Redbud Winter by Courtney Lucas
We went out to the valley on Good Friday, me and you. I wanted to go. I asked you. I reckon so, you said, and laughed. The weather had been warm for a couple of weeks. Everyone thought spring was here to stay, but the redbuds were just beginning to bloom, and, like clockwork, the cold snap came at the same time the light purple flowers bloomed high on the spindly branches. How quickly you always forgot the cold when finally given some warmth.
The grass was high; I plunged my sneaker-clad feet into the damp tufts, and my feet disappeared. Dew sprinkled the goosebumped skin of my ankles and calves. The mountain had awakened, releasing a trickling stream down its slopes and dotting the hillside with blooms of white and the occasional rare pink. The trillium is the Easter flower, you said. Now, the Easter lily is all right, but see how the trillium has three leaves? That’s one leaf for each of the three crosses. And the three petals are for each day Jesus was in the tomb. The trickling mountain water slid past the trilliums, past the valley and in between the smooth rocks lining the cliff until finally depositing itself in the river below. You’d told me the story before, but still I reached down and plucked one of the flowers for closer examination. It broke off easily into my palm, leaving a stem and three leaves, death without resurrection.
Watch for snakes, you said, as we descended deeper into the valley towards the cliff and the creek, even though I knew it was too cold for snakes. I slipped a few times in the wet grass, but you held my hand so firmly in your own, completely enveloping it in calloused warmth, that it kept me on my feet. We walked all the way to the edge of the cliff and looked down into the river. The cliff was held by a sentry of trees bowing out over the river like they would fall at any moment. Kudzu snaked lazily up the cliff, just taking hold in an area that is now completely covered.
The river wasn’t always there, you said. The valley used to be a lot bigger, but then Big Sandy come rushing this way and broke it right apart. Went right through the middle and left a cliff with half a valley on both sides. I looked to the other side of the creek and saw the trees, the cliff, the valley, just like on our side. I nudged a rock off the cliff with the toe of my shoe. The rock plunked into the water, and the water was clear enough that we watched the rock sink to the creek bottom. A cloud of sediment rose up from the rock’s resting place. See the little fishy there, you said, pointing it out to me, and I nodded, watching the fish’s silver belly glint in the sunlight like a coin of some treasure, buried there in the muck.
Looks like it’s fixing to rain, you said. The clouds in the distance were dark, and they cast shadows on everything around us. They made the water look dark too. See those flowers there? Those are violets, you said. They grew in clumps around the bases of the trees, spilling precariously over the edge of the cliff. The dark clouds released a crack of thunder, and it bounced around the mountains. I told you it was gonna rain soon, you said. The clouds were still far off, but the electricity of a storm crackled in the air. There’s some chicken toe, you said. We used to make salads out of the little flowers and stems. The thunder sounded again, loud and close. Why don’t we pick some, you said. And then we’ll get back to the house before Mamaw comes out and whoops both our hides.
In that moment, I didn’t know that your body would flash white and flail like the fish’s belly, like the petals of the trillium flower I held in my hand and would soon drop to the ground. The violets nodded their heads in the breeze, like rows of silent spectators eagerly awaiting the storm.
You laughed. A drop of rain fell, and I lost it in my hair. I looked up and didn’t see. The thunder cracked, and the cliff did too, sending a shower of rocks into the water below, as your body followed the rocks into the river.