I knew things wudn’t right. I knew it. I knew it from the get go. Got that wiggly squiggly feelin’ between my shoulders and couldn’t swaller right.
And still I let it go. And things? They look to be gettin’outta hand now.
But no woulda coulda shouldas. Won’t do us much good now, I reckon. What we got is a situation. A right full and fat whopper of a situation. And cousin Marie-France hogtied me and purt’near dragged me kickin’ and screamin’ into the sticky quagmire swirlin’ in the dead center of it.
See, me’n Marie France, we’re blood cousins, and more’n that, we’re next to twins in the way we see the world and think things through. She’s a dreamer where I’m a doer, but betwixt us two, and sometimes with mean ol’ sister Luce, we’d get the henhouse built.
We also fought like the dickens, too, our way of stayin’ even.
This time, though, that girl had me be-fuddled something awful. What had she gone and done? And why the hay did I allow myself to be sucked in?
I’m still shakin’ my head.
The men and us boys, extended family all, been in the fields all day long, dusty and dirty and sticky, clover and grass stickin’ to all our exposed parts. Stick-tights ringed my saggin’ socks. Gnats and flies pestered my eyes and buzzed in my ears. We’d all trudged, tired from haulin’ and weedin’ and plowin’ and balin’, up to the well pump back of Marie-France’s family’s woodshed. Took turns under the solid flow, rubbin’ our arms and our necks with the cool water. The dryin’ water meant itchin’, but it sure beat the dirt. Even dunked our heads under, shakin’ after like dogs at how good it felt.
The women, and littler kids, spent most of the day preparin’ a feast for us, outside, back of the porch, on tables built of split wood and saw horses. Pretty much our ever’ summer night dinner table, be it at our place or theirs.
They’d be piles and platters of golden fried chickens, baskets of crunchy-on-the-outside squishy soft on the inside biscuits sized of baseballs, home-churned butter (no oleo for us) and honey along side, sliced ripe red tomatoes, mashed potatoes with light-colored creamy chicken gravy flecked with black pepper, Mama’s homemade sour cottage cheese, sautéed green beans and new potatoes, yellow foot long corn on the cob with big ol’ kernels yellow and plump, pickles and slaw and canned beets and small bits of this and that weighin’ down the center. Never once did we begin a meal, however, than Grandpap beller out one o’his hallowed prayers. Folks next county over was surely blessed, as I reckon his voice’d be echoin’ their way, too. We was reverent, we’d be popped upside the head if we wudn’t, though our stomachs was competin’ with the heavenly petitionin’.
Come to think of it, Grandpap’s volume may’ve been doggoned purposeful!
Still, we stayed still and penitent until the last “Amen and Amen, ” then began the passin’. Again, we didn’t none of us pick up a fork, nor snitch a golden crumb of the chicken crust, till we was all served, plates full to groanin’. Grandpap’d look about, satisfied even the last littlest cousin had his meal arranged just so and his napkin tucked in tight to the front of his shirt, then he’d lift a forkful to his mouth.
Signal to dig in! And dig in we did! That was all she wrote! We’d eat, we’d laugh, we’d talk, kids and adults and aunts and uncles and all o’us. We was kin, after all, we’d our rules and we’d our ways, but we was all part of the same family, tucked and tied together tight.
So when Marie-France sidled up to the table just before repast this particular evenin’, slow and deliberate instead of wet from fallin’ in the crick or bloodied from fallin’ from some tree after chasin’ squirrels, I took notice. Somethin’ was up.
She smoothed her fuzzy braids, uncharacteristic, then rubbed her forehead hard before catchin’ her mama and pullin’ her to the side.
I continued to watch. ‘Couldn’t hear a word. But somethin’ was stewin’.
Marie-France talked earnest-like. Lengthy and wordy, eyeball to eyeball. Why, she even put her hand on her mama’s shoulder, like some city councilman or horse trader. And her mama listened, same earnest look, then nodded, slow. Marie-France, she bounded off like a deer, her mama wipin’ her hands on her dress, watchin’ with wonderin’ eyes as her daughter skittered away down the long hill to the woods.
Odd, them doin’s, but then, so was Marie-France from time to time. I figured one o’her giggly schoolgirl girlfriends done asked her to break bread with them and theirs. I’d not give it one more thought, so I thought then. Smug and shruggin’, I silently and gratefully claimed her servin’s as mine! After long sticky day in the fields, my insides squishin’ together from emptiness, I had me bigger fish to fry! I made my way to dinner!
So there we was, all gettin’ ourselves seated and situated up and down and ’round the outdoor table, Grandpap givin’ his “get ready” throat clearin’, when who marched straight up to the table, tall and determined, but Marie-France.
Draggin’ a little su-prise in tow.
Now if you knew Marie-France, she was always into somethin’. Her mind clinked and clanked to who laid a chunk, spewin’ out unusual and crazy and off the wall ideas and schemes, often involvin’ strays needin’ a helpin’ hand. Like totin’ a box of mewin’ babies and announcin’ plans for a shelter for wayward kittens done abandoned by their mamas. Or there was the time come to the table cradlin’ a little robin with a broken wing,going at length ’bout baby bird sanctuaries.
So I’d like to think we was used to her shenanigans.
‘Pparently, we wudn’t.
This evenin’ the word come to mind for all us at the table, our mouths hangin’ open like we was stupid, was “dumbfounded.”
Some words just fill the bill, and this was sure does, don’t it?
This time her su-prise wudn’t her typical stray mangy mongrel needin’ savin’, nor some bow-backed near-dead horse needin’ a place to live out the rest of its days. No baby birds nor mewin’ baby kittens.
No, this time the stray she was pullin’ along behind her was of a diff’rent sort. This stray was a big ol’ blond man/boy. One stiff and hollow-eyed, scratched and ripped, hank o’ yeller hair hangin’ low on his high forehead.
He looked fearful. Marie-France looked fearless.
I like to fell outta my seat.
Think it was the look of his prison uniform what got me.
And the fact she turned full face to me, sayin’, “This here’s my cousin Liam. You’ll be stayin’ with him.”
And with that, things was for sure outta hand.