a novel

the land encompassing the green of a town, the dot of a pupil, an i: a town; a crying gale; a sea wall merging with cresting swollen ridges, waves, rolling green merging with crusted fields; cliff rock, vines intertwined, climbing bald white cottonwood bark, solid to the knuckle of bone; ridged leaves, thorns prickle red, burgundy; corrugated pine, accordion bark, red wood, willow reed, seeds, wisps flown through the dot of an i; a century in the making, a hill; a place overlooking the desolation of an eyebrow, the contours of a head; contours of the brain, an epigram, a design intensified under lamplight and heat, a region to be explored - was being explored - the map of a room; oceanography, cartography, topography -

     a room:  a child's hand waving from around a corner; the child waved a hand inside a mitten, her breath forming condensed spaces, outdoors; a frozen tongue; mouthing the words, a  child beginning to read, as the child's hand and the first grade reader met; the hand mitten-less now and inside a pocket, a red jacket; the hill, a town;

     a place where renfield had gathered butterflies, for a thousand centuries,

     the dot of an i, a town -

     the child reached inside a pocket where the remains of a snack stuck to the pocket lining, then stuck to the child's fingers -

     renfield examined the net; the child waved

     climbing a heartless hill, a buckle in the land; the child's words formed, a cloud of breath in the air, a reminder of the steam engine, the steamship that once had taken renfield away, parted him from his quarters; the slope angling into the stream, cottonwood branches parallel to the ground the child walked along, as gaila the black lab ran alongside peanut, the golden lab, noses firm to the ground like the rubber toes of the child's shoes as she kicks the dirt and scuffs her heels, hooking her fingers into the dogs' thick furry coats -

     red geraniums sat in a box below a window, and above the flowers chimes blew in the wind; the grace of a town underestimated by the walls of a cliff surrounding a road; a cloud of dust stirred by the child's feet; the geraniums, set outdoors even though the child still wears mittens and flannel;

     in the woods under the heat and sun, a stream coursing alongside dark cliff walls; mired in the cliff rock, white & pink granite, & sandstone on the bed of the river, pebbles shaped by the water running; a tar coating in ribbons down cliff walls, rounded tips of fingers, branches of vines covering ground underneath; peanut running down the road beside gaila; running behind them, the child, holding to their hind ends' thick fur, grabbing a mat to hold, as the tar to the cliffs descending -

     cliff walls descended into the bare foot of forest floor, immense with markers of rock sitting on dark ground, prickling red vines, cottonwood bark stiff to the knuckle of bone; next to the child's cheek, the red down of her jacket, a white wool cap and mittens; pulling the cap below her ears, the child looked out:

     the dot of an i, a hill curving into twilight as lamps began to shine on the road; the child's feet on solid snow pack, squeaking; and the dogs' breath forms clouds that expand in the air; peanut leans against the child, paws leaving clover marks against the snow and the wind blows, a crying gale above the stream cracking brittle beneath the thaw;

     the river begins to flow beside the dot of an i, the town encompassing the curve of a hill; the heart of a road ribboning below a cliff wall, hills surrounding green mountains that form a valley above the river;

     blazing into orange as the sun sets, fall leaves cover the hillside and the face of the cliff, magenta and orange; on the dry and dusty road peanut's paws kick up a cloud of dust -

     pine needles coated with sap are pliant under the wind, fragrant to the child's nose, and the dogs' black nostrils flare; the rocks planted on the forest floor are carpeted by needles, dropped from the wind, and the smell of sap rises; an oblong black rock is warm beneath the child as she slides to the stream bank and gaila runs ahead, through the valley -

     east of the town, the sun began to appear and the child hurried, carrying a bottle beneath her coat, milk slapping against the cold glass in her hands; the child pours milk in a bowl beside the doorstep, drops coat the dogs' chins; she turns the lid on the bottle, turns the brass door knob, reflecting the sun and the child's features, turning;

     early morning inside the house, and as the child stands against the stove, outside the window a leaf falls, imposed over the cliff walls; and outside the clock bells are sounding; the river runs beside the town; the stream flowing beneath cliff walls.

renfield lifted the net above the grass and it hovered, the wind caught in the weave and the net jerked back before billowing open.  a butterfly lifted up, then sat on a grass blade.  renfield could see more completely through his glass, the white wings, the purple edges; through the lens the sun burned as the butterfly's wings beat twice; it glided to an adjacent blade of grass and renfield returned the glass to his pocket, watching the net and butterfly, hovering in the wind.

the hill sloped precariously to the river surrounding the green of the town; and on the icy and muddy road, the child hit at a hoop; it rolled; and as the land curved to the river, rain fell on leaves and rocks.

it could have been as though someone asking someone else in from the rain.  it could have been that pictures lining a desk, incubating in twilight, the frozen conundrum of a leaf, this window from which we look out tells us:

     we are not very far from our homes; the moon lights up wood frames of the windows, above the floor where gaila lies and the child runs a hand through her thick fur; years ago, a dirt road ran through the trees to the house that once stood alone; since, another house had been built across the road, its eaves now illuminated by a yellow street lamp at night; and across a ditch and long grass and weeds, a gray frame house, white shutters on the windows, a rutted drive runs to the house from the gravel road at its foot.

     beneath the windows, illuminated by candlelight, gaila turns, marking her spot beside the fire; a log breaks; and asleep on the chair, the child, wrapped in white cotton flannel and a blanket; gaila and the child dream under the rounded cliff walls dripping tar like candle wax from their heights; and the child dreams of someone standing next to shore, wondering about butterflies, as renfield sat -

     stomping his feet against the floor and lacing heavy boots over wool socks; he puts a hammer in his tool belt, pulls the wool patch quilt over the bed in the corner where a lampshade ruffles; the night stand's claw legs are of intricately carved wood (renfield's hands are rough and worn, his heavy blackish-brown hair cropped short and uneven over a bulbous forehead; black eyebrows circle above almost violet eyes, close to the unexpected sharpness of his nose; a dark moon mouth, skeletal cheekbones, a face whose lines deepen above a strong jaw, a frame both bulky and long; half moons underline his fingernails; his toes spread out in much the same way as the bushes that lined the ground surrounding his home, a cabin high above the river and set back from the road; tall windows, a fireplace, and flannel shirts hung over wood hooks, beside two nets that renfield carried in summer and spring;

     renfield's barn housed two horses:  a black mare and a bay inside a fence, in the meadow surrounding renfield's home; sometimes renfield swayed like the pines, when he followed their spines to the branch tips in the sky - wearing corduroys and hiking boots (from around the corner, the child waved; set back as his house stood from the road, the child's red jacket backgrounds the trees, and peanut and gaila ran down his road --)

     a kerosene lamp lighted his rooms, and he cut stacks of wood for his stove; in the cabinets he had put glass - he could see, as he stood in the pantry, jelly glasses and boxes of crackers and cakes; coffee boiled and cups hung from hooks; a rug in the doorway; boots stood on the pine floor, never quite erased of dust and footprints beneath the windows - renfield could look out in any direction - a storm might hinder the coming of sunlight from beyond the cliff tops; ice might be cracking above the stream, the horses returning to the barn; or someone might pass along the road as renfield buttoned a flannel shirt beneath the wool jacket, pulling on his hiking boots, lacing them to the top; dried flowers sat on the night table and pictures lined the walls; into a bathroom with a large porcelain tub he carried water from the river, heated over the stove and poured steaming into the tub - one luxury renfield allowed himself besides the making and storing of jelly:  renfield gathered blueberries, blackberries, currants; he cooked them over his stove; watched until the fruit boiled, then poured wax over the liquid inside small jars; he labeled the glasses and covered them with gold lids; he ate jam on toast, with coffee, before venturing out to the road, to the town; the dot of an i, a hill in the making for a thousand centuries

     renfield trudged down the road carrying his tools in a belt, walking in boots; the land pinked or grayed; a butterfly sat colorful perched on the stalk of a vine, then the moth's stiff coat of gray matched the bare tree trunks sketched fossil-like against the tarred cliff walls; the pink and white of the granite fingers rose and the sky seemed almost purple with blue; no matter how far from home he ventured, renfield remembered the magenta, orange and violet that striped the sky here; and when layered under scarves and coats, a wool cap and mittens, leggings and wool socks, while for weeks the sun remained invisible above the cliff walls as his feet pushed into the snow, renfield could remember the greens and reds of springtime, flowers set out in window boxes.

     the houses seemed warm to renfield as he pushed his hands into his pockets; a brown one, the first after renfield's to be built, stood close to the road; angling from the house and the road, the cliff walls - gaila lifted her nose and sniffed the air from where she was lying on a mat beside the door - a scent of tar in the air -- pulling his scarf over his ears, renfield contemplated a leaf carried to the ground in the wind; already, the woods were becoming gray with bare tree branches; sap snapping, flowing through the woods above the road sloping to the town where the cliff walls all but disappeared between the hills.

     a hill that sloped steeply to the forest floor of dark moss, boulders marking the ground, white and solid to the knuckle of bone, cottonwood bark; and the red and burgundy berries grew the color of the child's jacket; her jacket hung from a coat hook now, as renfield hung his upon his return home:  a journey through what woods?  the child wondered as she slept wrapped in a cotton blanket, and outside the window the bare branch of a tree scratched against the glass, and where was she to go?  journeying fragile as the woven wood ship in a bottle; see through the glass on the desk, the white wood of a ship in a bottle, carried over the waves as the child's mind wandered, beneath these hills, she formed her first verse; her first birthday cake, a breath blown across the sky to the yellow flames, the child looking at the spruce tree candles over the cake -

     the dogs came and stood by her side - and she could push a hand through peanut's coat that shone like the caramel frosting spread beneath billowing flames and the child blew, the dogs sighed, or her parents - in one breath - dark and then clapping; then her cake appeared on a plate, and the child ate, licking soft and sticky fingers, and the dogs licked her hands; with frosting still coating her fingers, the child combed the dogs' fur as the mother lifted a candle for more light and the dogs, exhausted from their sweet snack, fell asleep while still standing on the floor; the sticky sweet sensation stilled the child's tongue; lulled her to sleep in the arm chair pushed up to the table where the cake stood tiered in the middle; the mother had drawn sugar flowers on the frosting by hand; but the child had murmured some verse?  the mother thought -

     peanut lay away from the paneled walls, beneath the oak table in a corner; large windows looked out to the cliffs from one side of the house and on the other, the driveway and the dirt road; when the trees were bare, a gray house could be seen from the front windows; others rested on the hills among trees, but remained invisible until under dark night lamps shining through windows could be seen; but the child lay looking at white ceiling and oak panel walls descending to oak floors; rugs scattered, curtains hung from the windows except in the kitchen where shutters were opened or shut, and the dogs scratched a pant leg or whined, and then their bowls were filled; then, they slept by the crib side, until the child woke up and learned to walk, spoke and cried, dressed in flannel clothes.

     the child lifted a hand to wave, from around the corner, a dog's tail disappeared; and the child could see through the surrounding trees a world pieced together by cliff walls, pink fingers ascending; a juniper berry outside the window; the smell of pine wood and baking, carried to her with the wood burning smell from the stove; the gray house and the maple sugar, all blending into the sight of a tall tree, a red geranium box in a window; a town, the dot of an i, hills rising from a forest floor where a house sat, brown shutters framing the windows, wood shingles, a smoking chimney from the fire near where the dogs and the child fell asleep. 

    Carolyn Hart 2008