Now Comes the Hunter.

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A VG Serial: Hills of Eden

Episode 19

He looked down into morning. Looked through a tunnel of trees to see it. Heard it come. Saw it dawn over the bluffs like the soft fire in the complexions of peaches, listened to it sing in the quivering throats of birds, listened to it sigh like a woman loved, like a wind rising from the creek, roam moaning through the valley, carrying with it the echoes of copper-red men and flint arrowheads, of moccasins padding on sandstone bluffs, of pioneers in rattling wooden wagons pulled by brawny oxen, of mules with whip wounds and the blood-scrawls of horseflies and sweat-bees on their hides. Saw it all splash on the tops of green hills and make sounds that only he could hear, because he saw it all and thought of all the times past and the time upon him now in the fine Ozarks morning when spring takes in its breath and just before summer, comes through the hollows like a padding visitor surging with heat and the sweat of sun on leaves and skin.

He saw the morning, heard it. Felt it pulse in his veins like ‘shine, burning into him, becoming part of him, part of the light in his eyes.

“Jess,” she said, “you go easy now. Walk keerful.”

“Um,” he breathed, turned his head to look at her in the doorway of the cabin. His broad chest filled with the scented air of morning. His face crinkled with smile as he looked at the male and female pecan trees, the black walnuts stretching to the sky, the persimmon, peach, and plum orchard beyond the quarter-acre garden still soaked with the nightdew, destined to steam in the summer boil from a blazing star just rising majestic as a god over the far bluffs.

“Ah,” he sighed.

It wasn’t only that Katie was beautiful, it was that she still bore the tiny freckled pennies of childhood on her face, and that her long hair was freshly braided, glistening with a bright purple-black sheen, and that her belly was swollen with child. His child. Theirs. Their first-born. She stood, flat-footed, leaning backwards slightly, so that her stomach jutted proud, so that she carried their baby easy as could be, in a mother’s intricate sling, a delicate hammock of seawater and blood stretched across the twin bone frames of maternal thighs.

“I mean it, Jess, now you hear. Keerful.”

He loved to listen to her talk, to the soft patter of her voice on his ears, like the music in the dulcimer’s box she played after supper on evenings when they sat on the porch and watched the land flicker with the falling sun’s light and the fireflies wink on, like floating lights of prairie wagons going west through high grasses, in the dark, before the moon rises cold on empty lands.

He loved so many things about her that they all became tangled up in his mind until he felt his mind could not breathe nor sort through them for explanation. There were times when he wanted to explain to her the love in his heart, and when he would open his mouth, she would smile and he would see those white teeth, so perfect, so shining pure that he just choked on the words, felt his neck skin tighten down on his Adam’s apple so that his speech was shut off plumb and square.

So he would just reach out with his jumbled thoughts and touch her with his heart and clench his lips in frustration until she frowned and made him want to kiss her and never stop kissing her. Ever.

At such times, he wanted to pray, but could never find words. And, too, he thought that it might be wrong to pray in praise of a woman, but his skin tingled, just the same, and what he couldn’t say became a  ringing song in his big, jutting jug ears until they turned red as cherries with a kind of simple shame.

“Oh, Katie,” he said, “don’t go on so. I’ll be keerful, ya know.”

But the rifle in his hands pulled his arm down so that his shoulder socket hurt. And he could feel her eyes on the rifle, on his veined hand and wrist sticking out of his chambray sleeve. The two brass-cased shells in his shirt pocket burned hot against his breast. There were only three bullets left. One nestled in the chamber of the single-shot rile, a rifle old enough to have lost its bluing, old enough to be pitted along the barrel, the receiver. A single-shot, bolt-action “thutty ought six,” given him by his daddy before he passed on, before “all them shirt-tail relations paw over my things.”

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

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