Thursday, September 22, 2016

Giant of Juno Falls (part 4)

Jesse S. Mitchell

part 3 here

Night came and the family was back at their house in the valley on the other side of the county.  It still hadn’t rained and by the way it felt, the temperature was going down fast, likely if it did rain now, it would be sleet, or snow.  This was good news to Noah.  Snow or sleet of any accumulation meant school would be closed.  Noah hated school.  Hated the uncomfortable seats, hated the unpleasant teachers, the acrid/basic smells, like mildew and bleach locked in epic struggle, but most of all, he hated the other kids.  Hated their faces, their names, their constant jeering and name calling, their smugness, completely undeserved, hated their games, hated their slow wits, their lack of compassion, of vision, or imagination.  Noah didn’t feel like he was meant to be thrown into such a maelstrom of hateful conditions. A grand tragedy.  A miscalculation of heroic proportions.   He resented it.  He preferred being left all alone.  So, now, Noah nearly prayed for snow…everyday…snow, sleet, hail, whatever inclement weather would shutter the doors, or fire or flood or plague of frogs, locusts, anything, something huge, biblical, maybe never have to go back.  Noah hoped for every kind of difficulty to be breaking beyond that backdoor.
Noah’s father did not, however.  He sat on the bench by the backdoor, rubbing his hand over his face, worried about making the trip to and from work in what looked like a nasty bit of weather.  He reached down and pulled on a thick sock, one after other, moved his big dirty boots closer to him.  Getting ready for one of his dreaded ten hour midnight shifts.  Ten hours but they usually turned into twelve or fourteen hour shifts.
Noah walked to the backroom of the house and watched his father from the doorway for a few seconds and then went and sat next to him on the bench.  His father looked over at him, smiled.  As he looked back to his boots and the dirty floor, Noah noticed how his face changed.  It was slight, his eyes seemed to still be smiling, the lines of his face didn’t move, but the color did, the spark in his eyes did, maybe not dimmed, but moved, fluttered, shook a bit like in a heavy wind.  Noah’s arm hair shot up in a spate of goose bumps.
“What’s wrong?”  He asked his father.
“Wrong?  Oh, nothing.  Nothing is wrong, Noah.  Why?”
“It looks like something is, that’s all.”
“You know, Noah, when I was your age and even older, I was a lot like you.  Did you know that?”
The boy shook his head, looked down at the same dirty floor, those big dirty boots.
“My head was full of life, all kinds of stories, imaginings.  I had a lot of fun running up and down these hills, head full of fantasy.  I never really think about it but then I see you and see the way you are and sometimes, Noah, it makes me a little sad.  Well, sad isn’t the right word, could never get sad looking at you.  It is a different feeling.  Like, maybe if I hadn’t convinced myself, or let others convince me that it was no way for an adult to act or live, that maybe my life might be different now.  Different job, a good job, where I could’ve used my mind, and not have to worry about going so far down into the damned dirt and scratch and itch at for a livin’.   Not that I ain’t happy the way my life turned out or that I think I could’ve ever ended up without you or your mom.  I think no matter what, you two would be a part of my life, that was destined, I feel I’ve always deserved that happiness.  Do you know what I mean, Noah?”
Noah, his legs swinging on the bench, looked back up at his father, and nodded.
“Good.  Then you know what you have to do, right?”
Again, Noah nodded.
“Thank God.”  He tussled his son’s hair.  “Now, get off to bed.”


He stood in the middle of the soot-choked broken back of the rural south.  Poor.  Third world.  Desolate.  Deserted of all hope.  A desert of sorts, a wasted wasteland devoid of optimism, expectation.  A land of rusted shut machinery and broken yellow grime, lock-picked locks, and full-faced faceless dread, but not strength enough to be dread or foreboding but a weaker, more debased sense of calamity, doom, just fated.  The acts of god.  No rattling of sabers or bones but things broken and useless and might as well be buried.  He stood in the middle of this barrenness, on the playground on morning recess, next to the chipped paint-red slide, and imagined that the world could be a beautiful place.  He had been reading a geography textbook, skipping ahead to Borneo caves and deep freshwater holes in southern Mexico.  Places that relied on different currents, different food chains, different requirements, big vacant places with wonderful glittering spires and all manner of wonderful wildlife.
His father hadn’t made it back from work before Noah had to leave for school, so he had to walk.  His legs were tired.  His mother, if she weren’t basically blind, would’ve driven him and even volunteered to…but she was basically blind, the offer had to be refused.  He could walk it.  No problem.  No need to trouble yourself mom and do you need anything before I go, mom?  But it was a particularly quiet morning in the valley, no rumbling, no dynamiting, no giant traipsing.  His father most likely had to work overtime but it was so still, the birds hadn’t even busted from the trees, scattered.  Like a watercolor painting, everything so static-stationary.
It was also a particularly cold morning but it hadn’t snowed, not yet.  Noah had waited and watched out the windows of the house all morning, barely eating breakfast, hoping, wishing, yearning.
But as he stood there dreaming of Borneo jungles and Central Asian desert plateaus, the other kids circling him like hurricanes and tidal waves, his eyes slowly refocused on the air right in front of him and he could clearly see scores of falling flakes, crystalline, geometric, frozen cascading flecks of beautiful snow.  It started slow, barely noticeable but it soon grew and grew and the flakes were big and flying chaotic and fast and collecting in banks and piles on the ground, shifting with the wind.  The sky above and right down to the very earth, blanket white.  It felt good and smile crept up Noah’s face.  A teacher emerged out of the back double doors that lead directly to the playground, blew a whistle meant to get the attention of all the children, youngest to oldest.  Noah positively beamed, he knew the teacher meant to declare the rest of the school day canceled.
But those aren’t the words that came out of the middle aged teacher’s mouth, a lot of red hair on top and too much cheap make-up, she wasn’t Noah’s teacher, he didn’t even know what class she taught.  No, she said nothing of the snow and she certainly didn’t smile.  Her face was white and it was stern and it was sad, a wicked kind of sadness, a sadness Noah instantly felt to his soul.
“Henry, Henry Evans, Cameron Owens, Noah,”  she pointed at Noah, he nodded at her, “Noah Williams, Lucy  Trimble, can you four come with me, please.”  And she waved her hands in a small circle and she herded the four children to the school office.  The sounds of their footsteps on the hard tiled floor echoed and echoed and sounded so vile, the pain from the impact of the bones of the feet and ache of skin shot up Noah’s body.  No one said anything.  Not even the teacher, her arms full with paperwork and manila folders, she would at times look back at her parade of confused children, her eyes and mouth turned down, sympathy written in every line.    The only words on the minds of any of the children, Noah, Henry, Cameron, Lucy, was a mantra not a statement, the mantra of the loved ones of any miner in any coal-country county.  No no no no no no no.
But, yes.
Sadly, it is commonly yes.  Roof bolting machine malfunction, creased in the middle, velocity off, angle wrong, shooting sparks and bolts, a weakness in the framing, commotion, disarray and panic and collapse, half a mile under the ground or more.

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