Through the blue night haze she felt her way down the hill. She knew the way like the back of her hand, even without the moon lighting her way. Old John’s licker still was across the ridge, and she could smell the mash cooking in the crisp predawn air. Soon she’d be able to wash away the pain and maybe survive one more day.
She stopped to catch her breath, leaning on an old gnarly oak tree. Its roots clung to the side of the steep ridge. She was almost to the top and then her walk would be down hill. Then she’d get her breathing back and only have to be careful her knees didn’t give out as she negotiated the rocks and tree roots. A sharp left at the twin pines, then right at the spring. That spring water was what made John’s shine better than most. The crawl through the blackberry thicket was the last leg of the trip. She emerged covered with bloody scratches where the brambles tried their best to hold her back, keep her from deadening the awful pain. She laid flat on the cool earth and pulled herself forward with her fingers dug deep in the dirt. Once out from under their thorns she waited, and listened.
A wren fussed at her. She could hear a jet plane overhead. But that was all. The woods were silent, and safe. She stood up and began walking again. When she reached the hollow tree she picked up a piece of deadfall limb. She struck the tree three times and waited, struck three more times and waited, finally, two.
Soon the pain would be gone. Soon. She listened, and like an echo she heard three, three, two. She stepped past the tree, ducked under the mountain laurel, and to the left she walked into a small clearing. John greeted her with a suffocating hug. She gave him his payment in a bed of pine boughs. He smelled of sour mash and smoke. It didn’t matter. Soon that memory like the pain would be gone.
Pint Mason jar in one hand she steadied herself. The front of her dress was black from crawling back through the berry thicket. She had to rest. She sat down on a rock and opened the jar. She drank deeply, like it was the spring water that fed the still. The shine burned all the way down but she hardly noticed. What she did notice was the pain melting away. Just a little more and it would all be gone. She lay down on the rock, the sun was up and wiggling its way through the trees. Her grip on the glass jar eased. She didn’t hear the tinkle as a hundred tiny pieces scattered across the rock. The sun sparkled in every shard, and the pain went away.
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