“Tell me again why we are up here,” Barbara said.
“To scatter Harold’s remains,” I replied.
Barbara had only recently arrived to Charlottesville from Israel by way of Boston, Los Angeles, and another city that I’ve forgotten. She wasn’t a good nature walker. I had taken Barbara on some drives into the Shenandoah Park, but we didn’t get very far from the car — so this was an adventure. Barbara was good to come.
“But we’re going back to the wine garden for that sweet blackberry booze you mentioned, correct?” she reminded me. “At Mountain Cove, right?”
“Yes, you’ll like it.”
We had earlier in the week sloshed, sniffed, and slurped white and red varieties at Barboursville. Barbara used Harold’s glass, and I had mine.
“Ashes or bones,” Barbara asked, “in the box?”
“A bit of both, but mostly ashes. Harold thought that Bradlee’s — that’s the Black community funeral home — might not want to handle the body once they found out he was positive. So cremation made the most sense.”
“The discrimination here is hard to believe,” Barbara said. “Why do you stay here?”
“Here?” I emphasized. “That’s not another ‘Southerners are stupid’ jab, is it?”
Harold would say, “Intolerance isn’t as much about a red neck as it is about a white collar.” He liked to talk back to the know-it-all TV talking heads and especially the ones with those wide-framed glasses — you know the ones — the ones that construct the a porn geek drag. “Take off those glasses,” Harold would shout, “you’re barely smart, and you’re not Colby Keller.” Harold enjoyed jerking o with Colby Keller sometimes.
“Where are we emptying the box?” she asked.
“See the rocks ahead?” I pointed my stick, raising the rough end of the dogwood and making circles in the air. “Because Harold saw the future up there.”
The thought kept me silent through the switchback.
“You’ll have to tell me more about that,” Barbara said. We gently rose up the mountain side after three tough switchbacks.
“We always liked hiking up here since it is so close and so different from home,” I said. “Harold liked the spring best, with the hundred colors of green in the new leaves. He thought that so much fresh oxygen was curative. It is cool and sweet to walk in the spring.”
We stopped to look out across the open land below.
“Harold found a stone one time on a hike up here. He was so excited. He was sure that it was something from early people — Native Americans — but, you know, not the people who met the Europeans, long before ‘the Aboriginals’ as they say in Canada.”
I held out my palm, then closed it around the imagined stone.
“It was a stone that t perfectly here, in the palm — a crescent with sharp edges all around. He said that had to be man-made because of the edges. And I think so too: it was something made. Over in the valley we found lots of arrowheads with carved edges.”
I felt an earthquake once in Scottsville. It came early in the morning, I was watching TV, and Harold was asleep. It sounded like a train engine, a big locomotive coming closer and closer, roaring. And then it felt like a wave under the house, rattling the glass and things. And then it ed away.
More waves of mountain ranges appeared as we walked on, taking tastes of water and slower breaths of air, with the gentle rise toward the rocky belvedere.
“Harold Googled the web when we got home, found a report that the last ice age was 10-12 thousand years ago, and all these hillsides here would have been spruce and maple. The website said that they found a source of int about an hour or so from here, north, where people had been working the stone because they found re pits with burned spruce. They say the early people here would have found megafauna — you know, giant camels and sloths. That got Harold very excited. He thought that, in this cove, the early people might have made a prairie down there to make a natural corral to hunt giant elk, and that cutting edge he found could’ve been a tool to slice through.”
“Where is the stone?” Barbara cut in, understanding but a bit bewildered.
“I have it at home,” I said, but I did not. “It t like this in your hand,” I said, clasping and unclasping my grip.
“This is beautiful, like you said,” Barbara said in a comforting way.
I smiled back to her and hesitated before continuing. “That story was about Harold’s multiverse. You know how some people seem to live in different worlds at once — in different times or eras?”
“Drugs can do that,” Barbara said. “But I don’t mean that about him.”
“Well, in the last part of his illness there were drugs, but Harold had happy brain chemicals most of the time without additives.”
“I know people like that too,” Barbara said. “You know, being up high now we can see a lot. And I’m not so out of breath. The blackberry wine will be a perfect additive,” Barbara sang.
We rounded a hillside of rock that opened into the forest, revealing a wide and far view with plenty of sunlight.
Barbara found a rock and sat, relaxing under the sunlight.
We closed our eyes and felt the sun on us, like honey.
“Remember at my house when you shouted about the lights in the grass, remember Barb?”
“I do,” she said. “I had never seen fire flies before. What a surprise. And then we caught some in the jar, walking through the cool grass and then let them go.”
“That’s like Harold’s way of seeing things. Surprise and pleasure. Fire flies from the grass, giant sloths in the trees. Down there,” I pointed.
“My multiverse, right,” Barbara said.