Yoharie: Opening Scene
The thing that had made him hate camping.
Rocks had been falling all this time, but the clip that played itself across the screen of Jeremiah Hibbler’s closed eyes was soundless. It was almost a lie…if there had not been so much rooted pain, telling him he had seen this, and it was true.
It was true, Dad.
I saw it.
He saw himself angelic, imbued with chlorophyll and sunshine, floating.
His anchored self said no. No, that’s crap.
The water of the dam flowed, mist in the air where he stood to cast a silver beam that danced, then lay gentle on the stream, and shivering… The air was clean, clean. But he had become his father, not himself. Jeremiah, four years old, was there, perched on the bank, dangling a bamboo rod.
“You watch. Don’t fall in.”
He felt his father’s anger project through himself. Jeremiah…stupid kid…yeah.
For the second time…he’d been thirteen when his father decided…they were going fishing. He was in the back seat, sitting in the middle, no seatbelt. His brother was always sliding the buckle up tight, so Jeremiah would have to fit himself again. Saying without saying. Fatso.
The light all around the zipper, the zipper skirting a U-shaped opening, a canvas door with a mesh window…the light was cold like snow. Zachary’d had an appointment with the orthodontist, and so that Saturday the family was divided. Mom and Zack. Jeremiah and Dad and Dick.
Hibbler remembered really liking Dick, his father’s bud, even though Dick always made him feel bad, one way or another.
Kate would just go ahead and say it. Dick-shit.
It’s okay, a voice seemed to tell him. The voice was Giarma Yoharie’s. She’d cooed it in just this way, told Valentine…Hibbler struggled now, trying physically to rise. Of all the things he wanted out of his head, this picture of Valentine Yoharie, his bambi-ish tucking of chin and wistful smile, disturbed Hibbler most. But Giarma said to him again, it’s okay. You don’t have to like her. You never did, did you?
All this made for a powerful dissonance. He was not in a limitless heaven, but a place where ugly reverberations were possible. If it was all right not to like Kate…not to love her, he chastised himself—she was his wife—then…he was at fault. He was greatly at fault. That much he knew, and didn’t know yet what was the unspoken word.
What he had done.
Busby said, “Hey, Hibbler! Hibbler, you awake?”
Todwillow’s snigger came from somewhere else. “Don’t bug him, man.”
“So if he comes out brain dead or something…”
“Can’t be brain dead. They’d be harvesting his organs.”
Busby laughed. “Zack’s call.”
Todwillow laughed. “Living will. Probably never signed one.”
Hibbler felt something. An intrusive prod, some dull instrument’s pinpoint of contact…a pen, his mind told him, was what this was. Todwillow, who did not wash often enough, and wore drugstore aftershave. Todwillow leaning over him, poking at him, not touching him. This bodily proximity made a picture for Hibbler, of himself, lying down. And…he realized he knew it…they had rules in this place. They threw people out. Why would they not throw Todwillow out?
In fact, there was a voice. Busby said, “Bullshit, lady.”
“When do you think?”
She sighed, a big sigh of being responsible for people who ask the impossible. Farther away, Zack said, “Oh, you think he can hear? Well, I mean…understand.”
Zack, hey Zack, he said inside himself. You here too? When.
Have you ever even spoken to Valentine? What! You have some magic way of knowing the truth? Truth!
He hadn’t even liked Giarma at that moment, when she’d spit at him, these words. Well, like was how he always said it to himself. And when Kate said it, she knew what he meant.
Giarma didn’t swear.
She’d just said, you are such a pervert. This thing you have about Valentine is your own sex fantasy, what else? Be serious! And then you have to go around sharing it. You can’t even get enough just telling it over to yourself. Tell-ing-it-ov-er-to-your-self. She’d rapped it out like that, razor-voiced…so yeah, he knew what she was thinking.
It was like this…
His mind blasted a picture from Sleeping Beauty, a dragon that loomed over some guy—he thought it was a dragon. One of his kids’ movies. This made him think of Todwillow. But, getting rid of all that, he told himself, this was what it was like when these smart people really threw down on you.
The shimmering moiré parting before his eyes did not reveal a church, a minister’s white robe at his left—his right?—and Kate, in a gown of shiny, crackling fabric…structured something like a tent. He recalled that to kiss the bride, he’d had to get past it, and hadn’t known how.
He’d kind of shuffled his feet nearer until the skirt bowed away, his in-laws in the first pew batting it back. Laughs. His face red. Even so, it was a good memory, that day. But the light vanished, and he was not getting married.
It peeped in again, coyly. It roared like a V10 engine. He’d got outside the tent, and there was no time for zipping things up. Jeremiah jogged in bare feet, thankful to have slept in his jeans…but then again. Another crawling RV. They were letting a bunch of cars get backed up behind. He charged between two, just trying to get across, and almost missed another coming downhill.
“God…ya dumb kid!”
That was probably what she’d rolled down her window specially to yell at him. He didn’t think she’d said “stupid”, and knew she hadn’t cussed. But it was like…suppose she’d knocked him down. Maybe she would have killed him. How much would she have hated him then, for making her do it?
He’d taken a really long piss and Dick’s chuckle, growing into a guffaw, had begun to impress itself on Jeremiah. He’d been a little preoccupied.
“You lay off the hard stuff, buddy.”
There was a deep cut, rock cliffs on either side of the river. Jeremiah heard whoops die and watched the last of the yellow rafts tail away. Maybe if Zack wanted to, they would sometime. He wandered for a while, kind of happy in the woods alone. That early in the morning, already up in the eighties. He didn’t like asking his Dad to give him money for a Coke. He crossed the path behind the shelter where they had the trash can, the vending machines, and the map, stepped over the chain, and waded into ferns in the part you weren’t supposed to go.
The sign said: KEEP ON TRAIL.
Rocks around the waterfall were hidden under needles, dried up moss, dead leaves. That was why people would fall off…they thought they were on ground. That stuff would just crumble away under your shoes. Jeremiah, knowing this, smiled to himself. He felt his way with bare toes, then laid on his stomach and inched forward. Right here, chin hanging over, he caught the brunt of saturated air, atomized water. It was cool…in some way, he began to feel smarter.
“Yeah, the theory is, you’d almost never need to sleep. I mean, you could get by on just a couple hours a night. You get a kind of super clarity.” Todwillow. He’d been telling these things to Kate. Then why Dr. Wethers, saying “ox-y-gen”, grinning like it was dirty?
A crack came, the noise of a stick breaking in two. Then, a string of firecrackers, a whole lot of sticks. A bird flapped, chittering, just under Jeremiah’s nose. Another loud bang, and he saw it—a boulder tumbling huge and square, a full grown tree come down, slowing, buffeted aloft by its own leaves, settling into the river a second, a millisecond, before the boulder splashed…sploshed, maybe—a sound more like that—into its crown’s midst. Jeremiah, astonished, blinked at drops of water flung into his eyes.
“Come on, Dad, come on.”
“Get back over here. Jesus Christ, kid. Kill yourself.”
“No, you have to get up to the edge or you can’t see. It was this huge rock. If fell right into the river.”
Dick had walked around to where the chain came to an end. Like it was stupid to climb over. Hibbler’s father followed his friend, and came to a standstill where he couldn’t see anything.
“You have to be careful…” Jeremiah wanted to tell the part about the crumbly stuff.
Dick pushed himself away from the cedar’s trunk. “Nah. I just saw a couple rafts go past.”
And what did that mean? Why wouldn’t they? Hibbler thought his Dad might have listened…he didn’t blame Dick exactly…he just remembered how now and then, his father had been nice.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)