Sunday 17 October 2010

This Beloved Madness

Old Maud was mad, they said.

She lived in a rundown house out near the swamps, its plantation-white facade long since faded to grime and green. Part of the balcony had fallen through to the veranda so that it partially obscured the broken door, but not so much that Maud couldn’t get by. The roof was holed and rotten, but there was enough to keep a few rooms dry (as dry as anything got in those parts, where the air itself was damp).

Many a strong, young man had offered to fix the place up: her nearest neighbours down the way; the boy who delivered her food; the mailman; the trash collectors. She always said no, if she said anything at all.

None of them really knew Maud but for what their parents had told them, affectionately, indistinctly.

“She might seem all gone away, but that business with her Bill, that’d take it out of anyone.”

“Now don’t you go pitying Maud, she’s stronger’n you’ll ever be. Just you make sure she don’t starve, boy, that’d sure be a greater tragedy.”

“I reckon she misses that Bill. We all do, course, only she don’t really remember the whys of it no more.”

“It weren’t for Maud, the town’d not be here today. Pure tragedy is what it was.”

“You gotta respect a woman carries on after all that. She ain’t so crazy as she look. She just living a world the rest of us don’t got to.”

None of their parents had ever expounded on this apparent tragedy, or said any more about Bill, but when everyone who knew the truth had passed away, the younger generation made sure Maud was still taken care of, as much as she allowed.

Sometimes the younger boys, and some of the more unruly girls, would follow her into the swamps. They were none of them allowed into the bayou but it was something of a rite of passage, and Maud never seemed a mite bothered by it. They would be stealthy in that way all children of a certain age are: cloaked in hushes and giggles.

Maud would smile a little to herself, and pretend she couldn’t hear them. She never minded the company, really. And they would never know what they saw; she was just mad Maud, after all, the crazy lady of the swamps.

Deeper in, she would stop and hold her hand to a particular tree; a gnarled mangrove that seemed stooped and ancient, with moss hanging from it in drooping, green swathes. Other trees were clustered unusually thick about it, but none too near, as if they were gathered to pay their respects.

Then Maud would talk to that tree.

She called it ‘Bill’, and its boughs creaked in yearning.

(author's thoughts)

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