An excerpt from Aeneas, a novel in progress by Coy Barefoot
From Book Seven, when Shady South returns after a 15-year absence to his boyhood home of Tidal Flats, Virginia. Shady is shocked to discover that the house he’d grown up in—indeed the entire neighborhood— had been torn down and replaced by a Super Wal-Mart.
HERE AND NOW BENEATH THE FLUORESCENT SKY
This is not that distant time. This is not the fifteen thousand years of living and dying together. Of fighting and loving together. Of making and celebrating together. Of dancing and singing together. This is certainly not that.
This is not the Doeg nor Chisca, Paspahegh nor Kiskiak. This is not the Chickahominy, the Kickotank, the Patawomeck, the Rappahannock. Not the Monacan and not the Manahoac. Not the Cheroenhaka, the Meherrin, nor the Appomattoc. This is not them, the Moraughtacund, the Weyanoak, the Quiyoughcohannock, the Warraskoyack. Not the Nansemond. Not the Pamunkey. Not the Mattaponi. Not the Yesan. No. And this is not the Powhatan.
It’s none of those who for thousands of years moved up and down the rivers and back and forth across the bay, through the teeming forests, over the hills, marveled at the stars and beheld a magnificent sky that was always only the mask of the universe. That’s all gone.
Here and now. This is roll after endless roll of toilet paper. This is bleach and laundry detergent. This is fabric softener. This is dryer sheets and paper towels and stacks of white paper napkins wrapped in plastic beneath a fluorescent sky.
This is not Tidewater nor Hampton Roads, not Southside nor Southwest. Not the Valley, not the Piedmont, not NoVA, not the Eastern Shore.
Here and now. This is down comforters and polyester blankets. It’s soft pillows, hard pillows and all-natural pillows. This is 200-count sheets dyed in a rainbow of colors beneath a fluorescent sky.
This is no longer the James, the York, the Rappahannock and the Potomac. It’s not the Nottoway, the Rapidan, nor the Roanoke. Not the Jackson. Not the Maury. Not the New. It’s neither the Clinch nor the Dan. The North Fork and the South Fork no longer embrace to form the lovely Shenandoah, Daughter of the Stars.
Here and now, this is grass seed and weed killer and lawn mowers and hoses. This is bags of fertilizer full of nitrogen and phosphorus and potassium.
This is not Old Rag or Mt. Rogers or Bear Den with its tractor seats pointed west. There is no Allegheny here. No Cumberland, no Massanutten, no Southwest, no Ragged. Appalachia has been stripped naked, brutally raped, and lays dying in a stream.
Here and now. This is curling irons and hair dryers, electric razors and vacuum cleaners. This is crock pots and toaster ovens, microwaves and waffle irons.
This is not the Chesapeake Bay licking the sandy shores along Gwynn’s Island. It’s not the tea-colored water of the Dismal Swamp curling around the trunk of a cypress tree. Not the Natural Bridge and not the Blue Ridge.
It’s an endcap dripping with costume jewelry for little girls.
There are no fields here. No scattering of Holsteins drifting across the green of an Augusta County farm. No slow-burning Buchanan coal mixed with purpleblue chickory growing wild among the rocks. Not the emerald rows of tobacco criss-crossing Pittsylvania County. No feeder corn stalking the highway in Culpepper. No trees in Albemarle shimmering with apples. No peanuts. No soybeans. No watermelons in Southampton. And on the mountainsides of Highland County, there are no more sheep that like splotches of whitegray paint once dotted the hills.
This is only hammers and shovels and trowels and screwdrivers and pick axes beneath the fluorescent sky.
This is not the birth of freedom, such as it was. This is not the Apollo Room in the Raleigh Tavern on some dusty street with horse droppings in Colonial Williamsburg— not constructed, not reconstructed, not deconstructed, just not at all. This is not Washington and Jefferson and Madison and Monroe. It’s not Henry and Lee and Mason and the rest.
This is GE and Sony and Timex and Dell. This is Hamilton Beach and Arm & Hammer. This is Vidal Sassoon. This is Round Up.
This is not the motoring whir of the Surry Ferry or the calling of gulls in its churning wake. Nor is it the zen-like poling of the Hatton Ferry, last of its kind in the country. This is not the call of a Chesapeake & Ohio engine approaching the graded crossing in West Leigh near Charlottesville— two long, one short, one long— one hundred empty coal cars rocking along behind, heading west to take the load. This is not the splash and call of a surfer at Rudee’s Inlet nor the roar of a jet taking to the sky at Dulles.
This is instead you’re busy. Your time is important. That’s why convenience counts. This is the merciless plea of the in-store television commercials. This is security scan section three and did you find everything you were looking for and is plastic okay?
This is not Native American or Scotch-Irish or English or Dutch. Not African or Irish or Spanish or Latino or Korean. Not German. Not Afghan. Not Tibetan. Not Vietnamese. Not Indian.
Here and now. This is high fructose corn syrup and chicken by-product. It’s citric acid. It’s sodium silicate. It’s salt. It’s Yellow No. 5 and Blue No. 1 and Red No. 40. It’s gelatin and nonionic surfactant. This is aluminum and mercury and tetrasodium EDTA. This is polypropylene glycol.
The cameras in the ceiling are the eyes in the fluorescent sky. They focus and zoom and watch. They see all they want to see. But they do not see this one thing— all of which happened at the exact same moment:
A small boy, the great grandson of a Virginia slave, tosses a baseball with friends on a diamond just outside Zuni.
A well-dressed young lawyer crosses a busy Richmond street, making her way up the hill from Shockoe Slip to Capitol Square.
An immigrant from El Salvador cuts into the carcass of a turkey in a processing plant in Dayton.
An elderly blind woman on her porch in Lynchburg listens as a car alarm goes off somewhere down the street.
An athletic mother of two with music in her ears runs the asphalt trail along the Potomac River in Old Towne.
A panhandler asks for money on the UVa Corner in Charlottesville.
A man pulls a sandwich from a paper bag on the courthouse steps in Orange.
An excited girl in a life jacket steps into a canoe at a campground on Lake Anna.
A father calls to his child from the sidelines of a soccer game in a county park near Burke.
A thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail passes Damascus and contemplates the Virginia leg ahead of her.
A baby cries in the backseat of a car sitting in traffic near Tyson’s Corner.
An unhappy young woman with a pierced nose asks the drive-up customer at a McDonald’s in Emporia: do you want fries with that?
A boy closes and locks his bedroom door in Danville before he pulls two magazines from their hiding place in his closet.
A mother cries into her pillow in Cat’s Bridge on the Eastern Shore.
A man pauses and leans against a building in Montross. Hold on, he says, I’ve got something in my shoe.
Three friends start their descent into a limestone cave near Monterey, their helmet lights vectoring in the darkness.
A boy opens an empty mailbox at the end of a long dirt driveway near Tappahannock.
A tall man slams down his phone in a cubicle in Roanoke and curses. A coworker pretends she did not hear him.
A woman looks pitifully at herself in the side mirror of her car as she stops for gas near Winchester.
A man lights a cigarette in Grundy and asks into his cell phone, “What’d she say to that?”
A tourist in Schuyler is fascinated to learn that this little village in the woods is the real Walton’s Mountain and that John Boy’s real name was Earl Hamner.
A dental hygienist reaches into someone’s mouth in an office park in Chantilly.
A fat man in jeans looks across the Elizabeth River from the port at Norfolk and thinks about his money problems.
A surgeon at the hospital in Fairfax gets on an elevator and presses L on her way downstairs to break some bad news to family members.
A teenage girl loses control of her dad’s car and skids off of Route 3 west of Fredericksburg.
A first lieutenant laughs heartily with his Marine buddies as he brings a hamburger to his mouth in a mess hall in Quantico.
A young man in prison at a facility in Troutville thinks about ancient Rome as he walks the broken running track that circles the basketball court.
A middle-aged woman in Mineral walks to the window of her home and sighs at the sun.
An old woman in Buena Vista turns the TV down to better hear the ringing phone she refuses to answer.
A college student in a kayak calls out to his girlfriend on shore as he glides past the beach at Kiptopeke.
A man with one arm at a furniture outlet in Farmville admits to a woman that he is lost. Where can I find the dining room tables?
A seven-year-old girl, just tall enough to ride, holds up her hands at King’s Dominion and shouts as the Rebel Yell descends its first big hill.
A deputy sheriff in Ringgold responding to a 911 call runs across the lawn of a home on his way to the front door. He can hear someone screaming.
A grandfather in Galax slips in the shower and falls and fractures his hip. No one can hear him yelling for help.
A nervous widower in Chatham laughs over spilled tea during lunch at a Mexican restaurant. He’s on his first date in over twenty years.
A baby is born.
A little girl plays alone on a tire swing.
A teenage boy cries over his unrequited love.
A young man loses the job he was just starting to define himself by.
On the bench at a playground a married couple argue while their child comes down the slide.
A woman studies her face in the mirror and cannot believe this mask has lasted for fifty years.
A grandfather signs a birthday card to his granddaughter.
A skinny young man pilots a riding mower across the 15th fairway of a golf course and wonders what the hell he is supposed to be doing with his life.
An old gray woman drops dead between two carts of pineapples in the produce section of a grocery store in Tidal Flats, Virginia.
The eye in the sky is blind.
The eye in the sky sees none of this.
The eye in the fluorescent sky sees only consumers and potential thieves. Nothing more.
This is not living.
This is lettuce and cucumbers.
This is tomatoes and celery.
This is bananas.
This is apples.
This is peaches.
Copywright 2013 Coy Barefoot. All Rights Reserved