~ A Town at Night has its own Secrets ~
‘A town at night has its own secrets.’ An old woman whispered this into my child’s ear when I was I was growing. I recall the late afternoon she came shuffling down the lane by our house in October, while my Daddy was chopping wood for the coming winter. Dust just swirling up behind her like she was a force of nature, herself…
My vision is lucid of her; they called her Lady Belle, because tiny bells hung from her basket of apples so you could hear her approaching, as the jingled bells played a misfit melody from her hobbled, hunched back walking.
I did not understand why she told me this. Perhaps she thought one day I would grasp her meaning. I just know it swayed some power over me at that very moment. I just looked at her with wonderment, my blue eyes reflecting a million questions. I stood, in my innocence, as she eyed me intently and winked.
“Never forget what I told you, child; there are things that do not sleep in the dark, like you and me. You will find what you are looking for behind the doors that no one cares to open. You will see these things in time.” She spoke, as if these words were the most precious things to pass on.
I never heard Lady Belle’s jingles again. She never walked down our dusty road except for that autumn, many years ago, when the days seemed so long. I use to sit with the darkness, windows open, listening to the night breeze rustle the treetops, hoping to hear the jingle of bells. They never came and through the years I just forgot and started dreaming like everyone else when night blackened the heavens.
Through the seasons I have grown and like the sunshine makes things look shiny and special, my Daddy says it has done this for me. My blonde straight hair is like gossamer and I have grown into my cotton dresses that make the menfolk in town look just a little bit longer, than they used to.
The September of my seventeenth year, made me remember what I had forgotten. The things Lady Belle whispered to me secretly.
I started noticing that I enjoyed sitting on our porch longer, as dusk drew near. It closed in on the day’s last light, softly, like a book closing itself upon a familiar story. I could see the shadows from the big oak trees dissolve into the dark mist like a growing stain. The cicada among the trees, make a powerful drone sound hearkening the night’s coming.
I hear the squeaky rhythm of our rusty porch swing, as I listen carefully to the tinkling of iced glasses and women’s laughter calling out to children as they slap their bare feet, running home dusty, to newly run baths and bedtime stories. I can hear the church clock gears wind in our town square, chiming the hour as a distant storm sounds its approach in the next county.
Old mason jars proudly adorn children’s window sills, full of lightning bug glow as the town grows sleepy and porch lights are dimmed for the evening. I can see the red glow of men’s cigars finishing up the last conversations of the day before retiring to their beds.
I start to ponder what the old woman told me long ago. I think on how long I have been watching into the night; searching for those hidden doors she spoke of. Keeping all of those secrets inside me, through the years, of things I have come to understand about the darkness.
I watch blackbirds on a fence watching me as I sit on the swing not moving. I notice the overpowering sound of quietness…only broken by the dry rustling of corn husks by the coming storm.
I often wait until my Daddy is sleeping and sneak off towards town, especially on moonless nights, while the shops are closed and their windows play out a mystery story of motionless mannequins, wild staring dolls, and the mercantile with its sharp glittering bladed things hanging against the wall. The soft light above O’Connor’s butcher shop flickers on and off, like that one time in Auntie Rose’s haunted house, making us look like slow moving apparitions in one of those silent films.
I see the corn husk dolls the church ladies make for the harvest gathering placed in the corners of the drug store windows. They look primitive with their red threaded mouths and dark button eyes, sitting among hard candy, medicine bottles and dusty paperback books.
I feel the wind tousle my hair and dance around my dress, twisting the soft cotton around my legs as I slowly walk the town square.
I sometimes see the boys from the next county, who meet by Caedmon’s barn for swigs of liquor and cards, worn out from the coal miner’s hands, before going home to their women, or to a lonely cold bed.
I’m standing by a street lamp’s glow when I see a young man looking back at me. I have not seen him before but he can’t be too much older than me. Ruggedly handsome, I think he is a woodsman from the timber company my Grandpa use to own. The other fellas walk back into the barn to play out their luck with the worn cards, stained at the edges.
He just stands there oblivious to anything but me watching him and him watching me. He is probably wondering what I am doing out here so late. No self-respecting lady would be out this late, I think to myself…but I am different; I just want to see into the dark night at the things people do when they can’t sleep, the sound of the midnight train as it rumbles low on the tracks near the abandoned houses, long ago left behind. Seeing lovers whisper things to each other as they sit in the park, so close together they seem like one dark mass.
I keep walking around the square eventually I’m going to be close to that man if he doesn’t go in with the others. I feel slightly unnerved for I see he is waiting…perhaps for me. I walk getting closer and I can see him clearly, sure and set in his ways he stands proud before me. This is a man who has worked hard for everything he has, I can tell. Rugged and content with his plight he just watches me silently as I nervously ask who is.
He just smiles and says, “We had a mutual friend once.” I look at him with a tilt of my head. He walks closer to me and I can tell he has not been drinking like the others. It almost seems like he is not with them at all; a strange man in a town that only knows familiar.
I ask who that may be and he says “An old woman, a special woman who whispered something to you many years ago.”
I stood very still and he had my complete attention. All sounds seemed a bit louder for a second. How could this man know about Lady Belle and me, so long ago? I look at him with a growing uneasiness as I watch him pull out something from his pocket. He grabs my hand and places a tiny bell into my palm. He looks at me and tells me, “I knew I would find you one day, I was not told your name but she said you would grow to be fair and childlike. I have been watching you for some time as you walked the summer nights in your Momma’s dresses.
His smile is slightly wicked, or did I just imagine…
“Have you found what you are searching for behind those closed doors, where no one cares to go?” he asked me.
I stared in disbelief, wondering how he knew these things.
“When you find it you must be careful to not go through the door where only shadows dwell” he spoke to me.
~ Soon to be continued ~
Writing excerpt from ~ A Town at Night has its own Secrets ~
By ~ Tommie Flannery Baskis (c) 2019