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July 24, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 12 (p. 210-216)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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It wasn't early when D. opened her door the next day. The sky was no longer the gray of early morning, and the mist had lifted, leaving a fine layer of dew over the trees, courtyard, and even the books. The warmth was beginning seemingly to seep from the earth, causing the little eddies of tender smoke that twirled in places above the ground.

But it was not late either. The fingers of the sun were just beginning to slip over the eastern rooftop, and the light was trickling down the towers toward the ground. The courtyard was still enshadowed, making it appear earlier in the yard than in the sky, and D. stood midway between waking and sleep. She yawned.

When she stepped out of her room, the feeling hit her as might the first hot and muggy prenoon air of summer: the anticipation and the vague excitement of the coming. She inhaled the smell of breakfast already fading on the fresh air; she heard a broom sweeping beneath the chirp of early rising birds; she stepped to the rail and watched Steinbeck, wearing shorts and a polo shirt, drag a heavy old manual lawn mower out into the courtyard (this made her laugh); and the wind of somebody slipping past her on the balcony fluttered her skirt and made her jump. It was Othello walking by with a towel over his bare shoulder and a basketful of toiletries, "'Scuse me," he said and smiled. "Good morning."

"Morning," she breathed, but Othello was in his room already. Her mouth was sticky with the taste of dreams, so she decided to dilute them with coffee.

On the front stairs, Holden was wiping the stained glass window with slow, dilatory strokes. He smirked guiltily and explained, "It's old glass; you gotta be careful as hell."

"Mm-hmm. Good morning."

"Yeah," he responded and returned to his chore.

In the kitchen, Huck was wiping down the counter by the sink. He turned when he heard the door swing closed with its thwump-ump, and said, "‘Mornin'! Yer up. Y'hungry? I been keepin' yer bre'kfast warm, but I wanna clean the stove."

"Starved," D. told him plainly, retrieved her eggs and bacon, poured some coffee, and sat at the kitchen table to eat and dismiss the haze from her drowsy eyes. "So what's all the commotion about?"

"C'motion? Oh, nothin'. Just stuff needs doin', and won't a body do it 'til ev'ryone's here to share the laber."

"Nathaniel's not here yet," D. said, her voice midway between observation and question.

"He always ends up with th' lion's share a' the work, anyways. Workin' now keeps us busy fer a while, though — winds us down from our life-work so's we can enjoy our time after, too."

Jake came through the swinging door with an armload of fresh-cut wood. He smiled broadly at D. and inquired about her sleep. After he had thrown the wood on top of a dwindling pile near the stove, he wiped his hands and then his brow, swinging one foot onto a chair and leaning his elbow to his knee. "Whew," he exclaimed. "It's too early in the day and in the season to be breaking a sweat like this. I must be out of shape."

"Or outta the will ta work," Huck said amiably, without turning to show his slanted smile.

"Well, we aren't all robust young men like you, Huckleberry," was the rejoinder. Jake winked at D.

"Y'could least be 's robust as that wine you was drinkin' last night. The sweat'll do ya good."

Jake laughed. His eyes were red. "Give the bugs a buzz, as well. I saw John slinking off," said Jake, not entirely to change the subject.

Huck chortled. "When've y'ever known a king ta work harder'n the verm'n?"

D. asked, "Is there anything that I can do?"

"I wouldn' bother," Huck told her. "The steams prob'ly b'ginnin' to wane. I'm sure the king ain't th' only d'serter."

D. passed Martin on the stairs after she had helped Huck in the kitchen for a while, and he made a great show of yawning and mumbled, "Morn'm." Looking around at the empty entrance hall seemed to clear the drowsiness from his drooping eyelids, and he said, "Oh, it looks as if I've missed the cleaning party."

D. suggested that Jake would not likely mind sharing the sport of chopping wood.

"Certainly," Martin agreed. "Perhaps after I've had some breakfast."


The crowd came together for lunch, and D. put aside the book that she had idly been reading. For some reason, she was having difficulty keeping her mind centered for very long. It kept wandering from the book to some varied topic or other, returning to the book, and floating off again, the result being that her spurts of reading overlapped, sliding back to regain context and loping forward to the next passage. Perhaps it had been the book that thrust her so from thought to thought. But now she closed the book and arose from the new-cut grass by the willow tree, her ascent progressing much like her reading: slowly and with many motions repeated. Throwing the book onto the closed lid of the piano, where it slid and nearly toppled from the opposite end, she stretched, her arms up in the air, and noticed that spaces between the limbs above her were filling in quickly with the season.

After lunch, D. passed the early afternoon by participating in a liberal badminton tournament, played loosely because the contestants could not agree on the rules and the boundaries were more felt than drawn, so that they shifted as if blown by the slight breeze that rippled the grass. Once the game had attracted the attention of nearly the entire house, the teams were split between north and south. D. had just been eliminated by Nick when Jim accosted the shuttle and led the congregation in a fruitless chase about the yard before disappearing into some nearby thickets. Nick grumbled about a conspiracy, but even he shared the general opinion that all was just as well because the boundaries of the court had apparently become too amorphous for any of the players to make any sense whatsoever of the game.

As D. made her way inside on a quest for some type of pursuit, she noticed, from the corner of her eye, that a single box remained under the dining room table. Swinging it into her arms in one motion, she overcompensated for the swing, and a notebook fluttered to the floor. She slid the box onto the table and bent to retrieve the outcast.

Noticing the black and white flecks of its cover, D. realized that this was the notebook with the rebirth of a stick figure drawn in its lower corner. She sat on a chair that was close at hand and watched the figure prance around in its near contortions while she flipped the pages. As she stood and returned the book to the box, she remembered the story that she had begun to read before her trip into the woods.

She looked around, as if to confirm that she had had no other plans, and sat to resume the story where she had left it, which really wasn't that far along at all.

He looked at the medalion as if he had found a religious implement. He examined every curve and every edge, until it cauht the sun and threw it into the face of its captor. He covered his eyes, and the world changed to black. After wiping the pain from his eyes, he took another careful look at the star, and smiled as he slipped it into the pocket of his black designer trench coat. He paused, and felt the cold wind play with his hair. He wished he could just float away: each and every partical of his being just permeate into the air. And he might have done just that if it had not been for the slamming of a car door. Awakened, he looked up towards the school. He looked at the windows which reflected the light because they refused to accept it. For a moment he thought it was beautiful. He looked at it as a prisoner might look at a jailhouse from which he had just escaped. Again he smiled. Hesitating no longer, he turned and ran, his legs beating at the hard, frozen ground as he took long strides. When he turned the corner, he raised the sides of his trench coat and ran faster as if he thought he would take flight. At the street corner he stopped, leaned over, and laughed. He was out of shape. He was out of season.

He remembered his books. They were still in his locker, maybe he should go back for them. He didn't want to go back there. Besides, he might get caught. What was it his friend always said? Wasn't he always having more fun because he had the guts to just say, "fuck it"? Well, it was easy for him to say that because his parents didn't care. When your father chased you into the bathroom and banged on the door with a gun, you saw life in a completely different light. You could afford to say "fuck it" all the time. But right now he thought it would be best to say it just this once. He didn't have to go back into the school, he just had to take the long way around so he could get to his car.

He turned left, and took his time walking the five blocks to his next turn. He had forty-five minutes to kill. He looked around. He saw the traffic. Cars were driving by at fifty miles an hour in a twenty-five zone. People are always in a rush, he thought, wouldn't it be so much better if everybody took forty-five minutes off every now and then? A flock of geese flew over his head. They must have been disoriented by the man made modifications of their earth. If people had their way, they would probably heat the bitter Winter air and air condition the beautifully warm Summer breezes outside their houses so they would be comfortable from their doors to their cars to their offices. He longed for Summer. He longed for bees, he saw himself swimming in the lake, he wished to hear the lawnmowers and the cheers of the parents of little league baseball players and the ringing bell of the ice-cream trucks and the dreamy giggles of girls in bikinis.

He turned the corner and saw the line of cars parked across the yard from the school. He passed a red convertable sports car. How could a kid afford an expensive car like that? Then he was releived when he passed a dilapadated station wagon. A good old American-made station wagon. How could a kid afford to feed that car with gas? It was just like the American dream that ate the very space that it needed to be believed in. Then he came to his Honda. He stopped by the drivers side door and reached in his pocket. Pausing for a moment to fondle the medallion, he found his keys, and put one in the lock on the door. It was the wrong key. It was the key to his fathers car, but his father didn't drive his car because he didn't have anywhere to take it. He put the right key in the lock on the door.

He sat down in the comfortable gray seat and immediately put on his seat-belt. Chuckling, he unlocked his seat-belt and let it slide back into its hole. He tilted the rear view mirror and looked at his eyes. He saw nothing, and so turned the key to the first notch and turned on the radio. After he had checked all of his preset radio stations, he opened his glove compartment and carefully selected a tape. The decision about the tape was difficult, because he had to find one which would suit him and his soon to arrive passenger. He found one and put it in. Finding the lever at the bottom of his seat, he reclined his chair as far back as it would go. He closed his eyes and listened to that old Cat Stevens song:

Trouble
Oh, trouble set me free
I have seen your face
And it's too much, too much for me

He wondered what excuse he would give for not being in History. He wondered if it mattered. He decided it didn't, not right now, maybe not for a while. Maybe not after a while. He looked at the clock: seven more minutes. So much for his forty-five minutes. No, it didn't matter, not right now anyway.

There was a knock on the window. He smiled and opened his eyes.

The handwriting had become closely packed as she neared the bottom of a page, but the smell of baking cake lured D. out of the thick text. She wondered what the occasion might be. She heard the birds calling out a rumor from tree to tree in the still afternoon, and a lone cicada contradicted the gossip. She rearranged herself on the chair, placed the notebook on the table, and leaned over it to continue on the next page.

Posted by Justin Katz at July 24, 2005 2:20 PM
A Whispering Through the Branches