The Other Husband
When in the middle of the night Cullen and Don show up at my trailer, I tell them straight away we have no business. Cullen keeps jabbering, as Cullen’s wont to do, saying they’ve come from assembly and it’s been decided, even with my status, that I should join them.
I tell Cullen, Mary and I aren’t hitched anymore. There’s another husband now and their assembly has no more hold on me.
Then Don gets out of Cullen’s Jeep and puts it another way.
That’s how we end up out of Roanoke on 81 at three in the morning. Cullen drives, Don sits in the back. When we pull off the exit, I roll down the window and smell the warm moss and sulfur through the pine. I know they smell it too.
Cullen stops jittering and takes his foot off the gas. Don leans up between us.
Look at it, he says.
Cullen bangs his hand on the wheel.
I know better than to get into it with them.
Don’t worry, Don says. They won’t be surprised to see you.
Cullen is saying how the assembly didn’t blink, not a member. He assures me there is no ill will, how it had been damn near unanimous that they should fetch me. And why wouldn’t it be, he explains, with all me and Mary had been through.
Then, real quiet, he says, You know, Ray, no can imagine what it is like living the way you do.
Alone, Don says, in the city.
Being how you see things, Cullen says.
I don’t say I already see the dirt on their clothes, that I know what they are digging for.
Instead I touch my back, ignore the pull of pain in my side, and tell them it’s been hard.
Well, goddamn right! Cullen says, smiling at Don in the rearview.
I have no beef with Mary, or the other husband either. The assembly long suspected me for some interloper, for how could someone not of them, of Mary’s people who first settled Pine Mountain, first professed witness of that place, be claimed by her as husband. But anyone who doubted us Mary refused and banished from her door.
I admit, those were ecstatic times.
Before what Mary called my second-guessing, my refusal to commit, brought forth my expulsion. What she needed, she’d said, was more than I would give.
But what is this? Here I am, giving just the same.
When Cullen turns down the driveway the line of dogwoods me and Mary planted bloom into the headlights. Every lightbulb in our house is on, glowing like a crazy person itching towards a fit.
There in the yard stands Mary. Every wife and daughter off Pine Mountain squat cross-legged before her, crawling and fondling about her dress, pulling at her legs and praying in the dirt. From the Jeep I hear their songs. Mary swings her arms, thin and wide, kicks her head back at our headlights, opens her dark mouth and sings their song as if she will carry them away, if the Lord so allows it.
Mary, I want to say. Look what yall have done.
But before I can go to her, pull her from the crowd, Don and Cullen lead me to the house.
Inside the women’s voices peal through the open windows and the light bulbs buzz in their sockets. The kitchen swarms with men. I know their long faces, their black and yellow robes.
I tell Don there is no assembly meant for me. Don says it is not now nor ever has it been my place to make that claim.
The wall where the stove once was has been ripped open, the stove is gone, and in its place a flight of stairs descends into the dark.
In the basement the other husband stands to greet me. And then I see them in their hole: the diggers. Shirtless and obscene, singing their own low song, they have shoveled the floor, tunneled the wall and foundation, breached the earth where Pine Mountain meets the house.
Hey Ray, the other husband says. Good to meet you.
While some diggers shovel, others handle the root. In their hands it slides back and forth, cutting them deep so their dark blood pools in the dirt. They struggle to keep their grip, one end of the root disappearing into the hole, its other end disappearing up under the other husband’s shirt.
Mary said you might help me.
He twists and sighs, fumbles at it with his hand, seems confused to what it is.
God knows, I don’t want to tell him.
Then Cullen interrupts, asks me what it is I see.
Anything here, Ray? Don says.
The diggers wrench the root from the ground and loop it into piles at the other husband’s feet.
I say again this is not my assembly. I say this is not meant for me.
Ray, the other husband says. His voice is like static and I try to keep it out. Mary said I could talk to you.
The diggers are losing their hold.
Mary’s gone. I say. There will be another husband now.
The other husband shakes his head, squints down at the diggers.
They can’t hold it, he says.
No, they can’t.
You could, he says.
I shake my head, close my eyes, tell him I don’t believe.
Then Don nods to Cullen and they pull me back upstairs. The assembly men crowd the doorway, some wanting to refuse our exit, some clamoring for a look.
Get out of the way, I say.
Let’s go! Let’s go! Cullen says. We’re coming through!
Out in the yard, Mary and her women are gone.
Don tells Cullen to buy my breakfast. The waitress is named Deshay. I’d never heard that name. I like it. I wonder where she’s from.
I tell her to stay clear of us and Cullen explains he’ll need the coffee and the bacon and the eggs and the waffles. All of it.
Deshay, he says, we’re going to eat it all.
Even after the food comes Cullen won’t shut up. Is this a sign? Will there be another transformation? Did I really see the diggers down there? He says that I can tell him, that Don says it’s okay. He just wants to know, please, is there anything I can share about what I’ve seen.
I tell him thanks for breakfast, take me home.
When I see the other husband, it’s at night, waiting for Cullen to bang on my door, waking from a dream of Mary. I don’t tell him this is Pine Mountain, that he gave enough and this is what he got.
Instead I tell him we have no business. He loved Mary and I loved Mary. That’s not some cord between us. We are both just another husband.
But he can’t hear what I’m saying over the noise of the diggers, tilling the soil and wrestling the root behind him. He keeps scratching at his back, tugging at the root, asking what went wrong.
My ex-wife’s the witch goddess of Pine Mountain.
Now, what in hell does that make me?