Cheryl Smart

Away we went, Sissy. Do you remember? Do you remember running across the meadow, into the fields, through the woods until we made it to the red sand and clay gullies – our Mars. You were first to walk on Mars, of course, then me. Brave pioneers!

Vines creeping into our private realm – an alien invasion.

“We’re being overtaken by our very own Frankenstein,” you said. “Kudzu.”

In heavy encyclopedias, we learned the unruly Asian vine was introduced into the U.S. to control erosion. And it did it well. You can’t get something for nothing though. Before long, the kudzu insisted on payment for their services.

But all we have is this dirt.

Not so, the kudzu said. You have these trees here, and houses there, and those dead cars on blocks, and I’m hungry.

Kudzu gulped down entire landscapes around us. You wondered if it would eat the whole countryside or maybe just the south because everything tastes better here, greasy and fried, sticking to our ribs. The vines got fat but that didn’t slow them down any.

Most of the backroads were gravel back then, and if the summer was dry, trucks and tractors kicked up dust that settled on top of the kudzu edging its way into the road. Good idea. Suffocate it. But then it would finally rain and beat the dirt off those hairy grabbers. If you stood still long enough, there’d be tickling at your ankles.

You were dreamy when you were young. You convinced yourself the kudzu was a portal to some exotic world away, somewhere with a beach. You made yourself a statue as long as you could stand it, a look of expectancy on your face, waiting for those tendrils to snake around your chiseled legs and drag you down, to sink you deep into that leafy green ocean and send you to California.

You wanted expedition.

Until you realized kudzu had roots going straight down into the darkness of hell, and it concerned itself mostly with the sins of the south. Sins, the preacher said, that would tangle us up with the devil if we weren’t vigilant.

You watched the kudzu vines overtake two young trees whose closest branches were at least a fence section apart. The trees were across the road from the church-house, strong and healthy at about thirty feet tall. Between Sunday school service and morning worship, you sat on the front steps and witnessed the kill. The kudzu came from opposite sides and without a sound began snaking along tree trunks, teasing passage up bark, gripping and stretching to tie on to low hanging limbs. The vines twisted around every branch, more and more with each passing Sunday, winding up to the top of the trees. Soon there was no more tree left for the vines to climb, yet you couldn’t stop watching.

Inside, the congregation sang the second stanza of “Amazing Grace” and you knew it was time to have your behind in a pew. But you couldn’t pull yourself away from the scene across the road. You watched the vines on the trees shoot into the air, thrust upward and reach out right before your eyes. It was the most astonishing thing. Third stanza and the two hungriest vines on each of the trees began to arc toward one another in midair. Through many dangers, toils and snares… They grabbed onto each other right there in the sky! The other vines followed suit, reaching out for their companions…we have already come. The kudzu from the two trees pulled together, the vines spiraling around each other and tightening. The kudzu knit itself up…and Grace will lead us home.

Each Sunday after that for months, the kudzu pulled the trees together more and more until all that was left of the scene was an arching mass of green and brown that held those two trees all warped and twisted around each other. It was too late to save them. They were dead now, pulled close by the kudzu, smothered beside each other.

You haven’t been to the church-house in decades. Maybe it was swallowed up. You imagined God would strike the kudzu down, the way he did the preacher when he lied about his affections for your Sunday school teacher. Then again, maybe what you saw out there was a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, and God sent those vines to tear everything down because the place had become unholy. Sin. Sweet from the Vine. But what sin was in those trees? What wrong did they do?

Maybe the roads are paved now. Or there are no roads, nothing left out there but the kudzu, the church-house yanked down into the ground, or repurposed as a planter for the Frankenstein vine.

Maybe those two trees are still there, tangled together in the same pose, bobbing up and down in the only sea our world can ever know.

Go ahead, sister. You first.

Dangle your toes.

Dive in and get baptized.