“Come Hell r’ High Water”

“Don’t turn ’round, boy, mind yer own business,” the low voice went on, barely above a whisper.

How I could hear him so clear still befuddles me.  The auction corral was echoin’ to the sky with shouts ‘n hollers, and the silence of the stompled veternarian splayed bend and bleedin’ upon the dusty ground.

This ain’t no place fer heroes.  That’s what he said, be it to me or Daddy.  Heaviness weighed down my insides, it tasted somethin’ awful,  and I feared if I was to slip a look Daddy’s way, I’d see somethin’ I wudn’t wantin’ to see.

So I set.  And I did not turn left nor right nor ’round.  Daddy managed to touch my fingers, what was grippin’ tight upon the top fence rail where we was set, froze.  I swallered hard, hopin’ he’d see my Adam’s Apple a bobbin’ in response.  He an’ me, we was in this together.

The mayhem and confusion and wailin’ and flailin’ was rampin’ up.  Men and boys and cattle was runnin’, tangled in their indecision.  Still don’t know how long we was still, could’ve been seconds, felt like hours.  But Daddy, I could feel him decide before he leapt off the rail and hauled it to where the vet, he lay still.

Still.

I hauled my ownself, on his tail, lookin’ over his shoulder as he knelt beside the damaged man, that notebook clutched tight even still in his hand.  Folks made a wide circle behind us, givin’ room and settlin’ the panic.  Only a bit.  Some flash, some sound would send this little world into chaos again in a New York minute, but for now, there was breathin’ room.

Ain’t no place fer heroes, the low voice said.

But then, said I, there’s Daddy.

There’s Daddy

 

*********

‘Tween a Crock an’ a Hard Space…

Come ag’in?

 

Well, hey!  Been a long time!

This here’s Liam!  Liam Goodwell, scion ‘n third son  o’  us Denton County Goodwells!

You shore been missed!

Well, mostly….when I had me half a minute to think.  This here started a long hot bacon-sizzlin’ summer, I tell you what.  Been plantin’ an’ mowin’ and haulin’ an’ stuff like that there till I been fallin’ dead to rights on my bed come bedtime with my boots still hangin’ from my feet!  Now, my big brothers, they pummice me with pillers ’till I wake enough to kick ’em off…often in their di-rection.  Last ev’nin’, bam! Nailed ol’ Linc upside the head!  Boom!  Smacked ol’ Lawrence in the left elbow.

Then Lawrence, he catched that boot ‘fore it hit the floor and usin’ his pitchin’ prowess, sent a fast and hard strike to my midsection.  Oooof.  Daddy hollered from the other room, “Hey, you fellers, put yerselves a stop to what’s goin’ on in there ‘r I’m a’comin’ in!”

Game over.  Lawrence smirked, victorious once ag’in.  His timin’, I’ll admit, rests on the edge of perfection.

Oooof.

But that ain’t here nor there.  You been missed and I ‘spect I best claim responsibility, as I ain’t writ fer weeks an’ days.  Seems plumb f’ever, somehow.

‘Ppears we Goodwells, however, we have us a sit-iation.  Over the course o’ the last seven days, or six, we been gittin’ these visits ‘most daily from our neighbor to the northeast, Leston Pike.  Scrawny son of a gun, long and lanky with stooped shoulders an’ long monkey arms what sway back ‘n forth near to his knees.  Ol’ Leston, he’s tanned to leather, with a skinny hooked nose an’ a straw yeller hairs stickin’ out his ears.  Good feller, but keeps to hisself, hence the mystery o’ his visits.  No family to speak of, lest you count his hound dog, Drum.  An’ his sister Wandette what lives over to St. Joe an’ who drives over most ever’ Sunday to cook him a proper dinner an’ who fixes hair fer a livin’.

‘Cept Leston’s.  That ol’ hair in his ears near always looks the same before she come to visit an’ after she takes off back home in her shiny green Buick.  Business must be brisk at her hair fixin’ place.

Well, as I was sayin’, Leston’s been hikin’ over jest past noontime dinner right reg’lar.  Him an’ Daddy, they set out on the front porch, sippin’ Mama’s sweet tea.  Grandpap, he ain’t a part o’ these here conversations, which I find odd and some disconcertin’.  He makes hisself scarce, busyin’ hisself in the barn out out to the garden.

He hums a little bit, too, jest like Mama when she’s a’hoppin’ mad an’ dancin’ with the point o’ no return.  This here gives me pause.

That them two on the porch, they never do really look to-wards one another, but talk out to the yard out front, that they talk in whispers, near, gives me yet another pause.

Never did like whisperin’, be it ‘tween goofy gigglin’ girls or fellers down to town on a corner, sizin’ up passersby.  Whisperin’ tells me one thing.  If what they have to say ain’t fer public consumption, it ain’t worth sayin’.  Hairs stand to attention at the back o’ my neck, if I’ve had me a recent haircut.  Mama calls it a sixth sense, says she’s got it too, and Law, I do believe her!  I could tell you stories.

An’ I believe she and me, we’re kindred spirits that way some, but when it come to soft talk an’ eyes what holler “hush hush” when me or anybody gets too close, well, I don’t speculate so much as jest get mad.

Luce, my next oldest sister, she says I’m jest feelin’ self-important, that I ain’t s’posed to know ever’thing ’bout ever’body.  An’ maybe she’s right.

An’ then, maybe she ain’t.

Either way, whisperin’ an’ a’talkin’ an’ sneakin’ ’round ain’t any part o’ what I claim is right.

(‘Cept when it comes, I reckon, to birthdays and Christmastime…but I digress.)

So this day, the burblin’ in my tummy set me in motion and I found me a quiet nook in the gap ‘twixt the porch an’ the leanto me an’ my big brothers call our room.  Cool soft dirt what puffs jest a bit when I git myself settled.  I give myself some deny-ability (That’s what Luce called it when she found me and tossed me a gunnysack to lay my head) were anybody to find me down in my hide-y hole.  Jest restin’ my eyes a bit ‘fore I head back out fer chores, I’d imply.

Now, while I’d imply,  I’d never lie.  Not out loud.  That there, that’d be a sin, and duplicitous in the eyes of the good Lord Almighty!  No sir-eee!  No sinnin’ fer me!

Jest eavesdroppin’.  Ain’t no commandment ’bout that I heard tell of.

 

 

I settle myself in an’ wait fer Leston and Daddy to saunter out with their iced sweet tea an’ tell that front yard a thing ‘r two.

 

************

 

 

 

 

 

Loaded fer Bear!

Don’t matter much who I am, but who I AM!

So let’s get down to partic’lars….

My name, first and last and middle, though not in that order, is Lucille Mary Magdalene Goodwell.  And if you were to call me anything but Luce you would feel my wrath.   I am loaded for bear near all the time, ‘less I got my nose in a book, and don’t give a rat’s be-hind who cares or who don’t.  Don’t make me popular, but it shore gives me respect and a place at the table.

I live with my family of too many children and too many horses and too many chickens, and just enough love and care if them things light yer fire.  I land somewheres in the middle, at fourteen years and some months.  We got kin cross the county and beyond and I can near whoop ’em all, least the all but the a-dults, and them I reckon I could take, too.  I got uncles in the war in Germany and and some in Japan and would give my eye teeth and my hound dog to be there alongside one day.   Our dirt farm lies durned near dead center of God’s U-nited States and if I cain’t fight to protect her, seein’ as I was born a girl,  I reckon I’ll be satisfied for the time bein’ at jest bein’ right proud.

I got the short end o’ the stick when it come to looks. My hair frizzes out its braids, my nose is splattered with freckles, my eyes changes colors on a whim.  But I can purt-near run faster, climb higher, and strike faster than plumb anyone else in these parts, and frankly, I scare the daylights outta most ever youngster this side o’ Kansas City.  I’m smarter and slyer than anyone else in these parts, lest you consider little brother Liam and cousin Marie-France.  Liam, though, he’s one of them thoughtful types, always lookin’ at situation from this side and that.  And Marie-France, she knows she’s clever and ain’t shy in lettin’ folks know.  And there-in lays they downfall.  I perfer stealth.  And a strong right cross.

For what it’s worth, I am also an accomplished liar, and can switch from truth to untruth then back again ‘thout blinkin’ an eye. Doubt you nor anybody else can discern the diff-rnce.

So when Marie-France told me her secret, that she’d run across then’d tucked away a excaped German from over to the POW camp other side o’ the county,  me’n her, we knew the days ahead would be a shy piece diff’rnt from them lying behind.

Wary Boy

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.

I watched.

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.