Thursday, 16 January 2014

THE INK BLOT GUEST SPOT: "The Time of Spring Lightning" by Steven Lewis

It was the time of spring lightning that I missed you the most.

My jeans were rolled up to the knee and I´d discarded my shirt on the riverbank the first time I noticed you staring at me. Your hair the colour of freshly harvested corn glowed golden in the sunlight. I grinned at you uncertainly, conscious of my slight chest and my dark skin. You half-waved at me before padding your way barefoot along the newly emerged purple and yellow flowers, their resilient petals flattening into the soft springy grass before emerging back triumphant and upright as you headed further down the riverbank. Almost as soon as your back was turned I planted my fishing pole into the sticky sucking mud at the riverside and retrieved my shirt, wiping the soft clay off of my bare feet on the cool dew glazed grass.

Although this wasn´t nigger territory it wasn´t white man´s turf area either. No man´s land my daddy liked to call it. The great depression as folks were calling it nowadays had affected us all, black and white, and it had become a great leveler of all men.

Over the last year or so more and more shacks had been springing up around here as folks began losing their jobs and their homes. Daddy was one of the lucky ones who had managed to hold down a job but greasing the tracks on the railroad didn´t really pay much and the few Dollars he managed to bring home at the end of a working week meant that we weren´t much better off than the poor and destitute that lived around these parts.

I´d left school shortly after my twelfth birthday. I hadn´t learnt much at all and the reality was school didn´t put food on the table. I´d help around the local farms doing odd jobs and assisted with the harvest when they needed cheap labour. The rest of the time I would spend at the riverside with my pole hoping to catch us a bite to eat. Mama didn´t work, what with my three younger sisters and another baby in her swollen belly she had more than enough of her share of work just keeping our home running smoothly.

I scrambled further up the bank and looked over to where you were sat amongst the first of the spring flowers, a small blanket spread out on the grass and a book in your hand. I didn´t really know much white folks besides the old pink faced farmer over at Heartshead Manor and the odd few moonshine tramps that would stumble upon these parts now and again begging for a bite to eat or a belly full of ´shine.

The day you and your family first moved here the other residents were in uproar proclaiming that you´d be nothing but trouble but in the six months that your family had been here the only trouble maker was your older brother Dan.

Dan the Man he liked to call himself when he was full of the ´shine and he would race around in that battered pick- up truck of his destroying what little crops we managed to coax out of the soil and causing general mayhem in his wake.

White trash my daddy called him and the rest of your family. I thought it was unfair. I truly believed you to be the most beautiful girl I´d ever laid eyes on and I felt a great sense of injustice that you were burdened as white trash simply because of your no good brother.

I´d seen you a few times reading alongside the river but today had been the first time that you had acknowledged me and it made me feel happy and nervous at the same time almost as though we had just crossed an invisible barrier and moved into hitherto unknown territory.

The following week as I was setting up my pole I could feel that I was being watched. I spun around and you were stood above me on top of the riverbank looking down at me. I was grateful that this time I had kept me shirt on.

“Do you mind if I set up my blanket right here on the banking?” she asked smiling nervously. “I´m always sat on my own and I get awful lonely with no one to talk to.”

It was the first time I´d seen her up close and to me she was even more beautiful than I´d ever imagined. Her eyes were the palest of blue like a hazy sky and her teeth although crooked and overlapping in places were healthy and white. And her hair; It took me all my strength to hold myself back from reaching out and taking it into my hands if only to run my fingers through it.

“Sure ma´am,” I answered, “Although I ain´t much of a talker.”

“Please don´t call me ma´am, ma´am makes me sound like an old lady and I´m guessing you and me is much the same age. My name´s Valerie but most folks call me Val. What do folks call you?”

“My name´s Earl,” I replied. “Everyone just calls me Earl. Excuse me Valerie; I have to sort out my pole.”

“Sure you go on right ahead Earl. I´m gonna set up my blanket.”

The first few times we spent together we barely spoke at all. I think that we were both conscious that a taboo had been broken and this alone was something for us to reflect upon before we made this anything more than just two young people sharing the same space.

On the fifth day you began reading aloud from the book that you had with you. I was surprised to find that it was a bible.

“It´s the only book I´ve got. I´d like to try reading something else but we have no money for books and besides mama says that all books ´cepting the bible are the works of the devil so even if I had another book she would destroy it first before she let me read it.”

I vowed that one day I would buy Valerie a book; one that we could read together.

Towards the end of the summer Valerie told me she was leaving. Her papa had secured a job over at the mines for the winter time. She promised that they would return next spring in preparation for the harvest.

I cried the night she left.

Time went on in its usual way when before long spring was upon us once again. I´d just set up my pole when I heard this shrieking coming from the bushes up yonder.

I could hear my name been hollered out from up above the river bank. I scrambled up the slippery grass slope and was rewarded with the sight of Valerie bounding towards me, her golden hair trailing behind her like a wild banshee. She ran forward, opened her arms and hugged me tightly.

“Did you miss me?” she asked breathlessly.

“Everyday,” I replied honestly. “Your hair´s grown real long.”

“My breasts have gotten bigger too,” said Val mischievously, thrusting her chest out proudly.

I looked down at her protruding breasts and could feel myself blushing fiercely.

We chatted about her life in the big city where the mines were. It all seemed so exotic to me, my life had barely changed besides having a new baby sister. The day flew by in a blur and before I knew it dusk began to fall and it was time for us to return to our respective homes.

“Keep a look out for Dan,” said Valerie. “His drinking has got real bad and he´s getting more and more violent as time goes on. It´s best you keep out of his way.”

“Sure, I´ll keep that in mind,” I said as we reluctantly parted and went our separate ways.

The next day I made my way down to the river with a spring in my step and with a small package wrapped in string and brown paper tucked under my arm.

Valerie cried when she unwrapped her first book. I´d had to rely on the man in the bookstore to provide me with a book that he thought that Valerie would like and it had seemed really strange going to buy a book when I was unable to read myself but boy was it worth it in the end.

We kissed that day and it was the sweetest most magical thing that had ever happened to me. I floated home on a high and I had to keep pinching myself to ensure that I wasn´t dreaming.

I was worried that things would be awkward when I next saw Valerie again but it wasn´t and we spent the day alternating between Valerie reading out loud from her new book and holding each other close sharing those oh so sweet and tender kisses.

It was whilst I was in Valerie´s warm embrace that I felt a dark shadow looming over us. I turned to face Dan, Valerie´s brother.

I saw his large meaty fist as it crashed into my face but I remember nothing else.

I didn´t see Valerie for the rest of the spring or the following spring either. The loneliness of winter was so frustrating. I watched the pine needles as they turned to stalactites, shooting down like silver arrows from the trees. I watched the fog drifting off the surface of the river and dreamed of springtime and Valerie´s return and as springtime inched ever closer I watched the spring lightning alone with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

When the following spring was upon us and Valerie still hadn´t returned I attempted to leave, to seek her out but my efforts proved futile and before long I was lost and frightened so I returned dejected and cold to my lonely home.

It was on the fourth spring that Valerie returned. She sat next to me and read from a book just like old times. She told me of her unhappiness and her loneliness. I was happy just to listen to her voice.

She came every year after that and she grew more beautiful with each passing year. Our favorite thing was to watch the spring lightning flashing brightly as it warned of the summer rainfall soon to come, its coulorful arcs creating frozen silhouettes before our eyes in the woods on the other side of the river. Valerie never married; she told me that she had only ever loved one man and that fate had never allowed it to happen.

On our fifty second spring together Valerie told me she was dying. I watched as she swallowed the little white pills one by one in between delicate sips from the small bottle of French champagne that she had brought with her.

Soon she grew drowsy and her blue eyes began clouding over, tiny tears clinging tenaciously to the corners of her eyes like twinkling diamonds.

She lay down beside me on top of my unmarked grave.

We watched the springtime lightning together.

Steven Lewis

About the Author

Steven Lewis doesn´t consider himself as a writer but just somebody who likes to scribble the odd few poems and short stories when it takes his fancy.  A showcase of some of his poems can be found in his e-book Slim Pickings and his first attempt at a full length novel, Nice´n Sleazy, is due for publication in both paperback and electronic formats in March this year. Steven Lewis was born in West Yorkshire, England and moved to South Africa as a child where he lived for several years before returning to the UK for a spell. He now resides in Caleta De Fuste on the island of Fuerteventura.