Student Voices: Sarah’s Epilogue to Cold Mountain
Once again, students of the The Outdoor Academy finished reading and discussing Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. I love reading novels with different groups because I find that my own understanding is always deepened through new angles and nuances brought up by students. Semester 36 is no exception, and this time, I decided to ask students to create an artifact that synthesized the many themes in Frazier’s work. Hearing folk ballads of Ada and Inman’s tragic love, viewing artistic renderings of views from Ada’s window in Black Cove, and acting out student-created scenes that tied into the novel’s original plot was a blast, and so I thought for those who have read Cold Mountain, you might find the following work by Sarah fascinating—- an “epilogue to the epilogue.”
-Katie Harris, English Teacher & Academic Dean
Ada’s hand slipped into mine, her fingers curling around my hand. It now felt like the natural state, for our fingers to be interlocked. After four years, I no longer noticed the emptiness of where the tip of her index finger used to be.
It had left her the day after the winter solstice. Ada wanted to chop down some trees on the ridgeline. I offered my help, but she insisted that it was something that she should do herself.
So I stayed back to slice the fresh timber into firewood. Every hour or so, Waldo would carry a new load to me. Stobrod relaxed in the cart as it bounced over tree roots and rocks, trying to get in a few minutes of sleep.
I remember the day as being odd for a North Carolina winter. Clouds hung low over the mountaintops. The sun hid behind them, so an eerie darkness remained in Black Cove through the morning. Fog seeped in everywhere, enveloping the land. Its thickness was such that I would catch only glimpses of crows as they flew overhead. On this day they seemed unclear of direction and flew slowly as if their wings were weighed down.
The heaviness of the air muffled all noise. As Ada hacked at the trees in the distance, the sound was so faint it could have been my own heart beating. But unlike my pulse, her chopping was not in sync with me. All morning I would try to match my rhythm of slicing the wood with hers, but I could never figure out just what beat she was going for.
It had been this way ever since I had met her in the woods on that cold, snowy day. We would be doing something together, but it often felt like we were miles away, struggling to keep the same tempo. I loved her, but adjusting to her new self had proved harder than I had thought. She had amazed me on the day I tried to go north. As I lay in the snow drawing shuttering breaths that I had thought would be my last, I watched the young outlier falling slowly to the ground, staring at the gun in Ada’s hand with a look of shock on his face. Regret was etched in it, too, for sneaking back to grab his pistol. That moment had lodged itself into my mind and I remembered it with surprising clarity. The rest of the next few days, as Ada and Ruby scrambled to patch me up, were a blur.
I fingered the spot on my ribs where it had made contact. Half of an inch up or down, and the bullet would have gone straight through my heart. All that remained now were an ugly scar and a tender ribcage.
In recalling my memories, I had stopped chopping wood. I fingered the axe and counted the vultures in the air. Those are the cheating birds, I said to myself. They are the birds that come as the epilogue to the epilogue, after the prey has already died and its story has ended.
The only sound in the heavy air was that of Ada chopping up at the ridge. Suddenly, the air was pierced with a shriek from her direction. I dropped my axe and sprinted towards the sound. My ribs burned from the violent breathing, but I kept running until I saw Ada.
She was kneeling on the ground, examining her finger as if it were a painting for her to gaze at, still unsure of her opinion of it.
-Oh, hello Inman, she said.
-Are you alright?
-Yes. I’ve decided that I didn’t need that finger much anyway.
She grabbed my hand with her good one and we walked back down in silence. A trail of blood dripped from her hand. It was as if we were dropping old memories at each footstep and leaving them behind to sink into the earth. As we walked, our breaths came short in the frigid air, but soon I could not tell them apart. In and out, we breathed at a steady tempo. Our strides matched up, and the thumping of our feet simultaneously hitting the ground joined in to the rhythm. We strode together out of the forest onto one of our fields. The sun shone down through a gap in the clouds. I noticed that the moon was also visible up ahead. The fog was lifting, and in the gradually clearing sky, two crows flew together side by side, their wings flapping in unison. They flew as with purpose, now confident of where they were and where they wanted to go.
-Papa! Can’t I play with this stick?
I was jolted back to the present. I looked at my beautiful daughter standing in the firelight. I shook my head no. She shrugged and leapt away. Ada and I smiled at each other as she twirled around and around under the light of the moon.