ELIJAH

© 1985 Don Watson
"We'll call him Elijah," Daniel had announced to Sara. "Pa'll like that. Pastor said it at the fun'ral. Meant somethin' good. I forget what."

Living on six acres of rocky, eroded, dead-soiled earth of eastern Kentucky, unmistakably separated from the grassy hills of neighboring counties, Sara Ware and her family were "holler folk." Good people distanced themselves from the likes of the Wares, but the Wares didn't care. They knew they were as traditional as the established family lines of their neighbors. Their family had practiced the same rituals and had honored the same religious values for three generations. And they were certainly good, God-fearing Christians. Besides, then knew, like the others, they had been created in God's image.

Sara squinted into the baby's eyes and cooed, "Elijah! Elijah! Do you like your new name, Elijah?" She played with him like a doll, swinging him from side to side and back and forth. She enjoyed rubbing him gently against her breasts. Overflowing with milk, they told her that she was now fully grown--as had her pregnancy, which had ended with a stillbirth just two days before Elijah's birth and Mama's death.

At thirteen, Sara was barely beyond the age of playing with dolls, but she had never played with one. Since she was three years old and Mama had contracted consumption, Sara got to play Ma to her five brothers and her baby sister, Sissie. But this was the first time she really was a Ma--her maternal identity initiated by her own pregnancy, and completed by her nursing her brother.

"See if Pa's doin' anythin' yet, Sam'l," she shouted into the next room. "See if he'll eat. I'm fixin' to make us some supper."

Sara lay Elijah in the rag-lined box that was his crib. He immediately screamed at being abandoned, and Sara started to pick him up again.

"Don't!" commanded Daniel. "He gotta learn to be a man sometime. Might's well start now."

Sara deferred silently to her older brother as she always did, and retreated to the kitchen, the baby's screams tormenting her.

Pa didn't eat this evening. He hadn't eaten since Elijah had invaded his life eight days before, drawing the boundary of his life by erasing that of his wife, Daisy.

Pa couldn't imagine living without Daisy. So he didn't. He sulked, figuring that God unfairly punished him. Last winter, he had lost his mule. And now, he lost his woman. Well, he figured, it just isn't fair. Like a vegetable, Pa stewed in his bitterness. He would never forgive Elijah for robbing him.

The children missed Mama, too. But knowing they must feed the chickens, collect the eggs, and slop the hog, they proceeded with their chores as before. They knew they weren't entitled to the same luxury of resting that Pa indulged in. And they enjoyed his rest; their chores were much lighter when he wasn't overseeing them.

Later, Sara would retreat to the warmth and serenity of this day when Elijah was named. But her memory would stop cold with the image of herself sitting down to eat after the boys had finishing supper. That's when Pa came awake.

"Girl!" he shouted from his bedroom. "Come in here."

With any trepidation squelched by her habit of obedience, she went to his doorway. "Pa?"

"Strip down and git over here," he ordered, slapping his sweat stained mattress. She obeyed silently, and Pa found all the pleasures in her body that he had enjoyed with his wife's. Even more, he savored revenge. He stole the girl from the baby.

Sex was routine for Sara. Daniel, Samuel, Jacob, and Joshua had used her for their sexual release since she was six. Pregnancy was never an issue. Girls, when they reached a certain age, just started having babies. One thing was clear, however: Matthew had not fathered her child. He was only seven, and he only rutted on Sissie.

Despite her sexual experience, Sara had not expected Pa to mate with her. It didn't take her long to comprehend the circumstances, though. Pa had always used Ma, and now that Ma was gone, Sara would take her place in Pa's bed--just as she had previously taken her place doing other chores. And following tradition, having been claimed by Pa, Sara had become unavailable to the boys--except when Pa wasn't around.

Pa beat Elijah regularly, the beatings explained as lessons in obedience to Pa and God. Elijah learned from these lessons that he was hated by Pa and God. And he tried desperately to earn favor in their eyes. He was a good boy and followed all the rules. But the beatings continued, and Elijah concluded that he could never be good enough. Many times, he longed to age faster--to earn his freedom through attaining adulthood. And many times, he fought the impulse to bolt. He stayed mainly because of Sara.

One Saturday afternoon when he was twelve, Elijah stood in the doorway and watched as Pa satisfied himself in Sara. Becoming acquainted with his new hormones, he sensed a new set of pleasures in his sister-mother's body. And though she was old, he decided it was time to rut on her.

Sara saw Elijah standing in the doorway rubbing the bulge in his pants, but she didn't think much about it. Many times the boys stood around, their pants around their ankles, watching Pa mate with her and playing with themselves. She never attempted to hide her body; it wasn't really hers anyway.

After Pa fell asleep, Elijah stepped into the room and demanded, "Me next, Ma."

"Now?" she whispered.

"Now."

Sara was surprised by Elijah's demand, and proud, too. He had previously obeyed her, but now he was giving the orders. She alone had raised him from boyhood, and now she alone raised his manhood. She had become a woman to him and her mothering was no longer needed. She was glad to relinquish her power.

Elijah pulled her by the hand to the room he shared with his brothers. As soon as she lay on his pallet, he shared one more thing with them.

It didn't take Sara long to adjust to her new position in Elijah's life. Or to learn that his mating was more tender than that of the others. For the first time in her life, she could extend her sensuality fully within the envelope of her body. And she silently pretended that her body belonged to her, especially when Elijah sucked her breasts. This reminded her of the warm feelings she enjoyed as he had first drawn vitality from her.

Elijah and Sara kept their love secret, taking care not to alert Pa to Elijah's second thievery. When Pa was around, Sara rarely spoke to Elijah with words. But her furtive glances communicated well her frequent desire to be with him. Her brothers recognized the meaning of these glances, and respected Elijah's property by staying away from her entirely. Thus Elijah got his wish. He didn't have to share Sara with anyone. Except Pa.

As Sissie had grown and developed, Pa's sexual interest in Sara waned. But he gained an interest in taking other kinds of pleasure from her. He had discovered that beating her made him feel better--particularly when the farm frustrated him in some way. And it did this nearly every day; its rocks didn't yield much fruit.

Pa's beatings fueled Sara's love for Elijah. When she wanted to meet him beside the creek, she displayed herself to him--usually her breasts, but sometimes other inviting parts of her body. He was blessed. Because she seduced him, he was never compelled to display his feelings for her.

As Elijah changed from boy to man, Pa barked more at him, but not because he knew about Sara and Elijah. His hatred just grew. "Git yer lazy ass out here and pull these thistles," he ordered. "Ya'll never be a man!"

Occasionally, Elijah was nearly provoked into showing his manhood to Pa. In his fantasy, Sara would bend over in Pa's view and take Elijah's stiff organ from behind, playing the mare to his stallion. Sara, Elijah was certain, would join him in this act of rage. But he was pacified enough by his fantasy that he didn't need to act on it. Besides, he feared that Pa would take out his rage on Sara, and then he would then lose the only pleasure in his life.

To the end of his life, Elijah would remember the last time he made love to his sister-mother. In his fifteenth year, they had snuggled together beneath the plum tree in the sand by the creek where they were caught up in the pleasures of body and soul. Their minds, however, were discarded, so they neglected the time. And as supper time arrived, an angry, hungry Pa went looking for them.

He found them easily. He followed the beacon of their panting and grunting directly to the creek. And seeing Elijah pumping himself into his woman, he grabbed a stiff branch of oak and beat Sara into a bloody mass of flesh, bone, and hair. She didn't even have time to scream.

Elijah watched the slaughter helplessly, paralyzed by his guilt and his loss. If his grief had subsided even slightly, he would have shredded Pa with his bare hands. But it didn't, so he didn't. He would live with this image forever, castigating himself for what he would call his cowardice. This self-reproach stained him because, he had been taught, men don't grieve over losing mules or women.

Elijah never returned to the house. Without saying goodbye to anyone, he walked directly from the farm into his new life in the west. He carried no belongings. But because Pa lied, he carried a bounty on his head for murder.

Beyond parts of eastern Kentucky, nobody would have been interested in pursuing Elijah except for the bounty money. And beyond six months, interest flagged there, too. Sara, after all, was only a woman--and a holler woman, at that. Besides, the bounty was only two dollars. If Elijah had been accused of killing a man or stealing a mule, the manhunt would have been extensive and vigorous. He knew this. Nevertheless, he restlessly moved on each time he began to feel settled. Tranquility, he had learned beneath the plum tree in the sand by the creek, was dangerous.

For the next twelve years, Elijah walked many miles. He worked many jobs--as a hired hand, a stage guard, a mule skinner--thus gaining skills to someday operate his own farm. He had learned well the hard lessons of his impoverished youth--to work hard, to ask for little, and to expect less. And though they did not particularly like him, each of his employers respected Elijah's diligence.

He drifted, but Elijah was no drifter. Without recognizing the signs, he became more like his hated Pa each year. He single-mindedly dreamed his dream of recapturing the pleasures he had experienced with Sara. His mind was set on securing his own homestead, raising his own animals, and acquiring his own woman--to love, honor, and obey him in the ways of all good women.

And when he turned twenty-seven, Elijah reached for his dream. He applied for and received his 160 acre homestead on the prairie. Then, after he fenced off his range, after he accumulated a small herd, after he planted five acres for feed, after he built a suitable home, and after he saved twenty dollars, he was ready to order his wife. Preparing for his marriage had required seven years. But the investment was worth it. The work would become quicker and easier after his wife started bearing children to help him.

He approached Rev. Stacy to help him compose his advertisement. Wanting to seduce the right woman, Elijah told the pastor to write down the practical facts: "Seeking a good wife, dowry not required."

Each week after the train arrived with the mail, Elijah collected responses to the ad and took them to the pastor to read. He was intent, but in no hurry. Choosing a wife was serious business. Elijah listened carefully as Rev. Stacy read each letter. Some letters were written in the elegant calligraphy of a professional scribe and others were scratched by hand with a pencil. Some disclosed personal anatomical features and others included only an age. Some letters divulged reasons for wanting marriage, but most presupposed the recipient would know.

Elijah was not moved. For one reason or another, he rejected all of them. Too old, too young, too educated, too city-fied, too uppity, too pretty. This ritual proceeded for three months before Elijah's interest piqued.

"Read that one again," he ordered.

Rev. Stacy read, "I, too, am a seeker. I search for a similar soul--"

"Not that!" Elijah snapped. "What's she called?"

"Sarah Collins," read the pastor with some apprehension.

"Sara!" Elijah shouted. "My mama's name. Write her and have her come. Right now!"

"But Elijah, you've already turned down women with far less education than this one. She probably reads and writes--it looks like she wrote this in her own hand. She might even teach school. Are you sure she can be a good wife to you?"

"Git her. You'll see to it she's a good wife." And with that, Elijah strode out of the rectory and proceeded to the homestead to prepare his new wife's bed.