The Salting

by Tom Sheehan

part 1 of 2


“Can you tell me what happened today?” Midlin Ambeau’s grandfather asked, his eyes as clear as his interest.

“I suppose it’s like what you said to Mitch one time,” she said. “Something’s out of whack. At least it feels that way.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, you know what I mean, nothing being perfect. That’s about all of the time anyway, isn’t it? Except for tonight.” She nodded at the point where the sun had disappeared in the glow. The mountain was caught in the afterglow. “There’s always a mystery around.”

Day was drawing down, the mountain just now taking over from the sun. Today had been noteworthy in places and was again with a splendid sunset. The August purple glow settling on the pair, if it had a voice, would have been hushed, perhaps mute.

The old man and the young girl were sitting on the back porch of the old rambling house and a random breeze whispered through a few corn tassels in the small garden of the narrow side yard. Moments earlier the sun’s rays had streamed into the kitchen, making stripes on one wall.

“Uh-huh,” he replied. Softness rode in John Templemore’s voice, and a notion of understanding seemed to have primed it. His deep blue eyes did not search out her eyes, had not laid out anything on her. He had made no demands but the casual question, though it truly bore its own core of ammunition.

The sleeves of his dark blue shirt were tightly buttoned at the wrist. Denim dungarees held onto a pale Pacific blueness and his rolled cuffs sat atop ankle-high boots. Absently he picked at a callus that might have been as old as his years, then he put aside that task.

Always he had been a hardworking and honest man, thick at the jaw, silver grasping outright all his hair, hardly ever having a harsh seam at his lips. His shoulders, any outsider would notice, were as broad and proud as maple limbs. Thick silver eyebrows matched the solid line of his jaw in the perfection of character make-up.

The girl knew that honesty had always been uppermost in her grandfather, and with it came a farmer’s sense of directness. Now he was staring off at the split half pie of the sun, the view from the porch almost majestic, a near crescendo of redness and burnt orange where the hilltop cut the sun in shares and sent upon them the hushed and purple glow, almost sending words with it. An immeasurable awe rode the slight air, as awe and silence often move together. And here his hands now sat still on the arms of his chair, his feet without music.

A judge he could have been, she thought, a judge at the dais, but a judge without sentence. But judges didn’t know everything, she softly agreed to herself. There were other things her grandfather did not know about.

And, thinking that, she felt riven, moving somehow laterally and yet in place. A power rode her, making her a ghost of herself for moments on top of moments. Midlin Ambeau had woken early and knew the anonymous drive again during various parts of the day, the unknown force exerting itself in a sometimes subtle thrust out and back, up and down, all across the back of her mind.

And then, not so subtle, it came with a cognizant force, sending sounds to be heard, a message not to be ignored. It was not sexual, had not the new hankering and hunger in it that touching could bring or fantasies or the handsomest boy at school staring at her in the hallway or from the back of a classroom.

Nor had it promised the mythical, this force. But during the day, as it had on other days with other signs, something had left her body once again. This she knew. This time, on the way home from school, it had shot out of her like a cannon fired or a loading chute emptied. But it went without any accompanying noise, making no sound at all.

She had thought of irony and subtlety. She had thought of evasion.

Again.

But it would come back. It always did.

She wondered with some kind of meter what the force would measure, being so real, being momentarily abrasive, momentarily powerful, as if she were locked into a war zone unto herself. At that precise moment of her sixteen years on this earth, her loins in partial ache and message the way they had been for months on end, the rest of her suffused with force, she knew exactly where she was. Or she thought she did.

At a mid-point.

At a core.

At a secret.

At a crisis.

At measurement.

Her loins could explode, she believed, and her whole body, too. Then, with another whack, the back of her mind could let go. Mysteries somehow sound themselves out, go liquid. The quandary came with weights, with heaviness. Was this why she had come to this time and place?

And she had to find out in what direction she would go, where all of this would take her. There was an awe about her and the old man at that moment, the whisper of the breeze, the hushed purple glow, and the unknown working within her silent torment. If she knew how, she would have openly begged for answers.

It was her grandfather, John Templemore, the old farmer of sorts, who had announced the change for her, the broad-shouldered old man who had raised her for almost fifteen of her years. Her parents and two older brothers had disappeared in Utah on an archeological dig; never a sign, never a trace, never a word, gone off the face of the Earth. No fossil to be read of them, how they ended, if they did. But something real remained, ever-present at times, a remnant of their touching at history or myth, or whatever they were mixed up in, the old man could have said.

“I keep getting these messages that seem to be on their way to you,” her grandfather had said to her at one time, “as if I’m supposed to interpret them. But there is so much contradiction in them, I don’t know where to start.”

Midlin had said, “Are they about my parents, my brothers? Are they answers to all our prayers?”

The old man, heavily into measurement of his own years, had first seen the innate beauty of his granddaughter and now saw the pain that came as changing signs across her face, the furrows of skin, the soft lips hard for long moments. Now and then there’d be a grimace or a scowl and her whole being could alter in a matter of seconds. Not hateful, but certainly distasteful for him.

Often he thought of good and bad being in everybody, the eternal struggle, and how it might have rooted in his sweetheart granddaughter. Was it a vestige of her lost mother, some heritage left over?

Yet this child was the image of his own long-dead wife. She had the highlight blond hair, the beautiful skin so white it shone, the green-blue eyes that carried questions and surprise in them, the endless beauty of her shapeliness that would in time illuminate kitchen and bedroom, the mysteries that abounded the valley of his loving. He had never been able to put aside haunting visions of his wife, at stove or at pillow.

“What I keep getting is a mission being generated for you, formed, something in life you must accept or do or conquer. A power beyond my contemplation.” There was a long pause, as if a sudden day star was first being looked at, or a quick cloud had come into contest with the sky. The darker mountain grasped his eyes again and a long, exasperated volume of breath moved from his chest. His chair creaked punctuation.

“I know it’s not fair that I can’t explain it all. You, it seems, must be the final ear on this. You must hear what is coming at you. Your name, Midlin, came from some part of the same message, almost coded, secretive, not surface stuff.

“Your mother was privy to something I will never know when she first heard that name and said it was yours. You were but minutes from birth when she named you. Perhaps you, too, have a part in whatever it was with her.

“It’s evident that you are different from other kids. I have known that for years on end. And you’ve always known it, from the time you were in the first or second grade and the bullies wanted nothing to do with you. The bully boys, the bully girls, they all knew something about you, and that something has not broken open, has not made itself fully known.”

Now this latest encounter of sorts had risen, and at evening they were sitting on the wide porch of the old house, the sweet breeze talking lightly in the small crop of corn in the side garden, as if secrets were being let out.

“See how the rim of the far hill slices the evening sun into half a red pie,” he said, and Midlin could see the sun working in the old man’s eyes. One eye was gray and one sort of greenish and he had always said, in partial explanation but with a smile, “It’s me saying I have half a mind I ought to and half a mind saying I ought not.” He was, she knew, talking in his own way about seriousness and directness.

The hush around them sounded like a pocket watch, the corn tassels at it again sounding as mere and demure as hummingbird wings, the purple glow deepening in near silence. Soon night would struggle for its own voice.

Forever there had been a most serious side to him. She had long ago figured it was her coming into his lonely house that made him so serious. He was out from town a ways and that made her somewhat distant to people also. There had been a time, though vague in her memory, when he was a bouncing ball of stories and jokes and untold energies.

Right at that moment, as if in the eye of calm, she felt that old feeling again; things had changed and things were changing; whatever it was was still moving about her. But her coming had a weight of its own. She had always known that. It was part of her personal baggage, she once had admitted to herself, aware she carried a strange onus.

“Can you tell me what happened today?” He said it slowly a second time, even as the breeze again whispered through the corn tassels, like guests in another room, night gathering up itself for the takeover.


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Tom Sheehan

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