Friday, February 17, 2012

Bear with me - it's a story.

First draft. Pounded out here, and going I don't know where. Feel free to critique!


A nickel for your thoughts

She's at it again. My sister, Emmeline, I mean. She's on me again like a dirty shirt, sayin' as how she's gonna tell Daddy and Old Mam about how she saw me snitch a Mars Bar from the 10 cent store this afternoon if I don't give her the nickel I found on the street on the way home from school.

I didn't snitch no candy bar, and it's MY nickel. I found it. Not her.

But Emmeline is up to her dirty tricks again, knowin' that Daddy and Old Mam, his momma, would believe her over me any day. That's just how it is here. They side with her on everything, because number one she's older than me, number two she's the pretty one, and number three she ain't the one that caused Momma to die of sepsis after having her. I'm the one what did that, and nobody around here likes me because of it.

Seems like nobody can get over what I did to Momma 13 years ago. I'm a forgotten family member, hardly put up with at all except for all the chores I do and how helpful I can be in situations regarding math and sums and Daddy's banking situation. He never really did learn to cipher much, and Old Mam can't see well enough anymore to read the books, and Emmeline, well, she's more concerned with her hair and how to catch the eye of Shane Showalter to be of much help to anyone.

Me being so helpful doesn't make anyone like me more, and won't make 'em forget Momma, but it sure helps keep food in my belly and a bed under me at night. Thirteen years of being the far-second best is a crummy way to live, so no I'm not about to give up this dang nickel. It's what I have, and it's mine.

No way, I say. Oh, yeah? She says, and then ups the ante. I'm telling Daddy 'bout how you showed your knickers of Joe Thibodeau this afternoon after he said he'd give you a nickel.

And I'm beat. I have a nickel, she don't, and she's going to use the worst weapon against me that ever there was - boys. And a Thibodeau boy at that. He's country as they come, a regular hayseed, and Daddy ain't having that for his girls, not even me. He's said as much on many a time, that we're to stay away from them boys, we're better than them and need to marry up.

Not sure what makes them different. They even have a telephone in their house, while we have to go to the ten-cent store to hand-crank calls out to wherever we might need to call. Not that we do, but all the same.

So, Emmeline gets the nickel, and damn if she doesn't just trot downstairs to Daddy, where I can hear her tell him she took it off me because of that whole knickers thing that I was so proud to tell her about. How I am learning to get money from boys by being a whore.

My face is cold, and my heart is racing. Daddy's coming up the stairs. I will take my beating, no amount of hollering or denial or argument could get me out of this one. It's the biggest whopper she's told on me yet, and I didn't see it coming. Thought just giving in, like the old days, would work fine and once she got what she wanted she'd just leave me alone, but it's clear she's not as stupid as I thought and has been thinking of new ways to do me in around here.

Daddy's isn't kind. He invites Emmeline to watch me take my beating. Her eyes sparkle more with each lash of his belt.

It's that sparkle that gets me to thinking about how I can win this game, once and for all.

While I cool my heels and blistered butt in our bedroom, they all eat their dinner. I am not invited. I do, however, get invited downstairs to clean it up. There's not a scrap left for me to glean on while scraping dishes, as someone's poured Daddy's ashtrays onto each plate and bowl.

So, while I clean, I plan. I can take my time planning, because it's going to take a while for this to all turn out how I want. There's time. Rome wasn't built in a day, as my teacher Miss Mosby says.


To my surprise, all it takes is one 5-minute talk with Josh Thibodeau, Joe's big brother, the next day during recess to have things start to move in my direction. See, Joe and me are friends, even though Daddy says not to have any truck with them. I can't help it. He's funny, and has long blond eyelashes like a pony. His brother's about as cute, though darker and some say part-Moorish on account of some banjo player in a band that came through town 17 years or so ago that it seems Josh and Joe's Momma took a shine to. Well, it's enough to say Josh is the only dark child in that family, and that's all. Joe and me are the friends, but you know fair enough that once I told Joe my plans for Emmeline he'd be all over getting Josh to play in too.

See, Josh has always had a sweet spot for my sister. This is what you learn when you keep your eyes and ears open, you know. She can't stand him, being all caught up in the pretty boy Shane. The situation is perfect for what I have in mind.

I let a few days go by after my beating before I go to Old Mam and ask her what a certain word means. I spell it out for her so she don't have to hear the word, mind, and I'm pretty certain she can't know that I already know what it means. Her reaction is pretty good, with the spoon-dropping and her spatting me around the ears for even having heard such a thing.

I tell her I ain't heard it, I read it.

I read it in a note to Emmeline from Josh Thibodeau, and how he'd like to do that again with her sometime soon if she'd have him. Then I show her the note. In his hand. Signed by him, clear as day.

Old Mam squints at it, puts a hand to her chest, and falls to the ground, sobbing. Daddy rushes in, fresh home for 'work' (or, as I call it, 'sitting at the feed store swapping lies'), demands to know what I've done to Old Mam, swats me another good one for whatever he thinks it is I've done, and then read the note Old Mam passes to him with trembling hands.

Oh, this is so good.

Daddy about blows a fit. Ha! He's yelling for Emmeline, she comes downstairs all concerned looking, like maybe she's about to witness another of my beatings, and is stunned to bits when Daddy launches into her, waving that note around like it was full of bees and he's trying to get 'em off.

Emmeline. Oh ha. Oh my, she's starting to blubber and wail now, those pretty blue eyes filling up and her little nose turning red. She's shouting how she never did do such a thing, not with him!

And Daddy stops, cold dead.

Not with him?

No Daddy. Not him.

Then who, Emmeline, who did this to you?

And, in a sudden attack of stupidity, she rats out Shane.

Daddy's mouth flops open and closed, like a mechanical fortune-teller at the fair. He's about poleaxed with this news, I can tell. Nobody thinks to notice me, and it's a good thing, because my shoulders are starting to shake with laughter. I pretend to be crying.

Daddy balls up that note in his brick-hard fist, grabs his coat, and rams his way out the front door, telling Old Mam to go to the feed store to call the pastor, because there's going to be a wedding tonight.

For all the drama, Emmeline looks pleased. Dammit!

My plan isn't going so well. At this point she was supposed to be gettin' a beating right about now. A beating to end 'em all and put her on her stomach in bed for days, and certainly not about to be getting hitched to the boy she's after!

She hisses at me like a cat, then arches her back saying as how she'd best be getting her good clothes on to get ready to meet her new husband. Damn, I've delivered her into the hands of the one she wants the most, which really stinks because she won't ever thank me for it.

Old Mam calls me to fetch some water for tea and to make ham biscuits for the folks coming over. Well, it might be a shotgun wedding but it's a wedding all the same, right? I put extra salt in the biscuit dough, for spite. They might be flat biscuits, and too bitter to eat, but they're biscuits all the same, right? Damn!

Bootsteps on the porch. At least three people. Daddy walks through the door. Then Shane. Damn. Then Josh.

What? Josh? Well, this could be interesting.

The men go out back to the barn. There's a bottle back there. Daddy keeps it for thinking times, he says. Usually when he comes back from thinking he's a lot more fun. So, this could be a fun night.

Old Mam gets back, then the pastor arrives. They go back to the kitchen, where Old Mam keeps a bottle, for her social hours. They commence to being social. There is no sign of Emmeline. Not to be expected, really, she takes forever to get ready for a trip to the mailbox, much less to her own wedding. A few minutes with all this commotion downstairs is likely to be flushing up her cheeks real good and getting her all flustered.

Daddy and the boys troop in from out back, he's yelling for Old Mam and the preacher to come on in and have a chat, then yells up to Emmeline to haul her butt down to her new husband. Daddy's hit that bottle good and hard, and it's going to be a good night. Right now I don't care what's going on, really, just that everyone seems in such high spirits. Shoot, with Emmeline out of the house it's a fair wind blowing that at least I won't be as put upon, who who really cares if she gets the man of her dreams? I don't.

Emmeline's shoes are visible at the top of the steps, then her knees, waist, shoulders, and beautiful face. She's done herself up a treat, in a light gray dress, Momma's pearls, and a little blue hat she'd bought for her birthday present a few weeks ago. She looks real pretty. I hate that about her. She's getting what she wants and I did that for her. Life ain't fair, so I hold onto the 'only me here in the house now' thought to get me through wanting to rip that smug smile off her face.

For a gal who has been with a boy before her wedding, she's looking mighty pure. Those blue eyes are sparking again, and I could spit nails. It's just not fair.

The preacher gets Daddy, Old Mam, and me seated in the front room. Both Shane and Josh are still standing. That's kind of odd. There ought to be only one of them waiting for his bride. He asks Emmeline to come forward. She blushes so fine, it's like looking at a picture book.

The preacher asks the groom to hold out his hand for her. Oh God, I can't stand this moment.

Shane steps up, shifts to one side, and puts Josh's hand on hers.

Emmeline knits those pretty eyebrows, glares at Shane. Shane steps back, pats Josh on the shoulder, and comes to sit with us.

All in all it's a pretty little ceremony, and the biscuits aren't really all that bad after. The sweetness of the tea, like the best revenge, counters the salt just about perfectly.

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