Life ain’t about what we’s done to it, it’s about what we’re doing to it.
It was a summer that was hot and sticky, a summer that left you feeling like an overripe peach, just hanging there in the heat, waiting for the cool breeze to lead you down to old Pa’s Creek. Where Will and Tommy and I would spend our summer days playing in the clear crystal waters, splashing and sailing our paper boats... Sailing for the Sea, Tommy always said. It was he who made our summers fun, see Tommy and Will and I, we were best friend, inseparable Ma always said, nothing could get between us. Well, that all changed after Evelyn Kevins came to County Creek.
Moved into that big ol’ house on Smithson’ dusty road, Ma said that house had once belonged to a rich man, but when Tommy and Will and I went to visit the house, it looked like it ain’t never been lived in for hundreds of years, yeah, we was was scared of ever going into the house on the account of it being haunted and what not, we just studied it from outsides. From a safe distance, Tommy’s Granda, said that if you entered that house you would ne’er come out again, I didn’t believe a word he said. But Tommy did, and I listened to Tommy.
Tommy said he was prerin’ a plan to find that ghost in the house and chase it out, that was afore them Kevins moved into it. We watched them move in and then the next few days we didn’t go near the place as Ma said the neighbors needed space. Mr. Kevins’ wife was sick, and needed the country air to help her get better and what not, but I didn’t care.... I wasn’t listening to what she said as usual, Tommy said something otherwise. The family were devil worshipers, and had come to drive the good folk of County Creek out and then bring in them money eating men and women. Republicans, Pa called ’em.
We was playing down by the Creek, racing beetles in our wooden boats, when we got our first look at Evelyn, Will spotted her. When he should have being looking out for his boat, which was stuck ‘tween a few wet rocks. Tommy and I we was watching our boats, on account that we wanted to win the race today. Whoever won was getting the biggest slice out’a Will’s Ma’s watermelons. And I was damn near thirsty that hot summer day, and I ain’t ne’er drink creek water, again, it makes me feel sick. And Ma says’ if I do she’ll give me no medication to get better. So I was focused on winnin’, when young Will interrupted my concentration.
’Look...’ He called, Tommy looked up first and swore unner’neath his breath. He sure had the mouth of his dead pa, a sailor who traveled down the Creek to the sea and was never heard of again.
’What?’ I looked up and there she was, jus sittin’ on one of them large rocks by the water’s edge, a book in her hands and legs dangling in the water, the sunlight lit up the red that was evidently red-hair. My Ma always told me it would be the end of a man if he married or even lusted over a fire-hair, the Devil’s little sister. She called ’em, even though Aunt Thea was a red hair, but she died two years back. I shielded my hands against the sun glare, to get a better look at her, she looked up from her book. And straight at us, Will waved. Tommy snapped a curse.
’Don’t do that Will, she’s the Devil’s little Sister, look.’ Tommy pulled Will’s arm down, he had also heard the rumors I suspected. I looked from Will to Tommy and then to Evelyn, she was pretty, but I couldn’t lust, or else the Devil will come for me. And I sure as hell didn’t want to be taken to hell on account of lusting. So I turned to Tommy.
’We should go, the race is forfeited.’
’NO.’ He snapped, and made his way across the creek, not bothering to pull his already soaking wet trousers above the ankle high water. He waded his way to the girl on the rock and placing hands on his hips he said. ‘You going and get, we don’t need your kind out’a here, calling the Devil to our playin.’
’I wasn’t doing anything.’ Evelyn said, I stared opened mouth as I’m sure Will and Tommy did, she was one of them Brits, those high posh people with the funny way of speaking their words. ‘And I’m not bothering you.’ She added sharply, I don’t know what Tommy’s face looked like when she said that but I could’ve swore he released a curse not even the devil would’a made to his own mother, if he had one.
’Well... we was here first and you’re distracting our game.’ He said moodily, arms crossed onto naked chest. I made my way over to Tommy, to add my presence to his surely diminishing one. ‘Go on.’ He waved a hand to the way she had come. ’Get.
’Yeah, get.’ He said. I crossed my arms over my chest, and stared at her. She had green eyes, and spots on her nose, freckles, I later learned they was called. She stared back at us like all women do when they want their own way, but Tommy, he wasn’t going to have it that way, and neither was I... I doubt I would have stood there that day if Tommy wasn’t with me. But then, she closed her book and rose to her feet, almost slipping from the stone, Will giggled at the floundering movement.
’Very well, I’ll go. Have a good afternoon, gentleman.’ She said and flourished a smooth courtesy, I stared in wonder at that courtesy, who was it for, me or Tommy, or both? She left us there that afternoon, on a hot summers day when no dog want’s to run around chasing sheep. And neither did we that day, we headed home, the fun ruined by the girl’s presence. I told my Ma ’bout what happened, and she just laughed, saying we’ll wonder lust over Evelyn like Pa did Ma, and then we’ll never take our eyes off a woman agin, I didn’t believe her that night. But ten years later, well let’s just say you’ll have to find out.
“Our lives of made up of summers and winters;” my Pa always told me.
Its the winters we should appreciate, as they are when we have to time to reflect and wait for things to grow. But I didn’t like winter, it was too cold, and summer was warm and fun. I never got what he meant when he told it to me back then on that day Tommy moved down to Alabama cause he Ma got work there, and then a month later he said it agin when Will moved to Missouri a’cause o some family issues, I didn’t understand it then, but then I was only twelve when they moved away. I didn’t play much after that, not with the school boys in the town, and Evelyn had moved as well. After her Ma had gone and died during the winter, I guess you could say, it was a time of dying and leaving, in the Winter of 1934 the Lords Year.
I was thirteen when I first met Mel, she was sittin’ out in Evelyn’s spot on the rocks, by the creek which was frozen a’cause of the winter and ice and all, I was walking back from school, satchel slung o’er my shoulder and hands dug deep into the pockets of my coat, my Ma had made it for me the year I turned thirteen, which was just a week past. And said it was mine own, not one that Pa nor Ma, nor even Emma and Gordon could wear, and I was mightily proud of that coat. Well, enough about the coat, I was talkin’ ’bout Mel.
I saw her by chance that day, if I had not stopped to look where Tommy and Will and I had played a summer ago, I would near had missed her. She was wearing black, a black coat, and black mittens and scarf, even her boots were black. And her hair was the blackest black I had e’er seen in all my thirteen years, like a raven’s plumage I woulda called it to liken with. She was jes’ sittin’ there, legs drawn up to her chest, a’cause’n there was no runnin’ water to dangle your feet in I guess. I stopped and looked at her for a moment, unsure whe’er I oughtn’t have manners and talk to her like my Pa told me I should if I come across someone and be polite like.
She was not looking at me, I don’t know what she was lookin’ at to be honest, maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was somethin’, who knew? I sure as hell didn’t, but I manned up like Pa would a want’d me to do and I approached her. Walking careful like cross the ice, the creek was frozen over remember, and the ice was usual thick this deep into winter like we were, and we used to skate on it when there was no schoolin’ and chores to be done, Tommy, Will and I. That is.
’Good evening, Ma’am.’ I greeted her like I would a good lady, and dipped my hat. Which Pa said was polite. Mel did no look at me at first, and I thought she might of being deaf or dumb or the sorts of unnerstandng ailments, and was ready to walk away, but she did greet me like:
’I’m no Ma’am, silly, I’m only fifteen.’ She said, I felt a blush come on my cheeks. Blimey, she was two years my senior, Ma woulda had a fit. Well, not old like Ma’s sister’s daughter, but she was a good two years old than me, and that meant I had to watch my words with her. Girls her ages tended to tell on boys my age, always right they were, so Tommy had once said. ‘And my names Mel.’ She said, as if I didn’t know that, but she didn’t know I knew that. So I jes nodded good boy like. Rubbin’ my hands together to get warm while I was at.
’Well, good day to you, Ma’... I mean... Mel.’ I flustered, she was watching me, her dark eyes studying me. I felt heat rushing across my body even though it freezing out.
’How old are you?’ She asked, I opened my mouth to say Thirteen, but I guess Tommy’s teaching took over and I lied, shamefully.
’I’m Fifteen.’ I didn’t look like no thirteen year old, so she didn’t give me that question look women give boys my age when we’re ‘spected of lyin’, no she just nodded and rose to her feet. I tripped, and fell flat on my arse when she stood. She had the body of a young woman, damn, I thought to myself, what manner of trouble had I pulled myself into. She didn’t have no body of a child, I could tell that just by looking, and God forgive my soul for feeling a little heated at looking her up and down like I did then on my arse.
She jumped down from the stone with ease, landing on the ice without breaking her balance, she stretched a hand out to help me, I felt foolish sitting there and the heat was beginning to leave my body replaced by two colds.
One cold I could guess was on the account of the weather, it was mightily cold and my hands were freezing, and the other cold was account of embarrassment. I took her hand and she hauled me to my feet, I brushed my bum off of ice, and then smiled. A weak smile I realized.
’What’s your name?’ She asked as she picked up my school satchel and slung it over her own shoulder.
’Bobby... Bobby Long.’ I said, sounding all mature like. She smiled, and I felt god shaking his head at me.
But, it was a smile that made my heart wobble, I thought it would damn near fall out my chest just by staring at that smile and it lit up my blood making the cold rush off, thank god.
’Bobby.’ She sounded the name over her lips, like a prayer. ‘Nice to meet you Bobby.’ She held out her hand and I shook it, smiling. Not that foolish weak thing I had givin’ earlier ago. It was a man’s smile, a smile that could melt the socks off of Ol’ Winter Blue himself. ‘Are you headed home?’ She asked, I nodded.
’Sure I am, I live just down on County Creek End, my Pa’s a doctor. A good one at that.’ I added, I always liked it when people knew that my Pa could fix ‘em if they’s was sick or somethin’ like that. Mel smiled and un-shouldered my satchel and handed it to me.
’I suppose you’ll be needing this, Bobby Long.’ I took the satchel and she turned to go. ‘I’ll see you around Bobby.’ She said.
’Yeah, I hope so.’ I called after her.
No woman had ever made me smile like Mel did when she turned and smiled at me afore leaving the Creek. I stared after her as she climbed her way out of the Creek bed and was gone into the wood, down to where Smithson House was. I later learned that she had moved in there when Evelyn and her family had moved. I guess not all devils live in Smithson House on County Creek North.
Ma wasn’t too please that I arrived wet and frozen with a loving fool’s grin on my face. ‘Where you been, Bobby’ She asked wooden spoon tucked under her arm, I froze in the door way, and stared up at her all innocent babe like faced.
’Down by the Creek, just lookin.’ I said, which was half the truth, well the truth. I was just lookin’ and then saw Mel, so if Ma moaned in Heaven God’ll tell her something straight and I’ll smile happily.
’You know I don’t like you playin’ by the Creek on you’re own Bobby, especially in this winter and the cold. You’ll catch your death from cold like that.’ She said with a final exasperated sigh and then hurried off to the kitchen where her stew was cooking. I pulled my coat off in the hallway, and let it hang to drip dry, Pa’s coat wasn’t there.
’Where’s Pa?’ I called as I slipped my boots off, my socks were wet through and through. And my feet numb.
’There’s a new family moved in the Smithson House, he went to pay his respects.’ Ma called back. The house was quiet, which meant Emma and Gordon had gone with Pa. Leaving me to study in agonizing silence.
’How was school, Bobby?’ Ma appeared in the door way of the kitchen again, a bowl of greens in hand. ‘Learn something new?’
’What would be the use a learnin’ if it ain’t new?’ I answered as I pulled my school books out onto the table not eager to study what I’d learn’d. ‘I guess it’s new. We learn’d about some French guy name Na‘polean, he wanted to rule Europe and then died on an island.’
’It’s Napoleon, Davy dear, and he was a bad man. A powerful bad man. Study real hard okay?’ She said and returned to the Kitchen. I mouthed her words with a jeer. ‘I heard that!.’ She called back.
It was 1941 when I was shipped to the Continent, I ain’t ne’er fought a damned day in my life for my own, but Mel... she wanted me to do somethin’ with the skill’s I learned growing up in County Creek. If you’re just wonderin’, yeah, I did go an’ marry Mel, I guess I just fell in love with her, she was everything that a man could’a wanted in a woman. Smart, and I mean real smart, and pretty. Mel had not being too happy that I lied about my age back by the Creek, but... I worked somethings out between us, that’s what loven’ll do, turn a man into a changed man.
The War was messy, and I ain’t never seen so many men falling around me, I was sure Armageddon had done and come so soon, I was scared, and hurt. But I did not give in on account of Mel counting on me to make a difference. I ain’t never fought like we did when we was chasing the Germs. And damn was it a chase, we had to travel overland and crawl up a beach. I don’t know how many brothers we lost on that beach, but God sure looked down on me, when I damn near drowned in that sea of red, crimson red that woulda made a maid blush for shame of the brightness. I sent Mel many letters when I had time, telling her I was doin’ best as I could with what I had, and it helped me survive, and then two years later I was sent home. Battle scarred and proud, millions of boys from the Ol’ States were shipped back with us, though they was not all alive. I ain’t never seen so many woman and children crying till we landed and delivered the coffins to the family.
It was then that I learned that Tommy Jerkins had died, my ol’ pal, he had gone into the war just like me and unlike me, God just decided to take him. Somehow I was angry and happy, at least he was ne’er going to feel the pain I felt when Mel picked me up from the airport, I wasn’t right in the head you see. Doctor said it was “Post Dramatic Stress.. or some’min’ liken that. And Mel... angels applaud her patience she had with taking care of me, and my broke up leg. I didn’t come back from the war all fixed up like a few of us who crossed into Germany.
It was Spring ’o 1949, when Mel passed.
I can still remember her face, dancing with no care as the wind blew her dark black hair around her, the smiling she would give just cause she could, and she wanted to feel free. Always dancing, and singing, my god did she have the voice of an angel and I was mightily proud of her, we spent lots of time together after the war. I wanted to hold every moment of it against the violence I had seen afore coming home to Mel. She was my hope and I held onto her with all the God-given strength a man could have in his lover, and Mel... she was my given strength and I held on with all my being. We would return to County Creek time and agen, when little Gordon got married, he invited us to his wedding, I ain’t never thought Gordon my baby brother woulda got married and I was so happy, I knew Ma and Pa were as well. Emma still had no man to love, but she didn’t care, she had joined some lovely band and we ain’t ne’er heard of her agen after Gordon’s wedding.
After the wedding, Mel got sick. My Pa was not there to help nurse her back to her, even though we sent her to the best man in the damned country, I tried to hold onto her, but Mel told me to let go. She gave me one last smile, one smile for me, and I held onto it, held onto Mel. But she had danced away long afore I had, leaving me with my old wounds and a new one, I knew she was gone, but I didn’t want it to be, I don’t know what lesson Pa had prepared for me for this... but I knew his words were right when he said: “Our lives are made up of summers and winters, Seasonal changings.” Mayhaps he had watched Mel passing and had taken her into his arms that night, and the words came back soft like fallen snow on my soul, and I knew that all this time my Pa had told me the simple secret about life.
“No matter what happens, we should love like the Seasons cause... ‘the times they are changing’.”