“Tween a Crock an’ a Hard Space”

Hey.  Liam here.  Liam Goodwell.  Third son of the youngin’s in the Denton County Goodwell tribe.

(Miss Meadow, down to the school, she’ll like that! “Clever turn of a phrase, Liam, she’ll say.  An’ I’ll like that!)

Well, I give myself a assignment, as such.  Aimin’ to de-scribe and trans-cribe jest where we Goodwells live.

There be eight us chid’rn, plus Daddy and Mama and Grandpap.  We, all o’us, live in a sideways shotgun clapboard dwellin’ up the top o’a mi-nute rise down to the bottom of Shiloh Mountain.  Which, truth be tol’, ain’t really a mountain ‘t’all, but a right nice big green hill with a purty white gravel road windin’ its way to the top, a’peakin’ from the evergreens and oaks plasterin’ its shanks.  Cain’t see it plain from here, but up to the top lies a grand ol’ Victorian mansion, hund’rd or fifty rooms al’ tol’.  Goodwells built it and Goodwells dwelt in it up to right ‘fore I was born.  Hard times, they call fer hard decisions, so we Goodwells, we sold.  They’s bright white painted barns an’outbuildin’s an’ gazebos and a big ol’ bell front and center come clean from a plundered church down in Georgia.  

Grandpap says we should continue prayin’ for the souls o’them Blue Coats what burnt and ravaged the Lord’s House.  Hear tell Grandpap’s grandpap, who saved the bell for God and Country, said we should o’shot ’em.

An’ he was a Blue Coat his ownself.

Tough ol’ buzzard, Grandpap’s Grandpap.

An’ ain’t no cause cryin’ over milk what was spilt, and one day they’ll be Goodwells a’livin’ back up there.  An’ I reckon it may be up to me.

Right now, though, right this here very split second, I only jest awoke, sunshine ain’t yet made a sliver on the horizon, from what I can see out the winder.  Figure I got me a minute ‘er five so’s I grabbed my tablet and set to writin’.

Now, darkness ain’t pure, more like a gray haze in the leanto I share with big snorin’ brothers Lincoln and Lawrence. They be those heavy lumps breathin’ hard over in them two cots ag’inst the big wall, an’ me, well, I got the short wall, but I got it all to myself.   We, bein’ the big boys, we got us our own room, built on the west side the house with our own hands, not a couple years ago, usin’ left over lumber from the new brooder house out back.  Ain’t never got to paintin’ it, insides or outs, and say what you will, gray walls suits us fine, ‘cept fer the splinters.  We even got our  own little winder, screen an’ all, teensy tiny though it may be.  We added us hard scrabble wood shelves near to the ceilin’ top, once upon a time stacked neatly with all our worldly goods.  Still hold all them worldly goods, but the neatness didn’t take hold.

Squintin’ though I am, I kin jest make out the boots them boys set at the bottom o’their cots.  Big black workboots, scuffed an’ run over, those’d be Lawrence’s.  He’s goin’ t’be a big man, bein’ he’s a big man boy right now.  At sixteen years, he’s jest over six feet, han’some as all get out, slick yeller hair, neat even in sleep.  An’ that boy, he’s  strong as a team o’oxen.  His blanket, fer I cain’t see hide nor hair o’him as the early mornin’ coolness clean devours our little dwellin’, is clear afternoon sky blue.   I know this fer a fact, as I seen it ever’ mornin’ fer a lifetime, , but sky blue presumes itself to be murky pond gray ‘fore dawn.

Them other boots, them shiny cowboy suckers with the silver tips and the varnished wood heels, them be the belongin’s o’biggest brother Lincoln.  Bought ’em with his rodeo winnin’s, he shines them rascals near ever’ day, an’ when he don’t, he’ll hogtie me and make me do it.  

Not that I mind much.  Smell of saddle soap and oil’s downright pleasant, tickles my nose fine.   But I don’t tell Linc that.  He’d have me doin’ it more’n I care to.  Besides, I got him thinkin’ he owes me a favor r’three, an’ I like havin’ that in my back pocket.

Grayness is liftin’ some, and I kin see a mite better.  Lincoln’s lyin’ flat his back, not quite as han’some as Lawrence, nor as big, but if dash an’ sashayin’ counts fer an’thin’,  he’s the bigger feller, sure.   Arms flopped clean to the floor either side his narrow cot, he got his Indian stripped cover folded careful jest at his waist.  He don’t make his bed, Linc don’t, as he pulls his cover up to his chin tight, then slides ever so careful out the side an’ to the floor. Then with a swipe and a howdydo, he wipes away any stray wrinkle and hey ho!  He’d be done!

Mornin’s nearin’ an’ the rooster’s fixin’ to strut his stuffin’, so I reckon chores be a’waitin’.  Me, I swing my long skinny legs out from under my own cover, orange and black striped, burn spot at the end when one time I took it out for sittin’ durin’ a weeny roast.  Yep, one o’ them weenies went flyin’, singein’ my sittin’ and sleepin’ blanket, an’ my yeller red straw hair.

It’s jest a sleepin’ blanket, now.

The planks on the floor under my feet is icy, even here in summer, but they’ll warm up right quick when the sun shows up.  I tippy toe over to my pile o’work clothes, grab me a shirt and pick my Feed and Seed hat from the nail by the door and tippy toe on out.  

An’ britches?  Why, ever preparred, I slep’ in ’em.  Ever ready, ever pre-pared!

Liam Goodwell is up and at ’em.  Got me a day ahead.

Durned tootin’!

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

Let ‘er Rip!

These here are the true tales of the kith and kin of generations upon generations of Denton County Goodwells, of whom I am the third son of this here generation of the same.  Liam Elias Ephriam Goodwell, freshly turned thirteen years of age, I am longin’ like the dickens (Pardon my French.  And don’t tell Mama!) this here war in Europe, and even the one over to Japan, don’t finish up till I’m able to do my part.

That don’t sound quite right, does it….still, this here worldwide con-flag-ration is a durned sight easier to parse ‘tween the good fellers and the bad, a mite easier than the durned War Between States we be fightin’ and arguin’ since time memorial at ever durned Sunday social!  Got us cousins and kin on both sides o’that battle, and it don’t show much sign of abatin’, I tell you what!

Now, when Miss Meadow, down to the school, when she coralled me int’ documentin’ my thoughts and daily happenin’s (she always says I have me a way with the tellin’ of a story), I’ll ‘llow she never thought once it’d grow to such monu-mountainous heights.  Filled me three Big Chiefs jest since school let out last Spring, and we ain’t even due back fer weeks yet!

Reckon she’ll be pleased.

I do hope she’ll be pleased.

Well, this day, I got me a dilemma.  It goes like this:

They be skills, and they be plain ol’ gifts.  Now, I fall on the side o’skills, bein’ with hard work and de-terminations they can be wrought and discharged in a satisfyin’ manner.   It’s them gifts what have be addled.

Look here.  Take Mama.  Plays the pi-anner ever Sunday morning for service and Wednesday night’s, too.  She makes them chipped ivory keys fairly dance on them Gospel songs, and makes them fairly weep durin’ the Hymns.  An’ all that without never havin’ no lessons, no teachers, no music, ‘cept what spins ’round in that curly auburn head o’ hers.

Did I never mention my Mama, she was once known as the purtiest girl in Denton County, fairly all o’ Northern Missour-uh?  She’d still qualify, I reckon.  My mama is a looker, and I don’t even think she knows it.  Makes her all the purtier, to my mind.  And Daddy, he’s right proud.

Well, now take my littler sister Loreen.  She’s ten years old, head and nose and fingertips always in some book’r other.  Well, that girl made her the mistake some time back of askin’ Mama, once upon a time, if she her ownself could learn her to play the pi-anner?  Now Mama, she knew ain’t no way she herself could do such a thing, cain’t teach no gift.  But now somebody with skills, that there could be done, sure.  So she got her ladies group together, who then got they heads together and found Miss Loveral Bean of Halesburg, she had herself a niece what went to a music teacher one summer over to St. Joe.

She’ll do, exclaimed Mama, and durned if the Sunday School pi-anner what lived in the cellar of the Pentecostal Holiness Tabernacle didn’t find its way to our back porch, and durned if that niece of Miss Loveral Bean’s, ol’ whats’er’name, durned if she didn’t show up ever Saturday morning and teach Loreen a thing or two.  Still to this day does.  That Loreen plunks away, staccatoin’ and legatoin’ fer her regulatory thirty minutes each and ever’ day, well it goes to prove some got the gift, some got the skill, and some ain’t got no hope a’tall.

We don’t mention, bein’ closest in temperament and kindred spirit to my Mama, I got some of that music in my own head.  Loreen might cry.

And look here.  Take my biggest brother Lincoln, who reigns oldest and who claims wisest.  Linc, he’s built wiry and strong, ‘lot like Daddy.  An’ like our Daddy, he got him some special gift with the horseflesh we trade fer and raise.  Linc, he can tame the wildest, wiliest, wiggliest, wildcat of a beast known to man.  He don’t take no guff, not one iota.  He’ll look them eyeball to eyeball, darin’ that creature to do him harm, then durned if he don’t go off and leap, no saddle, no saddle blanket, no nothin’, up to the back o’that walleyed rascal and ride him till that beast, he fair wants hisself to be rid!

Linc, he got hisself a topdrawer full o’silver buckles from his forays into the county rodeo.  And Daddy, he’s right proud.  Here his oldest is follerin’ in his very own footsteps.  Daddy, he was a champeen hisself in his day.  Linc, he wants to quit his last year o’ high school and hit the circuit, don’t see no future in learnin’, but as burstin’ with pride as he his, Daddy put his foot down there.  Linc’ll have to bide his time till he graduates from high school clear next spring.  Linc, he ain’t hep on that, I tell you what, but he does know bettern’ to cross our Daddy.

I’ll ‘llow I got my own way with horses.  Mine leans more to-ward understandin’ than conquerin’.  That there’s where me and Linc part ways.

And look here, and here’s where-to-for my dilemma, it lies.  ‘Thout soundin’ braggi-do-si-do, I got me my own fair number o’gifts.  I see things clear, I speak my mind and most listens, I got me a fastball don’t nobody can hit, ‘cept sister Luce.  Folks cain look my way and don’t throw up.  I can sing fair and clear, and even with this new changin’ goin’ on in my vocal chorus, I got me even more notes on the low end I can hit more’n not.  Folks say I’m smart as a whip, and true, schoolin’ does come easy.

But there’s this girl, Juanita Suzette somethin’ r’other, her own daddy, he was some judge or sheriff or something up to May County up near the Ioway border, she’n her family jest moved onto the ol’ Stonemiller place.  A purty thing in her own right, she done took a likin’ to me.  And well, me to her, it ‘ppears.  Sunday mornin’ last, jest after the final altar call and the singin’ of the Doxology, I foun’ her waitin’ at the bottom of the cement gravel and limestone stairs ,built and rebuilt by them same generations of Denton County Goodwells,  presentin’ herself  all sunlit and curly-headed and smellin’ of sweet honey.

Law.

“Liam,” she sang my voice so’s I sounded like an angel in God’s own heaven.  I secretly plead with the Lord she’d deign t’say it ag’in.

“Liam,” Lord answers prayers, He does!  I’m smit.

“My Daddy, he got me a bran’ new sketchin’ book, two as a matter of fact.  I was wonderin’ if later’n the week, you’d min’ takin’ me to some place real pleasant so’s I can draw him a picture?  I don’t know me many places what are purty ‘nough to draw.”  Then she batted them eyes, what color are they?  Cain’t be rainbow, can they?

Gol’ dang, you bet I will! (Pardon my thinkin’ in French.  An’ don’t tell Mama!)

..cough…”Why shore, I’d be happy to, Juanita Suzette, why shore!”

 

And therein lies my troubles.  I ain’t got no gift, I ain’t got no skills, not a sniff o’neither one.  Can’t paint, nor draw worth a lick, nor a plug nickel neither.  I’ll embarrass myself, for sure, and Lord, Lord, we cain’t have that!  Not if I’m escortin’ Miss Juanita Suzette Somethin’ r’other!

 

“Liam?”  I snapped to, right now.  “Liam?  Oils or pastels?  Which do you prefer?  My daddy, he got me both.”

Don’t right know the dif’urnce, thought I, gettin’ lost once more in that sugarpie voice.

“Don’t right care,” said I, with a cool cat flip o’my hand,  then I quick-like filed me away a thought.  Fin’ me a teacher, forthwith!  I got to be gettin’ me some drawin’ skill right now, r’ at least before “later in the week!”

 

For I’m a goin’ sketchin’ with Juanita Suzette Somethin’ r’other!

 

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Cuttin’ It Fine….a digression

“Great Day in the Mornin’!”

Hey.  This here’s Liam.  Liam Goodwell.  Of the Denton County, Missouri Goodwells?  Like to certain you all may’ve heard tell o’us.  We got us kin nigh to ever’where!

 

And, law, we do have us a history these parts!  But truth be tol’, my story this day takes a whit and spit of a di-version.

Fer this day?  This here day?

Mama’s made her a Chocolate Cake!

Now lest I mislead the lot o’you, Mama’s known far an’ wide fer her Chocolate Cakes.  She done won county fair ribbons like to paper her bedroom wall.  That she’s papered her little closet hung with them dresses done with flour sacks and purty little flah-ers, well, at least she don’t hide them under a bushel, NO!

She’s whipped up Chocolate Cake with Sugar Roses.  She’s erected Chocolate Cakes with skinny little layers and slathers of deep rich chocolate icing what grew so tall it leaned a tad, like that I-talian buildin’ over to where our boys is fightin’ fer Democracy and against the Devil’s heathenry.  She’s built her Chocolate Cakes sprinkled all over with bitty coco-nut slivers like tiny rai’road ties.

I’ll admit I ain’t particular partial to coco-nut.  One of them few thing’s I’m like to turn my nose up to, can smell it a mile away, cain’t he’p myself.  Grandpap, but Daddy mostly, they’ll take umbrage and then take it right personal when one o’us kid’s shy away from not jest Mama’s cookin’, but anybody’s anytime.  Includin’ some of them unknown dishes brung to the monthly potluck down to the church.  (Some looks like pig slop, but if I was to utter them words, my skin’d be tanned, sure!)

“Eat what’s set before ye,” Daddy’ll say.  And ever now and then, he’ll only need level them black-pool eyes to-wards the o-ffender.  Don’t take us long to straighten up, I tell you what!

But this day, THIS day, Mama’s made her a Chocolate Cake with no bells nor whistles nor sugar flah’ers nor coco-nuts nor swooshes of purty designs.  Jest a plain, ol’, delicious, heaven-sent, mouth-waterin’ three layers of luscious deep cocoa delight.  Then, slathered in between and a’top and all-round comes next to ‘n inch of sweet billowin’ clouds of  succulent, melt-in-yer-mouth icin’, to who laid a chunk!

So good?  So ever-lovin’ good it makes you want t’reach right out and slap yer mama!

(That there?  Now, don’t get yer dander up nor nothin’.  That’s jest a sayin’ these parts, meanin’ whatever ’tis is so wholly and holy a-MAZ-in’, y’jest cain’t he’p but set up and take notice!  Ain’t nobody in they right mind would ever do such a thing as a’slappin’ none o’they kin, specially not they mama, an’ ‘specially not one who bakes Chocolate Cake like MY Mama!)

Well, here’s how it happened.  Grandpap and Daddy, they headed off early to market, ‘fore sunrise.  Had a few head finished ration, made sale weight, and off they went to the sale down to Kansas City.  Cattle prices was a premium down there, but the trip’s like to take all day and late into the blackened darkness of night.

So they ain’t near.

Linc,  the oldest of we Goodwell children, he lit out after breakfast (an’ he ain’t likely to never miss hisself a meal!) down to the county fairgrounds.  Hear tell, Judge McClintock, who ain’t a real judge but did study law over to Columbia and has his own office down to the Denton County Courthouse, well, he got him some wild ponies what may be showin’ up at the next rodeo.  Brother Lincoln, he’d be there the whole day through, gaugin’ his ride and a’countin’ his prizes at the next doin’s.

So he ain’t near.

Big brother Lawrence, the biggest of we Goodwell children, him and his buddies, ‘long with Livvie who jest likes to sashay ’round Lawrence’s buddies, they had them a picnic planned down to the river.  Lawrence, handsome and devil-may-care, he’s always bein’ invited to some shindig ‘r other.  And Luce, she follered ‘long behind, seein’ she’s jest nosy.

So they ain’t near.

Little sister Loreen, she’s rode the Goodwell hand-me-down bicycle down to the library in town, a’helpin’ mean ol’ librarian Miss Crow sort child’erns books and such.  She’s took a shine to Loreen.  Reckon it’s since Loreen, she’ll wrap up some flah’ers in a wet rag and tell Miss Crow how she admires her collection.

So she ain’t near.

As fer Lawton and Louis, why, at aged seven, they jest don’t add up to a hillock o’beans.  They’ll liable not to show up fer hours, pokin’ a stick in some hole down to the crick hour upon hour.

So they ain’t near, least I can tell.

So whilst I was a’doin’ my chores out to the barn, I all of a sudden smelt me the aroma o’ that Chocolate Cake a’burblin’ and a’bakin’ , waftin’ out the winders and driftin’ all the way to where I was pitchin’ hay.  Well, and I kid you not, I hightailed it to the back porch right now!

Out o’ courtesy, I worshed my hands quick as a lick out to the pump, even stuck my head under the icy flow fer good measure, then took them back steps in a solitary leap and burst full on through the screen door.

And there she sat, purty as a picture, fresh from the oven and hardly cooled at all, three foot-wide rounds of purely heaven on earth.  Mama stood off to the corner, a’stirrin’ a big ol’ bowl o’ that prize-winnin’ chocolate icin’, she’s known fer, little smile on her face.

I kin’ hardly breathe.  The aroma’s doin’ somersaults in my head, and my mouth and my stomach, they’s screamin’ fer a piece!

Mama, she’s always said we was kinder-ed spirits, and she knows from the beginnin’ o’ my beginnin’ my preference is warm cake ‘fore the frostin’ commences.

That don’t always set well with the rest o’ the Goodwells when a piece goes missin’ ‘fore the frostin’ been slicked on, so it don’t happen too often.

But this day, THIS day!  I’m all there is!

Could it be Mama’s done this here jest fer me?

Now.  It ain’t my birthday.  (That comes jest follerin’ Christmas.  Ain’t never no big doin’s that day, seein’ it’s Jesus’ birthday time, too and he counts a heck o’lot more’n me, pardon my French.).

An’ I ain’t been particular good.  Nor bad neither.

But when Mama widens her smile, bobs her head to-ward the fork a’restin’ solo on a paper napkin on the table, I reckon it’s jest because….

And that there?  That’d be good enough f’me!

And reckon the rest o’ the Goodwells will be enjoyin’ themselves a two-layer cake ‘stead o’three!

 

*********

 

 

 

Come Hell ‘r High Water

(Slow down, now, nothin’s so pressing as the need to calm your insides.)

“Miz Meadow?  Miz Meadow, ma’am?”  Figured next I’d be a’shoutin’ if she didn’t come back to the land of the livin’ right quick.

We was only halfway through the math-a-matics problem on the blackboard up front when sure if she didn’t jest start glazin’ over sideways, eyeballs trained on somethin ‘r other out the window.  Nothin’ out there I could see but the soggy gray winter day.  Now if they was dancin’ flowers ‘r a whipporwill was a’whippin’ or willin’, it’d be a differ’nt story.   Lately, though, her thinkin’ was takin’ over her doin’.

I’ll admit it worries me some.

Now Miss Meadow, she’s been our solo teacher down to the schoolhouse for comin’ up three, no, four years all told.  She come in fresh from Teacher’s College up Des Moines way, wide-eyed scared like a beaded on deer.  She growed up other side of the state, says she, near the Mississippi. Always said she’d accepted this here post as she’d always wanted to see the world. ‘N then she’d giggle like some little pigtailed girl.  Rest of us give a snort, too, seein’ we’d a hard time believin’ Denton Country, Missouri qualified.

Give us all a good laugh ever’ time.

Now she might o’ looked near young enough to be one o’ us kids, but she shore took hold of the reins and settled us all down proper. Miss Meadow, she come up to speed right quick, winnin’ us over right now, earnin’ respect from all us kids, takin’ no guff from the bigger boys what was always trouble, and teachin’ us somethin’ along the way, to boot.  That she was a looker, always with some shiny lipstick and brighter than normal cheekbones give folks down to the church some pause, but she didn’t never once come across as better’n anybody, nor smarter, nor worth more neither.  And she wudn’t no floozy. No, sir.  She never once danced with nobody’s husband at the county mixers, nor none of the cowboys what come to town for the rodeo.   Some o’ us students would razz her ever so often to sing a ditty here n’ there, as she’d never hesitated to sing and play the piana down to the school.  But no, Miss Meadow seemed satisfied enough to choose the vinyls for Councilman McComb’s record player, studyin’ them careful before makin’ a selection. She was also real good at fillin’ empty cups with punch.

Truth is, once the new wore off, Miss Meadow settled into being just a real fine teacher, a reg’lar ripsnorter when she was educatin’ and instructin’. She fairly lives fer doin’ plays and quotin’ Shakespeare, wavin’ her arms and durned near cryin’ real tears when it’s called for.  Normal days, she’s a firecracker, a’Skippin’ to the Loo with the youngsters, guidin’ us bigger ones around and through sonnets and gee-ometry, fendin’ off the wisecracks of Butch and them what sit along the back wall, and plumb ignorin’ the odd belch or tippy tap of a pencil.

And then, come the end o’ teachin’ duties or school board meetin’s or spellin’ tournaments,  she becomes an ever’day simple citizen ever’ other hour o’ ever’ other day.  She says please and thank you polite-like to ever’one.  I’m a witness.  She even tries a chat with crotchety ol’ Mr. Conaughay who don’t do nothin’ but sniff and nod, but Miss Meadow, she don’t quit.  She carries a purty little basket down to the store where she buys odds and ends and supplies for the hotplate she keeps in her attic room, the one she rents from ol’ Miss Oglethorpe, the county librarian and part time she-devil.

I’ll deny to the death I ever said that. My library card is durned near one o’ my most heavenly treasures.

Facts is facts, though, and we, all o’us,  run scared of Miss Oglethorpe, let me tell you.  Pointy nose, bristles for hair, icy blue eyes could bore a hole clean through your head.  But not Miss Meadow. She never showed no fear whatsoever. Or at least she never let on. Not one iota. Truth be told, she warmed that ol’ biddy right up, makin’ her cookies and surprising the ol’ battle-ax by arrangin’ all them stacks of books in her parlor alphabetically by author and subject.

That’s nearin’ sainthood.

‘Course, the ol’ thing ain’t never let on to anybody else she has a heart.  Me, I just leave her be, mindin’ my own beeswax.

So these last couple weeks, ugly ones even for Northern Missouri and Denton County winters, when Miss Meadow’s sunny disposition faded and she began exhibitin’ unnormal behavior, most figured it was the “gray haze.”  ‘Round here come dead o’ winter, sky’s gray, dirt roads is gray, what snow we got’s gray, houses and barns and outhouses is all gray.  It ain’t no surprise our thinkin’ turns gray ever’ once in a while.  Why, even Miss Meadow’s.

Trouble is now, Miss Meadow, she’s even lookin’ gray her ownself,  right peak-ed, little green around the gills.  She don’t hum, nor let her eyes light up like they used to do.  She allows a sad little smile now and again, aimed ‘specially to the younger ones in the desks up front,  though even her shiny lipstick don’t make the smile any more genu-ine nor pleasin’.

What troubles me most is the way she’s been a’starin’ off out the window, like somehow she hears the whisper of a hope, a trace of anticipation crosses her brow.  But then, it dies away just as quick-like, her brow troubled and eyes fogged, like when a dream what gets interrupted just before the happy endin’.

An unhealthy state of affairs, if you was to ask me.

Ain’t nobody else down to the school really noticed, from what I can tell, ‘cept for me and big sister Luce and cousin Marie-France.  Three of us ’bout as close as close can be, age-wise and otherwise.  Back when we was kids, we even swore to be forever blood kin, then swore we’d never tell Mama nor Aunt Ellis we swore.  We been givin’ each other the skinny eyeball off’n on ever’ time we catch Miss Meadow fade.

Fact is, sister Luce laid claim to bein’ the first to mention the situation out loud.

“Liam?  Liam!”  Come lunchtime few days past, Luce hissed down at me from her hide-y hole up in the ol’ empty bell tower, the one toppin’ the schoolhouse vestibule. (Bell’s long gone, though. Hit the metal scrap pile for the war effort ‘couple years back.)

Scared the bejeebers outta me, like always, but I wouldn’t dare let on.  Gives her too much joy.  I peered up through the dust, saw her wispy braids a hanging down ‘fore I saw her dusty mug.

“Liam?  What’s got into Miss Meadow?  Her brain’s done ate up!  Maybe it’s brain maggots!”

That ‘ppeared to give her joy, as well.  Now, whether it was true or not, I don’t take kindly to nobody sayin’ nothin’ bad ’bout Miss Meadow, even if there is a shadow o’truth to it.

“Don’t say that, Luce.  That just ain’t nice.”

“Don’t you go tellin’ me what I cain’t and cain’t not say!”  And with that, she grabbed both sides of the wooden edging around the hole in the ceiling, swinging her whole self through her arms, and landed just like that, right in front of me, puttin’ her nose near to touchin’  mine.

“I think we got us a puzzle, hey, Liam?  What d’you say?  Ain’t you even curious ’bout what’s goin’ on there?”

She squinted hard, scrunchin’ and wrinklin’ her grumbly face, ” Don’t you tell me you ain’t seen it.  Starin’ off into the neverland, payin’ no attention to them wiseacres mouthin’ off back of the room, forgettin’ to erase the board before them pop quizes she favors so.  You and me both can fair smell it when somethin’s up.  Mary-France, too, I’ll reckon.”

I had to admit, deep down in the lowest, sludgiest parts o’ my gizzard, she was speakin’ true.  Miss Meadow, she’d got herself rattled by something.

And in that same deep down sludge of my inside, I reckoned we owed it to her somehow, to help her see it through.

That, and Luce and me and Mary-France, we loves us a good obscurity, and the solution what followed.

I took the bait.

Just like Luce knew I would do.