West of Eden, North Carolina, lies the road north to Woolwine, Virginia.
There life and death do not happen suddenly, all is prepared for with rigor
on the emery wheel in the backyard of the late Charles McAlexander’s farm.
Sit on the seat and pedal as fast as you can to see the sparks fly off blades
of knives. His widow Matilda sits on the front porch of the house on stilts,
smoking her corncob pipe, wondering why her oldest boy is so diligent . . .
The oldest is Rich, who got a black girl in town with a child she aborted
on advice of her brother, who taunts Rich’s younger brother Abe in town,
whenever they are there, he slides out of alleys and follows them everywhere
with his words. It’s her brother announced his sister’s shame, blaming Abe.
That’s all it took for Rich to go hunting through the alleys of Woolwine,
willing to chase that man to Danville if that’s where he wanted to go now.
He did not. Rich sharpened the blade all he could. Abe didn’t know where
to go to escape the inevitable, he didn’t understand why the guy hated him
anyhow. What was it about the War between the States that not only gave
them a mother, a foundling their father found, whose name Matilda Wood
was later claimed by one of Roanoke’s clans splintered by the Union Army,
whereupon she wandered dazed from family to family working for her keep
until she was where Charles happened to be and that day she fell in love
with the man who would be shot in the back because he refused to take a drink.
West of Eden, north of Danville, in a hollow of the Blue Ridge Mountains,
they married and Charles lived long enough to sire his seven children,
four sons, three daughters, the girls stayed home when the law was out looking for
the boys, it took longer than you might think to decide what to do, the price
of exile was fearful for people who never left these mountains after the war,
but it was that or stay and be thrown in the town jail and hung by their necks
on a day their mother might never get over, having already suffered the death
of a husband, buried out where Rich sat those late afternoons and into the nights
that followed, sharpening the blades of his knives until they could slice air open,
God’s revenge on the lowly Hamms of the late world Noah drank to forget.
(16 October 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander