The Old Way


I speak of that home we made in the mountains before the big war, when things were done different.

Ruth cried when she saw the baby’s face.  I bit my lip until I tasted iron and salt.  His right arm was too short, one of his eyes stayed shut, and half his jaw was squashed flat.  The ears were round like silver dollars, without grooves to catch the sounds.  Her mother did the midwifing with a stony face, took the child away for washing, and set him in the crib I’d made of pine, felled and planed by hand within a shout’s distance of the door.  She put the stitches in while I took the mess out, bundled in a good piece of cotton.  I dug a hole three foot deep so the raccoons wouldn’t get it.  I came back in and fixed stew from a home jar.  We three ate together.  Ruth nursed the baby after supper, but she wouldn’t look him in the face.  She was nineteen.  This was our first.  I held him in the rocker while her mother gave her a talking outside the door.

“You stay strong now,” I whispered.  “You’re already tough as horseshoes from the looks of where you been.”

I never believed in heaven or hell.  It was my grandfather’s doing and he made me promise not to tell.  The old man was with Grant at Shiloh, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.  He climbed hill and tree with his Sharps rifle, taking his pay for relieving gray-coat horses of their officers.  I believe in ghosts and vengeance and a blackness from which new souls fall upon us like rain.

Ruth came in and cried.  The baby was quiet.  She wouldn’t take him from me.  Her mother left us, taking the long walk downslope to the little house, seeing by moon and lantern light.  That night we lay in bed with the child asleep in its crib.  I held her cold hand between our two hips.

“I want you to take it away,” she said.

“Where to?”

“I don’t care.”

“It’s not natural to talk like this.”

“You see how he is.”

“We’ll make do.”

“I’ll give you another one, and another after that, but I won’t touch you again if you make me raise that one.  I swear to God.”

She loosed my hand and crossed her arms.

I carried boy and spade to the creek under poor light and went a ways downstream from the washing place.  There was a scuttle in the bushes and two foxes crossed the stream at a shallow place, one chasing the other.  I held him under the water until my hands ached from the cold and took him out, set him on the stones, went uphill, and dug a hole three foot deep in that wet ground.  With my clasp knife I notched the nearest needle tree with a small cross and ran my thumb in the groove.  Across the water I heard dog and vixen giving barks of joy or pain.  I seized a rock, big as a potato, and flung it their way, wanting to hurt them, break bones, blind, or kill.  My toss only made a thud and they did not stop.

When I returned to bed I lay down with my back to her.  She rolled and pressed herself to me, pinned my arms to my sides, held me tighter than before or since.

J.F. Glubka is a native Oregonian and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he received help from many good people.  He has been a teacher, postal worker, and most frequently an insomniac.  He lives in Eugene with his bicycle.