And now it’s raining.  A spring downpour has come.  Dousing the flames.  Leaving smoke and the tree blackened—smoldering ash—Aaron’s body already consumed.  It and the tree house gone.  David’s journal burned.  Benjy stands looking up.  Letting the rain wash his face.  You watch the fire extinguish.  The last remaining flames dampened and finally going out.  The smoke going up and the rain coming down.  Then a silhouette.  Maddie’s shadow as she stands on her balcony in a nightgown at dawn.  Friday’s dawn.  The first of April.  Her hand poised holding a cigarette.  The smoke curling up.  Benjy hears her voice from her bed even though she faces away from him looking out on the streets of Hemphill.  It carries over her shoulder and enters into the room to him.

MADDIE

You think I know more of love, and you see it as a manipulation, but I don’t…  See it as thinking of a response.  Not yours, but mine.  Then you know what move to make next.  Maybe even several moves ahead.  As you see how your response has a response.  You can call it calculating.  That women are calculating.  But if we really know more of love that is it.  Inspiring the response you want.  Not out of any control except seeing yourself as malleable.  Not fixed to a fate.  That’s really all it is—your fate.  It’s the failure to see what your response brings out as a response and feeling trapped in it.  Powerless…

BENJY

Maybe I should think of what my father would say.

MADDIE

That’s your father’s fate.  Not yours.  Once you realize you don’t really want his blessing you’ll feel a lot better about the whole thing.  You don’t want his blessing.  You want to surpass him.  It’s the only way you think he’ll bless you, but all it does is make your moves predictable.  Your charming manners and insinuating ways, together with your love of pomp and pretensions are meant to captivate a woman’s heart from the beginning. I see how you act to invoke this response, but you never think it through.  You’re just your father on stage.  You don’t know how to act when he’s off it.  What he brings to me here in this room without his music.  And your jealousy is eating away at you.

BENJY

Should I become angry?  Lose my temper?  What would your next move be if I did?

MADDIE

Your next move should be your sister.  If you want to get at your father it’s through her…

BENJY

Why through her?

MADDIE

You haven’t been to church much, have you?  The father.  The father of Dulcy’s child…

You’ve been watching Maddie’s silhouette as she talks over her shoulder.  But now you go over her over her shoulder and down to the street.  You’re in Benjy’s mind now and he’s thinking of something that happened nearly ten years ago.  When he was nine.  You see him on Papa Frenchie’s porch in the heart of the SabineForest.  It’s a year before his death.  Bridgette has already passed on.  Frenchie sits in a rocking chair with a glass of lemonade.  Benjy is sitting on the steps playing with a Swiss Army knife Frenchie gave him as a gift.

PAPA FRENCHIE

Your great-grandmother bought that for me after the war.  The year you were born.  She told me to use it instead of gun…  He, he…  You know she had to nurse me back to health the night you came into the world.  Trouble with my second wife…

BENJY

Do you miss her, Papa?

PAPA FRENCHIE

Yes, that I do, son…  The people you love should take all their things with them when they leave.  Don’t need reminders to weep when you get old…  You know she was there when your momma was born too.  Knowin’ her cursin’ the morning.  She saw the same mid-wife that birthed your momma and that birthed you and your sister.  She’s gone too now.  Burned her own house down with her in it…  Her name was Marie Toussaint.  I went to see her once myself.  To get a piece of advice.  I guess you could say to restore marital harmony.  Though I never remarried her.  I never remarried your great-grandma.

BENJY

What’d she tell ya, Papa?

PAPA FRENCHIE

Oh it seems silly now.  Bunch of superstition.  But I suppose you get old enough you tend to get a little superstitious…  You see curses are written in a book.  And in them is pronounced the ineffable name of God… these curses are then blotted out with water, and a woman is made to drink the water, after which she suffers the curses if she was unfaithful to her husband…  I guess after my second wife I didn’t want to take no chances.  You see your great-grandma was kinda wild.  Lord knows I couldn’t tame her.  I don’t think she would’ve taken my hand in marriage again even if I’d asked…  But like I said she’s dead now.  That old voodoo woman.  She died soon after giving me that piece of advice.  Soon after giving birth to you and your sister…

And so you see Benjy thinking this, remembering, as he watches Maddie’s silhouette on the balcony.  Perhaps he’s calculating his next move and you see this but Maddie doesn’t.  He’s wondering if his father knew of this practice.  If like Papa Frenchie he tried it on his mother, Bethany.  If he put it to use on this woman speaking to him over her shoulder.  He thinks on this almost like a sports broadcaster giving the play by play.  Not from a woman’s mind, but a man’s.

 

BENJY

Do you know who the father is?

MADDIE

The question is do you.  Do you remember what happened when you were born?  David, your father, told me about the mid-wife that gave birth to you and your sister.  He told me about your older brother.  You were cursed.  Maybe by what your father did, but it was passed on to you.  You were a killer even before you came into this world.  And maybe you have to kill again if you ever want to steal it.  Steal your father’s blessing…

And then you see it again.  The fire going out.  Aaron’s body but ash.  The pages of David’s journal dying embers that float up for an instant before becoming soggy with rain drops and falling.  The blackened tree.  That Texas Mountain Laurel that once held a tree house.  You see Benjy’s face upturned to the rain.  His hands reaching up to it.  And so you’ve seen the before and after.  On this Friday the first day of April.  And now Benjy has returned.  He’s returned to Maddie’s room his clothes wet, to confront her with what he did what she had him do, and as he climbs the fire escape a far off whistle.  Another train crossing the Sabine.

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