The Juveniles Lack Green – Beth Gilstrap
Moss and algae on creek rocks make me keep a close watch on my feet. It’d be just my luck to roll an ankle out here on my own. No cell service. I got a whistle, that’s about it. Maybe the Saint Bernards I saw down the mountain would come barreling up, all slobbery if they heard it, but they seemed cooped up and ornery in their pen. Water’s colder here than it is back home this time of year. I could stick my bare feet in, plant my butt on a rock and just sit until a good sweat formed on my back. Not here. Here I’m layered up like Angie’s yellow cakes. A fleece and two jackets ain’t quite enough. I wished I’d packed something sweet. Fourteen days since my last brownie or anything. It would help if I knew how to cook, too. All this Chef Boy R Dee I’m heating on the hotplate ain’t doing much for me. Rumbling insides aren’t great when you’re trying to be quiet and find some critters. On the log, a male Stellar Jay cocks his head. I like the way he looks like a punk rocker. Lots of bright blue and jet-black and that tuft sticking straight up. His mate is up a ways on that moss-covered, lichen dripping whatever it is. They look like they’re onto me. He looks as if he’d say, “Junebug, get a look at this idiot in the creek.” And the darker blue female would answer, “Yeah Papa, I swooped in yesterday to get a closer look. I think he’s wearing Polo.” I’m kidding myself, really. I thought after Angie left this would be a good way to put some cushion between the garbage of us. She’s still mad as hell and I can’t blame her. That woman down in Atlanta was close to seven years ago. People say I was stupid to tell her, but she hadn’t touched me in over a year anyway so I figured I might as well get it out. Maybe it’d help cut down on my migraines. But why I thought it’d be a good idea to cross the country in my faded Dodge pickup and hole up in a log cabin in Oregon is beyond me. I should have started growing my beard in the day I threw my duffle in the truck. Me and Johnny Cash cutting across old roads through sick storms and worse heat, through everyday towns and nowhere towns and some kind of David Lynch towns you wouldn’t dare stop in for fear of characters talking backwards in red rooms and dead, blonde teenagers. It feels like Wednesday, but I can’t be sure. There’s a real in-the-middle-of-things air about the place. The sun’s going down. Between the mountains, it gets dim faster. I miss the low country sunsets, the smell of Angie’s Frogmore stew boiling, the spicy sausage, crab and corn mixing like some kind of redneck aphrodisiac. Here, it smells sweet and clear and clean. I wish I could take a bit of paper and charcoal and do a rubbing on my brain to get it to soak in. When I stand, my butt’s gone numb. So much for bird watching. All I saw was another brick-colored salamander and the same pair of Jays. It was only after I got bored of playing solitaire and blackjack that I picked up Birds of the Willamette Valley. It set there next to the record player for at least a week before I even noticed it. I’d played Abbey Road so much I started to hate it, but most everything else the owner had left in the place was classical or Opera or show tunes. Makes me wish I’d thrown a box of records or CDs in the truck, too, but I can always go find a record shop if I get desperate. The creek sounds better than Abbey Road, and that’s good enough for now. I had flipped through the book, folding down the edges of the birds I thought I’d seen. Robins. Chickadees. Crows. I even think I saw a little Bushtit, and boy did that sucker tell me to get the hell on my way. Cute little guy. Can’t say that I blame him. But when I saw the Violet Green Swallow’s photo, that’s when I got serious. I went looking and listening. Only two weeks here and I sit in creek beds, straining my ears for a song that’s supposed to sound like tsip tseet tsip. Can’t say I know exactly what that will sound like when I hear it, though. I wonder if the t is silent, but it’s got to be more about the rhythm. I just want to see the green on that bird. Book says the male’s back is glossy, iridescent-purple-green with white reaching above its eye. The taste of tomato on my ravioli is shallow, feels like wet cardboard in my mouth. Thumbing through the bird book again, I figure I might as well venture out at dawn. Seems like everyone’s active then. Rereading the description of the female, I wonder how, in nature, females are always more subdued. My experience with women is opposite, but maybe it’s society telling women they have to shine up for us, get skinny, have some kind of never-ending youth where they never show any seasoning or character. Angie looked better to me once she quit dying her hair black. She had this great chestnut auburn thing happening and the sun bleached it even lighter in the summer, especially when she lay on the beach on her days off, encouraging her skin to spot and darken. The juveniles lack green. In the morning, I’ll try again. My walking stick sinks in spongy ground. The forest drips and I can hear Angie’s voice drifting from the kitchen through the hall and into the living room where I watch the Clemson game. I can’t say she had a good voice, but it always made me want to grab her, even when she was cooking, which I’d learned a long time ago was not cool. If I could change what happened with whatshername, I would. All I even remember of that night at this point is a motel room that smelled like Fritos and the crunch of hairspray in her hair. Angie and I hadn’t made love in four or five months and this bartender in a Mexican joint talked sweet to me. I drank just enough bottom shelf tequila to lose good sense. Can’t say I didn’t do it. Can’t say I didn’t screw myself ten ways to Sunday, but I’d hoped since so much time had passed and I’d come clean, Angie might try to understand. When I finally get still in the woods, I hear it, the courtship song male Violet-Green Swallows sing in the minutes before dawn. It’s about time my own green shows.
Beth Gilstrap was a recent writer-in-residence at Shotpouch Cabin with the Spring Creek Project for ideas, nature, and the written word at Oregon State University. She earned her MFA from Chatham University. Her work has appeared in The Minnesota Review, Superstition Review, and Twisted South Magazine, among others. “Juveniles Lack Green”
Tags: 2014, Quiddity 7.1