River Rising - Deleted Scene

While looking for something else this morning, I came across this scene, which got cut from River Rising early in the editing process. In honor of the poor folks in the parishes around Baton Rouge and New Orleans today who are once again suffering from a flood, I thought I'd publish it here, as a reminder that miracles do happen, and "love . . . always hopes, always perseveres."

Visualize relentless rain falling on a slave plantation beside the Mississippi, and a great flood about to crest the levees . . .

***

Lying on the moist soil of her shack, Marah smelled something in the air. Smoke? She took a tiny bite of hard tack and chewed it slowly, drawing it out, making it last. Yes, wood smoke. Someone had built a fire inside their doorway, she supposed; maybe had a little dry kindling stored away, and decided a hot meal would be worth putting up with tearful eyes and ticklish lungs. She too would rather suffer a smoke-filled room than endure the cold comfort of another meal like this. But she had not had the foresight to gather wood from along the overgrown sides of the levees and store it indoors. She envied them. She took another bite. All too soon her little piece of bread was gone. Time to milk the goat. One of the other women had fed the last of yesterday’s milk to the baby a little while ago. The child would be crying for more in the middle of the night. Marah rose to her feet and paused before the door, staring out into the rain. Strange, this rain. It had gone on like this for a day and a half now, never faster, never slower, no lightning or thunder, just strong, steady rain coming down so straight it hung outside the doorway like a curtain. Wrapping her arms across her chest to clutch her elbows for warmth, Marah ducked her head and stepped outside.

The rain hit her neck and rolled down her back. She made no effort to avoid the puddles as she walked, for the puddles were everywhere, and getting deeper. Wading right through, she followed the beaten path along the front of the shacks, heading for the small pen back behind. She did not look up. She knew the way so well there was no need. Besides, what would she see but pitch black? Holding her head down, facing the ground, was the best way to avoid the pounding rain. So when the light appeared at the edge of her vision and she raised up, Marah was already very near the fire that Newboy had somehow built. It roared and danced with life as if celebrating something joyful. Newboy stood on the other side gazing into a pot that hung above the flames. The warm light bathed his features with a yellow glow. His skin glistened. He stood perfectly still. The rain, falling into the flames, crackled and rose again as waves of steam that almost obscured him.

For a moment Marah thought he might be a vision. The fire might be a vision, too. How could anyone build a fire in this rain? How would you get the first tiny flame to catch and hold? And where would you get the dry wood? It was impossible. Yet there it was—there he was—somehow.

How?

Forgetting the goat, Marah walked closer. The warmth of the flames caressed her, made her feel almost comfortable again. Stepping into the circle of firelight cast around about, she got Newboy’s attention. He looked up at her across the fire and smiled. Suddenly she felt comfortable on the inside, too.

“Want some stew?” he asked.

Unconsciously she touched her stomach. “Sure.”

“I think it’s ready. Help yourself.”

“What’s in it?”

His smile widened. “Does it matter?”

She laughed and knelt and dipped one of the wooden bowls lying there into the pot and up it came, rich with vegetables and meat and smelling of heaven. She watched Newboy over the edge of the bowl as she drank from it.

“Good?” he asked.

She nodded and kept on drinking and chewing, following his every move as he turned from the fire and went to the nearest shack. Sticking his head inside he called, “Hey! Got some stew out here for them that wants it.”

The stew was better than good. It had a peculiar, delicate flavor. Tilting the bowl toward the fire she saw small floating green and rust colored flecks. Had Newboy somehow found spices? She sighed with pleasure. They had not even had salt in…how long? Since before the last planting season for sure. Maybe even the one before that. Yet here he was coming up with these delicious spices.

How?

Newboy moved on to the next shack, where he poked his head in and offered another invitation to come out and eat some stew. Moving on again, he was soon too far away for Marah to see him in the darkness and the rain, but she heard his muffled voice and knew he had continued, all the way down the line. What was he thinking? The pot was far too small for everyone. It held enough for maybe six or eight at most. And already the three women living in the first shack had emerged. Marah giggled as their eyes went wide at the sight of her kneeing in the rain beside a roaring fire, eating stew. Had she looked that way at Newboy when she walked up? The women approached slowly, each of them clutching a bowl made from a gourd. Marah rose to give them room as they clustered around the pot. Her own bowl was almost empty. Strangely, that one serving had been enough to fill her belly. But even though the stew was mighty filling, there would never be enough for everyone.

Now others gathered around the fire. To Marah’s surprise, nobody pushed or shoved. Everyone made room for those who came behind. Even Qana waited his turn. Marah supposed it was the shock of seeing the fire that kept them civil. What else could it be? She saw Newboy take his place on the far side of the fire, just where he had stood before when she walked up. Steam rose and fell in waves as he watched the others dip their gourds and hand carved bowls into the pot. Sometimes the steam almost obscured him. Sometimes it parted and she could see him clearly. The others did not seem to notice that he did not eat. Maybe he had eaten earlier, before Marah came along. One or two people thanked him as they passed along beside the pot. Most did not. No matter what, he smiled at one and all in a way that made her certain that he did not care about their thanks so much as he did about their bellies.

Qana had gone through the line twice before it finally occurred to Marah that the pot was not yet empty. How could that be? There were so many of them, and some had already taken two helpings, yet each hand that dipped a bowl into that small pot raised it up again filled to the brim. Could Newboy have refilled it in an instant of concealment by the rising steam? Could anyone move that quickly? And if so, where did he hide the raw materials? And the fire…she had not seen him add a log, yet it still burned. No longer did she marvel that the fire had been started in this rain. Now she marveled that it kept on burning. There was no pile of logs waiting to be burned. And the air was filled with falling water. No fire could burn in such a rain. Looking around, Marah wondered: did no one else see these things? How could they not? How could they simply eat and see nothing but the bowls they cradled in their hands as if to protect them from each other?

Was she the only one with eyes?

Posted byAthol Dickson at 6:16 AM  

2 comments:

Mainely Me said... May 17, 2011 at 3:31 PM  

Love it. In light of the situation on the Mississippi River, I have been wondering if you would have any comments :) Thank you.

Kay Day said... May 22, 2011 at 8:32 PM  

I loved reading this. Thank you for sharing. We certainly do need eyes to see. There's a lot of suffering, but there's a lot of God, too.

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