In faded overalls with a red shirt underneath, Helen stands by the door with the black bars matching those that lay over the windows, watching dust migrating in the wind. Her mother, from whom she inherits her coal skin tone, pulls her hair back in a bun, black-rimmed glasses that form pointed tips on the outside before slipping into a white dress scattered with black dots. She places her black purse on the table, removing a pair of gold earrings with silver markings underneath and struggles to put them on.
“Drucille always has to be running late. Can’t bother to show up on time for nothing.” Her right eye closes slightly as she stares at Helen’s father, Dan, who meets her gaze. He stands in the doorway leading into the kitchen, leaning on the doorframe, his arms crossed.
Helen watches as her mother shifts uncomfortably, digging in her purse. “You’ll be watching Helen today.”
“Girl grown enough to watch herself.”
“She ain’t tall enough to reach the stove, grab nothing out of the fridge and lord knows she grown enough to get into all kinds of trouble on her own.” She points a long, skeletal finger at Helen’s father, inches away from scratching his nose. “She only seven. You best be watching her while I’m gone.”
He sighs and pushes her finger away. Helen meanders over to her mother, playing with her overalls. She presses her face against her mother’s leg, kissing it through her black spotted dress. “Lemme go with you, Mommy.”
“Now quit biting my leg.” She swats at Helen, causing her to step away. “You ain’t grown enough to be coming with me to bible study.”
Helen stomps her foot against the birch wooden floor. “I is too grown!” Her cheeks puff out, arms crossing as she arches her back in an attempt to appear taller.
“See?” her father mutters. “Girl say she grown. Means I don’t need to be watching her.”
“You two are just acting foolish.” A car horn calls from the outside as its tires crush the gravel beneath. Helen resumes her spot, her nose pressed against the screen door. She recognizes Ms. Drucille, the woman who shakes, screams and faints at church every Sunday, in the driver’s seat. “Just make sure you give her something to eat. A meal, none of this snack business like last time.”
“She likes roasted peanuts.”
“And you didn’t give her enough to hold her over till I got back.”
“I gots things to do.”
Helen sees Ms. Drucille press her hand against the horn again. Out of the corner of her eye, she watches her mother close her purse before turning to her father.
“Well, we all got things to do. Today you gotta watch your daughter.”
Perhaps her mother has forgotten that fathers do not watch daughters. Helen feels the warm hand of her mother pat her on the head. The smell of cinnamon becomes overwhelming as dry lips press against her cheek. The dust parts, her mother makes her way outside without waving goodbye.
When Helen turns around, her father has disappeared from the doorway. She hears him stomping down the hall leading to the bedrooms, mumbling to himself. When he returns, he drops her mother’s new Ebony magazine with The Supremes staring vacantly into the distance on the table where her mother’s purse once sat. With a heavy hand, he lifts Helen by the arm and drops her into one of the dining room chairs. Helen cradles her wrist, her father pushing her towards the table, scraping the dark wooden chair against the hardwood floor. She feels his eyes on her as she slowly raises her head. His eyes cut towards the magazine, widening to make sure she receives the message before he trudges out of the room.
Helen pulls the magazine closer to her, ripping the cover and splitting Florence Ballard’s face. The living room looks dark and lonely. Her father must have forgotten that he is supposed to watch her today. Perhaps he is hiding from her. She runs her fingernail through the clear part her mother drew along the center of her head as more curls try to capture her finger. She hops off the chair, making sure her big toe finds its place in her shoe, and swiftly walks to the back of the house. She props a chair under one of the windows, climbs up and carefully distributes her weight as she grasps the windowsill before her.
She watches as corn stalks sway gently in the cool breeze, a rare occurrence in Braxton, Mississippi. The stalks grow like weeds, encasing what some would consider the backyard of a home, each stalk carrying corn to be picked and sold. Helen can hear her father mumbling to himself, rubbing sweat from his caramel forehead, as he struggles to find a way through the maze. His straw hat has a hole in the middle, his scalp protected by a thin layer of black hair lightly dusted with gray. A red and black plaid shirt, the first two buttons undone, sticks to his chest, the underarms and back becoming dark with sweat. Pants frayed at the bottom, covered in kicked-up dirt from long hours in the field hang loosely over his black boots, sprinkled with mud.
Helen watches her father as he mimics the swaying of the stalks. Her curly hair has sprung loose from two braids, each lying on either side of her shoulders. The wicker chair she uses to improve her height creaks under her weight. She feels her big toe wiggle its way through the hole in her right shoe again as it scratches against the chair. She places her hand against the window of her one-story home. Her father definitely forgot he is supposed to watch her today.
She jumps off the chair. Mother will be sore when she finds out Helen stayed home alone all day. Helen opens the back door. She has always wondered where her father disappears to. She makes her way to the cornfield. He never said not to follow him today. Her father, on the rare occasions that he would speak to her directly, warned her about walking through the cornfield, arms uncovered. Still, she is drawn to what lies beyond the field just as he is and cannot resist trying to find an opening. Helen shifts her weight from side to side, matching the movement of the stalk, mimicking her father. She sees footprints outlined with dry mud guiding her path. Smiling, she feels the breeze weave through the spaces between her teeth as she steps into her father’s oversized footprint.
Lost in the jungle of corn, she hops from one footprint to another, clumsily tripping over herself when she tries to land both feet in the same foot outline. The stalks push against her arms, making her itch as the blades prick her skin. Unfazed by the challenge, she presses on until she comes to a clearing. Peeking her head through, she sees a small cabin, smoke rising from the chimney at the base of a grassy hill. Helen steps away from the stalks which pull at the back of her overalls. She hunches, grasping her knees, tucking them closer to her body. Her feet waver as she prepares herself for the push off. When the stalks release her, the sun becomes a blur, clouds flying overhead as she rolls down the hill.
Her tumbling stops abruptly when her back meets the side of the cabin her father has always forbade her to enter. Inside, there is a low shuffling. She picks herself up, struggling to wipe the grass stains from her clothes and tiptoes to the side of the cabin. A red door is slightly ajar, revealing her father pacing, his thumb pressing against the side of his jaw as his pointer finger scratches his chin. His mouth is moving rapidly, talking to himself or an imaginary friend he made on the way. Excited by her father’s growing concern, she pulls the door open, stopping when she notices another man inside, perching on a wooden counter.
He chews on a toothpick, staring at his feet, which still touch the ground, his boots larger than her father’s. A floorboard is uneven, revealing a hidden storage spot at the edge of the man’s feet. His black hat has a loose fitting brim, which lies limp on either side of his head, but his skin tone is the same as her father’s. The man takes a deep breath, clears his throat and pushes off from the counter.
“Well, shit, Dan, pacing there ain’t gonna change the situation.” Helen recognizes this voice as belonging to her uncle Dolly.
Her father stops, his back to her as he kicks the ground. “He wouldn’t do it. Ain’t his way of doing things.”
“Ain’t his way of doing things?” The toothpick falls from her uncle’s mouth as he slaps the hat from her father’s head. “Boy, this our brother you talking about. Same man that run off with the preacher’s daughter and left her ass in Alabama.” He bends over and picks up the tiny stick of wood, examines it, spinning it between his fingers. “You and I both know Jimmie ain’t worth two shits no how. Can’t trust ’em no how just like we can’t trust them banks. Stealing people’s money, cost more to open an account than the money you store in it.”
Jimmie. She says it slowly, rubbing her lips together, splitting her uncle’s name in two. Someone who hardly came over but when he did, she found herself hidden in her room until her mother came to get her, the name whispered by her mother as she agitatedly plucked feathers from a freshly killed chicken. The name that caused her father to start sweating, tugging on his neck collar and tapping his foot against the floor as uncle Dolly flapped his arms, threw down his hat and sometimes choked on his own words until he turned purple in the face. She wonders if people like her could turn red. She holds her breath thinking of Jimmie.
“I guess you’re right.”
“Sure I’m right.” Uncle Dolly sticks the toothpick back in his mouth, crosses his arms on his knees, drawing circles in the dirt that collected on his toothpick. “Only question is, how we gonna get our money?”
Helen exhales as her eyes begin to cross. No point holding her breath to prove a point when she can’t see her face.
“We?” Her father whispers, the toe of his shoe catching the brim of his hat as he balances it. Helen steps away from the door and imitates his movements, catching herself every time she feels herself about to fall.
“Yeah,” her uncle stands and circles in front of her father. “We. That’s our money. You brew it, I sell it and Jimmie runs off with our money! I wanna know how you think we gonna get it back.”
Silence enters the cabin as Helen steps forward. She waits outside to hear more of the conversation. When nothing happens, she peers inside. The straw hat has fallen, her father bending to pick it up while her uncle has disappeared.
Suddenly, the ground separates from her. She is floating, with the help of a large hand grasping the back of her overalls. She dangles helplessly, the man in the black cap matching her brown eyes. The toothpick spins in his mouth, her father in the background places his cap firmly on his head.
“Well, look who we have here.” Uncle Dolly lifts the lazy brim further away from his eyes. Helen kicks her feet, hoping to hit him in the chest. He dangles her farther away, a smile forming at the corner of his mouth.
“She supposed to be home.” Their eyes leave each other and look towards her father who is gazing over his shoulder, hands in his pockets.
Helen feels her overalls being tugged up over her body, her uncle in front of her squinting before letting out a low bellow. “This here little Helen, ain’t it?”
Her father slowly approaches the two, nodding his head. Helen’s shoulders scrunch up, pressing against her cheeks. Uncle Dolly scratches his nose, his eyes locking with Helen’s as an exasperated sigh escapes his mouth.
Helen feels herself lowering, the tension between her body and clothes lessening. She stomps a couple of times to make sure she is firmly on the ground before running behind her father, grasping his pants. She rubs her nose against his jeans, scratching an itch caused by something kicked up from the dirt.
She feels his leg shift underneath the lining of his pants. A few moments later, he steps aside, revealing her hiding place and releasing himself from her grasp. “Baby girl, don’t you recognize your uncle Dolly?”
Dolly leans against the doorway, eyes never leaving her. She notices that his cheeks puff out the same as her father’s and that they could almost be twins. Dolly however, is taller and his chest sticks out more than her father’s. He also has hands that are wide, big enough to clasp her face into his palm if an occasion called for such action. This is the man her mother calls to in hushed tones to close the backdoor when he walks through their house in the morning to get to the main road. She stares up at her father, his skinny stature leaving a slight shadow on the ground.
“Say, baby girl,” Dolly faces her, blocking the sun from entering the cabin “how long you been watching us?”
When she shrugs, her father presses his hand against her cheek, nearly hitting her. “You speak when spoken to.”
“Yes sir.” When she reaches for his hand, it is quickly withdrawn and she finds herself pressing her own hand against her cheek. Staring at the big man in front of her, she feels her heart pounding. The wrong response might lead to this giant stepping on her or hoisting her in the air again. “Not long, I was looking for my daddy. Momma say he supposed to watch me.” Her eyes settle on the misplaced floorboard.
“That right, you a quiet little thing, ain’t you?” Dolly squints his eyes, scratching his chin, his eyes never leaving Helen. She drags her hand over her face, maybe there is something stuck to it. “Well, how about you hang out with the boys today?” A broad smile creeps onto Dolly’s face, revealing black holes amongst a row of yellow teeth. He follows her gaze, his smile widening causing his eyes to narrow. Helen nods, her curly hair bouncing against her shoulders as she walks over to him. “That is, if it suits your daddy.”
She stops between them, turning towards her father whose eyes are locked on his brother. A message is being sent between the two of them, one she cannot understand. Eventually, with the widening of his eyes and the clearing of his throat, Dolly proves to be superior, as her father shrugs his shoulders and ambles towards the two of them. Helen skips after her uncle as he leaves the cabin.
The trio walks along a dirt path, overhanging trees providing shade. Both men have removed their caps as Helen tries to see how fast she can rub her lips together without making them burn. Her uncle leads them, hands in his pockets, talking to himself in low mumbles she cannot comprehend. She catches her father falling behind, looking out into the distance.
“What is it, Daddy?” He blinks and looks down at the ground as she walks back to him. Without saying a word, he lifts her up, hands under her arms and holds her away from his chest. In the distance, there is a pond, dragonflies are kissing the surface. She can see the small ripples they cause spreading over the pond, eventually disappearing. “What they doing that for?”
“They teasing the catfish.” Her feet are once again on the ground as his palm flicks grass from the top of her head that floats quietly and lands on his shoes. “Trying to get them to bite is all.”
The flicks stop as his hand firmly lands on her shoulder. “Cause I say so.” He brushes past her. Dolly spits out his toothpick on the side of the road, his foot tapping in the dirt.
Helen looks in the direction of the pond, the grass too tall for her to see the dragonflies. She feels a drop of drool leave her mouth, wrapping around her chin before she wipes it off. “If I do that, will they bite me?”
“Fish ain’t in the habit of biting girls. Come on now.”
She runs by his side and tugs on his jeans. “I’ll kiss the lake till one comes up and then I’ll spank him if he try to bite me!”
“You’ll spank him, huh?”
“Yeah, spank him till he cry!” The sound of gravel behind her stops as the leaves rustle in the gentle breeze. When she turns, she sees her father scratching the back of his head, the corner of his mouth rising up as his cheek puffs out much like when her uncle Dolly was smiling in the cabin.
“Sho’nough.” This time when her father approaches, Helen does not feel the cold hand that pressed against her cheek or the one that brushed the grass from her hair. A gentle hand rests on her back, still pushing her forward but lingering this time, feeling more comfortable in its position.
Dolly hunches behind a bush beside a mailbox tilting off its post, the rusty nails extending from its bottom. Helen kneels next to him, thinking that he must have seen her roll down this hill on several occasions. Her father sits beside her.
“Alright, baby girl, you see that house over yonder?” A light green house with a black paneled roof sits before them. A brown rocking chair holding an old brown and white terrier curled upon a torn cushion, rocks on the porch. A door, a darker green than the house, rests on one of its hinges, leaving a black opening at the top and a triangular space at the bottom. The house does not have windows like the one that occupies the entrance way at Helen’s home, plus the doorknob is missing. As she continues to examine the house, she feels her uncle flick her on the side of the head. She turns to him and nods. “A man in there, your uncle Jimmie, took something from your daddy and me…”
“Dolly, I don’t think–”
Her uncle reaches past her and waves a hand in her father’s face, shooing whatever he is about to say back into his mouth. “And we need it back. Now your poor old uncle–” He holds his arms to the side, bending his elbows so that his hands point limply to the ground. Shaking his shoulders, he triggers his hands to start shaking. “My arms ain’t what they used to be and your daddy–” He silently looks towards her father. “Well, neither of us are in the right condition to be going in a place like that. Too big and loud to be clumping up in there, ’specially since your uncle don’t like to be disturbed. You understand?”
Helen taps on her uncle’s hand and watches as it flaps with just the slightest amount of pressure. “Yes sir.”
“Dolly, I don’t think–”
“Hush now Dan,” he hisses, causing Helen to fall back against her father’s leg. Dolly clears his throat and extends his hand to her, drawing her closer to him. “Don’t you see I’m trying to talk to my niece?”
“Yeah, Daddy, we talking.” Helen cuddles closer to her uncle’s arm, the first time she has ever come into close contact with him. She sees her uncle tilt his head towards her before her father gives a sideways look, letting a breath of air escape from his pursed lips.
“Now, if you could go in there and get what we need, we sure would appreciate you.”
“What do you need from him, Uncle?”
“Oh, not much.” Dolly bends over so his lips press against her ear. “Just a jar filled with green paper is all. You know the kind? Got all them white men’s faces on ‘em.”
Giggling, Helen turns and presses her nose against his. “Money, right? Like Momma carry in her purse?”
“See, I knew you was smart.”
“Look, baby girl–” Helen finds herself against her father’s chest, his chin resting on her head. “You don’t have to do nothing you don’t want to do. Specially something like this.”
“The hell you mean something like this?” Dolly pulls her back to him, pressing her face against his chest, her cheek becoming damp. “She just doing a favor for her uncle and daddy. Nothing wrong with that.”
“This our business, not hers, Dolly. Just let me take her home and we can–”
“Look here, Dan, I been dealing with your shit,” his long arm extends from their hiding spot, his pointer finger extending toward the house, “and his shit all my life. I know what’s mine and I’ll be damned if he is gonna come and grab it from me. That lazy ass son-of-a-bitch don’t work as hard as you or me, but think he can come steal our bootlegging money?”
“Alright, Dolly, he ain’t got no right, you right. Just stop cussing in front of baby girl.”
“I’ll throw out any goddamn word I see fit, specially when you pissing me off.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Helen can see her father inching away from her uncle. Confused by the hidden language that is happening above her, she assumes that the man inside has stolen her uncle Dolly’s boot, containing his spare leg and all of his money. Her mission is to retrieve the jar and return it to her uncle. Did this mean that her uncle had an extra leg lying around? Helen presses her small finger against his left leg tapping on it. Yeah, a wooden leg that makes the same sound when she taps on the trees for sap.
“The hell you tapping me for, girl?” She feels his grip tighten around her arms and she closes her eyes. She does not need to look up to know that he is looking at her.
“I done told you don’t—”
“Shut up, Dan. Obviously, baby girl here is ready to go.” Dolly props her up and looks her over. He wipes some sweat from the top of her forehead before facing her toward the house. “Now, just like I told you. Go on in the house, get the jar and come back out.”
Helen, hesitant to carry out her uncle’s orders, looks towards her father who gives her a weak smile. “Go on now. Real quiet, just like when you was listening to your daddy and I talking. Once you come back, I’ll pick you a nice stalk of sugar cane. Chew it all by yourself.”
Helen can taste the sweet juice of the sugar cane escaping from its white contents covered by a layer of green as she makes her way to the house. Walking up the steps of the porch, her toe wiggles out of the hole in her shoe. As she bends over to push her toe inside, she hears a soft whine. Looking up, a terrier is leaning towards her, trying to catch her scent. Helen has always feared dogs, ever since Mr. JW’s coonhound chased her down the road and across the train tracks. She holds still, staring the animal right in the face which, after a moment, lays down on the cushion, resuming its slumber.
Lifting and pulling the door out slightly, Helen steps into the house. Empty bottles outline the floor, their contents spilled, forming sticky puddles which cling to her shoes. The smell of a skunk after being run over by a pickup truck fills the air as she lifts her red shirt to cover her nose. Flies buzz past her ears, landing on a kitchen table, each nibbling off a broken plate with old chicken bones. A television sits on the floor, facing what she recognizes to be her mother’s old couch. She approaches, running her fingers along the plastic green arm. The cushions sink in deeper than she remembers, revealing the bed that popped out whenever uncle Dolly started tripping over himself and whistled words between the gap in his teeth.
As she runs her fingers along the outer edge of the couch, she hears a low moan from the back room. Sneaking up to a vacant arch, the door removed from its hinges, she peers inside and sees a man strewn across a mattress too small for the wire bed frame. A caramel colored man snores in the bed, his features matching her father and uncle. He snores like a bear. Her eyes search the room, looking for anything that resembles a jar. His arm dangles off the side, hand grasping a round object with a golden screw-on lid, green paper filling it to the brim.
Helen crouches down, playing with the word “Jimmie,” her knees brushing against the hardwood floor as she makes her way underneath the wire bed frame. The mattress sinks where most of the snoring man’s weight is concentrated, causing her to lie flat on her stomach, reaching for the jar. She lightly pushes the jar with her finger, causing it to shift in the man’s hand as he emits a low growl in his sleep. The bed creaks above her, the weight shifts and she can see his grip on the jar loosening. When she tries to move forward, her head brushes against the swollen part of the mattress, disturbing the sleeping man. Her arm stretches, the jar in reach of her fingertips. She adds slight pressure, rolling the jar towards her. It makes a low rumble as it rolls towards her. When the jar reaches her, the empty hand flexes, searching for its missing treasure.
The bed creaks, the hand disappearing above as the man stretches. Helen’s breath quickens as one drop of sweat makes its way past her ear. She wipes it away with the back of her hand, afraid to let it fall, fearing the man might hear it hit the floor. A pair of feet with yellow frayed toenails dangle from the side of the bed attached to legs with wire curly hairs. If she moves, her head will brush against the mattress, alerting him of her presence. If she remains still, she may be stuck until he goes back to sleep or discovers her. As two fingers curl on the wire bed frame, Helen takes control of her breath, allowing her to emit a shrill scream.
The figure above leaps off the bed, falling onto the floor. Helen scuttles from underneath as a heavy knocking can be heard at the front of the house. She stares into the eyes of the once sleeping man, both too startled to exchange words, surveying each other with bewildered eyes.
When he reaches for her, she screams again, running towards the door. She can hear him behind her, cursing under his breath.
Reaching the front of the house, she sees the door has been ripped off, and is in the process of being thrown into the front yard by Dolly. Her father’s eyes widen. Running past her, he turns, his chin touching her forehead.
She feels his body jump as uncle Jimmie’s fists make contact with his back, spit flying from his mouth. Helen cannot make out the words he is saying, her eyes stinging from tears that are welling up in them. Her uncle Dolly enters, pointing a finger at the man who is refusing to listen.
Helen blinks, her uncle Dolly’s fist flies into the nose of the man, a sharp crack echoes throughout the house. She turns around, the floor shaking underneath her. Helen can see the outside, her legs guiding her down the steps, not allowing her to stop.
Not even when she hears her name being called behind her.
She runs as fast as she can, the jar pressing against her chest. Will her father come home later? His back… how could she have stopped the beating? Her father standing over her, looking down at her with eyes she has never seen. What is that look? When she hears her name again, she shakes her head, her braids catching the tears that run down her cheeks. Uncle Dolly broke Uncle Jimmie. Helen chokes on her breath. She is abandoning her father. The tears come faster now. Maybe he is calling to her? She hears her name again, the footsteps quickening behind her. Helen feels her forehead beating, matching the jolting beat of her father’s body. She does not look back; the broken man will follow her, uncle Dolly chasing him. Her father, she screams into the air, tears mixing with spit.
She is off the road now, running through the tall grass that causes her legs to itch, mites, flies and gnats trying to attach themselves to her. The footsteps continue behind her, her name continues to float through the air, but all she can do is run. The grass clears, the jar presses closer to her chest, almost becoming a part of her when she feels the ground move from underneath her again.
“Hush now, baby girl.” The voice soothes her, a thick, heavy hand smudges tears into her cheek. She tilts her head up, opens her eyes and finds herself staring at her father, his straw hat resting on his head.
“Shit.” Her uncle emerges, bending over, his hands grasping his knees as he struggles to catch his breath. “Did you see the look on his face?”
“Quit cursing in front of baby girl.” Her father places her on the ground, taking the jar. She watches him set the jar on the ground and roll it to her uncle with the back of his hand. “All that for a little jar. You almost had my girl run into the pond.”
Helen rubs her eyes and turns from her father. At her feet, a turtle pokes his head through the water’s surface, its feet dancing on the emerged land. She can see the dragonflies in the distance, kissing the surface.
“Well, she done good work.” As Dolly picks up the jar with one hand, Helen feels a hand pressing against her shoulder, guiding her back to the corn. “Come on, Dan, don’t be that way.”
Her father trudges into the cornfield, adding pressure to her shoulder when she is walking too slowly. She glances back at her uncle who looks to the pond, the jar in one hand while the other scratches the back of his head.
Once home, her father sits Helen on the edge of the sink, wets a towel with cold water and rubs it against her face. When she tries to push the towel away, he leans in and kisses her forehead. Helen enjoys it at first, she can smell the fading scent of the soap he used that morning, sees his skin fading to a lighter shade of brown under his shirt and the hairs he missed when shaving. When he lingers, she leans back, falling into the sink.
“Ew, Daddy.” She smiles, rubbing the kiss into her forehead. Her father lets out a sigh and smiles back at her before continuing to clean her face.
Helen sits on the third step made from the bricks her father laid himself, watching dust dance in the cooling air. Her father leans against the side of the house, hat veiling his eyes from the ginger rays of the setting sun. A low rumble ending in a high pitch whine emits from their stomachs. Helen wishes she looked more like him. When her father flares his nostrils, she tries to do the same. Instead, her upper lip curls up, causing her to sniff loudly, chapped lips tickling the tip of her nose.
“You remember what we gonna tell your momma?” Her father kneels in front of her, his forehead meeting hers.
She rubs the tip of her nose against his. “Daddy took me fishing.” Her feet tap against the bricks, legs shaking in excitement.
His smile only lasts a moment, enough time for a quiet laugh to escape. Her father’s large hands cover her knees, halting her excited dance. “That’s right,” he whispers.
The two words echo in her head as he stands, resuming his position against the side of the house. Helen straightens her back. Her father took her fishing. She licks her lips. Should she mention what kind of fish they caught? She peers up the road. They do not have any fish to show. Headlights guide the way of a lonely car as it creeps towards the house. Maybe her mother will not ask. The car pulls in, the mustard yellow lights blind Helen and her father. Her father curses under his breath, questioning why Ms. Drucille already has her lights on. A horn blares. Her mother probably will not ask. The passenger door opens; her mother’s thick legs cloaked in black tights hang from the side.
Helen runs, slamming her face into her mother’s right leg, her arms wrapping tightly around it. The smell of cinnamon is gone, masked by the stifling stench of cigarette smoke uniting with the peanuts Ms. Drucille keeps in her car. Her mother pats the top of her head. Helen kisses her leg through her stockings.
“Hey momma’s baby,” her mother sighs, her warm smile confirming she is unaware of any mischief.
As they approach the steps, her mother glances at her father. He remains still, glancing down towards his stomach. Her mother clicks her tongue, shakes her head before disappearing inside.
That night, Helen leaves her room, carefully tiptoeing down the hall. The balls of her feet press against the peeling yellow-green linoleum floor, her parents talking in the kitchen. She peeks around the corner, her fingers pressing against the wall to keep her balance. Her father comes into view, legs crossed, head cradled in his palm. His fingers keep a steady beat against the table. Helen drums her fingers softly against the wall, mimicking his movements. Her mother comes into view, leaning against the counter.
“You expect me to believe you took Helen for a walk?” She hears her mother’s heel tapping against the floor.
“Took her by the pond, tried to teach her how to fish.” She sees her father smile and shrug his shoulders. “Couldn’t get the girl to touch a worm. Waste of a good day.”
Her mother wipes the sweat from her brow as she closes her eyes, shakes her head and starts humming to herself. Her father glances down the hall, sees her in the doorway and winks. She returns the gesture and hops into bed, the crickets’ song helping the night set in.
K.B. Carle asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work