Tidal Basin

Germination Detail Part III, by Leslie Shellow

contemplations about what stays in the net

Thursday, September 2, 2010

For Ocracoke on the Eve of Earl

We mounted our bikes: hers, cotton-candy pink; mine, a scratched and dirty blue. She had on pedal pushers which showed her pretty calves, tan and freckled and taut with effort. Her taffy strokes cut through the thick air. Left, right, left, right. How fast can you go on a one-speed?

We rode from the coffee shop down the narrow pavement which petered out in a dirt graveyard path lined with long grasses hissing with cicadas. Her white toy poodle trotted next to her wheels. I kept a safe distance. She had just lost her other dog that morning. Put him to sleep, he was so sick. I didn't want to take any chances.

We arrived at her bungalow just as the air stilled in the last heat of the day. I saw her glide toward that tree, right foot in the right pedal; left leg arcing up and over the seat. For a moment, her thin ankles crossed, and she was floating. Then, both feet hit the ground with the lightest pat. We leaned the bikes against the old oak. The branches were fat arms reaching toward the house. The leaves were a sun umbrella that shaded quite nicely the small screened-in porch. We went inside and the screen door slapped shut.

She offered me sweet tea. We were neighbors, you know. My cottage was on the other side of the graveyard. I told her I felt comforted knowing the ancestors were nearby.

She motioned for me to sit in a plastic rocking chair. Though the sun was warm through the screen, I think the oak was taking the brunt of it. We rocked back and forth, as slow as we had pedaled, the cicadas consuming the quiet space between us. 

She told me she'd been coming to the island for fifty years. Fifty, she said. She sipped her drink from a chipped tumbler. She told me she had raised her kids with the island children. Babies of the sea, she called them when they came back to the bungalow brown and blond and crusted with salt.

Sally had blonde hair herself, shorn close to her head with just a little bit of length for the breeze. She wore a polka-dotted blouse without sleeves. Her arms were thin and strong. She sat for quite some time before she spoke again. When she did, she looked down. "See that rope?" she asked. I did. It was coiled like a snake under the table. She pointed in another direction. "And that one?" she asked. I looked. Yes. I did. And that one and that one and that one? I looked and looked and looked. We were surrounded by coils of rope the thickness of a finger or an umbilical cord.

She rocked and rocked and smiled. She nodded, at the tree, I think. She told me when the hurricanes came, each rope was spoken for. That one was Misty's, she said laughing. She pointed to the old oak. She told me everyone had a special branch that was their own.When the winds came and the water rose, you were to pick up your rope and tie it around yourself as tight as you could manage. The first person ready was to find the ladder and prop it against the tree. There was a line to get up, of course. And when it was your turn, you lashed yourself to your branch. You sat in its crux and you watched the water cover the roots, then the base, then part of the trunk. You hoped you were high enough. And you knew the tree was strong enough to hold your whole family like that in its massive basket of limbs.

It was just her and me surrounded by ropes. It was quiet.

Did you really have to do that? I asked. I mean, climb into that tree with your whole family?

No, she smiled. But we had fun with the drills.

It is hot. It is the cusp of September. The sky is clear today, almost an autumn blue. I am safe behind this computer typing a story that comes to me slowly, like eating taffy or riding a one-speed down an oyster-shell lane. I see the bungalow, a dirty cream. I see the bikes tossed on the lawn. I see the flapping screen porch door and the graveyard.

I wonder, will she lash herself to the old oak tonight? Will she pray that the sea takes note: not too high, not too fierce; my arms are strong, but tired; my legs are thin and getting old. 

"There's never been a death on Ocracoke from a hurricane," says Carol Paul, who owns the antique shop down the street.

I am counting on the oak.

"Update: Outer Banks brace for Earl; Ocracoke Island begins evacuation."Timesnews.net. Web. 1 Sept. 2010

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