Mama put the baby in the ground on a Tuesday. That was one year ago today and I haven’t been off the property since. He lies beneath the dirt floor of our basement, back in the far corner underneath some stairs that go nowhere, and where the light never touches. She said it wasn't any good, me and a baby. That 14 was too young, though she was barely older than that when she had me. Father stayed though, stayed till he was killed in an accident when I was five. My baby's father was already gone before I even knew the baby was there.
The day I told her she shut up the house and took me down into the dark of the cellar, told me to sit on the table and lay back. The one light above me became the sun, a bright shining glow of another place and time. I held it with my eyes as tight as I could while Mama pushed and tugged and prodded the pain till it swelled so big I thought my body would burst. When the blood came I closed my eyes and pictured a great wide river that would take me and my baby away. We sailed past forests, pastures and fields of flowers that smelled of forgetfulness and love. We sang songs to the birds on the banks, and laid in the moonlight when the soft breeze of night came.
But my baby is a no baby now, a thing only thought of in daydreams and night dreams.
The day after she took him, Mama told everyone that she'd sent me off to live with her sister in Georgia. She told them how life would be better for me there, a good school and music lessons - that I'd gone off to be someone better. Then she told me that I could never leave, never go out in the daylight. At night I was allowed to roam our property, but wasn't to go past the fence line. We had land, and neighbors were far away. A figure wandering in the night could be anything; a restless deer, a harmless trespasser, a trick of the eye, a ghost. It'd be easy to explain, not that anyone was likely to ask. So I stayed, knowing that Mama meant what she said. She had the most wicked temper, and it could come without a warning, brought on by the smallest of mistakes. She was ever mindful to remind me that I was the ungrateful child of my dead father. The world would forget I existed, and I was to forget the world.
My days inside the house were lists. Lists of chores, lists of my wrongdoings, lists of wrongs done to her. I came to know each tragedy, each slight she had suffered and the revenge she delivered to each who deserved it. I knew her mood by the slight of her eye. Days she was happy weren't too bad, and I told her how pretty she was and how she'd done right with all that she'd done. I washed her clothes and fixed her meals, all the while singing inside myself to my baby. Singing and thinking of his little place in the basement, wanting to be there and talking to him. At night I would go out beyond the woods and pick him flowers, bring them back and put them over him, hoping he could smell their sweet, green scent. I replaced faded ones with fresh ones, pinks and blues and yellows...bright and dazzling stars in the cold, wet dark. I told him how beautiful he was, how strong and loving. I told him how one day we would disappear from this place and have a little house all ours, with gardens and trees. How we'd never have to stay inside when we didn't want to, that we'd go out and play in the sun and taste the hot air of noon.
The day she found the flowers was the day she put a lock on the basement door. She told me I wasn’t ever gonna do that again, and that I was no longer allowed out at night. She put padlocks on every door and window and told me to give up, to let hope die, to know that I would always be here. "That world out there don't want you, and you ain't got nothing to offer it anyway. You stay here. You will always stay here. It's your place."
I sang in whispers at night through the floorboards. I sang every song I knew. I closed my eyes and cried quiet while I sang, picturing the tears trickling down through the floorboards and bathing my baby with all the love I could muster. I could not believe he had gone into the black, endless nothing without ever knowing my kiss.
I drew flowers on the floor for him kept hidden under the rug, only to come in one day and see Mama taking a big black marker to them. She didn't say a word, only unlocked my window and cast all the markers I had onto the ground below. She locked it again, picked up the rug, smiled at the big black marks and shut the door behind her. Then I heard it through the door - a new lock being put in place. It only took a moment, then I was sealed in and this time I knew it was forever. I knew I would never feel the sun or the wind again. I knew the walls around me were all I was ever gonna have. I didn't see her again until days later.
The day woke with a storm on its way. I could tell by the way the sky slowed and grew heavy. The dark grey clouds pushed in, and the trees began to bend, the leaves glimmering like a thousand emeralds catching the light. I could hear the house react to the wind, hear its strain against the hard pushes of air. The wind wanted to come inside, wanted to take everything and carry it out. I felt the wet heat build, as if the heavens were taking in a long deep breath. And I could hear Mama in different parts of the house, hurrying the windows she had opened shut again. I heard something slide and break, and her cuss because of it. Out across the yard I could see the woods swaying like grass and I pictured a great monster sweeping his hand across the tree tops. Then the Oak next to the house groaned and its large branches began to scrape, like claws of a thing that wants in. I thought of my baby all alone in the cellar, all alone in the dark earth among the tree roots, the bugs, the decay. I laid my cheek to the floor and began to sing to him. I let my tears mix with the black marker, creating a dark pool I could taste.
The storm was almost completely above us, the rain beginning to fall, and I could feel the house trying hard not to be taken away. Then a great crack jarred the air, sending shivers up through the floorboards and I felt my heart catch hard in my chest. I sat up, my cheek smeared black, and I listened to the house. Another crack of splintering, breaking wood. Another, then another shaking the walls. The house seemed to be destroying itself from the inside. I could hear glass shattering, pots and pans falling, windows give way. And then I heard Mama hollering, hollering shrill and high. The crashing kept coming and I could feel it at the bottom of the stairs down outside the door, each step bursting and crumbling. Mama was there, just ahead of it, screaming and crying. She was at the lock, the metal scraping and fumbling. I backed up quick, knowing she'd come in and bring the strange wind with her.
And then she was there, and the crashes were at her feet as she fell. "Your baby! Come get your baby!" Then I saw him. His great root arms, soiled and wet with mud, curled around Mama's foot, his great massive body pulling himself across the floor behind her. I saw my baby made of the earth, twisted tree roots, and clumps of rich black soil, held together by a deep dark wetness only found in graves. I saw small buds of flowers growing, alive and longing against the cool of his body. And then I heard his voice, a long, low howl coming from somewhere deep inside. It filled the room with a thickness and desperation I've never known, taking my insides and twisting them till I thought I'd die. The sound faded as he began to pull Mama in, roots and vines enclosing her body, stuffing flowers into her scream. The last I saw of her was her right eye, begging me from the darkness of his gaping, hungry mouth.
My baby took Mama back down into the cellar with him. I'll put flowers there, for both of them now.
Friday, October 25, 2013