Where Readers & Writers Connect
“Whew! I’m not used to this muggy weather yet.” Chantal pulled her wavy auburn hair into a ponytail, wiped sweat off her brow with her hand and dried it on her jeans leg. “I forgot what September in Mississippi is like.”
Sue grinned and donned an Atherton Warriors baseball cap, tucking her curly brown hair into it and slipping on a pair of aviator style sunglasses. “That’s what you get for running off to Kansas, cousin.” She put two large nested plastic bins in the bed of her old red Chevy pickup and checked the contents of the top bin – water bottle, cell phone, sunscreen, boots, gardening gloves, two pair of cutters and two spools of twine. If all went well, the bins would be filled with kudzu vines by the end of the day.
“Ready to go? I want to get as much done as we can before the day gets too hot.” Sue climbed into the truck and Chantal followed, pulling sunglasses over dark brown eyes and settling in for the bumpy ride back down the dirt road she’d just traveled to Sue’s cottage.
“Where are we going today? There’s a ton of kudzu in these parts.”
“A few days ago I spotted a place on the riverbank that looks promising. I thought we’d start there.” Sue glanced at Chantal. “I’m glad I can harvest without a bunch of government interference. Believe it or not, fiber artists I know in other states have to get permits to cut kudzu. You’d think the states would welcome any help they can get controlling the stuff.”
Shania Twain’s “Feel Like a Woman” came on the radio. Sue cranked up the volume and started singing along as the truck flew over the dirt lane toward the paved county road that ran parallel to the Mississippi River.
Chantal harmonized with her cousin for a verse and a chorus, then asked, “What got you into fiber art full time? I thought you were doing okay as an accountant.”
Sue turned down the radio. “Even with the extra effort involved in running my own business – filling online orders, working shows and festivals, the actual basket weaving and making of papers and jellies and whatnot – it’s so much more satisfying than simply crunching numbers all day.
“And believe it or not, the money is better. Between Internet orders and the Kudzu Fest six weeks ago, it was a very good summer for me. That’s why I needed to go out today – with the Fall Festival coming up at the end of October, I need to refresh my vine stockpile and make more baskets, paper and wall hangings. I still have plenty of soaps and kudzu blossom jelly, but I’m running low on the other items.”
Pulling off the road at the patch she’d chosen to harvest, Sue cut the ignition and turned to Chantal. “A couple of things to remember – keep your gloves on at all times; you never know what you’ll run into in these vines. Speaking of which, watch out for snakes – sometimes you find cottonmouths in kudzu. I haven’t seen any yet, but you never know.”
“Snakes? You left that out of the sales pitch, girl.” Chantal pulled on her boots and hopped out of the truck, casting a slightly alarmed glance around the area.
“Would you have come?” Sue grinned, geared up, retrieved the bins and waded into the sea of green. “Let me show you what to look for and how to harvest it.” She handed Chantal a pair of cutters and a spool of twine, then separated the bins and handed her the empty one.
Sue took hold of a vine that was about the diameter of her pinkie and traced its length almost to the ground. Making a cut and gently tugging on the vine, she pulled it loose from the tangle of overgrowth, then coiled it, tied the coil gently with twine from the spool she’d hung from her belt, and dropped the coil into the bin.
“Be patient as you’re pulling the vines loose. Kudzu grows up to 18 inches a day in summer, so it won’t damage the rest of the plant if you break the vine off, but it might make the cutting useless for weaving.”
Chantal nodded and started harvesting, using the technique Sue had shown her. Satisfied with her cousin’s efforts, Sue moved a bit away. Working slowly and steadily, she harvested several small young vines, then turned her attention to some bigger ones for basket handles.
A particularly entangled older vine drew her deeper into the patch. Inching forward and humming a Faith Hill tune, she bumped into something in the undergrowth. A rank, rotten/sweet smell rose and Sue shifted to the left a little, trying without success to skirt the obstacle. Since kudzu covers anything in its path, Sue assumed it was a decaying tree trunk or log.
Tugging the last of the vine free, she stumbled and fell forward. Instinctively reaching out to break the fall, Sue touched something soft. Even through gardening gloves, it didn’t feel like a rotting log…
Sue felt bile rise in her throat, jumped up and stumbled backward, away from the partially decomposed corpse of a tall, thin man in ragged jeans and a grimy t-shirt. She turned aside a few feet away from the body and threw up, then stripped off and dropped her gloves and reached for the water bottle and cell phone.
“911? I’m out on Highway 11 about two miles south of Johnston Road. There’s a corpse in the kudzu…”
Her next call was to Chantal, who tried to run to Sue’s aid but tripped in the snarl of vines and had to resort to goose-stepping. When she finally arrived, ready to give Sue a comforting hug, she found her cousin shooting pictures of the dead body with her cell phone camera.
“Cous? What in the world…?”
Sue turned troubled emerald eyes to Chantal. “Something about him seems familiar.”
# # #
Traci describes herself as a Southern girl with a laptop, a couple dozen custom-made hula hoops, and a penchant for vintage jewelry and yard sales. Her debut novel, Chantal’s Call, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and CreateSpace. She’s working on Book 2 in the Atherton series, Brigitte’s Battle, and hopes to have it published by the end of 2012. Meanwhile, more of her writing can be found at her blogs Tracings and poemflow.