Whipping Tree


I live down the south tracks out of town, then across 'em and past Crocker's trailer park, on three acres we somehow managed to hold on to.  The house is old and rotten.  The pond is scummy.  The trees are dead and knotted, and each is as ugly as the other.  All except one tree, at the beginning of the drive, it's a decent oak with long branches that sway in the breeze.  Nobody ever seems to notice it.
      As for me, I appear normal to the townspeople.  Normal for a Lambert, they say.  People tend to overlook you when your father is white trash and your sister is the ring leader of town promiscuity.  I guess everybody supposed I just follow suit.  It's in my blood they say.  But I've got brains from my mom.  She told me so before she left.  It was two weeks ago Friday.  I got in from work at about 4:30.  There was a green Bronco in the front yard, probably a 92 or 3 model.  A guy with a short gray beard was in the driver's seat.  Mom was around the back side of the house waiting for me.  She had a bruise under her eye that was turning that pale yellow color that bruises do right before they heal.  She said that Roger, the man in the Bronco, was taking her to Texas.  She didn't give me a reason, but I didn't really need a reason, my folks hadn't been married for three years anyway.  I told her I was gonna miss her and that I wanted her to come back as soon as she thought she could.  She shook her head and gave me a slip of paper with her information on it.  Then she looked in my eyes and said, "Bobby, you keep that job you have . . . work hard, don't skip out. Call me when you decide what you wanna do. I'm not gonna make you do anything, but you're better than these Lamberts.  I'm sorry I haven't done more for you.  I'm sorry I can't take you with me now."  Her words had a tone of preparation and practice, but it didn't negate their impact.  I felt close to her, more so than I ever had.  She hugged and kissed me and left saying, "You're an oak Bobby . . . remember that."  I don't blame her for leaving, her folks are nice, I met them once when I was a kid.  But for the record, I felt more like a crepe myrtle.
      I haven't seen my dad since.  I guess he's on a binge.  That's what he does.  He'll binge for a month if it takes it.  My sister decided she was gonna move to Memphis; Mempho she calls it.  That name fits her.  I asked her in earnest whether she was gonna try to be a madam.  She cussed me and pulled up from the counter.

There wasn't anything special about the next Friday.  I left the store early, about 4:30, and picked up Reggie.  We skimmed town before crossing county line for a case.  The road north of town is narrow and follows the hills.  Trees line it, making it a corridor to Sanders County.  Regg had scored some girls earlier that week.  Said we'd take them out to the house, show 'em a good time.  But Regg couldn't show somebody a good time at the state fair.  I don't suppose it matters though.  Get a few beers in those high school chicks and they're putty.  Problem is, Regg has a liking for hanies—dirty, sloppy people—and I'm too anti-social to speak up to the girls I want.
      Rain kicked up on the drive back.  It was a chore to get back to town without wipers.  Regg had drank six beers by the time we reached the girls.  He surprised me; somehow he managed to find a haney that had a non-haney friend.  I could tell by looking at her, she wasn't a haney, just somebody mixed up with the wrong girl on the wrong night. They were standing at the corner of the school and town park in the rain, having just watched the football game.  Turns out she was on the softball team and beta club, whatever that was.  Reggie hopped in the back with his, and mine, Belinda (I think) got in the front seat.  They downed a couple on the way, and like I said, set to giggling.  Belinda seemed a tad reluctant, just not enough to screw the night up.  It's alright when they're that way, just have to make 'em feel more comfortable.  Gotta get a read on them and persevere till they're putty.  Belinda was putty by the time we reached the drive.
      It was pourin' now.  Streams were coming down the red clay hill and running into the pond, making bloodlines.  Regg was up in the loft of the barn with what's-her-haney.  I had parked the F-150 in the barn right across from the oak tree.  Belinda fell out of the truck, giddy with four beers in her.  She came around and we made-out for probably fifteen minutes sitting on the wet tailgate, feeling each other out.  She was decent, but distracted.  She'd open her eyes every now and again to look at something she thought was peculiar, saying:
      "Look at the clay draining through the brush."
      "Is that a scythe?"
      "Don't y'all have a tractor?"
      It was annoying, but a small price to pay.  I got her attention finally.  "Are we gonna have a good time, or do you want a tour of the grounds?"  She knew what was coming and I thought I did but . . .
      the wind kicked up, such a surge that my own eyes became distracted.  I turned from the bosom of my new found lust, to the oak's limbs dancing a ferocious pace, the small ends of the tree skipping through the other, a whirlwind of feral ecstasy.  And a bolt from the sky splitting the tree down its majestic trunk, faster than I had ever thought my mind's eye could see.  I saw the most beautiful thing I'd ever laid my eyes on; that beautiful tree taking in the bolt with only a sigh, and its limbs collapsing by its side, hitting the ground with the slightest of clamor.  My eyes took in the violence and my ears couldn't help but notice the tree's lack of protest
      The three of them screamed, and even cried that night, all hiding in the truck.  I sat on the tailgate wondering why that lightning hit the oak.  Mom would probably know.  Looks like I'm headed to Texas.  
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