Seedling: Chapter Four
I hop quickly up the hill, the gravelly base moving around under my feet. It’s 4 a.m. Still dark. I need a sunrise, an impetus, so I am going to the top of the mountain. I find the trail halfway up, it is steep but easier walking. I start to see evidence of teen rebellion strewn in the leaves. Beer cans and cigarette butts. Icy remnants of snow start to appear on the ground as I see the outline of the old fire tower peaking though the bare trees. It is angular and unnatural; the stairs jut back and forth to form a spiral that leads to the top.
I step over missing boards and feel the one’s still clinging to the metal bend under my weight. The steel railings are cold to the touch, they aren’t fooled by the 50-degree day. They know winter will be back tomorrow. I hold onto them and pull my way up to the observation room. The light of the sun spreads out across the earth below me and I see that the windows are all missing or filthy. I sit down on some stacked cinder blocks, hauled to the top of the rickety structure by some crazy person.
I feel it swaying lightly as the sun bursts over the furthest hills. It is deep orange, I feel it warming up my skin. I am closing my eyes and soaking it in when I hear a loud voice from above me say “Good Morning!!!” I jump up from my cinder block seat and nearly fall down the open trap door. I hear footsteps above my head and then I see one of the feet land on the top rung of a skinny ladder.
“What the hell are you doing!?” I shout loudly as the feet descend.
“Holy hell little lady, what on earth’er you doin’ up here at this hour?” ask the feet.
“What am I doing? What are you doing up on the roof like that?!” I say as a wild-haired boy turns around to face me. The morning light shines into his bright blue eyes.
He gives a big grin and says, “Well darlin’, the view’s much better from up there!” Still grinning he looks at me a little perplexed and asks, “You been up here before?”
“Oh yeah, plenty of times.” I say back to him. “What’s your name?” I ask.
“Wire Tallman, what’s yours?” He says back.
“Where’d you get a name like that?”
“Well, ever since I’s just little I’ve had a ton of close calls with lightning. My Gappi started calling me that, says it’s ‘cause ‘lectricity just wants to run right through me.”
“What’s a Gappi?” I ask.
“That’s my grandma, Gappi and my grandpa, Pappi. So who are ya anyways?” He says back, every word full of energy.
“My name’s Flora, Flora Black.” I say.
“Huh,” he says, “Where’djah get a name like ‘at?” He asks, smiling really big.
I feel a grin wanting to form but instead I look up at him and say, “Wire, what county are you from?”
“I’m from right here in Tygarts County, aren’t you?” He starts to wander down the stairs. “You comin’?” He says, he doesn’t wait for an answer. I stare out at the big view one more time before I follow him. He walks ahead of me down the trail. “What are you doing today?” He asks.
“I’m going to school. Aren’t you?” I say, still walking.
He stops and turns around, “You’re a funny girl,” he says with his eyebrows all crunched up, his brown hair falls across them. “Have fun with that.” He says a little mean, ornery.
“Nice to meet you Wire Tallman, have a nice day!” I say all saccharine as I turn down into the woods off the trail, “Don’t fall off the fire tower!” I grin big as I walk fast in the other direction.
I go to school. It is one of those days that drags on forever. I’m meant to go to Oscar’s house after school. I go to my classes and get my work done fast. The black and white clock ticks slowly, unsympathetically hung on the cinder block wall in the front of the room. Just above the chalkboard and just below the drop ceiling. I see holes in the tiles from a lot of pencils flung upwards. There are strange leftover chalk lines on the board from some brand that clung too hard to the slate.
I’m starting to nod off when I am jolted by the ring of the bell. I stand up and gather my things and walk into the busy hallway. Sweaty peers veer around me. I’m in a haze. I look down to the far end of the hallway and I see a boy who looks just like Tuck. I see him and then I watch him scoop up a girl around the waist and push her into the row of lockers. The boy’s face moves towards the girl’s when my vision is cut off by the crowd. I walk towards them and when I get close the bodies move enough for me to see Tuck in a deep embrace with this girl. They are wearing sly and flirtatious grins, talking low and close. I am out of breath for a moment and I feel a knot tight in my stomach. Tuck. I think. How?
I walk by them, looking straight ahead. I move like a ship whose course cannot be quickly changed. The knot moves into my chest as I walk up the school bus steps and down the aisle to a seat. This isn’t my usual bus, this is the one that goes to Nice Creek. I sit down without taking off my backpack. I perch uncomfortably on the edge of the seat and stare out the window at the overcast January sky. How? I think again. How is Tuck at school and kissing another girl?
I take off my backpack and sit it next to me in the seat. It fills up the space, insulation from this strange bus and this strange day. I see Oscar’s driveway and stand up; the driver comes to a halt and I walk quickly off the thing. The pine trees are dripping from the warm day and I smell the ground thawing out, wet and earthy. I stand on the edge of a hand-cut sandstone wall, looking out over the rushing melt water filling the creek. “Ms. Black!” I hear Oscar’s old voice say over the noise. “What is it you are studying, my dear?” He asks.
“I was thinking about how this illness comes and goes. About how none of the folks seem to be constantly afflicted.” I say back, half-involved in the conversation.
“Ah, yes, the condition from which the name of the illness hails.” He says back to me. “Should we get to work my dear?”
“Yes Oscar, of course.” I say back to him with a half-hearted grin.
“Very good, Miss Black, very good.” He says as we walk towards the house. “You’re very best tool in this process is going to be paying attention to the findings of other researchers. This way you will not waste your time testing hypotheses already disproven.” He leads the way into his study where a pristine green chalkboard waits for us. It is independent of the wall and is the type that flips over in its stand. He places some soft white chalk into my hand and asks, “What hypotheses have been disproven Miss Black?”
I take off my backpack and coat and start writing. The water. I begin. The soil. Cleaning Products. I think hard but I am struggling. “I’ll need a computer,” I say. Oscar walks over to his desk and presses down on the center; a wood panel folds up and reveals a laptop.
“You may want a computer in a moment but first, let’s flip the chalkboard and talk about what your thoughts on a potential cause may be.” He says.
I write. A Particular Type of Plant. Food Products. I run out of ideas quickly. “Can I please use the computer?” I ask.
Oscar looks at me and nods, “Yes my dear, please use the computer.” He says with a tiny smile. The kind of smile that says you crazy kids and your computers.
I open the thing and start googling, I search the bouts possible causes. A get a lot of news hits. They all say things like, another possible cause dismissed and the medical community stumped by the bouts. I feel discouraged. “How am I supposed to figure this out? The entire world, all the universities, everyone is stumped.” I blurt out.
“Well Miss Black, what is it you have that the scientists don’t?” He says back to me.
I think for a moment and then I look at him, “I’ve seen it set in.”
“Yes, but they’ve put people in a lab who have it, they’ve surely studied it deeply, what is different about your experience?” He pushes.
“I’ve seen it set in outside of a lab.” I say back.
He grins, “There you have it. What other ideas do you have?”
I stand up and walk back to the chalkboard. Tobacco Products. Materials Used in Cell Phone Manufacturing. Hygiene Products.
“Very good, I’ll leave you to it.” He says as he stands and saunters out of the room. I start to think about ways to test my ideas. Lab Rats, I’ll need lab rats and a controlled environment. Temperature, food, water source. Everything needs to be controlled. I start making lists. Lists of supplies. Lists of possible locations. I do this for a while and then I get really tired. The early start to my day catches up with me.
I gather my things, “Oscar,” I say out to the house. “Oscar!” I say a little louder.
“Yes, yes my dear,” he says as he comes into the main area from the kitchen.
“Would you mind giving me a ride home?” I ask him.
I see him remember that he had offered this to me and he says, “Oh yes, just let me grab my jacket.”
We get in his Oldsmobile and drive out the long driveway and back towards town. He has public radio playing in the background. We hear a soft and deliberate male voice say, “Esther and Ellery Wells have been doing serious work towards sending the Appalachian coal fields from unemployment to the bank. Hear them tell their story tomorrow on NewView.”
I sit quietly for a moment and then I ask, “Have you heard of these ladies?”
Oscar looks forward at the road. “Yes, I have.” He says dryly back to me.
“What is their deal? What are they selling?” I say back.
He says, “Industry my dear, always industry.”
I think about them for a moment and then we are at my house and I thank Oscar for the ride. I go inside, Book is playing some video game on the tv when I come through the door. It casts blue flickering light against the family photos on the wall above the couch.
“Hey bro,” I say as I walk past him and down the dark hallway. I turn on the light in my room, it is bright and as my eyes adjust I see something laying on my bed. It is a wooden box, inside of it are a bunch of quart jars. Some of them have dried mushrooms in them. Some of them have jam or preserves. Some of them have sprigs of dried herbs. Each one is full of some type of goody. I walk back out to the living room. “Book, where did the box on my bed come from?”
“I don’t know sis, it was on the porch, it had your name on it, so I put it in your room.”
“Huh,” I say, deep in thought. Wire Tallman. Wire did this.