Little Jordan

Little Jordan

by Marly Youmans


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380731367
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/01/1999
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 5.01(w) x 7.02(h) x 0.33(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

MARLY YOUMANS is a published poet and short story writer, a past recipient of a fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and a two-time recipient of the Southern Humanities Review's Theodore Christian Hoepfner prize. Her writing has appeared in a variety of literary journals and publications, including Story Quarterly, Louisiana Literature, Kansas Quarterly, Carolina Quarterly and South Carolina Review. She lives with her family in Carrboro, North Carolina.

Read an Excerpt

The ghost figures, drifting, and catching on last year's corn stalks and dry teasel, told us the summer ahead would be a strange one. And it was: a summer that came to mean white shapes floating on Little Jordan creek; a summer my momma fell--fell like a dropped stone--in love with a man too like Hinton, my daddy; a summer when I kissed my first boy and when I learned that sad things can come and come and not break us, even when we want to be broken. Most of us, anyhow, can't be broken that way. The Summer of Isidore, I call it, though Momma still says that Isidore is no right name for a woman. As if all Isidore's troubles might have come from being named wrong, when anybody can see what happened was only the bad luck of a screen door.

They were ghost figures. That's what it seemed to me with twilight sinking into our big yard of walnut trees. it gets blue under the trees while Mr. Massey's fields are brightening in the tail end of the sun. So when I saw those sunlit people, wandering through a fallow field, pushing some of last year's stalks aside, I couldn't think what they were, what they could be doing. Our yard, which Fred Massey mows with a tractor, runs down to the dirt-road and the creek, and pretty soon I caught white glimpses of people starting and stopping along Little Jordan, wading the stream. Sifting into the edges of our yard.

Maybe it was just because I was thirteen and fresh out of school for summer and expecting something--trouble or a meeting or just something new--but I darted from window to window, sure that something had begun. The figures glistened under the walnut -trees, and lights rocked on the water. I locked the front door andlooked out the fisheye peephole. In its shiny globe, all figures turned toward our door.

"Momma!" I called. "Momma, come here quick."

I was practically bouncing with excitement. Her bare feet padded up behind me, but I didn't unglue myself from that fisheye.

"What's--" Momma peeked out the curtains.

"Like ghosts," I said.

She stared out the window.

"It's those people from the other side of Little Jordan, on top of the slope," she said. "Don't know what they're doing."

Momma has always been a woman of action.

"Excuse me," she said, doling out a smile, and opened the door.

I hovered there at the window, looking at Momma talking to a couple of men.

After a while I plucked up my courage and slipped out on the porch where I could see better. Momma was asking questions. I could hardly pick out her figure in the dark, except for her bare feet. Momma's feet are shaped just like fans, from too much going barefoot, and they gleamed in the grass. She looked even smaller than usual, especially standing next to those two men. I thought that one of them might be a sheriff or deputy, and the other I recognized as someone who walked his hunting dogs down our dirt road. A group of people moved across the lawn, lightly beating the overgrown fence dividing our yard from the fields. Some of them had already disappeared into the pasture behind our house, while others were walking back and forth along the creek.

I sighed with disappointment. Things were taking on an everyday look.

But there was something: a woman swaying beside the green and luminous clusters of a snowball bush. From the porch steps I could see her eyes, large and black. She held her hands to her face, as if she were looking in them, as though her hands were a mirror. She wore a white sundress that swept below her knees. Bending toward the glowing tree, she was nothing so much as a moth feeding upon a flower.

I stared at the woman until someone came and led her back toward the ridge. They should have left her there, swaying all night against that snowhill of flowers.

Those were my first thoughts about Isidore, before I heard her name, before I spoke to her or touched her hand. Isidore's summer had started out in the twilight, under the walnut trees.

Momma was subdued by the time she came back to the porch.

"Did you see the woman in white?"

I nodded.

"They're looking for her little girl," she said.

Momma told me what she had heard; that while Isidore napped after dinner, her three year-old daughter must have climbed out of her crib and pushed the screen door as far as it would go and squeezed herself outside. A neighbor glimpsed a child who clapped her hands and vanished between trees, but since then, nothing.

"It's a sad thing," Momma said. She twisted my hair into a stubby ponytail, and I let her pull my head toward her.

"What would I have done all these years without my little horror?"

"Little horror," I repeated, thinking of the woman like a white moth.

Momma teases me all the time. Even when she doesn't feel like joking, she jokes. It's a habit.

"Don't be sad, she whispered, hugging me. "They'll find her. A baby like that can't go far."

In the creek and fields, more of the long oval beams of flashlights switched on. A few lanterns made unsteady circles across the lawn. Now we could hear the searchers calling the child's name, a three-noted song repeated endlessly.

"Will they go on like that all night?" I asked.

"If they have to," Momma said. "The poor mother."

"Couldn't we help look?"

"Tomorrow, if they haven't found her, we'll look," Momma promised.

Still it was hard just to go inside and lock the door, so we moved out into the yard. We wandered under the walnut trees for a while, pretending we weren't searching for the baby. A few wavering fireflies rose from the ground, but they weren't enough light to see by. Under the trees we heard the child's name called from farther downstream, the sound half-buried under the noise of water, pouring and pouring eastward.

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