A Gracious Plenty
By Sheri Reynolds
Turner Copyright © 2012 Sheri Reynolds
All right reserved. ISBN: 9781618580313
“Ain’t you got no respect for the Dead?” I holler. “Get outta here. Ain’t you got no shame?”
But I’m wasting my breath. The children are running before I open my mouth, squealing and hightailing it around tombstones and trees, racing for the edge of the cemetery. A boy without a shirt dusts his belly on the ground and scrapes his back wiggling fast beneath the fence.
“You hateful old witch,” he cries, but not until he’s in the shrubbery on the other side. “You damn-fool witch.”
I raise my stick and shake it at him.
By the time I get to the plot where they were playing, all that’s left is a striped tank top and a bottle half-full of soda that they were throwing like a ball. They’ve cracked the plastic, and the liquid drizzles out dark. Fizz runs down my arm as I pick it up.
I apologize to Sarah Andrews Barfield, 1897-1949, and wipe the soda off her dingy stone with that child’s shirt. It doesn’t look like rain. Ants will come.
I stuff the shirt through the hole in the fence and then find a brick and a few fallen limbs to block off the space until I can get it patched.
On the way back to the house, I stop to visit with Ma and Papa for a spell. Overhead the wind creaks oak, and beneath me, thick grass bends. Tomorrow I will bring out the lawnmower, but today I catch a nap between them, the way I did when I was small, when their hands were warm and could touch me back.
I have been old all my life, my face like a piece of wood left out in snow and wind.
I was four when it happened. Papa had gone to get the grave diggers and bring them home to eat. He did that sometimes when it was hot and they were busy. Ma didn't mind cooking for a crowd.
But she had that day’s meal fixed and waiting. She was already cutting apples for the next day’s pie, and I was riding the broom in circles around the table.
“You getting too rowdy, Finch,” Ma said. “Calm down.”
“I’m playing circus,” I told her. “I'm a pony rider.”
“You’ve worn that pony out,” she said. “Let him rest.”
So I plopped down on the floor with the broom pony, ran my hand over the bristles, and pretended to rub his mane. Then I decided to get the pony some water. I needed a bowl. Ma had a bowl, but it was full of apples.
“I need a bowl to put some water in. My pony’s thirsty.”
“Give him some apple peels instead,” Ma said. “He'll like that even better.” She was good at playing along.
I was sitting beside the brown paper bag where Ma was dropping the peels. I reached in, grabbed a curled strand of red, and fed it to the pony. Then I looked up and saw the handle of the pot on the stove.
“You still want some water?” I asked the pony, and when he said yes, I reached for the handle of that pot. I reached for the shine.
“Lord, Lizzie,” Papa whispered later, “ain’t right for this child to be widowed by her own skin.”
Ma shivered off oxygen soap, hard and brown, mixed it with honey and flour, and tried to paste my skin back on. She broke aloe fingers and doused my face, my shoulder and arm. She whispered, “I told her to stay away from that stove,” her voice choking out. She brushed my hair away from the places where skin bubbled up.
They thought I was asleep, but I wasn’t. I was dazed and drunk on honey water, lost in the buzzing of the burn. I thought they were washing my hair, but it was just blisters breaking and Ma crying, and water spilling from the cup they held to my mouth. I thought I might wash away. Continues...
Excerpted from A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds Copyright © 2012 by Sheri Reynolds. Excerpted by permission.
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