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Authors: Nicole Seitz

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BOOK: Beyond Molasses Creek
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The airport is fairly empty this time of the morning, but our wait isn't long. A cup of coffee and a
magazine later, we've entered the plane. It's a Boeing 737. I look into the cockpit to see who's flying us. I'm looking to see if a certain old lover is there, but that would be too much of a coincidence, even for me. I nod at the pilot, a fiftyish gentleman I have never seen before, and carefully eye the flight attendant. She's about thirty-five, a little heavy in the hips, blond hair, nice looking. Back in my day she never would have gotten a job here. Back then, getting and keeping a stewardess job was as hard as making the cut on
American Idol
. But not today. Times have changed. Part of me wants to relieve this lady and do her job for her. I could take care of this entire plane, all these passengers, all their needs, without blinking an eye. I'm not too old, no matter what they suggested. So what, my back went out and I dropped a cup of coffee on a passenger. It happens. My heart just wasn't in it anymore, and when your passion leaves you, well, it might just be time to move on to something else.

To be honest, flying turned painful emotionally as the years went on. I was always torn between wanting to fly to the other side of the world and keep searching—or going back to see him. A woman is lucky in life if she finds true love. Twice as lucky if she holds on to it. Three times the luck if she loses it and it comes back to her even stronger than before.

I've got to go back. I can't believe I'm going back. I left in the first place because of him, and now, I can feel this strong pull within me—
pulling me. He's leading me, telling me I must return to the scene of the crime, where my whole life changed in an instant. It's now or never. No more wasted time.

I close my eyes as the plane rumbles to takeoff. I've never been much of a praying woman, but this time, I hear the faint mumbling of the young lady beside me. I turn to look at her, a pretty girl, obviously nervous about flying today too. Her eyes are closed and fists clenched. We all have our fears, don't we? Our own stories. And our reasons to go back to the place that changed us. She catches my eye. I take a deep breath and give a reassuring look. I squeeze her hand like I've done a thousand times with passengers, then turn to the window as the plane lifts off the runway. My heart lifts along with my stomach, and I say a little prayer to the clouds for the both of us.
Great white bird, take us over the river. Make us brave and remove our fears

I think of his rugged face, those dark eyes, those sweet lips smiling for me.
I know what I promised you, but you
me, Vesey. You always have

Sometimes stepping back in time is the only way for a girl to move forward.

Part One

In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.


The Stone Garden

Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

waves, calling egrets and ospreys from their high places. It's as familiar to me as the bend in my elbow, yet now, years later, it almost seems exotic. Standing here, I can't look at the creek and not see them all—the Ganges, the Seine, the Baghmati—all the beautiful rivers that have carved valleys into my soul.

I'm home now, Huck on the Mississippi, winding my way, finding my way home.

Why did someone have to die for me to come back?
I wonder. Isn't it just as glorious and miraculous a waterway as any other?

I am sitting Indian-style in my stone garden, at least it will be after I'm done with it. Right now, it's just a patch of grass in Daddy's yard. It's overgrown, wild and empty at the same time. Much like my heart. I close my eyes. I can see them all around me, the statues I've collected over the years. I'll put them all over this yard and create my own Garden of Dreams. It was the last place I was truly happy. A faraway garden. Stone statues. True love. Daddy would understand. If I'm going to stay here for any time at all, I'll have to do things my way, and right now, I feel destitute. I need someone to carve a god of peace for me, something I can touch and hold, something to take away this awful, gnawing grief.

I am too old to be sitting on the ground in the middle of the yard. The neighbors will think I've gone batty. I push to standing and wipe off my ample rear. I head to the dock and breathe in the salty marsh air. I see a rope hanging off the edge and disappearing into the water. Daddy's crab trap. I breathe in deep and exhale. Tears spring to my eyes and I fight them off.

Crabs. I'm hungry. Is it possible I'm hungry after eating a whole rotisserie chicken with coleslaw on the side? I look down at my ripply thighs. The sunlight this time of day does a number on me, pulls out every little bulge and pocket, every wrinkle. I will miss my father, I will, but I do not miss shorts weather in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Some people are not made to wear shorts. I struggled through it in Bali and on the shores of Hawaii, but only because I did not know a soul there. Here? Here, there's a slew of people who've never even left this place and know the old me from long ago. Can you imagine? Can you even imagine never wanting to see the world, to partake in it all? To find your place in it?

I pull up the trap to see if anything is in there. Of course, there's not.

“Give it time.”

A voice like butter rolls down my back.

I drop the trap with a splash and nearly fall into the water. Clutching the pole, I turn around and realize the sun is beaming off my flabby arms. And there he is.
There he is
. Just look at him. Is it possible black people don't age the way we do?

“Dad-gum, Vesey. Scared me half to death!”

“Sorry, Miss Ally. Here, lemme help you up.”

He reaches for me, a long, strong, sinewy arm with forearm muscles rippling. I feel faint.
This is Vesey, Ally Green. The boy you played with when you were little, the one who was off limits because you are white and he is not. Vesey Washington. This is the South and always will be. Remember that

“Thank you, I'm . . . I'm fine,” I say. “Just been a long day. What with the . . . well, coming home and all.”

His face breaks out into a grin, not a sly one, but a genuine, heartfelt smile with teeth so white, I'm feeling dizzy again. Reminds me of the white sands in Fiji, so pure.

“You are a sight for sore eyes, Mr. Washington. You still climbing trees or something?”

“Or somethin'. Look here, just come over to see if there was anythin' you needed from me. I been checkin' on him, Doc Green, every day for a good while. Hard to break the habit.” He looks down at the cracks in the pier, then off into the sunset behind me. “I'm real sorry . . . a good man, he was. Good man.”

“Thank you. Yes, he was.” I turn around and face the sunset too. In a minute it will be gone, just a memory, like Daddy. The red meets the greens of the trees, and the yellows and oranges fan out to pinks and purples, and yes, this is one of the most spectacular sunsets in the world. In fact, wherever the sun sets is where I want to be. So tonight I want to be right here, on this dock, with Daddy's house behind me and Vesey just feet away. We watch the sky silently for about thirty seconds, and then the sun dips behind the trees and it's gone for another day.

I am suddenly aware of the hideousness of the backs of my legs and turn around quickly. Is it possible he's standing closer? I swear I can feel his heat. He's close to sixty now, my age, and I'm hoping that means his eyes aren't as good as they used to be. Perhaps he can't see me well, and all my ripples and wrinkles smooth out nicely. Yes, I'm sure that's it.

“You look tired, Miss Ally. You feelin' all right?”

“Vesey Washington, never, ever tell a woman she looks tired. You hear me?”

“I didn't mean no—”

“I am tired. Very tired. My daddy just died. I just came halfway across the world for his funeral and to clean out his old house on the creek, and at the moment, yes, I am exhausted. There's much to do. Did you see the inside of that place? It's like a museum. Looks like he's never moved a thing in the twenty years Mama's been gone.”

Vesey looks in my eyes and I can tell I've frightened him from saying anything at all.

I smile and move closer to him. I lean up on my tiptoes and put my hands on his firm shoulders. I press myself to his stiff chest and breathe in the smell. How long has it been? This man could be Molasses Creek itself, the salt, the pluff mud, the snails on tall grass, the fish jumping in hot sun. With my eyes closed, my mind erases the years and takes me to a cool evening on this very creek. I can hear music playing and see moonlight dancing on his face. I imagine his tender lips on mine . . . then I pull myself together and away from him. I smooth my hair. “It's good to see you, Vesey. Thank you for being here . . . for Daddy.”

Vesey grabs his hat and backs away. “I'll be just over there, 'cross the water, if you need me. All you got to do is holler.”

All I have to do is holler.

I nod and he walks away from me, a slow, limber pace that's carried him surely for six decades. He doesn't wear shorts. Never has. I do not know how he handles this Lowcountry heat in long pants. There are some things so different about us. The color of our skin. The desires of our souls. I could never have stayed in the same place my whole life and been content with it, yet he is. Or so he seems to be.

I watch as he steps gingerly into his fishing boat. It creaks and rolls with his weight, but he steadies it. Always steady, that's Vesey. He nods my way and I wave a tiny, pathetic wave as the water parts for him to cross over like Moses, back to his side of the creek. He looks so natural in that old boat. I feel like a fish out of water here. There are so many walls and layers of difference between us, like honey-drenched Greek baklava. We may have known each other as children, but now, what do we really know of one another? We're as opposite as night and day.

But maybe now we'll have the time to learn each other all over again
. I push the thought away and shake my head.
Ally Green, what to do with you? You're not here for Vesey. You're here because your daddy is dead

I walk back into Daddy's musty house and throw open all the windows as fast as I can. I've got to air this place out. I've got to let Daddy's spirit free, let the memories of me when I was a child loose to run around in this place. I am such a different person from who I once was. I think it's good. No, I can't think about it at all. I'm tired. Tomorrow will be a new day and I'll be able to clean this place out and start to make it mine. Daddy wanted me to have this lazy spot on the river . . . why? He knows I don't like to stay put.
it, anyway. But I'll honor him. I loved him. I still do. I'll pretend I've inherited some exotic place on the Nile and I've got to make my way, learn to eat the native food, learn to talk like them, to fit in. Deep down, I know in three months I'll be done with Charleston, itching to leave again, but for now, I will do this for him. For Daddy.

The rain comes on with thunder and lightning, and a storm suits me fine right now. I think about Daddy, how he lay on this very bed. I can smell him here in this house, on these sheets. I turn out the lights. Strangely, it's not my father I'm thinking of, but Vesey on the other side of the water, how much distance there is between us. I think of the lines in his face, how I'd love to draw them again. But I can't. How I wish someone would bring chisel to stone and carve him for my garden so I could look at him and touch him anytime I want. I close my eyes. I am sketching again in my mind, and as my head hits the pillow to sleep in a place I once called home, it's Vesey's face I see before me. Vesey. Molasses Creek. My destiny.


Kathmandu, Nepal

white bird swooped down close enough to the earth to drop me in a betel nut tree. Sometimes I picture long wings flowing, flapping, and me, carefully wrapped in gold cloth, a descendant of the heavens. Perhaps it was a great egret or eagle with sharp talons. Perhaps the aim was to leave me at a royal palace, but the winged beast was attacked in midair and did only what it could do—it dropped me here.

Amaa tells me my skin was once the color of the tops of the mountains of Nepal. She says I was born of snow and carried in a bird's beak until swallowed and passed out through the creature, flung into the filth of the streets of Kathmandu.

Buba thinks I'm a curse. He blames me for the squalor we live in, for the stones we must carry and break, but he was born into this life a Dalit. He was cursed at his first breath. He is jealous because I was a master carver of stone at twelve years old and could sit under my umbrella to do my work, while he and the others baked in the hot sun.

BOOK: Beyond Molasses Creek
10.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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