I say. You see the little path? He shines his light back and forth on the ground. There is room for one pair of feet where he shines his light. The path? I say. That’s a deer run, he says. We go on the deer run and walk around a small hill covered in bushes. There is another path that goes up the hill. Mr. Peete shines his light there. That’s a people run, he says, kids go up the hill to sit by a fire. See? The path is wider and Mr. Peete’s light stops on a foot print. We go on down along the edge of a stream. Mr. Peete bends down and sits on his heels. He turns off his light and so do I. The water moves by us. Mr. Peete is very still. I cannot see him. We don’t move. There is nowhere to go. I close my eyes. I open my eyes. The water runs over the rocks. Before I came here I was alone on a beach. I do not know how I got there. I was with other people first and then I was alone. The people I was with were not there. When I looked up I was alone. I was down near the water. My legs and head hurt. My skin on my back hurt. The beach was rocks and sand. I stood down near the water. The water rushed up over the rocks and over my feet. People went everywhere. Kids were yelling. White birds called over my head. I stood on the rocks. I was in my bare feet. I looked around but I did not see who I was with. I looked back out at the water. The sky got dark. The water came in deeper. I was standing there looking. A lady came to me and said are you lost? Do you need help? There was hurt skin on my back. The lady asked if she could help me. Then a policeman came and said he was going to help. He asked me if I was hungry. Then Jenny Roland took me to a different place and then to Mr. and Mrs. Peete. They give me shoes and a jacket. Mary sings her song. It is her singing, and her hair, that I am thinking about. A plane crashes in the gully. Mrs. Peete and Mary wait in the yellow light. My finger is on the red Delco switch. There is a rustle of leaves and then a long low hoooo, hoooo. All the skin of my body is listening. Mr. Peete reaches out to take my hand. He says, I was hoping we’d hear her. Ain’t that a mysterious sound?