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"Uncle Bonner? Uncle Bonner, come on. Nikki's gonna blow out the candles. Momma says it's time!" He watched the little girl bounce and bob, bright red curls looking like springs, sure as shit, tied up with bright yellow ribbons. Lord, that girl was the spitting image of her momma, weren't she?
"Gonna be a heartbreaker one day, mark my words, girly." He got himself up, groaning as he stood and his hips and knees let him know that, while the sun was shining now, there was rain coming or his name wasn't Bonner Davis. "Just like your momma. That daddy of yours is going to have to sit at the door with a gun."
"That would be a sight, wouldn't it? David at the door in his khakis, armed and ready. Come on, Janie, get out of Uncle Bonner's way." Ellie stood at the back door, camera in one hand, wooden spoon in the other. She had her hair up, a bright green sundress on, and for a second--not long, mind you, not long at all, but for a second--he could see his Janie, just like she'd been sixty years ago, his baby sister all dolled up and getting Maggie and Teddy ready for Sunday school. Lord, Janie'd kept them all in line, back then, back when the bottle held him close. Back when the only thing keeping him from turning tail and running was the promises he'd made to Momma about making sure Janie had kinfolk. She'd saved him, back then. She truly had.
A gentle hand landed on his arm. "Uncle Bonner? You okay? You with us?" He blinked a little, shook his head as he tried to reckon why Janie's eyes were green instead of blue. All the Davis kids had blue eyes. All of them. "Uncle Bonner? It's time for cake, remember?"
He took a step forward and his knees made thatcrackle-pop sound and that familiar broken-glass sensation started up and he remembered. Ellie. Ellie was Teddy's girl. Not Janie. He'd put Janie in the ground himself when the cancer got her, damn near twenty years ago now. "Yeah. Yeah, girlie. I'm coming. You make some without frosting for an old man?"
The worried look around her eyes eased and she nodded. Such a good girl. "Of course we did, Uncle Bonner. There's a glass of tea for you too. Come on, now. David's lighting the candles. Can you believe it? My oldest baby is turning six? Time just keeps going, faster and faster..."
Now on that he wasn't sure he agreed. In fact, part of him felt like time was just grinding some. Not stopping, because the good Lord wouldn't do that, but just starting to inch along, the time between dawn and midnight getting pulled so tight that you could damn near see right through it to the other side.
He got settled in his chair--they'd got him a new one for Christmas a couple three years ago, but it weren't right. It smelled like new and it hurt his tailbone and finally David'd just growled and taken it to the game room with the big TV that was too loud for him and he'd got to settle his bony ass into the comfortable grey chair that was his--and sure enough, there was a glass of tea and a cupcake with no icing just waiting.
The dining room was filled with a damn load of rugrats, all starting to sing and bounce and clap as he worked the wrapper off his cupcake.
"You need any help, Oldtimer?" The voice was sorta familiar, but he couldn't quite place it and he peered over, the young man's face like something he oughta know, but couldn't be bothered with right now, not with butter cake to be eaten.
"Nah. I got it. You hiding from the kiddos?" He chuckled as the newcomer nodded, sat down in one of the fancy-schmancy dining room chairs Janie ... No. No, Ellie. Ellie'd sat out all over.
"That many kids in one room is an accident waiting to happen, you know?"
Bonner nodded and chuckled. Oh, he knew that. He knew all about that. "I reckon I do. Lucky I'm old enough to be able to enjoy the kisses and cake and avoid the trouble."
The cake was good and moist, clung a little to his fingertips, just like he liked it. Corn bread was like that--little grainy pieces that stuck to his fingers. Corn bread was best right out of the cast iron, outside where you could feel the wind, hear the cattle lowing and the other drovers joshing with each other about whether the beans were cooked through or not.
"Uncle Bonner! Uncle Bonner!" That pretty little girl came bouncing in again, straw cowboy hat between her pigtails, bright red cowboy boots on her feet. "Looky here! Look here! I'm a cowboy, just like you!"
"Well, look at you now. You surely are!" He chuckled and straightened her hat with a finger. "I think you're probably a touch prettier than I was, when I rode."
She stopped, looking at him with those serious green eyes. "Uncle Bonner. You're a boy. Boys aren't pretty."
Well, now. Truth was truth, wasn't it? Him and his new friend sitting next to him just hooted, making her grin as she toodled off.
"So you were a cowboy? A real one? Spurs and chaps and all?"
Bonner nodded. "I was, long, long time ago. Rode all over west Texas, pushing 'horns for a good man that owned a huge spread north of San Antone."
"Well, I'll be. I don't think I've talked to anyone who could even ride a horse in a dog's age." Bonner looked over, making sure he wasn't being joshed with. He didn't hold with bullshit, just 'cause he was older than God. Guy didn't look like a bullshitter, though. Looked right enough.
"It's been a long time. Before my momma died, even. I'd gone out soon as I could, as soon as I had a way and a plan. Lord, you'd'a thought the world was ending, the way folks went on, but I had my teeth set to it and, sure enough, one bright cold February morning there I was, teeth chattering and fingers damn near locked with it, helping twenty other men put out hay from these rickety wood-sided trucks. Lord..."
Posted March 8, 2011
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Posted January 3, 2011
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