Prentiss lay in a hammock on the porch of the house belonging to his girl friend Danielle, a bottle of beer in his hand, and thought of how much he was going to miss living here. The wide cypress-planked front porch, the low-sloping tin roof the rain rattled against in a pleasing way, especially when he and Danielle were in bed, the log-walled section of the living room, the remains of the original cabin her great-great-grandfather had built on the land—all touched some deep tranquil place within him, calling up a yearning for a house surrounded by a thick, impenetrable forest. If he had thought long and hard on this, something he was not inclined to do, he might have come to the conclusion the house he enjoyed imagining contained only himself. It was as if a single person had been dropped into northern Alabama before those ancient hunters who wandered across the frozen Bering Straits had made any progress at all at penetrating the continent. Danielle’s ancestor had come from Tennessee, drawn to Alabama by simple desires: grow a few acres of corn in the big cove and make a little whiskey.
The history of Prentiss’ family had been somewhat the same. But his grandparents had sold their land and the house on it to a strip mining company and had moved to Birmingham, where his grandfather had opened a bait and tackle store on the outskirts of town. His grandfather had drunk and gambled away what was left from the sale and had mortgaged the business when it began to be successful. But the store prospered and expanded under his father’s ownership into a place that sold clothing and hunting boots. If you wanted a pair of snake-proof boots for deer or turkey hunting, it was the place to go. In the end, though, Prentiss’ father also succumbed to the lure of whiskey and cards. He imagined he would have done the same if there had been any money left. Widowed, his mother now lived in the house his father had built. They had paid cash for it during his father’s poker days. A kitchen bought with four queens, his mother liked to say. She had insisted it be in her name and not his father’s. So when his father was forced into bankruptcy the bank could not touch it. After his father’s death she had not remarried, but continued to work as an office manager for an insurance company.
The old house site in the hills north of Birmingham had been obliterated, buried under tons of overburden. He looked out at the oak and hickory covered ridge that rose before him, the trees green and thickly leaved, their outlines shimmering already in the morning heat, and thought of how much he wished they were his trees and this was his porch.
Just the other day he had said to Danielle, “If it don’t rain soon this place is gonna look like Iraq”
Danielle had not laughed, a sign things were not going well.
“When are you going to get a job?” she asked.
“I’ve been looking,” he said.
“Mining jobs are hard to find.”
“You were never a real miner. Find a job. Any job.”
Then she had turned and disappeared inside the house.
At the time he was expecting to stay another six months. She would come around. He was a handsome man. Women dropped into his hands like ripe scuppernongs. In a year or so he would be living with another woman like Danielle. Or he could marry Danielle and the land and house would be his too. But the idea of getting married made him nervous. He was young. Plenty of time for that later.