Seedling: Chapter Five
Speckled trout lilies poke through the leaflitter below Big Rock. It is spring break, but it doesn’t feel like spring. Too cold. I scribble in my notebook about a test I performed that caused the rats to react similar to that of the bouts. 5 of 6 rats began chewing up and discarding bits of paper covered in vinegar, with which they had shown no interest prior to the implementation of a substance called Sopo. I write slowly and methodically, liking that I get to write these particular words, liking that I might have found a correlation. I haven’t told anyone. I don’t have nearly enough information.
My hypothesis was that these episodes would eb and flow with exposure to the substance. This is not the case. It seems once the rats are exposed to any amount of Sopo, they will experience the episodes indefinitely, regardless of further exposure. The episodes are not preceded by any warning or other response from the rats. It is an automatic or involuntary response that elicits no change in brain activity whatsoever. It functions fully separate from the rat biology.
I hear leaves crunching at the bottom of the hill, I look down through the still-bare trees. “Sis, what’re you doin’ out here in the cold?” Book says, stepping on trout lily leaves as he goes. They spring back after his foot lifts.
“I’m doing school work, you could afford to do a little of that yourself.” I say back to him.
“You’ve been twice as geeky as usual lately,” he says back to me.
I smile and look over at him, “One of us has to make it rich!” I say as I shove my things into my bookbag.
“We should go see a movie, we haven’t done that in forever!” He says.
I jump down off the rock, “Does Mom need the car?”
“No! I already asked!” He says, excited.
We get ready and I point us towards the nearest theater, 40 minutes away. “What do you want to see?” I ask.
“The Suspiria remake!” Book says without hesitation.
I roll my eyes, “I can’t believe they made another Suspiria, there’s no way to improve upon that film. It was perfectly executed in ‘77.” I say back. Book looks at me for a moment and I give in. “Fine! We’ll see Suspiria. But you’re getting the popcorn.” I say to him.
We get our tickets and snacks and walk into the busy theater. The seats are packed tight, but we find two close to the back. The lights dim and the usual marketing push for soda and popcorn runs on the screen. The theater gets dark, the screen goes totally black, and I wait for the onslaught of previews.
Instead, a woman’s voice starts talking to the crowd. It is a calm voice, steady, and it has an Appalachian drawl. At first, there is a lot of rustling and cell phone sounds but as she speaks, people quiet down. “You’ve spent your whole life preparing for one thing. A job. A job that is hard but that you can do. A job where you make a difference and where you are appreciated. A job that you do everyday except for the important days. You know the ones. The ones you spend with family.” As the voice speaks, the light in the center of the screen gets gradually bigger and bigger. The voice continues, “A job that pays well. A job that supports you. A job that makes ends meet.” Then in the light on the center of the screen we start to see two women with amber-colored hair, lit by a spotlight and then they say in tandem, “A good job…” they pause and the whole screen gently lights up to reveal an army of people behind the women and they all say in unison, “…for good people.” The screen goes black and a slick logo appears.
Quality Creates Quality
The usual previews roll, and I get out my phone and write to Book, “What in the hell was that?” He shrugs his shoulders, unconcerned, and he turns his head back to the big screen. We watch the movie, it pales in comparison to the original, everything always does.
I drive us home on the empty two-lane. We pull into the driveway at 2 a.m. and find Mom asleep on the couch with House reruns playing on the tv. She shifts around a little and pulls the covers over her shoulder.
I walk down the hallway to my room and get out my laptop. I google the term, “Wells advertisement movie theater.” I get several results that seem unrelated but then I find an article from AdWeek Magazine. The title, “Sisters. Brand. WELLS.” I click the link and start reading. “The stripped-down advertisement playing in theaters across rural America is changing the fundamentals of how to sell product in this country. New to the corporate world, Esther and Ellery Wells are using their humble background to gain the trust of the 99%.” Rhetoric.
I’m curious. I google “Esther and Ellery Wells.” I find them on Wikipedia. “Esther Wells (born December 31, 1988) and Ellery Wells (born January 1, 1989), collectively referred to as the Wells Sisters, are American entrepreneurs and businesswomen.” I scroll down to Early Life, “Esther and Ellery Wells were born and raised in Jewell, WV, a small community in the southern part of the state. Their father, Rip Wells, was an electrician, and their mother, Caretta (née Henshaw), was a homemaker. When asked about their home-life Esther has said, ‘My mother was a fragile woman, deeply affected by the attention of others. My father adored her and enabled her fragility. It was an unhappy part of my life.’”
The screen makes my tired eyes water and I close my computer and lay down. I fall asleep thinking about how these two ladies from the middle-of-nowhere West Virginia have made such a splash.
I sleep well, and I wake up later than usual, 11 a.m. The sun coming in the window makes me hot and I toss my covers away from me as I sit up. The house is the kind of quiet where I know instantly that no one is home. I go into the kitchen and find a note on the composite countertop. We’ll be home this afternoon honey, went to the grocery store. Love you, Mom & Book.
I open the fridge, not much to choose from. I grab an off-brand yogurt and plop down on the couch. I flip it to the weather. Rain. I pull back the silver lid and take a big bite, the fake mango flavor fills up my mouth. I get another spoonful and as I do I hear a knock on the door. I stand up and peek out the window. Wire. I panic a little, “Just a minute!” I say to the door. I run to my room and put on jeans and throw my messy hair quickly into a bun on top of my head. I come back up the hallway fast, I slow down just as I get to the door.
I open it and there he is, standing on my front porch, 4-wheeler parked behind him in the driveway. “Did you just get up?” He asks.
“Uh, yeah, I was out late last night.” I say still trying to gather my thoughts.
“You go on a date?” He says as he grins really big at me.
I get it together and say, “Nothing that exciting, what brings you to my front door in the middle of spring break?” He looks out across the yard and then back at me and before he can answer I say, “Were you the one who dropped off that basket?”
He looks sly for a moment, “No darlin,’ but if I did, I’d never tell ya.” He pauses and looks back at his 4-wheeler and says, “Wanna go furah ride? I’ve got a spot I wanna show ya.”
I look out at the world, it is warmer than it was yesterday. “It’s supposed to rain all day.” I say back to him.
He looks up at the overcast sky. “It won’t rain today, not furah while, clouds are too high up.”
I’m skeptical but tempted. “Alright, let me leave a note. Wanna come in for a minute?” I ask.
“Nah, I’ll be alright out here. Don’t wanna track mud through the house.” He says.
I brush my teeth, put on some layers, and write Mom a note. Wire starts up the engine as I lock the door. He stands up a bit so that I can climb on the back of the thing. I put my arms around his waist and we pull out of the driveway headed up the mountain away from the main road. For a long time, I know where we are. We make turns out tiny gravelly paths I’ve followed on my bike a million times. Then we turn into the woods away from the gravel onto a trail that looks like it’s been ridden 2 or 3 times, tops. We go across a steep hill and without saying a thing, we both shift our weight to keep the thing upright. We climb and climb and then we go through a break in a barbwire fence and find a farm road. Wire turns left onto it and we cut across several humungous fields separated by thin tree lines. The wind makes me cold as we roll over the top of the ridge. I see blue hills in the distance as Wire pulls up to an old farmhouse, falling in and flanked by cedar trees.
“Is this what you wanted to show me?” I ask.
Wire hands me a Carhart from the milkcrate held in by bungee cords. “This way.” He says and I walk behind him toward the old house.
“We’re not going in there?” I say and he reaches around the door and pulls out a hard hat and puts it on my head. It sits awkwardly on top of my bun.
“It’s worth it, I promise. Step exactly where I step.” He says and I follow him, knowing the thing might collapse on both of us but too curious not to. We lunge over holes in the floor and follow the line of the ancient joists. We go through what must have been a parlor and wrap around the right side of the place to a room with a big fireplace and a desk fit for a president. Wire stops in the middle of the room and points to the wall behind me as I walk through the large opening. I turn and find floor-to-ceiling, built-in bookshelves, still totally full.
“Woah,” I say, “Can I touch them?”
“Just be careful.” He says back to me and I walk over. The dust is so thick I can’t read the titles. I use the sleeve of the Carhart to brush them off. I see the titles Farm Manual and Barn Management and Dry Storage. Wire looks through the desk drawers and I go through nearly every book. I find mostly agricultural references but on the bottom shelf I find one called Flower and Fruit by Jane H. Newell. It is the second part of a collection of lessons in botany. The publication date reads 1896 and I can tell from the swollen edges that it has seen some water. The pages stick on the edges but pull apart easily.
“Can I borrow this one?” I ask.
Wire laughs and says, “You can have every damned one of ‘em if ya want. They’re safer with you than they are here.”
I grab a few others and I put them all inside the Carhart with me. I carry them down off the mountain that way, tucked in and warm. We go back a different way than we came and we pop out right next to Jenkin’s, the bar where Tuck had his show. “Want a hot dog?” He asks.
My insides twist up a little and I shake my head no. Wire takes me home. He gives me a long hug when he drops me off. I can feel him wanting to kiss me, but I pull away quickly and thank him for the books and go up on the porch. I wave as he heads out of the driveway and I go inside to the warm.
Mom has dinner ready when I come through the door. We eat and I sit on the end of the couch flipping through the book I brought home. I read a passage, “But when the flowers are in the axil of leaves, new terminal leaf-buds may be developed and the axis may be indefinitely prolonged. We cannot determine where the branch will stop, and this is therefore called, interdeterminate or indefinite inflorescence.”
I take a deep breath and think for a moment. We cannot determine where the branch will stop.