Flash Fiction: Pine
Salvador had gone off, more of a brood than a hunt, though he carried his shotgun and walking stick. That suited Bridie, who wanted to feel free, picking over her herbs, seeing what had come back in the flower bed. Bluebells, where she’d raked away leaves in the apple orchard. Then Salvador was going to cut that dead tree down, so there’d be no saying, “Just watch where you trample those boots.” Why? She wouldn’t tell. But because they were delicate together, like calico. These, and the yellow buttons of wild strawberry, the purple violets.
Maybe his eye could see things too. He must like the woods for something. He scorned Bridie, it seemed, for talking at all, so what would they talk about? Right now he was mad, because he took the vote as spite.
Long ago, his granddaddy Ford had bought that up there, the patch the bank had loaned him money for. The idea being, you’ll put up a pine woods, and it’ll grow to timber and be cut down, and that pays for the land. The militia had come and plied on Old Ford, because it wasn’t cropland, and it wasn’t family land, so why would a good Davis man not let the boys practice at this kind of fighting?
It was mad land, to be sure, its crooked trees never culled right, the old ones past maturity now, a whole naked brushy clearing with lightning scorched stumps and bramble thickets.
Someone came down the path over the hill. They were building a dam—and that would not affect Salvador’s land, only loom as a thing that preyed on his mind. That rich men could shape the earth as they pleased. That they could put fear on you, stop a lake of water over your head.
To Salvador, rich, and educated, and citified, were one. This one she’d seen, a young helper to the county agent. Bridie had a fanciful notion of him watching from the ridgetop, through those glasses round his neck, waiting to see Ford gone. So he could do his bit of work.
“Mrs. Ford. How do you do? You remember me?”
Well, the truth was, she didn’t, in that sense. She remembered, after thinking a moment, that his last name was Cole.
“You come in the kitchen if you want. I’ll put on a pot of coffee.”
“Now, Mr. Ford was supposed to see about planting cow vetch, for the erosion control.”
In this statement were questions, and she thought she would not try very hard, for pride’s sake—it was only Salvador’s pride—to hide the nature of things.
“Oh, Mr. Cole, don’t look for it. He’s just cussed, that’s what. I’ll tell you why.”
She stepped back, and saw him not wanting to follow her, shifting his weight to his trailing foot, propping his clipboard on his stomach. The oilcloth on the table felt sticky to the touch, she knew. She wiped it down every day. That was just the way it was. The water was from the pump, and the coffee about half ground hickory nut.
“I’ll tell Salvador you been by.”
She thought some social worker had had a talk with him. They had a way of coaching the government men how to conduct themselves with the hillbillies. So it made everyone feel bad. Mr. Cole looked embarrassed.
“Come inside if you want.”
She spooned coffee into the stovetop percolator’s basket. She already had the pot filled with water, and the range was hot all day. It wasn’t much she was offering, this and a box of graham crackers set on the table, but he said, a second time, “You don’t need to fix me anything.”
“See, it’s this land,” she told him. She sat opposite, looking at the pine woods through the open front door. A sight made her exclaim. “Oh, what on earth!”
Mr. Cole twisted round. He had heard it too, the crash and splinter.
“Your husband’s doing some timbering.”
He didn’t take this as Bridie did. “It was you people wanted one of us to be a model farm. So you could teach all that.” She gestured at his clipboard. “The erosion and the rotation.”
He was using a bucksaw, she thought…no bang, bang, bang of the axe. He might have only stopped up at Mattie’s, got him to come down. And here came another big tree, all silver and dead.
“It’s been that way, Mr. Cole. It’s not cause they like Salvador they voted for him. It’s cause they don’t.” He was whipping Mattie along. The little one the big one had snagged on came down, the big one heaving up a nest of root.
“I don’t think,” she told Cole, “you oughta be here, when he gets down.”
The Poor Belabored Beast
(2017, Stephanie Foster)