The Marrowbone Marble Company - By Glenn Taylor
THE GROUND WAS THE color of rust. Holes the size of half-dollars were everywhere, some encircled by tiny mounds of dirt. This was hard earth, nearly frozen. Dried-up leaves and spruce needles turned brown. A hush had befallen the land, as still as the inside of a coffin. Such quiet recalled a time before timber had framed houses and a church, before plumbing hooked in hot and cold, before electricity snaked conduit. The trees slept. The creek was iced over.
At the back of the hollow, there was piled ash and shingle. Sheet metal lengths. Two-by-fours at peculiar angles, their surfaces bubbled and cracked and black. There was a furnace stack, fifty feet high and made from fieldstone. It towered above all that fire had taken, but its mortar was crumbling. A strong wind would soon enough knock it down and stir the ash and frayed black picture-frame wire and lamp-shade bones below.
Snow came. It landed silent on a thick sheath of glass, the size and shape of a backyard pond. This glass had run molten, but now it was cooled, its edges rounded, frozen in rolls. A woman walked a circle around it. She held in her hands a Bolex 16mm movie camera. She filmed the glass. Thought for a moment she had seen a fish eye looking up at her from beneath.
This tract of land had known many names. Bonecutter Ridge, Marrowbone Cut, the Land of Canaan.
A German hog butcher named Knochenbauer had settled it in 1798. He’d entered into common-law marriage with an Indian woman and they’d raised children and grandchildren and made their surname Bonecutter. The Bonecutters lived on these five hundred West Virginia acres for 150 years. They were hard, proud people who prospered some times and went hungry others. They witnessed love and murder, fire and flood, until only two remained. It was left to them to hold on to the land. They did so with the sure grip that hill people possess.
Loyal Ledford came to this place in 1948, and for a time people again walked the ground. They followed paths beaten by the feet of those who’d walked the same routes before them. House to church to meeting hall to woods’ edge, and back to house. The people here made something real and good. They built with their hands. They put down roots. Ledford put his in deep. But his blood carried memories and his temper ran hot. In his dreams, hollows were flooded and people hid in holes they’d dug in the ground.
Ledford was apart from this world, and yet the people followed him. “Tell you what,” he once said to them. “We can stir the creek and wake up the trees. We can be a people freed.”
A LINE IN THE DIRT
SIX BRICK CHIMNEY STACKS stood at a hundred feet each. This was the Mann Glass Company, a ten-acre factory tract straddling the C&O Line at Huntington’s western edge. Machine-made wide- and narrow-mouth bottles had been blown inside since 1915, and later, prescription and proprietary bottles. Eli Mann had opened the doors of a handblown specialty shop here in 1908. Now, at ninety, he owned a factory with one thousand employees and two 300-ton furnaces.
Inside, Loyal Ledford worked the swing shift, four to midnight. He’d done so since graduating high school in June, and before him, his father had done the same.
Ledford was a long, sturdy young man with big hands. At thirteen, he was a Mann Glass batch boy. At eighteen, he bid on and got his job as furnace tender. It suited him. He was careful to respect the fire, as heat will sometimes break even a young man down. Inside a glass factory, a furnace roared at 3,000 degrees.
Ledford squinted hard. Checked the gauge and eyeballed the furnace fire one last time through the barrier window. As was his custom at the end of a shift, Ledford stared at the fire until his peripherals went white. Then he closed his eyes and watched the little swirls dance across the black stage of his eyelids. He pushed his scoop shovel into the corner with his boot tip and walked blind down the dark east aisle. The wall bulbs had surged again. Popped open like fireworks, muted by the rest of the racket inside. Ledford clocked off at a minute past midnight.
Saturday turned into Sunday, and Ledford sat alone in the dark in front of his work locker. The sweat sheen on his body dried up. His wet-collared shirt turned