Hello, October

Willow in Alabama

The choir of crickets and tree frogs is so loud I would have to raise my voice if I wanted to say anything. There’s no one here to speak to though, except the coyotes resting in the field. I turn a lever, and the work light by the barn dims and goes out. Stars twinkle around the black mass of the clouds.

I smoke a cigarette and enjoy the cooling air. Summers in South Alabama have a nasty habit of overstaying their welcome. Out here we’re close enough to the Gulf so that we get all of the humidity, but far enough away so that we get none of the breeze. It’s great country for gardens and mosquitoes. You can’t pick between one or the other, however.

But tonight the air is cooling fast, despite the obstinate, burning sun before. The only light I see comes from a pumpkin I carved an hour ago. I cut it and a dozen others from the patch out back, and couldn’t help myself from carving at least one. Tomorrow I’ll load up my cousin’s truck and drive them to the stand his dad sets up shop in. It’s never been anything more than a way to pass the time, but rituals must be kept.

Peanuts boil over in one of the old smoke shacks. No one’s left to tend the garden, but enough still grow on their own that we can supply my uncle with a good month’s supply. Those are always big sellers, those and the pie pumpkins he grows himself. Most people in this part of the country do their shopping in their yards.

I don’t really belong out here. I don’t fit in, though I don’t feel ostracized. My family is all over the county, and they love me, but it’s obvious to everyone that I was never going to live here one day. It’s enough that my family has roots here, where generations of dirt poor people labored so their kids would have just a little more than they did. Half the churches in town are headed by uncles and cousins of mine. Two miles behind the house is an old whiskey still my uncle, the Good Reverend Johnny, operated to supplement his services’ meager collection plates.

The light from the pumpkin shines a skull’s face upon the blueberry patch out front. The coyotes stir and begin to howl. Somewhere past the trees, other coyotes answer.

A tin bucket of green apples sits by my feet. There are about five more inside. I hate green apples but I pick them anyway. I’ll give them away to various aunts, who’ll make tons of pie and cobbler, and make sure I get a head start on packing on my winter weight.

I hear squealing grunts, and wild pigs make their way into the field where the coyotes are. The coyotes, to their credit, know better than to truck with wild pigs, and they hop to their feet and trot away. The pigs snuffle around the apple tree, gnawing the ones I tossed away from worms or spots. I think they have piglets with them, but I can’t be sure.

In the corner of the living room there are two tin washtubs overflowing with pecans. The tree is still shedding them, actually, and they crack against the roof like small hammers when they fall. Occasionally one will hit the house’s propane tank, and the empty steel will ring like a bell. Owls hoot whenever this happens.

The pecans will disappear faster than the apples. There will be the occasional pie, but mostly they will be eaten on chilly porches, while old folks with dirt under their nails watch the fading afternoon.

The fire from the smoke shack wafts through the night. In a few weeks some hogs from a farm in the next county will be brought over, butchered, and roasted. I’ll dig a pit for the bones, but there will be very little that will have to be thrown out. The feet will be pickled, and the horror that is chitluns will be prepared by somebody, for sure. The carcasses will be pried open and smoked for the better part of a day and night. The meat will be served freely at various church gatherings, and come November the process will start again for Thanksgiving. At that time, though, my cousins will charge by the pound. We always sell the heads to old people across the county, who I guess use them for headcheese. I’ve never really bothered to ask. We’re too far north for any of the Voodoo that leaks out of Mobile.

My cigarette burns out, and I decide I don’t want another. I drop the butt in the Mason jar I use for an ashtray. I sip tea from a glass that my great-grandmother bought, though back when she bought it, it contained baking soda. No one bought anything in those days thinking they would only use it once. The house is a little over a century old. The jars holding peppers in the cupboard are even older than the shelves they sit upon.

The tree frogs sing in harmony with the crickets. The pigs are long gone. My hands smell of the oil I used to clean the outside of the peanut kettle. The empty gas tank rings as a pecan strikes it. An owl hoots in the cool darkness of the trees.

Hello, October.

Hello.

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