The smell of fresh water
By Jason Hart
I was fourteen when the first brick came through the window. The note attached said, Don’t take this lightly. I thought that was strange because doesn’t throwing a brick through someone’s window already show you that you don’t want them to take the message lightly?
On the back side of the note was written in scrabbled ink, Stay out of the well. When my father, stooped and scratchy voiced, read this aloud, it felt like a lizard was crawling down my throat.
I had been in the dry Blue Hill well.
I went in the Blue Hill well to look for the pennies that people threw down to buy wishes. A penny wasn’t a lot of money to me, but it was more than nothing, which is what I had just then. It was worth much more than a stranger’s wish.
I spider-climbed down the well, each limb pressed on its smooth concave wetness. I went with my grandfather’s old mining helmet and a bag for the pennies. I also carried a carving fork in my mouth for fighting off blind fish and the ghosts of bats.
The second brick came when I was eighteen and driving away to school. My car was a tiny white Metro that I had purchased very cheaply because when the air conditioning ran it made the car smell like old newspapers and dictionaries. It was the dictionaries part that bothered people. I didn’t mind dictionaries so much, but I couldn’t stand the sweat of the newspapers, so I never ran the air conditioner. I just drove across the fires of America with the windows open and my nose inheriting the sulfur of the burning highways.
I stopped at a rest area outside of Sante Fe to stretch my legs and enjoy the comforts of bleach cleaned bathrooms. I lingered to examine a map of the southwest and to contemplate cacti bigger than cities. At least I was away from Maryland and its maps with their forty-foot monster crabs.
I returned to the Metro and the second brick had smashed through the back windshield. The glass had become a kind of air, filtering the weak afternoon sunlight into dull beams that flattened themselves across the orange-red brick.
I looked around. I had only been gone enough time for the sun to move half an inch. Someone might have heard the crash. But the tall trucker in the green vest stood turned away, flanked by pines on each side, and the little girls with brown hair flew away with the other butterflies. No one was looking at me.
I reached through the hole and picked it up, its shape an uneven rectangle of dust, its color that of a ripening mango. The note wrapped around it was typed on yellowed paper. It read on the outside, Pay attention. Again, this seemed like an unnecessary instruction. When a brick breaks through your car window at an isolated rest area, aren’t you already paying attention?
I unwrapped the note. On the inside was typed, Put us back in the well.
There was no well in Hell that I was going back to Maryland, ever.
On the inside of the front cover were written the names of dead women. Martha Agnes, 72, grandmother, seamstress, born 1843 Buffalo, New York, died 1915 Cleveland, Ohio. June Edison, grandmother, schoolteacher, born 1867 Cleveland, Ohio, died 1912 St. Paul, Minnesota. Helen Martz, born 1907 St. Paul, Minnesota, died 1971 Ocean City, Maryland. Caroline Martz, born 1925 Ocean City, Maryland, died 1951 Ocean City, Maryland.
I studied the book and thought about Helen and Caroline Martz. Caroline had died at twenty-six. Was it an accident? A disease? Did she hurl herself off a bridge? The book held no answers. Why had Helen moved to Ocean City? Did she die alone? Did she put the book in the well?
I wrote my mother’s name underneath Caroline Martz’s, she who had died childless. I wrote the city and year of her birth, and I wrote also this year, the year of her death. I paused and my pen moved between the book and my pocket. Then I wrote my name under my mother’s. I wrote in Ocean City and my year of birth. I closed the Bible and sandwiched it between the two bricks, resting them all against the passenger seat.
My parents never had a daughter, and I’ll never have a wife.
I buckled my safety belt, and after some consideration, buckled the belt for the passenger seat as well. We drove west towards the smell of fresh water. VS