I hear the sounds disappear into the shadows.

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A VG Serial: Hills of Eden

Episode 14

This is a place of guitars.

A place of rhymes and rhythms. Plucked strings that linger on the mind like sonic cobwebs. An eight-legged spider in the middle, swaying to the breeze-music, waiting for prey to hit the strands. The glue is there, a suckling substance attuned to hairy feet, glazed sleek for the final dancing, primed by the arachnid’s saliva, shivering silver in the wind.

An attic.

A place in a house, murky with shadows, creaking with the ancient tempos of loss and capture. A place of secrets and delicate chords in a minor key.

Just you do not whimper now. Do not cry. Hold yourself inside yourself else breath leave you like a sigh and you here in this webbed gray cell of a room where no one can hear you scream or weep.

In the attic, I search for a special carton. A box of old home movies. I breathe in dust, listen to the sing-creak of the boards under my footfall. As I move through the dim light there is the wheeze-sound of a dead accordion or my own lungs struggling to separate molecules of oxygen from the motes of stirred-up dust cluttering the thick fetid air.

The box is there, as I remembered it. Quilted with a layer of fine grit deposited there over the years.

I brush off a patina of sandy particles, pry through the masking tape to open the carton. It is like peeling back skin, dead skin.

The film cans clatter as I rattle the box with trembling hands. My sneeze is sudden,  spontaneous. A surprise. The air boils with my own mist.

There, the box splits open at the seam held in bondage by the tape. There are four small cans, each holding 100-foot spools of 8 millimeter film.

My hands are trembling. I read the labels on the outside of the film cans. There is only one that I must see, and it is the last of the four.

I take the film cans over to the opening in the floor of the attic. I descend the ladder, into the empty house. The late afternoon sun is pulling shadows across the meadow, pulling oak shadows and the shadows of the box elders my grandfather planted fifty years before when I was but a boy of fourteen.

The projector sat in the center of the living room. I pulled the white drapes, shutting off the world of meadow and shadows. The room darkened. I threaded the film through the sprockets in the projector. I flipped the switch. Shadows flickered on the white drapes. The images were wrinkled, but I saw them all, my parents, my grandparents, my brother and my two sisters. My wife and my daughter appeared, laughing and smiling. My daughter blew out the candles on her cake. My wife swam in the creek. She looked like Esther Williams in her one-piece bathing suit. The photolamp flickered and I saw myself, standing next to one of the box elders, pretending to hold it up as my wife tilted the movie camera.

I saw it then, what I had been looking for—at the very end of the film. The sun daubing the creek with colors, the colors of Degas and the shimmering lights of Cézanne, the hues of Monet and the violent swirls of Van Gogh, the dark shades of Vermeer, the wild and gaudy flames of Toulouse Lautrec. The creek burned with the colors of sunset and I could almost hear its waters swirling around the deep bend at the Blue Hole.

The projector fluttered as the film ran out and flapped on the take-up spool.

I hear the sound of a car coming up the drive. The front door opens and there is my wife and daughter, my daughter’s son, Billy.

Diane pulls open the drapes, drenching the room in fading sunlight. The projector disappears, but I sense that it is still there. I feel caught between two worlds and I am confused. I feel as if I’m floating in water, suspended in time like a fetus in a jar of preservative.

“Mom, better check on Dad,” she says to Willa, and my wire calls my name.

“Les, we’re home.”

I follow my wife into our bedroom and she sees me there, lying still and peaceful on the coverlet, my hands folded across my stomach. She chokes up, sobs. My daughter rushes in. Billy comes after her.

Willa touches the cheek of me on the bed. She picks up my hand in hers and squeezes it. Tears run down her cheeks. I open my mouth to speak, but I have no voice.

Someone touches my shoulder.

“It is time,” a voice says.

“I don’t want to go,” I say and my voice is soft, no more than a whisper. It sounds like someone blowing out a candle.

I am at the creek. We used to go down there at sunset, my father and I, and just watch the way the colors changed in the swirling waters. I used to beg him to go and see the creek at sunsettle, for that’s what I called it. I didn’t say sunset, for it didn’t seem a right enough word. The sun was settling behind the Ozarks hills for the night and that was how I always saw it just before it disappeared from view, all aflame and beautiful at that time of day.

There was on old boat there, and a man beckoned to me.

“We must cross the river,” he says.

“This is only a creek. Osage Creek.”

“It’s all the same. The Styx. The River Jordan. It’s the big river. I’m taking you across.”

“Where are we going?” I ask, and I realize that time is flowing in both directions for me. One moment I am in the past, and the next I am in the present.

“To your future,” he says, and when he has said it, I know it is right. I climb into the boat and we move across the bend in the creek, right over the Blue Hole. I hear the scrambled voices of children and my wife calling my name.

Then, I see the creek at sunsettle from the other side, from a place I have never been. It widens out like a vast river and I cannot see to the other side. It looks peaceful, but I can sense the muscular undercurrents, the magic and light in its eddying swirls.

I hear my father’s voice and my grandfather’s and my brother’s and my two sisters’ voices and they sound like singing, sound like people singing my new name.

This, too, is a place of guitars.

A place of secrets and delicate chords played in a minor key. I sense someone in my house thinking of me, prowling through the rooms.

I hear sounds that crackle and rasp before they fade inside the swell of music.

For a moment, I see back into my living room. I hear whispers. I see a silver cobweb drift out through an open window, disappear in shadows.

The projector stops flapping as someone flips off the switch and, in the darkness, there is just the tiniest point of light.

Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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