Amos Rigsby rubbed his whiskered jaw as if that could tell him why he was standing in front of the closet. He stared at each item in turn, trying to remember if that was the one that he came for. “Oh, yeah,” he said to no one in particular.
He pulled the old cotton hunting coat from its hanger and dragged his boots from the shelf. He was going to the mountain today. His hearing wasn’t what it used to be, but it was good enough to hear a turkey gobble. He heard one yesterday and by Jove he was going up there to see if he could introduce himself to old Mr. Gobbler.
Amos hadn’t been up on the mountain since Margret died, some fifteen years ago. He used to go up and sit for hours, cogitating about what went on in that head of hers. Many times while sitting there he would shoot a deer so he could prove that he had been hunting and not just fuming about whatever she had told him at the time. He never forgave himself for being on the mountain when she passed on. Margret’s sister Esther had gently pushed him out the door, insisting that he take a break from his vigil. He was only away for a couple of hours, but Margret left while he was gone. She died as gracefully as she had lived, a faint smile frozen on her face, and in Amos’s memory.
Sitting on the end of the old four poster bed, Amos struggled to tie the boots. His fingers just wouldn’t work like they used to. It didn’t help that each boot had six or seven knots where he had tied the laces back together again. Finally victorious, he shrugged into the coat, and then checked the pocket to see if the caller was there. He lifted the old Bear bow from the rack and struggled to get it strung. A fine weapon made by a fellow named Nels Grumley. He checked the brace height with his fist, thumb extended. Satisfied he plucked the string and picked up the old leather back quiver. Pulling the handful of cedar shafts out, he gave the quiver a shake to make it let go of his shooting glove. Bits of forest litter filtered out along with the glove that looked like pepper on his bedspread.
It was a fine Saturday morning in the fall of 1929, and Amos was in a hurry to go hunting up on the mountain. His new wife stopped him in the yard and asked him to help water her flower garden. He filled the galvanized can and went hurriedly over the bed, giving each of the flowers a dose of water. He thought he was through, but Margret had other ideas.
“Could you get a little more for the geraniums?”
Amos did as asked, then pecked her on the cheek as if to say, “I’m done now.”
Margret smiled and squeezed his hand. “While you are up there you might want to think about baby names.”
He meandered stupidly around the woods that day, trying to come to terms with the idea of fatherhood. That was when he found the log. It was a hollow butt log of a tremendous old oak tree. It had no value to the loggers but was in the perfect spot to ambush game. Water oozed from a seeping spring just twenty yards away, the ground churned muddy with animal tracks. He suddenly knew he would be able to feed his family in the lean times ahead.
Amos patted his pockets one final time and closed the door behind him. He shuffled sideways down the steps, one at a time. At the bottom he slung the quiver over his shoulder and pulled the bow a couple of times to half draw, just like old times.
The cool night air tasted like hay as he passed the barn. He halfway expected his old mule Jasper to meet him at the gate for a treat. Amos had always given the mule an apple or carrot before opening the gate, an offering to keep him busy while Amos slid through the opening. The gate was open now, held prisoner to the fence by honeysuckle vines.
Years ago he had stopped here to look back at Margret in her garden. She had asked him to water the flowers with her. He was in the petunias when she told him about Austin’s draft notice. The army wanted him in someplace called Korea. They were both in the yard when the telegram came.
Trudging through the pasture, he could see lights in the houses over at Lyon Estates. The subdivision was ten years old now, but he still called it new. Used to be the only light he could see from here was his own kitchen window. Now there were folks within hollering distance, scampering around putting on neckties, grabbing a piece of toast on the way to the office. All of them wanted a piece of the countryside but ended up bringing the city with them. He didn’t care for it much.
Amos paused once more at the tree line and looked back. He could make out some clouds over in the eastern sky now; it’d be getting light soon. The first step from pasture to woods was always exhilarating. His shoes went from muffled swishing to the harsh crunching of the dry leaves. A deer blew, blew again, and then crashed through the brush at the edge of the field. He chuckled, remembering how Margret’s bangs would rise when she blew from the corner of her mouth. He used to aggravate her sometimes just to see it.
They were in the begonias when she told him about the cancer. “A little lump,” she said, “they want to run some tests.” The log had collapsed by then; the hollow part just fell into itself. What was once a stout oak was now doty and soft. The seat of his trousers was soaked from the water held in the decaying wood that day, his lap from falling tears. Once home he mustered all of his courage and gave it to her. It didn’t help.
Amos threaded his way up the mountain following a trail known only in his mind. The woods were dark, like being in a box. He didn’t need a light though; this was his living room. The first gray light of morning filtered through the trees as he reached the log. He was in the right place; the spring was there, but the log was gone. In its place was an indeterminate mound of rich earth. Amos pulled the plastic trash bag from his coat pocket and spread in on the ground. He plopped more than sat on it, knowing he had partially missed it by the wet feeling on his left butt cheek. He scooted over until he had an equal amount of the black plastic on both sides. He could rest now.
The woods were lighter, the preamble to daybreak. Amos fumbled in his pocket and found the old box caller. He carefully chalked the striker, then blew the dust away as he had a thousand times before. With his bow in his lap he started the music. “Keeeoke oke, oke oke. Keeeoke, oke, oke oke.” He listened carefully but heard nothing. He called again, then again. He laid the caller down and reached for his thermos. “Gobbble ooble obble.” He knew he heard it, he was sure of it, but it was far off. He doubted he could pull a bird from that distance.
The coffee steamed into the morning air when he poured the first cup. He slurped from the edge so as to not burn his lips. The gobbler cried again, closer this time. Amos paused to listen, then drank again. He was tired, his heart was pounding and he still couldn’t catch his breath.
He felt himself sinking into the soft springy earth. This once mighty oak had fed the animals with sweet acorns. Now it fed the plants with the rich nutrients of its decayed flesh. Amos hadn’t noticed it before but just to his left was a Lady Slipper, the rare forest orchid that only grew in special places. This was a pink one, Margret’s favorite color. He leaned over to touch the soft flower and spilled his coffee in his lap. The hot coffee burned his leg and he slapped at it fiercely to cool it off.
The turkey gobbled again, closer this time, but still far off. Amos caressed the striker against the box softly, “Over here big boy, I’m over here.” He still had time so he poured another cup, careful not spill it this time.
A shooting pain stabbed him in the arm and the cup tumbled from his fingers. He fell over sideways breathing hard. Rolling onto his back he freed his injured arm from beneath him. The pain was gone. He flexed his fingers in front of his face and pumped his elbow up and down. This had never happened before. He would just rest here a minute. He could smell the pungent sweet presence of the Lady Slipper just inches from his face. He pulled the flower to his nose and inhaled deeply. It smelled like Margret. Closing his eyes he could see her in the garden, pulling weeds and clipping flowers. She turned and smiled at him, pushing her bangs back with a pinky.
“Amos, would you mind helping me water the flowers?”