“Look what you done.”
Conversational like. Then.
“Look what you DONE!”
Here we go.
Big sister Luce stomped her big ol’ feet, one of them unfortunate family traits, par-ticularly for a girl with stick skinny legs and knobby knees. Now me, bein’ a feller, my own big feet didn’t stick out so much, hidin’ like they did under my britches. Well, when they was long enough.
A small whirlwind brought me back to the livin’. Them boats holdin’ up them bony ankles didn’t hinder her stompin’ one iota. Red clay Arkansas dust fairly flew.
“Just look, ” she growled, “Just look!”
Then she waited. There’d been a black threat of more’n mayhem in her voice. I reckoned someone ’round here better take to lookin’ at somethin’ or other, right quick.
“Look what you DONE!”
Now, if I was wondering, like you might be doin’, I’d say she’d be a’hollerin’ my direction. If I was a bettin’ man, I’d lay odds on it. Stickin’ my hands deep into my dungaree pockets, I rocked forwards and back, on my heels then my toes, for wont of somethin’ better to do. I’d a’whistled if I’d thought of it.
Her angry mottled face lifted to the sky, she hummed like a slew of bees headin’ this di-rection. She was a’workin’ up to somethin’, then she let loose a howl, aimed towards no one in particular, “Ain’t my fault! Ain’t my FAULT!”
And then, to me, IN particular (I was purty sure since she grabbed both my shoulders in a vice grip, squeezin’ hard with them long spider fingers o’ hers), she spat like the words was filthy and bitter, “You! You dirtied my worshin’. I spent all afternoon gettin’ them things clean,”
“Liam!” This is right about where she got my full attention.
“Liam! You are a DIRTY FILTHY A-RO-MATIC SACK ‘O HOG ENTRAILS!!”
Fine, I’m listenin’. But she does spend too much time with her nose in them books, that girl. There was more.
She went on.
” Putrid ones!” I figured we was still talkin’ about entrails.
Her arms began a flailin’. “Sticky buggy innards stuffed inside a hog belly piled in a heap of steamin’ cowpiiiiiiies!” There she went again, a’stompin’ them big ol’ feet o’ hers. I was fixin’ to cough, but caution ruled the day. She was just gettin’ up steam.
Reckon I’ll stay twelve for a spell. Thirteen sure is ugly.
And yup, she was a’hollerin’ at me, I could tell.
But then her voice went low and gravelly, which never boded well. I was durned certain I was lookin’ to be dead meat.
Deep and menacing, “Liam. You. Are. Dead. Meat.”
Yup. Like I done said.
I now had the distinct feelin’ I should duck. Or run.
There was an unhealthy pause, ” And,”
Here it comes.
” … I’m tellin’ Mama.”
‘Course,that done it. The end was near.
I was done for.
But Luce, she weren’t nearly done, not by a long shot. Her bellerin’ bag wasn’t quite emptied. I was gettin’ worn out just a’listenin’. She hollered and she fretted and she hopped on one foot then the next. She cried one minute, then swore she’d whomp me the next. Lord A’Mighty! Fergive me my French, but she was madder’n hops! I stood transfixed. Demonized, that’s what she was, possessed!
My sister’s always had her a vicious streak, ’twas one of her more visible and viable characteristics. And it was showin’ itself more’n ever these days, ‘specially since she had her thirteenth. Now she’s all poison and venom and hurt feelin’s. We’d always been purty near twins, bein’ we’re less than one year apart. We was partners in all kinds of schemes and mischief. Some rip snorters! But this here, it’ll be the death of me, sure’s shootin’. I’d felt her wrath a’fore she turned into a teenager. We was fairly even sparrin’ partners, and I could hold my own. Words was differnt, somehow. Them gut punches and Indian burns was a breeze tallied up next to this typhoon in the makin’. Her face was red, her ears was blowing smoke, and now her eyes was aimin’ buckshot straightways into mine. Luce was apt to bust a gut, and it weren’t mine I was a’worryin about.
Mostly not, that is.
Nope, this storm what was a’brewin’ was lookin’ to be somethin’ powerful and mean.
And since I’d po-tentially perpetrated the evil she claimed, I reckoned I’d no choice but to weather it.
In my defense, I’d had a lot on my mind….no, that don’t cover it….See, I was….
Okay, looka here.
Now what I may or may have not done weren’t that awful bad. Accidents happen. Actually, to me they happen right regular. I usually blame my big, ol’ feet. So does most everbody else.
I ain’t admittin’ to nothin’, but my alleged doin’s today evidently struck a nerve, and shewwwww wee! This sister o’ mine was on the warpath! Normally, Luce’d just get things done, quiet like. Outta character, this rantin’ and squallin’. Usually she just took control, mean and ugly and quiet, and then beat the tar outta me. I’ll admit, though, with my latest growin’ spurt, that occurance may be less and less commonplace. Still, this just wudn’t her style.
Puffin’ up just a bit, I’ll contend this here accident didn’t in no way entitle her to abuse me the way she was doin’! They’s just clothes. Formerly clean ones, true, but hey, they’ll clean right up again. Them phrases shootin’ in and around my person included words seldom heard in our Christian home! She must be incredible het up. Bein’ a teenager didn’t give her no right. None, a’tall.
Well, don’t I sound all collected and at peace, like I was readin’ a bedtime story. My feet, though was tellin’ a whole differnt tale. That observation right there come while the rest of my person was a’hightailin’ it right outta there, haulin’ down the path away from that girl as fast as my skinny legs would carry me. My head was a’ talkin’, settin’ back calm, assessin’ the situation. My feet, on the other hand, couldn’t give a rat’s be-hind ’bout her heightened emotional state. They was poundin’ the hardpacked clay outta her reach. She was a speedy thing, her ownself, so wasn’t nowhere safe.
Now, now, said my head, and I come to an abrupt stop, tryin’ to wrestle some logic into my behavior, my last stride becoming a long slow step. I turned around right quick, though, measurin’ her physical distance from my person. Cain’t never be too careful, I says to that quiet voice persterin’ me.
Didn’t make much differnce. It kept right on yammerin’.
Runnin’? It said. Runnin’?! Why, that’ll just heap more troubles upon the troubles you already got, boy. Once she tells Mama you dirtied all her cleanin’, worst can happen you’ll be redeeming yerself at the ringer worsher out on the back porch. But once she tattles you run like a scared rabbit, the shame will far outweigh the punishment. Last longer, too. All them other brothers and sisters lookin’ up to you, or lookin’ to razz you? Best not to add fuel to the flame. Best to take what’s comin’, take it like a man. It’ll be past, soon enough.
Sound advice, my head was givin’ me.
I found I preferred the counsel of my lower extremities, however, as they was fairly dancin’ and itchin’ and fixin’ to move on down the line. Right now.
Oh, she weren’t done, neither, but she’d planted herself and hadn’t moved. The distance I’d put between me’ n her put her to raisin’ her voice even more.
“Shushhhhhh!” I shushed. Didn’t do nothin’ but spur her on.
“You pulled down my cleaned worshin’! Now just look what you did!! I’m tellin’ Mama, and she’ll have your hide! The whole lot, all my HARD work, suckin’ up dust! You’ll be re-doin’ the worshin’, mister!” she spat. And then she really spat. “I hope it takes you all night!” She balled her fists tight, and even from all the way across the back lot, what some’d call a yard if there was grass, I felt a fear wiggle.
Off she marched back to the house to report my supposed crimes. A storm front done brewed and stewed was just this moment a’fixin’ to come down!
And she was right. Mama’d have me for dinner. My dance card for the evenin’ was surely full, what with redoin’ the worsh . Regular chores be hanged. There’d be a whole new passel of repercussions for them bein’ late or undone.
I sighed. Doom hung low all about me, heavy and gray. I was done for. I couldn’t a’ run had I wanted to.
“Go on ahead, Luce! You just go on ahead! See if I care! Go on!” Tryin’ to salvage a speck of dignity, I managed a thin holler at her stiff, determined back, shootin’ it like a weak arrow what arches high, then dies before the target. “Go on ahead, see if I care!” All the while, I’m hopin’ she’d see the error of her ways and turn back, forgiveness floodin’ her heart.
Well, that didn’t happen.
There wasn’t much recourse for me. Short term didn’t look good, no matter how you sliced it.
Now, fact is, big sister Luce can get on her high horse, fumin’ at all sort of wrongs she sees bein’ done to her. Bulgin’ eyeballs during her tirade attested to that. Boney, sticky-out shoulders throwed back and hair blowed horizontal by the wind made her a force of nature. Like the front of one of them old time sailin’ ships. The world owed her plenty, way she saw it, and it wudn’t makin’ payments fast enough. That and the fact that chores and whatnot kept her away from her precious readin’ time gave her an ugly disposition most days. Me? Her fussin’ and frettin’ was irritatin’, like ants a’scurrin’ up yer pant legs, but they ain’t nothin’ what can’t be brushed off and next minute clean forgot. Till they come back.
‘Course, this time her huffin’ and puffin’ weren’t for naught.
She was right. She most certainly did have a bone to pick with me.
Guess I’ll admit to havin’ somethin’ to do with what set her off so.
All them clean shirts and overhalls a’danglin’ their hems in the dust, saggin’ low on the loosened clothes line? Yeah, I reckon that was me.
Nothing purposeful, mind you. It was truly accidental, me daydreamin’, my head in the clouds, not a’watchin’ where my fine feet was a’takin’ me. Seems they took me right into the clotheline pole, knocking it askew, dunkin’ them cleaned clothes right into the red clay dust below.
Wudn’t even time to recover. Luce’d burst from ’round the side of the house just as I gathered up my wits and tried to gather up them dirtied shirts and socks.
Yeah. I looked afar off to the horizon, notin’ outta the corner of my eye Mama’d scrambled out to the back porch, a’wipin’ her hands on her apron. Normally she wait a bit, see if the ruckus’d die down on its own, but Luce’s shrieks and hollers reached a pitch couldn’t even Mama ignore.
I was a’foggin’ up. Luce’s wailin’ was fadin’ fast, her mouth a’movin’ in silent slow motion, her nose all scrunched up, arms a’wavin and fingers a’pointin’. I scratched that spot over my left shoulder. I done it. True enough and sure. Wasn’t no gettin’ around it, facts was facts.
No gettin’ ’round the lickin’ I was due, neither. And I’d take it, for what I’d done, I’d done. But there’s more to it ‘n just dawdlin’ and and there’s a fine differnce between lollygaggin’ and misbehavin’.
See, it happened like this here.
I plum love Saturday mornin’s. Ain’t no school, ain’t no lessons, ain’t no necessary clean clothes. We’d all gathered like ever other Saturday, all us eight kids, Mama and Daddy, for prayer, then biscuits and sausage gravy and eggs cooked however we liked ’em. Mama worked hard, spending most of the meal at the stove, but she always took pleasure in providin’ a proper meal, and special treats. Saturday, today, was no different. My favorite eggs is fried, overeasy, little salt and pepper dottin’ the snowy mound. I do love that first punture, fork into egg with yellow sunshine lava a meltin’ across my plate. But I also allow myself a moment of reflection over the work of masterpiece art my mama created just for me. I do like to spread out the joy. And my special overeasy egg is one of them!
And like ever other Saturday mornin’, it did not disappoint.
But once the dishes was done and we was scrubbed behind the ears, and once we’d all parted, off to see what adventures this golden day held, be they skippin’ stones down by the creek, climbin’ some ol’ tree out to the woods, or diggin’ for buried treasure out to the old tumbledown Holt mansion, I found myself wanderin’ down past sweet little Jacey May’s house. How that happened I still don’t pretend to know. But there I was, a’standin’ and a ‘scuffin’ my old shoes in the dirt outside the little white fence behind which was the purtiest, loveliest, sweetest smellin’ little girl I’d ever knew.
How long I’d been there, sighin’ and swoonin’ and pretendin’ to catch flies with my tongue, I won’t pretend to know neither. After a while though, I caught a glimpse, just a rustle, of a curtain partin’ in the front window. Optin’ not to notice none, I found rat tracks in the ditch and turned my attention there, followin’ them to , yup, that hole right there, I seen him! Forgettin’ the girl for just one joyful second, I stood and let out a whoop.
And there, a standin’ on the front porch, was Jacey May Hodges, all pink and pigtails and clean, and grinnin’ just for me. She wriggled her bitty little fingers my way, then duckin’ quick like, she tucked back into her door.
I was smit.
Forever, I was smit.
Facts was facts. I done what I done and I’d take what I was due.
But in all the world, there ain’t no feelin’ like I had at that there moment, all light and love and sweet breezes.
Yup. It was worth it.
And I’d be goin’ back.