The Princess, the Poison, and the Boy With the Pig Nose

The Princess, the Poison, and the Boy With the Pig Nose

Felt like a story this week. This one takes place in a town that might be the one I grew up in, with people I might have known, on an October 31st in the 70’s. Hope you like it 🙂

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It’s Halloween and Mama’s in a good mood tonight.

She made tacos for dinner with separate bowls for everything: tomatoes, lettuce, onions, hamburger and cheese. She bought taco sauce in a bottle and when you put that on at the end it tastes like a restaurant.

While I eat, Mama gets dressed in her costume.

She knows all about how to dress up, from being a professional actress in New York. Her costume is always the same: a long white dress like the girl wore in “Let’s Go Scare Jessica To Death,” (the scariest movie in the world), a gray wig, and a homemade noose.

I always make my own costume, like Mama.

This year, I was going to be Super Devil. I made a tail from yarn, and construction paper horns I stick on with bobby pins. I wrote Super Devil on an old t-shirt with magic marker. Mama saw, and she about laughed her head off because I messed up and put an extra P in “super.”

Doesn’t that just beat all?

Well I’m gonna carry a spoon and be a devil who just likes to cook supper all the time and it will be like on purpose, so I don’t even care.

It’s getting late, and I ask Mama if I can leave and start trick-or-treating.

“Sure, go play in the street,” she says, not exactly to me.

I grab my Kroger’s bag and run.

Outside it smells like fire and is so dark you can just barely see the kids in masks going from house to house. Some of them have reflector tape stuck on their shoes.

This year we all got sent home from school with a bag from the fire department, full of stuff that ruins Halloween: reflector tape so you don’t get run over, a list of treats that might be poisoned, and directions to a place where they x-ray your candy because people put nails in it.

Mama threw that bag right in the trash and said we should throw caution in the wind, which I liked.

Here’s my plan:

Start with the first house on the right, the Scully’s, then go straight down Baird Lane, turn on Addison, and all the way around until I get to the Deppings.

I move fast. Miss Depping is a bank teller and gives out whole normal sized candy bars from a fancy bowl.

After about an hour, my nose is running and my bag has a rip.

Right then, I see Kristen Kallenberger’s gigantic glittering wings from a half a block away. I recognize those wings because her father has been working on them with glue and wire at their dining room table since summer. She can barely walk with the weight of them on her back, but it doesn’t matter because her father has one hand and her mother has the other. They take a step and lift her up,

take a step,

lift her up,

take a step,

lift her up.

Is she supposed to look like she’s flying?

Oh brother.

My sneakers squeak in the wet grass when I turn to run. I got my devil spoon in one hand and my Kroger’s bag in the other, praying the Kallenbergers are to busy with their fairy princess to notice me. The tear in my bag is getting worse. Lemon Heads and Now-n-Laters are falling out everywhere.

“Friend!” She calls out.

She calls me that because I won’t tell her my name, which still does not stop her from coming over every day, acting like we’re siamese twins, even though I am nine and she’s in kindergarten. Kristen has every Barbie in the world and a dog named Cocoa who bites.

“Friend, wait!”

Dammit to hell and back.

She breaks away from her parents and runs toward me, her wings falling over to one side, silver reflector tape on her forehead.

“Um, I gotta go,” I call to her. “Mama wants me home before nine since it’s a school night.”

Mrs. Kallenberger catches up to us, all sweaty and shiny in the street light. “Well, we thought you’d be at home, Mae. Kristen says your mother puts on quite a show on Halloween.”

Kristin grabs her mother’s hand.”She dretheth up like a witch and thcareth all the kidth. She giveth out poithoned appleth!”

Mr.Kallenberger runs over, wearing an plastic eye patch. “Aaargh, that sounds scary,” he says in a pirate voice.

“Yeah, Daddy, and she hath  cauldron and everything!” He straightens her wings.

Kristen is hopping around like she has to pee. I can see that her pumpkin basket is almost all the way full and right on top is a whole Hershey bar.

“Well, I still have to get to the Deppings before I’m done,” I say, and start to go.

“Oh, poor Miss Depping just ran out of candy. I hope she doesn’t have any tricks played on her by goblins or,” Mr. Kallenberger winks at me,”Supper Devils.”

Oh brother.

“If you let me come to your houthe and get a poithoned apple, I’ll give you my Hershey bar.”

“I think you’ve had enough, Stinker Doodle,” Mrs. Kallenberger says. “And we still have to run your candy by the hospital. Mae, would you like to come with us and have your candy x-rayed?”

“Um, no thanks.”

“Pleathe, Mommy, pleathe?? Can I go thee the wicked witch?” She’s on her tip-toes.

Mrs. Kallenberger stands there, a big sweaty moon-pie, smiling at Kristen. “Well, since you’re a fairy princess I guess I can’t refuse, right? Give Mommy your candy so we can make sure it’s safe.”

“Tell your mother I’ll be by in a bit to collect Kristen,” says Mr. Kallenberger, and they walk off together with Kirsten’s pumpkin bag. We cut through back yards to get back to my house. Lights are on in most of the houses so we can find our way through sand boxes and swing sets and the Niedermeyer’s broken down Nova.

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When we get home I see a crowd of kids around our front door and the point of Mama’s hat. “Now who would like a bite of this delicious apple,” she croaks in her witch voice.

We scoot in for a better view.

“It’s poisoned!” A girl wearing a Wonder Woman outfit under a windbreaker hides behind a chubby Dracula.

“Poisoned? Why, of course it’s not poisoned, silly child. How could you say such a thing?” Her voice is low, like a snake. “Here, try it if you don’t believe me.” Mama knows how to be scary from being an actress, and all the kids are falling for it like babies.

“How about you? Or perhaps you?” When she’s in character she uses words like perhaps.

In front of her is a real cauldron, like a witch would have, filled with vinegar that stinks. Every few minutes she takes some white powder from her pocket and pours it into the cauldron so it fizzes. It’s only baking soda, but Mama says it’s a good special effect, like the red lightbulb she put in the porch light that makes her lips and nail polish look black.

“That’h you Mith —-! I know who you are!” Kristen pushes into the red light and close to Mama.

“Oh my, this potion must be attracting flies! Where’s my swatter?” Everyone laughs a little and Kirsten’s wings slump to the side again.

“You can’t thwat me. I’m a fairy printheth!”

I put a cherry Zot in my mouth and study Mama. She is very in character.

“Well, a fairy Princesssss,”she says, holding out the S sound right in Kristen’s face, like showing off, “is only good for one thing, and do you know what that is?”

Everyone is quiet. I try to stop my Zot from fizzing.

“Well, do you?”

Some kids are whispering, but Kristen stands there like a statue.

“It seems the cat’s got your tongue!” Mama says, so loud that everyone jumps. “A fairy princess is good for nothing but making princess stew.” She leans down to an Abraham Lincoln standing on our front steps and says “Delicious,” just to him. He backs up and his hat falls off.

“But should I bake you or broil you?” Now Mama is leaning over, combing Kirsten’s hair with her red nails, smelling her cheek. “Such decisions. I think baking is best, and you are just the right size to fit in my oven.” She holds Kristen’s face in her hands and pushes her against our front door until her wings are flat.

“You’re not nithe,” she says. Her tu-tu is shaking.

A red-headed cowboy turns around and pushes his way out of the crowd. “I’m telling!” He yells, and runs through the Niedermeyer’s yard into the dark.

More kids follow him.

Kristen is balancing on her tip-toes and the rope around Mama’s neck is dangling into the poison. I think about running, but there’s nowhere to go.

I hear sneakers running in the grass and kids voices growing fainter. Only one boy is left on the porch. His costume is a pig nose held by an elastic string around his head. He looks at me, and I know him.

Tommy Cribs.

Everyone knows Tommy’s mother works in the Coke factory, inspecting bottles. She’s so fat she has to sit on a special stool, or else stay home wrapped in a sheet on the couch. Mama says she can’t even get up to change the tv channels, so Tommy has to do it.

Me and him look at each other. His eyes say I’m one of his kind.

There’s a thud and by the time I look, Kristen is on the ground and one of her wings is bent into an L. Her face is red and crying.

“Oh, my mouth is watering. About an hour in my nice hot oven and you’ll be just right!” Mama thinks she’s so funny and gets herself into hysterics.

All I wish is that my Halloween candy could be filled with razor blades cuz I would eat it all and die and not have to be here with babyish Kirsten and Tommy Cribs in a pig nose who knows everything now.

Our front door is open now and Kirsten is crying, scooting onto the muddy carpet. “Thtoppit. I’m not playing!”

Mama is laughing like herself, not acting anymore.

“Kristen, sweetie??” Grown-ups can run really fast if they want to, and her parents make it across the street and through our front door in two seconds. “It’s Mommy and Daddy, we’re here! Honey, we’re here!” The two of them are on the floor, hugging Kristen like a cocoon.

I watch Tommy Cribs dip his finger into Mama’s cauldron and lick it. Then he’s gone.

“What have you done?” Mrs. Kallenberger gets to her feet. I’ve never heard her yell before. “You are a sick, sick woman, do you know that? A very unhappy, sick woman!”

People always say Mama’s unhappy.

Mrs. Kallenberger turns to me.”Mae, are you alright?”

I nod.

Mr. Kallenberger is holding a kleenex up to Kristen’s nose and telling her to blow, but her mother isn’t done.”We had a child run to our house in tears saying you were going to cook our Kirsten! That you pushed her down!”

“Oh shut up, Mother Goose, she fell,” Mama answers, pushing past her to the kitchen.

Her father picks Kristen up and the three of them head through the Niedermeyer’s yard, toward their house. For a while I can hear her hiccuping in the dark.

I turn off the red porch light and everything seems kind of normal again. There are still tacos on the coffee table, with all the little bowls, from before.

Mama turns on the hot water and stares at the wall where she always wishes there was a window. The steam floats up to her face and, standing over the dirty dishes, her pale make-up drips off, like milk.

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An Orange For You To Peel

   When my oldest son was about eighteen months old, I would occasionally try to put words down on paper. It usually didn’t go very well, partly because my oldest son was about eighteen months old, and partly because I was fully immersed in mothering and had forgotten nearly everything else. But one day, I felt like trying again. Every time I started to type, T would come up and tug at my shirt, or push a block across my lap making vroom-vroom noises. Finally, I handed him an orange and showed him how to peel it with his fingers. He peeled and I wrote and I felt like I had figured out the secret to everything. For about twenty minutes.

     So here I am, a decade later, still working on making time for writing. I started a blog, in part, to give myself a reason to write and a weekly deadline. Originally, my goal was to post here at least once a week, which seemed realistic and still does, except for during summer vacation, when the kids aren’t in classes and everything just basically goes to hell in a hand basket, schedule-wise. With the time I have had to write, I’ve been exploring ideas that are so half baked as to be not baked at all, meaning that I don’t want to post that stuff, at least no today.

     Enter, the orange.

     Maybe I can give you something to read while I fool around with these other not-baked-at-all ideas. Something to keep you busy until I can manage. I opened my Big Fat File of snippets and pieces, looking for something that might be of interest, and below you will find the very first story I saw. I wrote it quite a while ago, read it out once to a group, stuck it in the BFF and there it stayed. At one point a friend of mine, who is a brilliant illustrator, sketched some ideas for the main characters, but somewhere along the line it was forgotten. It’s meant to be read out loud, so try that and let me know how it goes.

                                            Far West

Far, far west they went, Gorgeous George and Wendy Best, slight and sunny in their sixteenth year. Gorgeous George, with two left feet and three missing toes, walked in a circle, forever arriving at the place he just left. Around and around and around he went, until one day he met Wendy Best. Sweet Miss Best. The very best dressed of the three Best sisters who lived in a house on Lilac Lane, surrounded by roses bread for their prickles (the roses I mean), on Lilac Lane where the three girls three lived a charmingly charmed life.

Each of the girls was neat as a pretty pin, a perfectly pert little lollipop. But Missy (the baby), was her father’s eye’s apple, all satin and slickery slips, and Rose (the eldest), was a help to her mother, handy and happy and healthy as a bear.

But dear Wendy was planted in the prickliest of places (you’ve heard of it, surely?), the middle. In church folks whispered, “What an oddball”, “She’s a mystery,” and other things too could be heard from the pew, like “psssst!” and “shshshshs!” and “hmmmm” and “ooooooh!”

Wendy’s mother, at night, stroked her hair, her wild ringlets, saying, “Pay them no mind. They are just jealous schoolgirls.” And schoolgirls they were, with a lesson or two to learn about life. But that’s another tale completely.

In this particular story I’m telling, Miss Wendy Best, in her bright sky blue dress, and Gorgeous George, with three toes too few, set off hand in hand on a quest for WEST on Wendy’s Great grandfather’s map— yes, a map! There must be a map when heading out west, so said Wendy Best, eating pickles and peanuts by the glow of the slow sinking sun.

George spread the map all flat on his lap and they studied the front and they studied the back. They studied the upside and even the down, every which way they flipped it and turned it around, but they just couldn’t find it, that WEST that they wanted. Where was it? Where’s WEST, wondered George and Miss Best.

They sat under a tree, a sad sobbing willow, and the sun changed from orange to yellow to red, then a worm drilled a hole through the bark of the willow. (Did you know worms can drill? With the right tools they’re impressive!) The worm drilled a hole and then stuck out his head, a head no bigger than a wee seed of sesame, but even with that, he was smart. How smart? He knew math and mathematics, language and linguistics and inside that head, that miniscule melon, he stored volumes and volumes of historical history, hysterical history and, well, you see where I’m headed— smart worm!

“Follow the sun, for it’s going your way!” He hollered so loud that the willow stopped sobbing, wiping its eyes with its very own leaves.

The worm yelled so loud that the brook stopped babbling, stopped dead in its tracks, no rippling or wrinkling. The fish stopped too, when they heard the worm scream, stopped blowing their bubbles and just held their breath. Gorgeous George looked up from the map in his lap, and Wendy Best sat still, licking salt from her lips, and they thought. And they thought. They thought pitter pat thoughts, twinkle-twinkle twitter thoughts, itsy-bitsy grizzly growly gnarly hardly anywhere thoughts.

“Don’t wait!” Wolfed the worm. “Can’t you see? Don’t you know? West is the direction you both want to go, so follow the sun, you’ll get there alright, but you’ll both miss your chance if you wait ‘til it’s night!”

Then the worm disappeared deep into the tree, back down to the roots far below. Below the below, for that matter, which is much too far down in the ground, past the darkest-of-dark-tree-bark-funky-dark for us to discuss, so we won’t.

Let me just say that by the time the worm had burrowed back in a mere inch, Gorgeous George and Wendy Best had forgotten the map, the peanuts, the pickles and the blue-in-the-face fish holding their breath in the brook. Sniffling a sniff, the willow waved so-long to the sweethearts shrinking on the violet horizon, chasing the sun like the worm (what a brain!) had intelligently told them to do.

“But wait,” weeped the willow, who choked and then broke into sobs, long sobs, huge wails big as whales! The willows tears trickled down, drip drop, to the ground, watering it’s own roots (which is unusual for a tree and not very healthy, to be sure.)

“Don’t you know,” the tree whimpered, “the sun never stops. It never gets there. Wherever you’re going, this WEST that you seek, you’ll never arrive in a day or a week or a year or a decade or however long. The sun’s always setting, the worm, he was wrong!!”

So the willow, it seems, was right on the money, but try to tell that to two misfits in love and I say, so what??? Some people love seeking and that’s what they seek. While seeking they smile and they laugh and they weep tears of joy that roll right down their sweet apple cheeks. They seek just for the thrill of seeking to seek, living happily alone or in pairs.

So the schoolgirls will learn, and the worm will drill holes, and the willow will weep and the fish will breathe deep and Gorgeous George and Wendy Best will never find WEST, and I think that’s just fine by them.

                                             The End

Man Power

(Another piece of fiction here. Five bucks for anyone who can suggest a name for this character. Has that ever happened to you? Where you can imagine all kinds of things about a person you’ve made up, but can’t come up with the right name?? Anyway, five bucks is five bucks!)

 

 

Marcia Trimble is still missing. It’s Saturday and I’m at The Hair Loom with Mama, getting her perm and frosted tips. I read all about Marcia Trimble in one of those magazines they have. The lady who sweeps up the hair told me I didn’t want to read that trash and tried to give me a puzzle book for babies instead, but I said I like trash and could I have another one of their Krispy Kremes please.

Nashville Magazine says Marcia Trimble’s parents put posters up like crazy and have even quit their jobs to spend all day and night looking for her because they only have one daughter and “she was so full of life.” In the middle of the page is her fourth grade picture where she has pierced ears.

Marcia Trimble is a Girl Scout, like me, so I have been hearing a lot about the tragic thing of her being missing and how they all blame it on her selling cookies door to door. But the story in the magazine isn’t just about her. It’s about unsolved crimes around town and how a whole bunch of kids and people have disappeared and no one has ever figured out what happened to them.

Also, it seems like lots of people’s heads have been chopped off. One girl was killed with a fork while she slept and the police still don’t know who did it. Every page has a picture of a regular person, smiling away like Christmas, and then you read about whatever terrible thing happened to them, like murder by strangulation, and you just can’t believe it! The magazine says they just don’t have “the man power” to solve every case.

Mama smiles all the way home from the beauty parlor, which is always a relief. On the way, we stop at the liquor store and I lie down on the back seat, watch the giant mechanical horse in the parking lot lift his hoof over and over and wonder about all the stranglers and fork killers running around out there. One of Nashville’s many criminals could reach in this car any minute and grab me and I would never be seen again. My class picture would go in the paper, the one where my bangs are too short. Mama would never pay the money to get all those posters made though, and it would probably just end right there.

I don’t know why I think about things like blood and mysteries as much as I do. It seems like the trashier something is, the more I want to know about it.

Driving home, Mama talks to herself and has the radio tuned to the WMAK news. “The state supreme court ruled today that paddling of unruly students is acceptable under the law.” I wonder if Marcia Trimble was unruly. I also wonder how come she got to have her ears pierced and I have to wait until I’m thirteen, which, in a town full of crazed maniacs, I may never live to see.

Sometimes, you get an idea.

When we get home, I go straight to my room and get my Girl Scout jumper with the white shirt for underneath and the green socks that match but are so tight you like to die. I put it all on, along with the sash that has my cooking badge glued on with Elmer’s and the beanie, which takes me forever to find. In the mirror, I am Pepper Anderson from Police Woman. I will trap Girl Scout killers by posing undercover, screaming my head off until the police come with man power to catch them.

Mama’s asleep in front of the television. Before I leave, I take the cigarette from between her fingers and run some water on it over the sink so we don’t burn to death, for crying out loud.

Slowly, I walk through all the front yards on our street, trying to look “full of life.” That is something kidnappers and murderers can’t get enough of. There’s a bus stop on Central Avenue where I think I’ll sit for a minute because another thing they love is to give people rides. A lady with a sequin jacket sits next to me and makes clicking sounds with her tongue until I’m ready for the funny farm, as Mama always says. I leave there and walk all by myself toward the highway, which, as everyone knows, is practically like begging to be kidnapped. I stand in the gravel and smile as cars whiz by. No one even looks, so I stick my thumb out.

On TV, Pepper, who is actually an actress named Angie Dickinson, never has to wait very long to trap killers. That’s how you can tell it’s fake because, in real life, it’s the most boring thing in the world and you could walk around ‘til you’re a hundred getting blisters and never seeing one maniac. The police were right— we just don’t have the man power.

I’m burning up in my stupid jumper. I get a rocket pop and sit in the ditch by Rose’s Department Store, watching all the people lined up in the parking lot to see the sperm whale. You pay fifty cents and they let you go into this air-conditioned trailer that’s longer than a school bus, where they have him frozen in a gigantic block of ice. The whale has only been parked here a week, but I’ve seen it twice. The first time I stayed in the trailer so long my lips turned blue and I had bad dreams after. The trick is to just look at it just long enough to get your fifty cents worth, but not so long that you start thinking about what it’s like for the whale.

Rose’s is closed, but I can see from across the highway that there’s still some people waiting by the trailer. Here’s a rule I just made up: when I find a four-leaf clover, I can go home. Sometimes, I make rules like this up for fun, but just as often they end up not being fun at all. Like now— I’ve found a million four leaf clovers here before, but tonight I haven’t seen one and it’s getting darker and I need to hurry. Murray’s law, as they say.

I pick through clovers, three, three, three, four! No, three, three… I wonder how they got that whale to sit still long enough to freeze it? Three, three…

A truck pulls up to the curb in front of where I’m sitting in the ditch, hits the curb and keeps rolling. It’s a blue truck. Loud, with black smoke coming out the tailpipe. There’s a man inside with a baseball cap on. I wish I’d find that clover, I really do, but they only show up when you’re not looking. The man in the cap yells something from the open window of his truck.

“What?” I say, looking up at him. He doesn’t have a shirt on.

“Come over here so you can hear me, darlin’ “ He’s smiling and when I get up, brushing the grass from my knees, something hanging from his mirror catches my eye. It looks like yellow feathers and something shiny, like a hook.

“Where’s Rose’s Department Store?” I think I hear him ask. No other cars are passing. I’m standing in his black cloud thinking he must be blind. I point past him, over to the shopping center.

“It’s right there!” I have to yell over the rattle of locusts and his truck engine and the quiet of Hwy 70, at dinner time.

“How’s that? Now come on, I ain’t fixin to bite. Come close so I can hear.” He’s smiling a chipped tooth at me.

When I move closer, I see his hand in his lap. At first I figure he’s got shorts on, but then I get that he does not have shorts on, or anything at all. It feels like being stuck under water, when you don’t hear anything except the blood in your heart, pumping. His hand, in a fist, is holding his thing and moving so fast the hook on the mirror is shaking, catching orange from the sky.

“You getting’ in?” He says, smiling away but not stopping what he’s doing down there, not stopping at all. A car zooms by, not stopping, and I start to feel like the whole world is never going to stop for me, even if I scream and scream.

I back away, through the gravel and clover until I feel the line snap between us, and I’m free. I turn and run faster than anything, across Hwy 70, through the church parking lot and all the back yards with their clotheslines and chained up dogs. My heart is like a cartoon in my chest and my whole body is on fire when I make it home. The back screen door is open and I dive inside, where it’s blue from the television and Mama’s still asleep.

I make up another rule: I will never tell a living soul what happened to me tonight. I will freeze it in a solid block of ice, and only people who stand in line and pay will hear the story of the man with the chipped tooth, and the hook, and the trap that I set.

Little Luck

(This is part of a longer piece of fiction I’ve been working on. I may never actually finish it because I love being this girl. By the way, I realize that I’m writing about camp again. Fair warning: I may write a lot more about camp before I’m done here. Or, I may not. Such is the joy of being the boss of my own self.) 

I love camp. Camp Merri-Mac for girls is the main place I want to be, if you ever ask me. I do not like the fact that I have to take swimming and horseback riding though, and one day I plan to put my foot down about that.

The reason I hate swimming at camp is because of these things: dirty lake water, being cold, rocks and sticks on the bottom, swimmers ear, water moccasins which happen to kill people, wet bathing suits that the camp nurse says can give you an infection, and being embarrassed.

I have no idea how every single person in the world has learned to swim except me, but that is how it is. Every year at camp there is a swim meet where all the campers swim in races and the whole day is spent on the thing I hate. Usually I pretend to faint on the day of the swim meet and that is enough to keep people from asking me to race. In this way I am definitely NOT a Camp Merri-Mac girl and show very bad Merri-Mac spirit, but it is either faint or die in a lake and I pick faint. I believe that Jesus understands, but I don’t really understands why Jesus hasn’t taught me how to swim. That’s one strike against Jesus, just so you know.

Horseback riding is another of my worries. It’s something everyone has tried to get me to do and I hate it as much as I hate anything on this earth. At Merri-Mac, everyone has to wear a helmet for horseback riding class, and even the smell of that thing gets me upset. If it’s true that horses can smell fear, then those horses at camp must know I’m coming from a mile away.

Everyone I know loves horses but me. Daddy even got me and Katy a horse, which still seems real unfair since the only thing I really want and dream of having, if anyone cared to ask, is my own record player, but there goes everyone with horses, like I said. Our horse’s name is Little Luck and I feed her carrots sometimes but almost never ride her unless I have to. We keep her out at a place on highway seventy. We call it The Nealy’s because the family that lives there is named that, and the main things I have to say about the Nealy’s is that they have a retarded son who thinks Little Luck is his and they have a tree in their yard that’s always covered in caterpillars.

One time we’re out visiting Little Luck, the retarded boy comes running out real mad because I’m feeding her a carrot. He says she’s his horse and carrots make her sick (which I know for a fact is a lie) and is pitching a real fit so much that his mother, Mrs. Nealy, who I almost have never seen, comes out, squinting from the sun. She always seems nice but wrung out like a dishrag, and that day she yells so loud that Little Luck looks up in the middle of her carrot. Scares the life out of me, too. She yells to her boy to get back inside and comes over to me, all nervous and strange. I think she’s crying, but she keeps looking up to the sky so I can’t exactly seeDaddy’s in his car, smoking with the windows up, and Katy is cleaning out Little Luck’s stall, so me and Mrs. Nealy just have to stand there.

“Sorry about Tommy. He don’t mean it.”

“That’s ok,” I say, wiping horse slobber on my jeans.

“You get scared when he come at you that way?” Her hands are as dirty as mine, except I’m nine and she’s a grown up, which was the reason it seems funny. They look like the hands of the man who works on Mama’s car, all cut up and half black.

“No,” I say, even though it is not the truth. In this situation the truth would come out wrong, I’m sure of that. The truth is this: that boy makes me want to run away when we pull up and I see him look out of the kitchen curtains the way he does, and always with his overalls on backwards. I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but it makes his head look real big and his hands floppy and he looks at me like he’d like nothing better than to run me over with the old broken down tractor that sits in their driveway.

“Now I know that’s a fib,” Mrs. Nealy says, taking a big sniff and pulling up some dandelions. She still hasn’t looked at me for one second. I feel bad that her son makes me scared and I wonder if she can smell it the way the horses do.

Little Luck walks away, flicking her tail, to look for Katy.That horse doesn’t like me any more than I like her, except that at least I bring her carrots. I like her nose, I guess. Her nose is as soft as anything ever invented. If I could live in a world made of only one thing, it would be her nose.

I watch as Lisa puts the saddle on Little Luck, just like nothing. I really don’t think there’s anything I’m that good at, unless you count imitations. I can imitate almost anyone and that is the bald faced truth. These are my favorites: Julia Childs, Rod Serling, Helen Reddy, and our neighbor Kaiser Kallenburger, which is funny because he isn’t famous to anyone but me and is German. Also the flute on HR Puff-n-Stuff, even though I don’t watch that show anymore.

“He wasn’t born like that,” Mrs. Nealy says. “He was born just fine. Big, ten pounds, but fine.” Her fingers are digging into the dirt for the roots. Now I know why she’s a mess the way she is. “Doctors did wrong by him, that’s what happened. Pulled him out the wrong way, is what I think. Used some kind of thing what to get big babies out. Hell all…”

I’m feeling like I would like to get out of this conversation. It’s the feeling I get when grown-ups are are drunk and talking to you like you’re someone else their own age. Like I know I’m not supposed to hear any of this, only I can’t think how I know it.

I see her boy looking out from the yellow curtains the way he does. Even from far away, I can see his face is red from crying. Something about him is the saddest thing I think I’ve ever seen. I get a hold of a dandelion root and pull, like Mrs. Nealy does. Just then she straightens up and lets loose a whistle loud enough to make me deaf in both ears. She does it with her pointer and pinky, like I’ve always tried to, and I hear her big dog Shelly come running toward us.

“Next time, Sugar,” is all she says while Shelly and her go walking back up to the house.

The Nealy’s house is funny, how it sort of sticks out of the ground, with half the roof practically touching the hill in the back and tiny little windows like on a trailer. Can’t be much light in there for The Nealy’s, I think. I pick myself a few more dandelions and take them over to the caterpillar tree. Next time I need to ask her about what they are all doing here. It doesn’t seem fair. Ten thousand caterpillars and not a butterfly to be seen.

One more strike against Jesus.