I am a Kentucky aborigine. I am white. For questionnaire purposes. But you couldn't truthfully, not fully, call me that. There's a word for it: melungeon. Brass ankle, I've heard some say of others that might be like us farther south. I'd rather be brass-ankled. Nobody's sure what melungeon means exactly, but it doesn't sound friendly.
In the first days of census taking, I would have been listed as SOME OTHER RACE, or FREE PERSON OF COLOR. More so then than now. The brown in me has been muted over the centuries to a hint of swarthiness that usually gets me accused of being Italian. Anthropologists call us tri-racial isolates. My dad says we're part Cherokee. That might be true, at least partially.
But the Indians didn't live in Kentucky. They hunted there. That land is holy.
I think often there may be an identity out there, somewhere in Europe, some hole in the Earth, a tomb that holds some marking of history. Kentucky aborigines were never the best record-keepers. My mother is Scots-Irish, and her family is somewhat traceable. Dad's side is different. I'm not completely sure what I am.
“You're damn sexy is what you are,” says Jillie, straddling the narrow part of the creek as she hands me another piece of siltstone. This one has a sunburst pattern on it, a fern, a clump of grass, a hundred-fingered leaf, a flower that doesn't exist anymore stretching proof that it did once exist into the rock, spiraling out from a circle in the center, burrowing itself into grooves made by gently rushing water, etching its imprint of time, of existence. I look at the rock — flat, gray and shapeless like a large piece of mashed down chewing gum, and I wonder if a human has ever touched it before. “It's not siltstone,” she says. “Siltstone is brittle.”
It's not shale or sandstone, either. It's not limestone. Maybe it's petrified, I think. I put it with the others, all of them with their own fossils, their own unknown, unspoken history.
Jillie stands in the morning sunlight like a flame, pulling her fiery, loose curls into a ponytail and off of her neck to feel the soft autumn breeze cool her. She reaches into the pocket of her little gypsy skirt with bands of blue and brown and pulls out a scrunchy. She's barefoot, and the way her arms go up to force her hair into submission make her breasts dangle beneath a white hemp blouse, the outline of her brassiere the exact precipice of my dirty mind. Jillie breathes out, expelling the heat through soft, rosebud lips, and I want to chew on them, to taste her sweet breath, take it in as my own, feel it in my own lungs.
I grab her around the waist and press her every curve against a billion nerve endings. I run my hands up the valley of her spine, my favorite, around and over her chest and on to each side of her satiny, round face. We kiss as though we are thirsty.
“You're poking me in the stomach,” she says as I pull back to look at her, to trace the freckles on her cheeks like constellations. Cassiopeia. Sagittarius. Orion's belt. Her eyes are mahogany platters, or perhaps the calm, reflective surface of the ocean at night, just after sunset, just before dawn, and I can see myself in them. I let go and laugh. She grabs me by the arm, strawberries and cream on a plate of olives, and starts walking. “Come on,” she says. “I want to show you something.”
We cross the creek and I regret that I left my shoes on as water creeps into my socks. Jillie leads me through an opening in the brush, a path lined with white knotweed and purple morning glories that opens up, just beyond the briers of blackberry vines that have long been picked clean by quail and finches, into a meadow lighted with goldenrod and sunlight against the rusty tops of tall grasses, striving against the subtle blues of the lobelia and the aggressive reds of jack-in-the-pulpits. Around the edge like a wound, the copper and blood have framed it; autumn in full flame.
Me and Jillie, too.
We walk farther into it, into this cradle of life so far away from everything, and I know—because I can hear it somehow—that both of us are thinking how nice it would be build a little house here, among the quiet, among the crescendoing rattle of cicadas, the warble of wild turkeys.
She points to a flat patch among tall grasses and stoops down beside it. “Look, it's a deer bed.” She flattens her hand and sweeps it across the pressed grass, over tufts of white fur stretched across the blades. “Feel, it's still warm,” she says. There's hemp all around here, sprouting up where it pleases, the crux of their stalks still bubbling with the saliva left behind, a fine breakfast for a deer. “I knew it,” she announces. “I've got like deer radar.”
And I have no idea what to say to that.
“Let's do it right here,” she says, dropping her body down and solving my dilemma as she pulls me down to her, “like we were supposed to in the first place.”
My forearms look even darker pressed on the outside of her pink-white shoulders, and she writhes beneath me like a tide that carries me out. A strawberry vine grows steadily on her chest, creeping around the edges, the sublime folds of her breasts, and up her neck where a silver chain leads down to grass that frames the drop of orange amber wrapped in silver leaves. I trace her clavicle, a perfect ridge below her shoulders, my favorite. I follow the spontaneous design of splotchy ivy with one hand while holding myself up with the other. She smells of incense, of ancient spices used in worship, of soap and conditioner, of some kind of crazy pheromone I can't identify. Her skin is warm, a thrilling contrast to the crisp October morning air at my back. My hand moves on its own, under its own command, exploring this heaven beneath it, its rosy contours, its hills and valleys, the tight crevices of flesh between her thighs and hips, my favorite, and the moist jungle undergrowth swollen and hot against the tops of my legs.
She moans in what seems like encouragement. “You're on my hair,” she says right after, and I apologize. She laughs a laugh that is singular and plural and echoish, high and low, throaty and chesty, and squeezes her legs around my waist to press me harder against her, silencing my sorriness by sucking on my bottom lip. Jillie falls back and I know that I have never been in love like this. Never felt anything close. The magnitude of it, of this thing we have, stretches the distance of light, of sound. She moans again, but I know this time it's okay.
I fall hard, breathless. She kisses my shoulder. Deer fur in the mouth and I sputter spit. Jillie's hands are walking my back, are cradling the back of my head and I shoot back a little, dropping my head between her breasts, in the little puddle of sweat there, the little lake I've created. God what love! I think and I know she can hear me think it. I grab her by the butt and roll onto my back, carrying her with me like a blanket, her body slippery with sweat. She giggles and drops her nose in the nape of my neck and breathes me in. “You smell like sex,” she says and I know I do. It's cold where her leg is not draped around my legs, where her hand is not rubbing my chest. I have to pull her hair out of my mouth, out of my nostrils. The grass is itchy. The bugs are eating me. But nothing could be better.
Her hair is a challenge to the autumn brass behind her and I look beyond her, beyond the tree line, and trace the blue dome of sky arcing over, at the smoke-puff clouds suspended in perpetual subjectivity: this one is a buffalo, that one, Madonna and child, or that same one, the hand of God holding a Styrofoam cup of steamy coffee.
Or maybe God drinks tea.
But more than that I wonder how anyone could think the world was flat. Nothing in my world is flat. The sky curves over it all, peaking around corners, eavesdropping on creation, and has the exact color of the Earth as seen from space, in those pictures. The moon is round, still late going home, lagging up in its own little piece of daylight, sunning itself and not caring about whether it is appropriate to do so.
Behind the moon is an everywhere that makes me quiet. My voice could not make it there, nor my eyes, so far away into a nothing, an everything so large my mind can only compensate by imagining all I can see is merely the mitochondria in the cells of a being that does not notice me.
I am but a vibration in the music that is everything.
Jillie laughs for no reason. “What do you think is out there?” she asks me, and once again I am stunned by the way she so effortlessly dances upon my wavelengths. I don't know the answer to her question. I've never seen anywhere but here. “Do you believe in aliens?”
We've been up all night. We've tried to savor every moment, to stretch it out, to separate it from the others and pack it away into a special place. “You'll leave me just as the leaves fall,” she told me months ago, and I am scared because she was right, because she sees what others don't. “It sucks how it took all this time for you to find me, and now you have to leave,” she says as we walk down the empty, nearly silent gravel road with vegetation encroaching on all sides. This is where the red fern grows, I think, noting the rusty fronds finding shelter beneath a rock that pokes out from the side of the hill like a knuckle, like the shoulder blade of some ancient beast. There are trees that grow upside down, hanging earthward in defiance of the rules of nature, stopping just short of the road. Some of them grow straight out from the hillside and into a catwalk above us. There is no reason to their growth, only instinct, or perhaps a slow, subliminal yearning from within that only stillness can reveal. The oaks. The elms. The maples. The cedar. The sycamore.
As we walk down the little road, we spy a sign nailed to a sycamore tree. It reads:
Violators Survivors will be prosecuted