Roar Like a Lion 1


What woke them was the first crack, like God had clapped his hands for loud and sudden. It scared them awake. Ma and Pa lay on their bed centered on the far wall. Fourteen year old Edward stretched on the floor before the fire so he could tend it through the night. That whining blizzard had not let up for four days.

Ma said, "Masen," to his father for they had feared so much weight dumped on that sagging roof.

Then the second crack, the breaking of the roof's spine. It all came in then, dumped upon them, the roof and the deep snow that broke its back.

Edward moved to the wall as soon as the big crack sounded, more from trying to run, than a plan. It was that knee-jerk reaction that saved him for a section of roof came down like it had been folded right in front of his face. It protected him from the big dump of heavy powder but that load pushed the flap back until it just touched his legs and trapped him against the wall.

It must have been a ton of snow and debris filling the house. Edward could barely move. "Ma," he called. "Pa. Answer me, answer," he said, and a sob of panic. Then he caught that. "No," he whispered. No.

He took a step or two left and his hip hit the side-board. A timber leaned against it, and wood and snow showing through. But there was a vee of space if he slithered across the flat top of the cabinet where she rolled her pies and kneaded her bread. He had to wheedle onto his side across it, shoving Ma's precious needfuls onto the sliver of floor as he cleared his path.

This maneuvering brought him close to the front corner and there was a window not far. He had the tall but not much girth and he was gangly and wiry and limber. But he had to pick his way and go whatever direction this mess allowed.

He called out, "Ma," it just burst out, but there was nothing in answer and felt like there was no where for his voice to go.

He did dig out for so long, and not anything but his frantic breathing and the hiss of the fire and more shifting of the terrible load within these groaning walls. He made it to a porch window and worked with frozen bleeding fingers to get it open and pull it in. He kicked his way through the snow that crusted over and outside atop wood stacked there he found some purchase. He was out, heaving, wiping at tears and snot and despair, but not relief with his folks inside.

The snow had finally let up, but not the cold. The sun was up there finally, trying to show itself, but weak and sick looking. A tunnel led from the porch to the barn. They'd dug on it every day, especially him, and so much snow piled it had a roof. So he couldn't run around the house and look for a way to his parents for the snow was of a depth. But he had to get to them and see for they were hurt or they'd call out.

He climbed the porch and dug through to cling to the top of the wall, but he could not see into the house for the snow and the mess. He wanted to try to climb in from there, but he could not risk causing more destruction with his parents beneath.

"Pa," he called, but his voice was torn away and the world was white and glaring with it.

He climbed back down. The porch was pretty much in tact, and he went to the door, it opened in like the windows, and he pushed with his shoulder and it didn't open far, just a few inches, and he wedged his shovel in that crack and pried, and it moved some but not too much and he could get partly in, enough to grab his coat from its peg, and the hat Ma knit and he got that on, his scarf and the mittens.

"Ma," he yelled in the door there, "I'm comin'." He had his clothes on, boots too, thank God for his feet had been freezing even inside and he had to go out for more wood sometimes.

He went in the tunnel that led to the barn. He hoped to get the leather straps and the pick and whatever else would help. Half way along that tunnel had collapsed and filled itself with snow. He had to go back for the shovel, then dig his way out. It took him outside and from that height he saw the snow atop the barn and didn't imagine how it bore that weight for it was as old as the house, older maybe cause barns were built first usually.

Pa knew these buildings were weak and old and rotten, but uncle Carlisle let them live here to get a start…but not a finish, and it had felt that way…and now…, Edward looked at the sky and wanted to yell, but no strength to give to it. A God as cold as this here earth was not worth yelling at.

They'd come up from Mississippi with the mill folding and Pa pitching in with his brother to try and make ends…and these buildings been since the Civil War about.

But Masen, he'd been hurt in the war and hoped to feel better in the spring for it had caught up to him this year it seemed, lungs poorly, gas or cotton mill who could tell, and leg wounded and he moved slow, and now…Edward did not know how he fared or if he lived…and Ma….

He dug himself out. Ten feet of tunnel was down. Once he got to a clear path again he followed that next section of tunnel to the barn. It was cold and the cow was needing. He turned the calf in there to give her relief, and threw in hay for Duke, cracked corn for the chickens and a handful in his own mouth to stew on for he'd need strength.

But why was he feeding them when Ma and Pa…but he couldn't lose more…or what to do…and he searched for the tools but they were where Pa left them, neat and in place. He grabbed the hammer and stuck it in his belt, and the pick and his shovel again, some rope…and he spit out that corn.

And back through the tunnel, and the open part, the sun and his cold breath before his face and him panting and stumbling. Then the last part to the porch. He dumped his tools and made a second trip for the saw and the ax. And back again to the porch.

So he began his excavation of his home, the clearing from the door until he could open it more and more. When he hit a big part of debris he chopped and the snow held things from shifting, and him breaking and digging and sawing and hacking his way toward the place where Ma and Pa's bed was buried.

And when he was too froze to work more and he lost the light, he went out on the porch and through the window he'd climbed out of earlier. He worked his way back in and built a fire, for the chimney had survived. He built up a fire, he worked on it, trying not to scream for Ma and Pa. He had not been able to reach them as yet, and it grew dark and coyotes sounded, and that blaze lit the eerie silent mound of debris and snow behind him that had been his home, his life…their lives.

And snow melted some to soak the puncheon floor under his boots. And it grew hot on his face and he turned and the frozen back of him and the pain in his feet as feeling started to come. He threw on more wood and more, and they had more on the porch could he get it in here, and he would.

He kept that fire blazing and any wood he could get he hacked with his ax and he threw it in that fire. Snow fell and some melted there and more and more and more.

Next day he got some further into the middle of the room. Things shifted sometimes as he shoveled out snow and hacked on the big sections of roof and kept that fire roaring. He thawed himself out by turns and finally he could see a piece of that bedstead on the end, that one from Louisiana and France before that, too big, too dark, too fine for this damn rude cabin that buried them alive.

He kept working and saying they would be okay.

And come sundown on that second day he got enough shoveled off, chopped away he could climb through, but they were in there, frozen, Pa turned to her as if to try and protect. Well the crux of all of it had fallen on them and brought that bed to the floor. It went that way.

They died quick he hoped. He did not cry or feel anything at all but the frozen exhausted…something. And maybe relief. They didn't suffer while he worked like a snail…and he had faced it.

For them…it was over. Now he looked around.

He'd have to get to the barn come morning for the animals were suffering, and he stumbled back to the fire and tripped around as he threw the shreds of Ma's rocker in there. He threw everything in there he could get his hands on, some of it burning, some hissing wet, and smoke, and he went crazy throwing all he could get to move onto that fire, in the hearth until it was buried under so much, things had meant something, things they'd guarded, and now they were nothing, meant nothing. Nothing.

He fell on his knees then, and the crying came some, but he was too tired and it so dark, and he hunkered down then and wrapped his arms around his head and felt the fire working to get a breath, and it dark now…and he thought…I am in hell.

For two weeks he lived there, his ma and pa covered on the bed, him not able to bury them. He worked to clear the house and he did that as well as he could but for the biggest, heaviest part of it, he was powerless. One flap of roof brought so much pressure on the wall there it bowed some, but the snow behind held it, he hoped.

He took the canvas from the barn that second week when he could go back and forth and covered over part of the roof that was missing and nailed it there with those ten nails he pulled from the wreckage. It was a good day's work and he did salvage a pot and a chest and odds and ends and he kept that fire going now and he used the hutch and a broken slab of wood to make a partial wall out from the fire some and he did make himself a shelter this way, and he cooked meal and ate some and nursed his feet and kept them warm a couple times a day.

When it cleared enough a body might pick his way, he prepared to make the three mile journey to Carlisle's by foot, leading the horse, the cow and its calf. He killed the chickens was left, tied their feet and threw them over the horse. Then they stumbled off, each step exhausting. Each step ripping at his heart as he had to leave his parents unguarded there, but covered with wood and wet blankets and frigid air.

As they journeyed, he dug them out more than once when one of the animals broke through the white crust.

He had to live and he knew they'd agree. So he worked to break through all the snow and it took the live long day.

And come dark he reached the farm and his uncle was amazed to see him, and with the animals, not the calf, it lay back there. He told them right off, ma and pa are gone. And he collapsed then, outside and in.

Esme and Carlisle nursed him then. The sickness got in him from the cold for so long, and the wanting to die with grief and failure. But when his body healed…well he was different. Different from who he'd been before.

At eighteen Edward was handsome. Girls liked him fine, touching him all the time, his arm and shoulders, his hair, they loved to touch his hair. Any dance he went to, they tripped on themselves to be close to him. Good girls they was, too, and he ruined more than one and cared nothing. They wanted to give it, he'd take it. Life went quick.

He fought their brothers and he fought their daddies. He fought their mamas need be. But he didn't care about any of it. He couldn't stop laughing.

Uncle Carlisle tried to talk to him, take him on rounds as he was doctor in these parts though he only had three months of medical school. But by experience he knew how to hold someone's hand while they rolled around on the bed before they died in agony. Shit. Why would he want to see that? He'd gone some at first, but that wasn't his call. No sir.

He got tired of the same old fights. He finished those four years of schooling the mountains offered. They were glad to be rid of him and it was right back at them from him.

Uncle was right, he needed to get out on his own. When the job came up in the lumber camp, him and his buddy Jasper signed up. That was the life for them. They'd have some cash money finally, and a high old time on their own.

They hitched rides to Plum Valley, sixty miles away, and by the time they hiked in it was pitch black with the moon up. They'd been passing the jar most the way, and they were laughing and pissing and drinking and having a time. Jasper knew more dirty stories, some he claimed to live, and some Edward had lived with him, but not so much, not really, Jasper was just creative.

Except in school. He had made school so much fun, never taking it serious, torturing the teachers they'd had. Jasper couldn't read. It wasn't for lack of them trying to teach him, he just didn't care to…read or cipher or figure. He liked being out, dogs and liquor, dances and girls. Well what else was there? Nothing he'd seen that mattered but playing cards maybe.

So it was with hilarity they reached the ridge there and looked over that camp. "Well ain't that a sweet scene," Jasper said and Edward heard his piss hit the ground, and then he sent it flying, Jasper did, over that ridge into the sky, his piss, and Edward staggered and howled, Jasper pissing on that camp. They about fell over laughing, Jasper's piss roping wild, and he joined him and roped his too and Jasper called out, "Roar like a lion," and he roared and Edward like to fell over that ridge laughing.

And after, when Jasper tucked his willy and pointed yonder over that valley and he said, "That big building is the store, but the long house beyond is where the unmarrieds live."

That be them. One thing they never planned to do was marry. No siree, not with so many flowers in the valley. Leave them satisfied and wanting more. That was what.

Then Jasper hit Edward on the shoulder, but Edward had just raised that jar to his lips and the liquor that was left sloshed some and got his jacket and shirt, and Edward stopped and looked down at the mess.

Jasper laughed some more and Edward threw that jar the way their piss had gone and yelled, "Shit," but then he laughed, too.

And that's how it was they entered Plum Valley to be logging men.