Midwife in the Tire Swing

Intermezzo 2—The Tire Swing

“At the moment of conception parents-to-be pass on to their children, along with race, sex, handedness and eye color, an endless capacity for self-delusion.”

—Malakh the Principality

Carved from the shattered, sifted basaltic heart of Maine fifty miles from the sea the state road was called the “Airline,” not for the biplanes and barnstormers that might follow its meanderings, but for its supposed healthier atmosphere—mountain air free from the fogs of the coast. “Sea air’ll kill ya,” they said, and so it did. The Willipaq lowlands were home to gurgling lungs and early death—the medical records of World War I would reveal that fully two-thirds of Willipaq’s strapping Maine farm boys failed their induction physicals because of bad lungs.

The graders with their sideways blades sifted and arranged berms of sand, slate and shivered granite into windrows, neatening the rubble. “Shit, would you lookit that,” remarked Clayton Dudley, a neighbor. There was a freshet bubbling from the side of a newly-exposed rock face. “Underground spring, looks like.” This was said by Old Doxology, paternal apex of the Hobarts and Lucy’s father. “Ayuh. Better give Billy Bradshaw a call,” said neighbor Dudley. Not a day passed, well maybe a week, since the third day of Creation that Old Doxology had not spoken ill of any or all county engineers. The state road went through.

Lucian Hobart the elder had a chiseled face lined like a newspaper crumpled and tossed in with the stove wood, yesterday’s news, last year’s—Lucy’s father’s face was an archival map of passion deferred, and nicknamed for The Doxology, a form of endearment: “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” Latin in the High Church: “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et in semper, et in sæcula sæculorum.” Old Doxology liked things the way they were, predictable, safe. He did not like change or relish surprises. Another Lucian Hobart—his replacement?—had come as a surprise.

“A miraculous child,” he said to his wife when she told him that she was in a family way. “We have been married only six months. How can this be?” He winked. Oceana coyly smiled. Old Doxology doted on his young wife, Oceana Carter Hobart, Lucy’s mother, and could deny her nothing. Lucy was said to be early, impatient to breathe and squall his anger at being so soon removed from the Palace of Joy.

Lucy was later to ponder the rituals of conception. That his parents were not publicly passionate fired his wonderment. “There used to be a whole lot of to-do. Shivarees, the beating of tom-toms and a rattling of dried armadillo hides. Drinking toasts to the blood of their unborn children from the skull of a fallen enemy. Or the skull of a departed husband.”

Oceana had been married before and was to be regarded as damaged goods. Not too badly damaged, for she came to the marriage bed with her maidenhead intact. Old Doxology marveled then announced, “Your marriage to Willie Carter—it was never consummated.”

“He left for the war. We were married that afternoon,” said Oceana. The war was in Cuba and the Philippines. Oceana’s first husband died in Florida of the yellow fever.

*  *  *

Old Doxology wore the badge of paternity with ease; he scarcely noticed his children, and Lucian the firstborn was a first among equals. There were to be seven children in all, six daughters plus Lucy. The girls were unremarkable, and married off as quickly as decently possible and thereafter forgotten. Barefoot and tanned, a Huckleberry Finn free range child, Lucy was left to grow as best he might in the shadow of his father’s fierce neglect. That his father loved deeply and fiercely was appreciated by Lucy’s mother. But something concrete was needed, a positioning—a guide for ancient astronauts perhaps, or a sign of aversion, the smearing of lamb’s blood on a doorpost, a statement not least of all to himself—that the newly minted Lucy Hobart was indeed cared for. A black pneumatic tire, rotated from the passenger’s rear side of his 1908 Model T, as good as new, was tied to a tree.

The tire part of the tire swing was grown and nurtured, some say personally watched over, by Frank Seiberling in Akron, Ohio. The hemp rope, 1½ inches thick and all natural fiber, Old Doxology knotted in a double bowline, to be replaced the next year by a stainless steel chain, measured against Eternity and rated to 500 lbs. Old Doxology set up the swing as a token of an expected Biblical lifespan; Lucy visited it alone and in secret. He would slip away to the great white oak in the front yard from the family dinner table before the dishes were cleared. He would stand there in the dusk, touching the tire and its blackness until he was missed. “Lucy? It’s dark,” his mother called. “The bugs’ll eat you alive.”

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