Story: Exodus

* Exodus is the first chapter in Providence: A Story by William Kelly Mac’s left foot had a subtle tingle. The outer edge of his small toes had flickered in numbness for years. The only awareness of pain from this generally unobtrusive deadness was in the dark and quiet hours when he lay awake and in perfunctory stillness. “No! Not now.” The farther he pushed ahead, the more it radiated and deeper it wove into to the sinews of his left calf. From a dull tingle awakened to a stabbing outside his leg and a throb above his hip. If not driven by the sympathetic pulse of flight, the wild one might pause to consider it painful. Nothing new and not stopping him. Acknowledging the affliction accomplished little, only adrenaline and ounces of faithful thought seemed good medicine. Through momentary lapses he would again materialize those fatuous thoughts of that sweet odor–limes. He had an odd fetish for limes, their aesthetic, the smell, the sweet acrid taste. Mac could not enter a supermarket without ushering several limes into his basket. Neither particular about size, nor the amount of green, but rather the peculiar firmness that spoke to the juice inside. He would scratch their flesh with the outer corner of his thumbnail and bring the zest to his nose. All those little essential oils busting forward and out into the air and the bitter parts white underneath did to and he liked it. At home, Mac would add them to the bowl, often replacing uncut ones that had browned and hardened before ever being squeezed. Their presence was comforting as was his regard for their taste on and in things. Perhaps an unthought memory that some simplicities from places distant can be both exotic and conventional. Things, now, to be had by all men, but only appreciated by a few in essence and thoughtfully. A tuning fork resonating for few to hear. A silent indulgence for the pious, so common. Green stippled and sitting there in the middle of winter, so common and so plump because it is summer somewhere. As a child he would sneak into his father’s dressing area to reave splashes of the memento of a honeymoon long past. Royall Lyme. A luxurious concoction of rubbing alcohol and virgin limes from the islands. It was odd to be so maturely groomed, that gangly boy, but when he came to grow into broader shoulders, it grew on him too. And he too desired an escape to those islands one day. That place to wipe off the grit of home and live neat. Navy blazers with tan faces and groomed hair. Casual with manners. The greatest responsibility there: relaxation, minding to polite conversation or silence. Taking duty in being a gentleman. For the time there they are all regarded as Sirs. Sirs, so that they can bring it home in a bottle and go on with their lives. Mac sped through a deluge in the dense and craggy forest in the bowels of Appalachia, known both geographically and disparagingly as The Globe. He was pushing the engine of his vehicle with an exactitude, grinding the mongrel diesel to its fullest potential. Alternating between second and third gear, he grew weary of depressing the clutch. In its life, the Series II Rover was both coveted and a tool of the routine. The first significant object that Mac had always desired and overcame the guilt to purchase. The vehicle was factory Limestone Green, not unlike the color of bathroom tiles from the era contemporary of its build. Armored in a warm patina, being never rubbed with wax, its only rust hidden deep within in the galvanic reaction between steel frame and aluminum body. The interior was worn and spoke of honest use. Genuine use, not pleasure, for times when it was necessary to ford a creek with water into the floor. Deep mars where remnants of barbed-wire coils were pushed across the painted bed. It was simple and elegant. Born in a time and place of distinctive utility, when push-in lighters were for kindling cigars, not powering cell phones. Whispers of gentle pedigree and shouting raw, primitive utility. There were rips in the once bespoke elephant hide embossed seats that gave permission to use it hard and honestly. A screw driver in a pocket. Fuses in the floor mixed with bits of coffee tinged Styrofoam. The lugged houndstooth motif in the black rubber floor mats contrasted with the red clay packed in. Heavy boots left no quarter in their tread, thoroughly wiped away under the foot pedals. Shotshell hulls, dried up spittoons, and empty aluminum cans clattered over the rear floorboard through turns. A cup holder crafted of bent and twisted bailing wire hung from a hole punched in the dash. It swung level with the changes in yawl and pitch. Rear windows smeared by once wet dog noses and coarse hair in corners that could not be swept away by hurried hands. Rather unpretentious but rare, passers by in traffic turned their head to the vehicle. Admirers in parking lots would walk by and say, “Want-a trade?” Mac once came out from a country store to find a man innocent, but guilty of curiousity in the front seat with his hands on the wheel and the gear knob as if a child imagining. Such a plebeian tool, exotic on the red clay of South. The small diesel engine roared as Mac wound gears and broke with them through tight down hill chicanes. A sheet of water would surge ahead of the horizontal bonnet when he decelerated and magnificent arches of droplets would splash into the flat windscreen of the vehicle. The wipers hardly worked and moved erratically out of synch with a strange organic pulse that was anemic for something mechanical. The seams of the roof and doors were not water tight. Moisture would exude from the seams of the headliner and pour from its corners in sharp turns and he had over the years developed a habit of dipping his knee in when he knew it would pour. Not withstanding the desire to be dry on the cold wet day, it hurt to move his leg. The moisture brought forth an aroma that would be considered untoward to those unfamiliar with dogs and the outdoors. When he approached an upward spiraling turn, Mac thumped out of the clutch with full RPMs. The low geared wheels all spun together. They could not chirp but hummed, bent by torque into the steepness. His lap filled with water. He drove British-style, from the right side-wheel and left shifter. This suited the ambidextrous driver, yet most travel took him to roads and trails that did not have center lines. Moving through the Globe was not regarded a scenic route. To some it was the bottom. Where men flick ashes and sling the last ice from chiseled scotch glasses as they watched sun fall over blue mountains from the high terraces of Blowing Rock. There is value in any place that stays untouched. Mac had a differing preference from most for cool shade within hills and trees. In the mountains, not on them. Places where the deer bed and trout are stalked. He knew what was out over ridges and did not need to crest to feel in place. To sit and admire. He wanted to be in them. The terrain had a fractal nature. Mac could appreciate nothing of the passing in scale. Cusp and valley unseen as he was in them, ridge and ravine a rise and fall the same. Trees, plants, leaves immediately before him, green on the low hanging waxy shrub-trees, crisp underfoot and slick under tire. A brown floor, a carpet of dead leaves and black dirt; those slides of dead things that no person saw in motion cut in to oblique gullies that rolled along the hillside. Today they were occupied with gushing rivulets that turned and found their course in the edge of the road. Every ten minutes or so of the passing was punctuated with a dilapidated home place. Those barns and broken structures around the yards that could not be made out from the dwellings. In those dwellings windows must have been a luxury. Heaps and rows of parts and pieces of metal around the flanks, old rusting appliances and vehicles with thin brush growing through like a cancer. Surely not everyone there was too lazy to hide their trash. Maybe the hills were too steep to put things behind houses or perhaps they were thought more storage areas than trash heaps. Likely, he thought, an old store of resources passed from generation to generation rusting. He tried not to stare in but their broken esthetic drew in his curious eyes. He wondered, How long? How long had they been there? Were their eyes as grim and broken and their tongues bent to time? Why did they hide amongst all the old things displayed openly? Where where they behind the maimed and exposed museum of rust? Would they know him for a conversation? Their things told stories, perhaps abstracts of wealthy tales of living. Between each homesite, he would not release the thoughts of the old mountain homes and the piles of objects he passed. Nothing except an occasional chicken coup ever seemed to be placed uphill from the buildings. Things of perceivable value were close–the more he thought, Things that terminated their usefulness downhill may very well be trash–shit rolls downhill. To people who had nothing of things he perceived as something, keeping it close by was, perhaps, proof that they had a little more of something. Neatly stacked wood with the awl still in the last piece at the splitting block, frozen from some hard handed man he thought could be lanky and wiry and cloaked in flannel and tobacco smoke. Smoke from narrow stove pipes spoke to some life hidden away in a dark room crackling. Ceramic animals arranged as art. Artificial green grass carpet in the places they rested, perhaps because light was a commodity in the dense forest. Domestic animals chased as he passed and defined property lines where they stopped. He could never understand why they all had tires on their rooftops. The struggling loud truck, he thought, was a violation of the homes. A grinding siren announcing the passage of an outsider. It’s light two and a quarter liter diesel engine hammering. Hammering until he would coast in those places on that road he could get by with an inconspicuous speed. Mac depressed the clutch and the rear end of the old Landy rattled, spinning freely. The momentary decent was welcomed. Driving was not as laborious. The speed shifted the vibrations from an auditory rattle to a physical shaking from the lugged tires and rough road. Loose fillings. A sudden stab from sacrum to iliac crest. A dull pang from frontal lobe to the base of his skull. Teeth together and cheek muscles firing flitting a buzzing dance under his ears. Engine sputter. Mac flicked his middle finger across the back of his thumb and into the crystal of the fuel gauge. Normally he could bring it to life. Perhaps he did, but there was little life to give. Just got a sputter then nothing. It would be clearly downhill for a hump and maybe all the fuel had washed to some hollow end of the tank. Mac took the transmission out of gear and coasted. Providence let the vehicle expire on a long downward slope permitting him to find a suitable cove to nest his truck. He might need it later. Rolling with the last breathe of momentum, he drifted into a bank, teetering the truck on three wheels as if it was the stool of a poor craftsman. It slid laterally into the deep cut of slick leaves and the top heaved out over the frame and he could see ground nearing his face. Hand over hand in a violent turn to the right, he pulsed the brake and brought the the car level and back on all fours. Mac climbed out looking beyond the treetops. Listening for sounds that did not belong there and looking beyond at the colors. The wind whipped and pulsed over the trees and when it held steady, it had the vague similarity of a thousand children whispering. He swept a natural tarpaulin of leaves over the hood and put larger leaved branches over the white roof top. Mac had reasonable provisions in the truck he intended to keep, but they could not be carried. Especially now, he had to move fast. The tumid disk in his back pressing, choking the angry pulse through to his feet. He grabbed a bottle of water and his tin of snuff and an old waist pouch left behind from a trip some time past. The zipper was difficult to move. In the bottom of the bag was a crushed pack of Lance orange nabs and M&Ms that appeared to have melted into one solid mass at one end of their bag. There was a sparse book of paper matches and a little pen knife. He clicked the buckle of the clutch around his waist and stepped to the edge of the road above him. He cinched the strap of the loose pouch tight around his torso. At the roadside, Mac removed the knife from the pouch and slit into the trunk of a limb-bare tree. Wedging a bright nickel into it at head height, he hoped it would be a reflective marker in darkness. The shadows were long and painted parallel directing down the mountain side. It was getting later in the afternoon and he had to walk into hillside to continue west. He passed up a trailhead onto the  thin edge of a forgotten stream. In years past he had looked onto seams and subtle eddies, perching on edges with patience and lascivious anticipation. Waiting for a flicker, those surges on a springtime blue winged olive hatch filling the air. At first slowly, then wildly to beckon him. If the stars had aligned, a small swirling sign that emanates in suction and drifts down through the current. Eyes upstream and fingertips slipping through the rhododendron he tracked diligently along the edge. He thought, No pleasure in cold feet. The bank’s composure different around every bend and change in elevation. Mire, wet leaves, large boulders, and the occasional reprieve of small beaches and smooth dry river rock. The discomfort incited by pressing in the stiff clutch paled in comparison to articulating his numbness to the angular terrain underfoot. The searing pain was now something he was brought to acknowledge and consider if he was worsening it through motion. Red always said that temperatures over ninety-three degrees were just “damn-hot” and that it did not matter if the mercury climbed to one hundred and five, it all felt the same when it got up there. “Damn-hot Old Red,” he said to the wind. Now in the cold hollow he thought about was “Damn-Pain, how you like that Old Red?” It was malicious enough that anything beyond the sensation could not be worse. Ten on the scale. Pointing to the teary-eyed icon on the card in the ER. Pain incited adrenalin, perhaps that is what he needed to be driven. He could wait around to be buzzard pecked or lie there and feel dying. Might as well enjoy the scenery. There were level traverses, but the balance of the afternoon was spent trading toes to shins to knees to palms to a momentary stomach. Passing across a granite face he stretched and his torpid legs would not go with him. His hip flexor cramped as if it where being draw into his loins on the strings of a puppet. He splayed out and reflexively returned to writhen postures. Mac spun the pouch around to his lower back. Every spare bit of his ventral surface held him to the steep face. The lichen on the stone was a brilliant color. He brought his legs around and came over the rock. A glint of wheel rub through the rust over a small gauge trestle ahead. That line might serve as an oasis for a simpler passage. Was it worthy, safe, would they know he was there? His pursuers were perhaps close but he was not sure. His chest thumped and his lower extremities screamed as he pushed forward full of guilt and fear. He could feel he himself more than he had in years. On his body was a sebaceous coating that only one who labored in the sun could claim, in that, his clothing was inappropriate for the passing. He was not aware of how it soiled so easily, only that it was more appropriate for a sedentary life than moving through the low brush and wet soil that shredded it. He thought, Mail order catalogues. Bullshit. They created illusions of the well dressed gentleman adventurer. Great for a cocktail back at the lodge. He was ripe, but with only feedback from his own olfactory senses, the earthiness only slowly grew on him. The heat from his body rekindled the pleasant odor of his embrocation in a lime lotion two days ago, before he was pushed into the wild. He was pulling with arms now as his toes dragged under his leaden legs and gravity pulled his waist-ward body away from his upper spine. There was a brief decompression that assuaged his pain. Tears of joy flowed trumping narrower ones of physical anguish. Rich soil pushed into the quick of his nails. Dark vertical striations on the cloth over his chest and beneath, pink ones across skin. The plastic snap buckle dug into his navel as he crested the precipice. The sweet smell of tar from times past. Gravel that sprayed wayward in the wake of motion. Flat and ahead a clean gentle grade. He came to his knees and looked ahead at the buried track cutting through the forest. He did not know for sure where it went, but was sure that at some point he would reach a kind depot. He had not reached safe harbor, but sensed the coming reprieve from the tolls of his flight.The handsome trail hidden under dense gently dripping trees, a mousse of black soil and a quilt of moss and pine needles. He thought he might come to his back and be hidden from a Zeus-like god who was throwing lightning into the valley. A slow roll articulating each vertebrae to his back into repose. The pressure relief of loosening the first lace as the gentle tickle of air on moistened bare skin. Shoes off, toes heels in the cool dirt.   An unedited, print on demand and eBook version of Providence is available at: Copyright William Kelly 2013.

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