My family were the only white people there. We had driven two miles down a dusty road flanked by dense pine woods to reach the clearing that held a small unpainted church. Negroes dressed in black or white stood outside in the sand; and when we left our car, I fingered my blue corduroy, embarrassed. Everyone stopped talking and watched us. Some I recognized because they worked on our farm, and I raised my hand to them.
My father spoke to several other men and women. I had never before seen the man he addressed as Esau; but stooped and slight, an old man whose shapeless jacket hung straight down from his shoulders, he looked exactly as I’d come to picture Attie’s worthless husband. Four years earlier, during the summer when I preferred Attie to everyone else— especially my sister Lucy—talk of Esau had confused my feelings toward Attie. To think, until after I visited her at home that once, I had actually envisioned him as a wild-haired demon wielding a cane—this baldheaded man whose trembling hands held only a worn black hat.
The October day was beautiful; the air was soft, and the sky was almost dark blue. It was the kind of morning I would have spent climbing trees when I was seven or eight. But entering the dark church was like entering another season. The smell of carnations hung thick as smoke in the heat. A man in a white robe hurried to us and shook my father’s hand. Sweat slicked his large round face. Breathlessly, he seated us on the front pew, from where I could have reached out and touched the side of the open casket. The church then filled quickly. Some men stood, and some women sat on folding chairs in the aisle. But no one took the space left over on our pew.
The choir of white-robed women began swaying and humming behind the white-and-pink carnation crosses propped on either side of the pulpit. Just as I had felt out of place at Attie’s house, not understanding why, after all the time we had spent together at my own house, again I knew I was somewhere I did not belong. Even my parents did not belong here. The man who had greeted us walked to the pulpit. Drops of perspiration clung to the curls above his forehead. I made myself look at him and not at the casket that held the woman I had thought of once as my closest friend.
I remember nothing of what he said—only that he began softly and rapidly got louder. His face contorted as if to shout was painful; then he closed his eyes and sang as if he was praying, the choir supporting him like an instrument. Everyone—the preacher, choir, and congregation behind my family—worked together as though they had spent their lives practicing for this hour. The rhythm of their voices became more pronounced, tension seemed to swell within the bodies pressed close in the stifling heat; the congregation carried the eulogy almost physically. There was no question but that they were sending Attie to Heaven.
Something of the same wonder I had felt while listening to Attic’s stories of her girlhood returned to me. Unlike myself, Attie had spent her childhood among a tribe of brothers and sisters; and it had been the life she described—something of that wildness—that I yearned for during the summer when Lucy had grown away from me and Attie was my only companion.
My mother suddenly tugged me to my feet. The preacher, his face drenched, was staring at us and gesturing toward the casket. I knew what we were going to have to do, and I knew we would have to do it before anyone else did. The preacher did not leave the pulpit but watched us as we approached the casket. No one else moved.
“Take your time, now,” he whispered. “You folks take all the time you want.”
Father was first. He stood very still and looked down at Attie, while I slowly counted to 20. Then Lucy took his place; she stood there exactly as long as Father had. I was next. At first I could not believe the person lying there was Attie. Everything about her was wrong. Nothing was more wrong than her hair, which I—and therefore no one else—had never seen. Someone had removed the white linen she had wound around her head every day of her life—some stranger, because anyone else would have known better. What’s more, whoever it was had not been satisfied with merely exposing Attie’s hair; he had curled it in tight ringlets, black and glossy with oil. He had arranged bangs on her forehead. Bangs! Someone had played with her as if she were a doll. And lying there, dressed in white against the puffed ivory satin, she did look like a doll—a new one, still in its box. The afternoon I had visited Attie was the one other time she had looked wrong to me. She had been dressed for church. But somehow, just as I did today, I had expected the same dark skirt and white apron she always wore to our house. Her bright clothes had seemed more than strange; they had seemed obscene. I had feared she was dressed up for Esau.
I had turned to Attie the summer my sister was 13-and-a-half and would let no one forget it. For months I had looked forward to the things Lucy and I would do together. During the previous summers we had had mud fights and marble tournaments in the driveway; we had climbed every tree in the pecan orchard, except the one lightning had struck; we had started digging a swimming pool just outside our yard. But this summer Lucy did not want dirt between her toes or beneath her fingernails. When I mentioned marbles, she lifted her heavy blonde hair from her neck and said she couldn’t imagine anything more “tedious.” When it rained in the afternoons and the mud was perfect for fights, she stood in front of her mirror almost in tears because her curls had fallen. If I asked her to climb trees with me, she said she didn’t want to risk breaking something—particularly her fingers; all she ever really wanted to do, when she wasn’t primping, was to play the piano.
Even my mother took her side. “Your sister is growing up,” she said as if she were telling me some secret at which I should marvel. She admitted she knew it was hard for me, living far from town and all my friends, but her understanding did not help matters. I felt robbed of something that rightfully belonged to me. Besides, I could tell that Lucy’s growing up pleased her. My mother had a daughter now. She praised everything Lucy did and seemed to fault everything I did. It was fine for Lucy to spend hours locked in the bathroom or practicing hymns on the piano, but Mother shook her head and sighed when I sat in front of the television watching reruns.
She also reprimanded me for not eating breakfast until after Attie arrived. I would go, first thing, to the front steps to wait for her. When a train whistled from deep in the pine woods, I knew to listen for her deep-throated spiritual. Her voice would rise from the pecan orchard, above the sound of the train, and soon I could see the white linen wrapped like a turban around her head.
Attie had been with us since Lucy was born, and until that summer I had paid her little attention. The spirituals she hummed were just a noise that accompanied the sounds of her work—the broom scratching against the floor or water sloshing in the sink when she washed dishes, her back to us while we ate our noon dinner. It never occurred to me that there was anything more to her life than those activities—or that there ever had been.
I did not consciously turn to her. Early in June, after failing to convince Lucy that if we started digging now we’d have our swimming pool by August, I began to see that no matter how I tried, I was not going to turn Lucy back into the person she had been. I went to the screened porch where Attie was shelling butterbeans, a huge yellow bowl cradled in her lap.
“Get that look off your face,” she said, tossing the plastic cameos hanging from her earlobes. “I’m not going to have no pouting face sit here with me.”
I told her about Lucy, but she did not even look up. “It’s no good dwelling on things,” she murmured.
“But you always had somebody to play with, didn’t you?”
Attie nodded towards the straw-bottomed stool in the corner and asked me to prop her feet up for her. She had lots of brothers and sisters, she said. When I asked her to tell me about their games together, she remembered one right off. When she was a girl, she began, even younger than I, she had played in the woods across the road from our house. (They were strictly off-limits to Lucy and me.) Once she and all her brothers and sisters happened into a patch of trees that weren’t pine but weren’t ordinary scrub either. You could bend them, and they would spring back up and carry you as a horse would do. Attie described herself and the others climbing those trees and springing up and down, yelling and laughing all the while. I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting. A ride at the fair was all I had to compare it with— and that was no comparison.
From then on, I met her coming across the orchard in the morning, her face catching the glint of early sun; and I joined her on the porch in the late afternoon. She would be doing something with her hands, most often shelling peas or butterbeans; and I would sit in the swing and listen to her stories. Although she never said so, I knew from the way the corners of her mouth turned down that she was glad to see me.
She told me of all the extraordinary things she had seen and done as a girl playing with her brothers and sisters in the fields and woods. They had run down raccoons and brown rabbits and kept them in cages as pets. They later freed the raccoons; their mama cooked the rabbits. One summer, in those same pines across the road, she and the others had chopped out some scrub to make a small clearing. Then they used the wood to build a play house that had nearly everything their own home had—a door, a floor, they had even made little chairs and tables. I, myself, had started a treehouse that summer, but having to build it alone, I had already given it up. Three splintery boards were nailed to a low branch of the pecan tree outside the screened porch.
Listening to Attie’s stories and reliving them in my mind gave me more pleasure than anything else had done so far that summer. She was the one person, I felt, who did not waste my time. And as if to turn that feeling into conviction, Lucy would often be in the living room behind us, repeating her monotonous hymns, which could not have been more unlike Attie’s spirituals.
Every now and then my mother tried to interest me in the things Lucy was doing. “We all love Attie,” she would begin, “but don’t you think you might enjoy learning to needlepoint?” She would suggest reading (Lucy had read Elsie Dinsmore five times) which surely she knew I would consider doing only if I were sick in bed. When I said I had better things to do, she would smile, smooth my hair, then go about her business.
Lucy was never so subtle. Often on a Sunday, when she was more pious than usual, she would take me on as a project. She would promise me one of her treasures—the seashells she had found in the orchard (the ocean was 50 miles away) or half a box of chocolate-covered cherries—if she might teach me piano for a week. Sometimes she would offer to play my choice of Parcheesi or Monopoly if I let her curl my hair. Doing these things was “her duty,” she would point out; it was for my “own good.” But our bargains were hardly sealed before Lucy was calling me “hopeless,” and I was telling her she had forgotten what fun was.
It was just one of those campaigns of Lucy’s to civilize me that drove me, one Sunday in July, to break our parents’ sternest rule. Lucy and I, together, had never dared consider it; but when I crossed the highway in front of our house and entered the thick, tall pines, I tried to forget my parents’ warnings and think only of Attic’s adventures there.
Everything had seemed to go against me that Sunday, beginning with church. At the last minute, the organist called in sick, and the minister asked Lucy to play the piano. My mother and father would have grinned through the entire sermon if I had not found it impossible to sit still. My crinoline petticoat scratched and pricked my legs like pins, and suddenly my feet had grown too long for my patent leather shoes. My mother did not sympathize; she whispered angrily for me to stop squirming. Then, when the service finally ended, everyone had to tell Lucy how “wonderfully well” she played, how “perfectly grand” the anthem was.
After lunch, my parents went back into town; Lucy was put in charge. (Just this summer had they begun leaving us without a sitter—but only during the day and only for a few hours.) I was in my room spreading marbles on the bed when Lucy came in. She leaned against my dresser and folded her arms. It was obvious the morning had gone to her head. I told her to go away.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said.
“You made me lose count,” I said and started over, counting aloud.
“It’s about Attie.”
I looked up. Lucy was still wearing her pale green Sunday dress.
“We all love Attie,” she said, using Mother’s tone of voice, “but the way you’re following her around just isn’t natural. I tried to get Mother to talk to you—to tell you you just can’t be best friends with the maid, but she told me you were going through a phase.”
“She did not. This is my room . . . now get out.” I stood up.
“By the way, Esau is back. Did Attie tell you? I saw him drive past a few minutes ago. He was weaving from one side of the road to the other.”
“You’re lying.” I stomped towards her. I had only recently heard talk of this Esau, and it had shocked and infuriated me. If Attie had a husband—and how could she, she didn’t have any children?—she would have a good one. She would never put up with a man who drank, squandered her money, then left.
“I don’t tell lies,” Lucy said, “but don’t think I haven’t overheard some of the tales Attie’s been telling you!”
“Get out of my room.” I began to push her.
“Don’t worry, I’m going. It’s too bad you’re too stupid to see that I’m just trying to help you. I was feeling so sorry for you. I was going to offer to play Monopoly, but. . . .” She slammed the door. She knew I’d wanted to play that game for weeks.
Lucy went promptly to her piano. But when, minutes later, I ran outside and across the road, I sensed that somehow she had seen me. I ran through the thick brown straw until I could no longer see the red brick of our house or hear cars passing on the road. Lucy had finally made me see just how estranged I was from the world she had entered, and just how desperately I wanted to inhabit the world Attie had revealed to me.
There was a story Attie had told that I could not get out of my mind, because it was the one adventure that seemed possible for me, too. When she had told the story several weeks before, there had been no rain for some time; the late July afternoon was oppressively hot. No breeze touched the porch. The low sun bore down, and the air was heavy as swamp air and so filled with mosquitoes that I could hear them outside the screens.
“Drag that over here to my feets.” Attie nodded toward the stool. I took it to her and lifted her thick ankles onto it, one at a time. She stopped shelling and took a handkerchief to her neck and bosom. Then she pulled up her skirt and apron to where the beige stockings were tied in knots just below her knees. “Lord, it’s hot,” she said, reaching to press down the hulls in her paper bag.
“It was this very weather,” she said, “the kind that don’t want to let you breathe, the day I found the Indian field,” She shook a fistful of butterbean hulls at me. “I was just the same age as you and skinnier, when I took it into my head to see how far those pines across from you all’s house went. I felt like going by myself; I don’t know why. . . . Well, I walked. And I walked some more. But I didn’t mind a bit, because those woods are still the prettiest I has ever seen. You go walking in woods around here now, and you get whipped up with briars. But wasn’t nothing on that ground but pine straw, ankle-deep. I could have laid down and gone to sleep, I didn’t see a briar.”
She leaned forward slightly and stared into the orchard, but her hands never slowed. “Then before I knew I was coming to it, I was facing daylight. I had come out to the edge of a wide field. It was sandy ground, and somebody had cleared it, except for a shade tree in the middle—but they hadn’t plowed it. Looked like they was just letting it lie for a season.”
Attie tossed her cameos and turned to me, narrowing her eyes. “I was standing there; and the first thing I did was to notice all around at how the woods acted like they was holding that field in. They made a wall around it—you see what I’m saying? But that wasn’t near as peculiar as something else I was noticing. There wasn’t a road, there wasn’t even a little dirt path, leading to that sandy field. . . . I had a peculiar feeling,” she went on, “like I was seeing something I had no business seeing. Then I knew somebody was watching me. It felt like lots of people. I listened at the wind in the trees and thought to myself, “that wind got something in it.” And that was when I started running. I was running straight to that tree, fast as I could, and something caught on my toe and nearly brought me down. And you don’t have an idea what it was, do you?”
I watched a trickle of sweat curve around her nostril; I shook my head. “It was a hatchet,” she said, “least the head of one. I started watching where I was going, and before I got to the tree, I found four arrowheads the size my thumb is now and a piece of pottery that turned into a regular bowl, once I dug it up. I was walking over buried Indians.”
“You mean ghosts were watching you?” I asked.
“Indians don’t turn into ghosts. They turn into spirits, and there is a big difference between ghosts and spirits. You don’t see spirits, you feel them or hear them; and I heard them singing in that wind over my head. I wasn’t scared, not a bit; because I could tell they had a kind attitude. Well, when I got to the tree—it was a big old oak—I flopped down to take a good look at all what I’d found. And right there, beside my knee, I picked up something else. A whole string of tiny red beads. It belonged to an Indian girl. She was up in that wind. She meant me to find it.”
Attie stared at the beans in her lap as though she saw instead the treasures she had cradled there in the middle of that field long ago. “I still got them,” she said. “Got all those things hid away.”
I sat too awed to move, staring at Attic’s feet, which swelled from black leather shoes that were cracking around the sides.
That night in bed, I was still thinking about the Indian field. Concentrating on everything Attie had said, I tried my best to imagine the spirits, how they sounded singing in the wind; but I could not seem to make them come. I sat up straight in my dark room and threw off the sheet, so that I could feel unprotected. Something was rustling in the bushes outside my window, but I could imagine only that it was a stray dog. I simply was not afraid—not as I had been at five or six, when I believed absolutely that my closet light kept night things from creeping across my floor. I tried again to focus on the Indian spirits; but without something to see, war paint and wild black hair, I could not summon them.
But when I actually entered those woods that Sunday afternoon, I did sense the Indian spirits nearby, waiting for me. The pines were set close together and had grown so tall that few branches remained low enough to catch my hair. I waded through the thick straw—broken here and there by a pine seedling so shaded that it would soon die—toward the field Attie had told about. I felt I knew exactly where to go. I was certain that I was feeling precisely as Attie had felt when she walked into these woods alone. Perhaps I was retracing her very steps. I imagined that I was Attie—that my entire life had not really been circumscribed by my parents and Lucy, my school and church in town. I could almost believe that I had spent my days, winter and summer, out of doors with ten brothers and sisters—that all I had known was a constant rush to finish one game and invent another—that tiring of so much excitement, I had decided to go off exploring, alone.
I was so involved in imagining these things that I did not notice the woods beginning to change. But after almost tripping over a fallen limb held to the ground by winding tendrils laced with tiny thorns, I saw that scrub and great tangles of briars now took up much of the space between the pines. The pines themselves gradually grew more sparse, and I knew I was entering a part of the forest that men had not planted. I must have been aware that clouds were gathering in the ragged sky above the trees, but it seemed the day turned dark all at once. A cool wind came, smelling of rain; and I both shivered and perspired. Things were not as they were supposed to be. Spiderwebs trailed from low, crooked branches and clung to my neck and cheeks. Long vines of yellow-tipped thorns caught around my ankles. I began to listen for footsteps and watch for movement in the bushes. I sensed that I was being followed, and not by anything good; the Indian spirits now seemed far away. I tried to concentrate on the burial ground; surely I was almost there! But instead I began thinking of Esau. Lucy had said he was back; she had even seen him. But no, I wouldn’t believe that he was following me; I did not believe in his existence. I tried to walk faster, but the brambles checked me.
My family had talked about Esau at supper only a few nights before. Attie had been forgetful lately, Mother observed. My father reminded her that Esau, Attie’s husband, was probably back; it was “time for him.” Attie did not have a husband, I insisted. (She had never told me about him, so she couldn’t possibly have one.) “You’re more ignorant than I thought,” Lucy piped in. Esau returned every few years for money; then he left, Lucy explained in her superior way. “Your sister was only five when he came last,” Mother said, “you can’t expect her to remember him.” She wished Attie could get rid of him, but “colored people don’t get divorced,” Mother added.
At the time, I had not known what to believe. Everyone was confused, and Lucy liked seeing me upset. I had refused to ask Attie about Esau, and she did not mention him. But now, in my mind, I saw him following me. He was old but very quick. His long, wiry white hair appeared electric, and he carried a gnarled cane with which he would hook me around the neck. When he peered at me, his wild yellow eyes directly in front of my own, I would smell the same sour odor of whiskey that clung to the brown bottles people sometimes threw onto our lawn at night.
When I heard a crackling from somewhere in the forest, I ran, jumping over the brush as best I could. I stopped, heard nothing, and scolded myself for acting like a baby. I made my way forward, listening carefully for ominous noises, and at last the pines ended. But they ended at a wall of brush and snarled briars—impossible snarls like barbed wire that not even Attie would have tried to get through. Not even a spirit could pass through such as that. I looked back and, seeing nothing suspicious moving anywhere, turned and followed the line of underbrush, hoping for a break in it. I told myself that years had passed since Attie had made her find—plenty of time for scrub and vines and brush to take over an unused field and make it seem never to have existed. Still, I felt betrayed. I almost forgot my fear of Esau.
When I reached the road, a long way down from our house, thunder was starting to growl. Great, rolling gray clouds blotted out much of the sky. Being rained on never bothered me, but I could just make out the tin roof of Attie’s house. I had driven there many times with my father when it rained too hard for Attie to walk to work, but I had never been to her house alone. Still, without thinking, I ran across the highway and up the narrow dirt road. Then I thought, what would I do if Esau opened her door? I walked, almost on tiptoe, among her chickens and past some gray pigs that stood near a wooden trough. I reasoned that since no car was here, Esau couldn’t be here. And yet, before mounting the three concrete blocks to the uneven boards of the porch, I hesitated as I might have done before taking that first step onto the Indian field. I knocked softly.
“Lord, girl, what you doing here this time of day and it’s fixing to storm?” I stepped back, and Attie put her hands on her hips, “Has you ran away from your mama?”
A crack of thunder shook the boards beneath us, and rain began driving through the trees. Then Attie had me inside, where I never had been. After the strong familiar smell of rain, the smell of Attie’s house hit me like a slap I hadn’t braced for. (It was not until Attie’s funeral that I again experienced such a concentration of odor—the smell of flowers mingling with that of perspiring bodies and gardenia perfume.) Here the smell was of a fire’s having smoldered for years, the smoke soaking into the furniture, the walls, into Attie herself. But the fireplace was empty. I tried to breathe as if nothing was wrong, but I knew the odor was seeping into my clothes and hair.
Attie seated me on a lumpy sofa draped with a green cloth that must have been a bedspread. I saw then that newspapers covered the walls and ceiling. Some were yellow, and some were almost brown; but near the windows, they flaked and curled and were nearly bleached of ink.
“They keep the house warmer,” Attie said. “Keep out the leaks.” She was watching me from a sagging cot near the fireplace. Suddenly the mattress screeched, and she was heading into the other room—the kitchen, I supposed. “Where you been to tear up your legs like that?” she asked. “What you been doing?”
Without Attie the room seemed to grow darker. The rain hammered on the roof with such force that I half-expected the ancient newspapers to peel off and fall on me. I thought I could hear a man’s voice, muffled by the rain. And I pictured Esau slumped over a rough wooden table, his cane hanging from the back of his chair. One bony hand gripped a whiskey bottle; the other, a cigar stub. (I could even distinguish cigar smoke amid the smoky smells of the house.) In his gruff voice, Esau was ordering Attie to send me away. The floor squeaked, but Attie was returning only to wipe my ankles and legs with a wet cloth.
It was then that I noticed how differently she was dressed. I had never seen her in anything other than the black dress and full white apron she always wore to our house. But today she was wearing a shorter, form-fitting dress of dark purple. The sleeves were puffed; and a brooch, shaped like a butterfly and filled in with different colored stones to make it look like one, rode in the center of her bosom. The linen which she still wore around her head and the cameos against her cheeks seemed all wrong with her new outfit. But of course, it was Sunday. She hadn’t changed from church, I told myself; she was not dressed up for him.
“Where you been to tear yourself up like this?” she frowned.
I told her.
“You been where? And by yourself? You ought to be ashamed.”
My feelings were hurt, but I was not ashamed.
When she stood, I noticed too her shiny purple pumps with heels. “Don’t you move,” she said.
She went to a chest of drawers in the corner, and while she drew out strips of the same cloth she wore on her head, I scanned the room for signs of Esau—a man’s shirt, a shoe. A black-and-white photograph leaned against the wall over the mantle, but 1 could not make out the image from where I sat.
“I couldn’t find the Indian field,” I said, while she tied the cloth loosely around my legs.
She returned to the cot. “You got no business in those woods. Your mama’s going to tear you up.”
“That was a long time ago. And that was different.”
What was different? I wanted to ask. Why was it all right for her to go and not for me? And why hadn’t she told me about Esau, when I knew he was sitting right in the next room? I asked her instead to show me the beads and bowl she had found.
She turned her head to one side as if she were hearing something in the rain. “That’s one thing I can’t do. Got them hid.”
“But you can show me, can’t you?”
She shook her head. “They not even here. They hid down in the ground in a secret place. And it’s too wet for me to be digging them up right now.”
I felt as though she had slammed a door in my face, as Lucy still did when her anger made her childish. But Attie had made me feel like the child I was by acting inscrutably, like the adult she was. I was convinced, now, that she was married to Esau. And I began to suspect that he, instead of being wicked or even frightful, was merely worthless.
“Aren’t you scared,” I asked, “living in this dark house all alone, with nobody here—no husband even—to keep you company?”
“I got the Lord,” she said. “He takes care of all His childrens.”
“Why didn’t you and Esau have children, Attie?” My face burned when I heard myself pronounce his name; but I was determined to make her tell me the truth. I wanted to hurt her. “The way you talk about all your brothers and sisters, it seems you would have.”
Attie looked at me sadly. She must have felt as sorry for me as she had ever felt for anyone. Then she looked down, as if she felt sorry also for herself. It seemed a long time before she spoke. “The Lord didn’t mean for me to have babies. You are my child,” she said.
The rain had calmed, and sunlight fell into the room. It moved in patterns on Attie and her dusty bed. I stood. “I’m not anybody’s child,” I blurted. “I’m almost grown. And it’s time for me to go home.”
When I was leaving I saw, mounted on the wall to the right of the door, an enormous rack of antlers from which a woman’s wide-brimmed purple hat was hanging. Beside it hung a man’s black felt hat, shiny and limp—just the kind of hat he would wear, I thought, disgusted.
I jumped the ditch into the cornfield that led to the orchard and ran. Lucy was waiting at the far end of the field. She had seen me, just as I’d suspected. She had left her piano moments before I disappeared into the woods. No sooner did we reach our yard than our parents drove up; and when Mother asked what had happened to my legs, Lucy did what I least expected, She fibbed for me. She quickly explained that I had fallen from a tree and Attie had bandaged me up. It was much later before I understood her motive. I had been Lucy’s responsibility, one that she had shirked. To be again subjected to a sitter in the daytime would have been no small setback to Lucy, who thought of herself as being grown. At the time, however, I was bewildered but grateful. That evening, hearing the muted sound of Lucy’s playing, I went downstairs, past the den where my parents were sitting, and into the brightly-lit living room. I watched Lucy’s hands rise and fall with the chords. Her fingers were slow but certain. When she finished, she suggested Monopoly.
The next morning and often during the rest of the summer, I greeted Attie as I had done, even though I saw her now not only as an adult but also as Esau’s wife. Her present life, far removed from her enviable past, was beyond my understanding. Several weeks passed before I overcame my disappointment at not finding the burial ground; even the arrowheads Attie had brought in her pocket the next morning did not console me. But though I never again believed, without question, all she told, gradually her stories became magical again. I no longer thought it possible for me to live in the world of her childhood—but I still felt I belonged there far more than in the world of Lucy’s adolescence.
Often when she left in the evenings, I would be sitting on the crooked planks in my tree. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she always called, “if the Lord’s willing.” I would watch her carry her bucket, heavy with garbage to feed her pigs and chickens, into the orchard, until the film of twilight tucked her away. I would watch until even the trees disappeared. And I would think of her alone in her dark house.