Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Opening Scene of "The Azure Shade of the Blue Bottle Tree"

County road 217 was hard to see under the heat mirage. Bill Bailey on KSOR was promising another seven days of hundred degree-plus heat. There was no rain in sight, unless you counted the illusion of water on the pavement ahead. The San Martin River was already mostly dry, and the corn stalks in the field were rattling like so much dried paper.  July in Texas, yeah. Deputy Constable Pen Sadler was in a county car, fortunately the air conditioner worked. He would still have preferred his pickup, it wasn't his choice. Pen had just given a runaway teenager a ride home. Whatever she had to face back at the house was a lot better than whatever she'd find at the end of the bus ride Pen had gotten her off of. He hoped she'd come to understand that. Finding runaways is part of the job, so is driving the back roads. Part of the job if you're deputy constable in Copete County, Precinct 3 anyway.
There was more to look at on this hot Saturday than heat waves.
The road to Cedar Knob is paved with weird inventions. Along one side of 217 stood the strangest collection of machinery that anyone had ever seen. Newt Belmont and his descendents had been blacksmiths and inventors of farm equipment since back in the days of oxen. The pieces varied in elegance, but all worked, after a fashion. As each machine finished whatever seasonal chore it was designed to do, it was parked along the fence, sometimes never to be used again. By now, there were dozens of machines beside the road, most of unknown origin, slowly returning to the soil. A person could sort of trace out the progression from animal to machine power in the line of Rube Goldberg mechanisms. The actual purpose of each machine was more obscure.
Few Belmonts remained, but the neighbors swore that the number of machines was increasing. The current theory on the spit and whittle bench figured that Newt's grandson had put an old Farmall F-12 tractor out to stud before he passed on, and the machine was still roaming the cedar breaks, pop-popping in the moonlight. The tractor had joined the long dead Comanches and charcoal burners in haunting the hot summer nights.
Today the sight of the mechanical orchard gave him one of those weird shivers up the spine that had nothing to do with the car air conditioning. Today it seemed more surreal, as if it had recently featured in forgotten nightmares. Pen knew this road, suddenly he wasn't sure about what was around the turn.
Pen rounded the corner. A more conventionally haunting scene came into view, Mount Zion Cemetery. Mount Zion Baptist Chapel still stood in fair repair, a revival meeting was still held every year in the old tabernacle. The cemetery work day was still well attended, a couple dozen members of the oldest families in the area showed up to wield hoes and brush hogs to honor their dead. It was definitely lack of honor that prompted the call that brought Pen here today.
He parked the car and got out. The air conditioner was a mixed blessing. Comfortable, but insulating and unnatural. Outside, the heat hit him in the face like a wall. As soon as he had adjusted, it wasn't so bad. There was a good south breeze. The wonderful summer smells of cut grass, baked wildflowers, and just warm earth became evident. Pen walked in through the open lych gate.
The small group was eating their potluck lunches on plank tables in the shade of the only sizeable oak. Tom Linder waved him over. "Hey, Pen. Glad you're here."
Mabel Linder said, “It’s Uncle Euless’ family”, pointing to a group of stones a bit separate from the rest.
At first glance it was just stones, but then Pen saw the headstones that were newly toppled, rocky earth showing at their bases. A couple of them had been broken. They were, mostly, thin limestone slabs, their lettering weathered and almost unreadable. Someone had knocked several of them over intact. Others had been snapped off, the bases left like broken teeth. They talked about it while Pen looked around and made notes. He shared their aggravation but there was little to do. No witnesses, no clear evidence, everyone “knew” it was drunken kids up to meanness, but no one was sure which ones. The law was pretty clear. Vandalism and destruction in a cemetery could be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending. Pen promised to work on it and headed back to the car.
The radio was already squawking. It was Karen, the dispatcher, there was more vandalism reported, just a few miles away. 

Copyright 2011 William C. Seward

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