If you are just tuning in, here is the next installment to my serial story: Poor Valley Witch. To start at the beginning, click here.
Part IV of Poor Valley Witch: To Grandmother’s House!
Landon made it out of Poor Valley; he guessed it was done with him for today. He pulled into the gas station, where Leesdale Road spit him out in town. He turned off the car and shook his head, trying to get oriented. When you were down there, in the shadows of the two ridges that rose like sentinels above the hollow, it was like being somewhere else completely. Not in folksy, rural East Tennessee. It was not even like the underbelly of the town, where folks smiled, but then pinched their lips together in disapproval at the backs of “foreigners”–which really meant anyone not born and raised here.
No, down in the Valley it was like you went through a time-warp, a culture-warp, some kind of veil that sifted out the outside world. I mean, what was that girl–that woman–wearing? he thought. It was a flowered sundress, and it seemed almost modern. Almost, except for the length. It had come down to her ankles. And the buttons were too old-fashioned.
When the feeling of the Valley had mostly lifted from Landon, a few minutes later, he drove down the state highway once more and turned right, away from Poor Valley. It was finally time to visit his Mamaw.
She was out in the yard when he drove in, dancing around with a broom raised high above her head, shouting to the sky. He parked and got out, disturbed. She always did just what she pleased, Mamaw, which led to some eccentric behavior. But dancing with a broom in the yard was either crazy or too close to some of the weirdness he’d left behind in Poor Valley. It set him on edge.
“Git! Git on out, you sons-of-bitches!” she cawed, brandishing the broom. It had a metal handle, sheathed in red, peeling plastic that showed glints of aluminum. He stepped out of her reach before craning his head back to see what she was yelling at. Three vultures flapped lazily overhead, just out of reach of her broom. One jetted a stream of crap that painted the hood of Landon’s car. That’s great, he thought. Well, at least the old lady isn’t crazy.
“Bird problems, Mamaw?” he asked, moving to hug her now that she’d lowered her weapon.
“Damn things keep shitting all over my furniture,” she growled, before stepping back to point at her patio. Prolific spatterings of bird crap almost covered her wicker chairs and table.
“Aw, Mamaw,” he said, starting to laugh. “That’s shitty.” She swatted him with her hand, though whether for laughing at her or for the bad joke, he was unsure. Maybe it was both.
She’d tied old CDs all over the furniture with baling twine in an effort to keep the hulking birds away. They twinkled and spun in the breeze. Landon heard the faint strains of bluegrass music; a station out of Knoxville, he thought. She’d set an old boombox in the open kitchen window, hoping the noise would do what the hanging, twirling CDs could not. If her behavior with the broom was any indication, these measures weren’t working. He tried to suppress a smile.
Mamaw stumped toward the house, stopping to graciously sweep one arm toward her be-shitted patio chairs. “Care for a seat?” she asked in mock welcome. He laughed aloud and, this time, she laughed with him. He walked past her to open the door to the house, letting her go before him before following.
They fixed two glasses of iced tea in a ritual of activity almost as old as Landon was: he got out two old jam jars from the cupboard, the kind that had the Tazmanian Devil and Bugs Bunny on them. She took a glass pitcher of brown tea from the fridge. They sat together at the small kitchen table before she poured from the pitcher into both glasses. Her tea was sweet and always pretty, with round slices of lemon inside. He felt the last vestiges of eeriness ease away with this familiar, comforting act of drinking tea with his grandmother.
“You been down to Poor Valley,” said his grandmother. Landon nodded assent. He was not surprised she knew; he’d predicted to himself that one of her friends would call to tell her.
He hesitated before saying, “I met a woman there. Didn’t tell me her name, but she said to tell you hello.” Mamaw’s eyes were unreadable.
“Those damned birds showed up yesterday,” she said. He blinked at her sudden change of subject. Before he could open his mouth to ask what the birds had to do with anything, the sound of voices in the yard clashed with the cheerful banjos and mandolins coming from the boombox.
“Someone is singing,” he said, and got up to look out the window. There, in the yard, stood a group of people. He recognized most of them from church that morning. Sheila was there, front and center. Her baby was absent. Landon’s unease came back, full force. He pushed the button to silence the boom box, to better hear what they sang:
“God is righteous in His doings,
He is perfect in His ways;
Just is He in all His actions,
And He well deserves our praise.
Righteous was His condemnation,
Righteous His requirement;
For the law had deemed us sinners,
And for judgment we were meant…”
He looked back at his grandmother, still sitting in her chair, calmly drinking her tea. She shrugged, as though to say, What can I do about it? Landon looked back out at the congregation on the lawn just in time to see three black shadows sweeping over their heads. A few of them looked up in time to see white streams of vulture feces falling toward them, and one or two even had the presence of mind to break from the crowd and run for it.
The birds apparently thought this was another gambit to get rid of them, and were responding. They had remarkably good coverage, as Mamaw’s patio furniture testified. The people scattered, shrieking. Sheila pointed toward the house, yelling unintelligibly, before jumping into the backseat of one of the cars that had pulled in behind Landon’s.
“Mamaw,” he said as the parishioners scrambled into their cars and drove away, back to wherever this ill-planned demonstration had begun, “This is probably the weirdest day of my entire life.”
Click here for Part V of Poor Valley Witch.