A truck passed on the highway a mile away with the long hum of a tuning fork. She thought she had heard an airplane, but now the sky was silent. She often found herself listening for the rough drone and stutter of an aircraft in trouble, since the plane crashed on Mt. Olivet. They had seen the flash from the bedroom. It's just lightning, Harm said. Next day she heard all the boys [End Page 48] had parachuted out over South Carolina, long before it hit the ridge. The wreckage was scattered over the very part of the mountainside where she was born and grew up.
Two dried nettle stalks held their seed-pods like yellow Christmas balls. It was surprising to see them in the woods; they usually plagued the baulks in open fields. Enough sunlight must have gotten through the hole in the canopy where Harm cut the big poplar. Shoots of its second growth stood around the stump like arrows stuck in a ring. She would carry the sacks further up the ridge, where the leaves were deeper, near the Bryan boundary, hoping none of them was out this morning.
Pine needles made the ideal cowbedding, but the closest thicket was around the mountainside. She didn't want to go too far into the woods. On this side she could easily view the creek road, though on her knees gathering leaves she might miss the sound of the mailman's car. There had not been a letter for two weeks. It was time for another photographically shrunken page with half the words blacked out. All he could talk about safely was the rain in East Anglia, and the Sunday School he attended in a nearby village. The English lady who had written her said Troy was one of the finest young men she had met in the war.
The plane crash on Mt. Olivet made her think a lot of the old days on the mountain, when Harm came courting and brought his gun to scare off the Jones brothers. She still had in her dresser, after all these years, pictures of Grover and Whalen. If Harm had ever noticed them he had not mentioned it.
She broke a fork from a dead limb and began to rake the wood floor. The oak leaves were still falling and some had touches of red and purple yet. They lay deep and crisp on the slope, bright as though waxed and polished. They would make fluffy cowbedding. Because there were so many she did not [End Page 49] rake down to the bottom layers, but left the damp and rotting leaves stuck to the dirt. They were so stiff she'd have trouble stuffing them into sacks. There seemed to be a spider under every leaf, or sometimes a daddy longlegs, and she could smell the musk the latter released when bothered, mingling with the tobacco scent of the leaves and the camphor smell of rot and earth. In low places where water had stood in recent rains the ground and twigs were white with mold.
This was the very ground that Bryan claimed was his land. A hundred and fifty years the line had been where it was, and suddenly he brought a surveyor from Polk county who ran the line out of the woods and down through the orchard and cornfield. "I'm going to gather this come harvest time," Bryan sidled out of the woods and told Harm as he hoed. "You do and it'll be the last you gather."
She would rather give them the strip than have the worry, and the gossip and taking sides at church.
She still had a lock of Troy's hair in an envelope in her bureau. Her mother once told her it brought bad luck to snip a curl from a child's head and save it. But when she had to cut his long copper-golden hair before he started school, she could not resist saving one lock from the pile that grew on the porch. The rest she swept into the yard and into the trash ditch behind the...