Marie Smysor Watson
The Things I Used to Do - Part Three
(Well, I’m sure you can figure out the rest).
Honestly, I’m pretty sick of hearing this story not only because I’ve heard it a million and one times but also because Dad, who usually doesn’t get all bugged out about dumb stuff, acts like him and Mom had some kind of love that was destined by fate, like the kind in Aunt Dorrie’s romance novels that I “borrow” from her sometimes, instead of the regular old kind of boring love where they fight about money and Gramma Ike and how much TV I should be watching. At least, I hope they fought about me a little. So instead of listening to the whole dumb story again, I watch the light from the window hole glint off of the gold hairs on Dad’s arms. Honestly, they’re pretty hirsute*, even though he can only grow a scraggly half-beard on his face.
I’m only pretending to listen instead, until:
“I thought she was one of the most unusual women I’d ever met.” His chuckle is sad. “Leave it to her to die of a bee sting.”
“What?” I say, turning back into the conversation.
“What?” Dad sets another nail into place. Hiss-thwack. “She died of a bee sting. You know that.”
I shake my head at him. I’m stunned. Incredulous*. No, I didn’t. I did not know my mother had died of a bee sting. I mean, that’s not the kind of thing I’d ever forget.
Dad hunches his shoulders up. “I know I told you about it.”
“Ummm, nope,” I say, crossing my arms.
“I know I told you, Maybe,” he says, turning back to the window.
I heave a big sigh. Dad has a hard time being wrong. It’s not that he has a hard time admitting being wrong, it’s just that, well, he’s sure he’s always right.
“Yeah, a bee sting. I mean, who dies of that?” He puts down his nail gun to reload it and shakes his head. “That woman was as original as sin.”
“How did it happen?” I ask. I’m really surprised about this new information, although I probably shouldn’t be.
(Like I told you before, no one ever tells me shit).
“There’s not much to tell. She was gathering flowers one day, out in the yard and she must’ve gotten stung by one. By the time I found her...”
He trails off here, and the look on his face isn’t happy or sad, more like he’s just not there. He scratches at his bare chest with the Hand. His skin is smooth and brown, except for a trail of hair in between his muscles.
(I’m jealous – I can’t help it. Boys are lucky, don’t you think? They don’t have to cover anything up).
“As a matter of fact, I’d just been reading that book,” Dad continues. “And so after I almost KO’d your mom, we struck up a conversation about it.” I look at him, discombobulated*.
“Great Expectations,” he says. “Dickens.”
Like I don’t know who wrote it. Please. Mrs. Justice, my seventh grade English teacher made us memorize a list of authors and their most famous books. You’ll never know when this will come in handy, she said to the kids who complained. Which was pretty much everyone, except me.
“Yeah, right, you don’t read,” I say. If Mom was a bookworm, then Dad’s a radio worm. Honestly, he prefers to get all of his entertainment from KZ93, the guitar-heavy radio station that plays out of Peoria.
His back is to me, so I can’t see his face, but I can see him stiffen just the same.
“I used to. I used to read a lot.” His voice is hard to hear. “Besides, there are other ways to get information, Maybe.” He goes quiet, chucking nails into the window frame. The hiss-thwack, hiss-thwack echoes all around the room. When he finishes, he’s smiling his old Dad smile like he’s telling me that all is forgiven. Honestly, it makes me nervous. He reaches out and touches my hair, smoothing down the terrible cowlick that keeps me from wearing big bangs like the other girls do, or any kind of bangs at all. I know I got it from Mom, because I’ve seen pictures. Her hair, even though it was short like a boy’s, was always, always, a mess.
“Your hair is damp,” he says, passing his Hand over the curls that are starting to frizz up around my face.
(I almost forgot to tell you this, and I have to because it’s important: Dad only has three fingers on the Hand. His right hand, he lost his pointer and his middle finger in a work accident right before he and mom were married. It’s another thing about him, just like his handsome face and his blue eyes, that makes him him. Most of the time, I don’t even think about it).
“I told you it’s super hot down in the woods,” I say, surprising myself with how fast the lie comes to me.
sharp and quick, like a bee sting
“Hmmm,” he says, ruffling my hair like he’s petting Tater. All of the sudden, his bright, bright eyes focus in on me, like he’s really seeing me for the first time.
“Maybe – where are your glasses?”
My glasses. Shit. The Hole.
“They’re in my room,” I lie again, for the second time. Dad nods and turns away from me. I bet he’s thinking about all of the things he has to do.
(That’s pretty much all most grown-ups are ever worried about, right? Or haven’t you noticed)?
The sweat under my armpits is sticky and cold now.
liar liar pants on fire...
If I’m not careful, I might get pretty good at it. Prevaricating*, I mean.
June: Chapter Three
The Things that Happen When I Go Back to the Hole
(Where I Left my Stupid Glasses)
Stupid. Ugly. Piece of shit. Glasses. Stupid. Ugly. Piece of shit. Glasses. Stupid….
This is my chant as I pick my way back down the hill. Back to the Hole. The trees are standing just a little too close for my comfort, like Pastor Wright does when he talks with people after church. I’m nervous. Possibly it’s because I’m here alone. Sylvy-less.
(Even if Sylvy is Sylvy, she’s another body and besides, where Sylvy is, Tater is also. Although you tell me what good a little old wiener dog is against any kind of threat? Not much, but still - they’re company).
Honestly, I’ve always felt this way about the woods, even when I was little. It’s because Jimbo used to keep cows, like Grampa Ike did before him, and I was really and truly scared of them. Maybe, they won’t hurt you, my Uncle Jimbo would say when I’d squeal and back away from the fence. I didn’t like their big eyes or their fat, swaying bodies or the slow way they chewed at the grass along the fenceline, their skinny tails swishing against the flies that buzzed around them. They were always circumspect*, always watching, their brown eyes never, ever blinking.
But the cows are gone now. They got some sort of disease that only cows get and Jimbo had to have them “put down” and then burned them in the pasture. I was secretly glad to watch them burn. They’d already bloated before Jimbo set fire to them and the flies scattered when the smoke started rolling, gyrating* away like a small tornado. I never told anybody this though, especially not Jimbo. I didn’t want to make him mad. Not at me, anyway.
My glasses are easy to see, even without them on; the afternoon sunlight slants below the treeline sparkling off of the thick lenses. Part of me had hoped they’d fallen into the water and sunk clear to the muddy bottom but then I’d have to deal with Gramma Ike when I got back, and Dad too. Absolutely not worth it. I skirt the edge of the rocks, moving towards the glasses, towards the Hole.
“Hi. You’re back.”
I freeze. My stomach clenches but everything below gets loose and the only thing I’m really afraid of is shitting my pants. I don’t know who’s talking and I don’t recognize the voice, but I sure as hell don’t want to crap myself in front of them. Riley Miner peed his pants in the first grade during our weekly spelling test and someone still manages to bring it up every now and again. I look around wildly but because I’m scared and I don’t have my glasses on, I can’t get my stupid eyes to focus and I’m stuck looking through a hazy sort of fog.
“It’s alright. It’s just me,” the voice says. It’s deep and loose, a man’s voice. Something crouches at the edge of the Hole, but the exact shape of it isn’t clear. I can’t even tell for sure if it’s human, then it stands up straight. It’s a man, or a boy probably, because of its thinness and the jerky way it moves. My eyes swim a little and then everything becomes a little clearer and then a little more - but still, nothing’s completely in focus, not exactly - until I can finally see that it is a boy in front of me. He’s very tall. And he’s smiling. That I can see, plain as day.
“Your glasses are right there,” he says, pointing at the rock next to him. He doesn’t move to get them for me and so I scoot around him nervously, leaning sideways to pick them up, just so I can keep a fuzzy eye on him. I put them on but it takes a second for everything to come back into focus, but when it does, it’s fast and sharp
- like a bee sting -
He’s tall, taller than me by more than a few inches and I’m tall, for a girl anyway. His hair is sort of dark and it curls around his thin face. He isn’t handsome, not really, not like Dad or Billy Benson, but his face is kind. I can tell that right away. He doesn’t wear a shirt, like Dad, and his chest is pretty bony and spare, like Mom. All of this, before I really see him.
“Ohhhhshit,” I say. My mouth hangs open, all loose like a broken guitar string. This person – this boy – he’s only partly there.
(Here’s what I don’t mean, just so you understand: I don’t mean that he’s been eaten like a zombie, or something gross like that, so that his body’s torn up or anything. I don’t mean that he’s missing parts of himself like Dad or like Layton Marshall’s one-legged wife. Here’s what I do mean: I can see sunlight through him, shining like it does through the clouds after a good rain. He isn’t black and white, not like Jimbo’s old TV that you have to slap sometimes when it starts fuzzing out, but the colors of him are kind of soft, sort of grayed-out a little. The edges of him aren’t sharp, not like me, not like Sylvy or Dad, not like Gramma Ike or even Tater, where you can definitely tell where we end and the rest of the world begins. He just sort of melts into everything. I hope you understand - it’s so hard to explain with only words).
But I’m not scared. I know, I know I should be. But I’m not. Possibly because he’s smiling, and it’s not that dumb half-smile that Sylvy makes either, the one that makes her look half slow, like Hannah Sharp at swimming lessons. No, it’s a real, genuine smile and it makes his face so nice. It’s long and thin too, like the rest of him, but his chin is strong, squared off, and his mouth is wide. His eyes are gray, as far as I can tell, but then, all of him is sort of gray. Cinereal*.
“I’m Bass,” he says. His voice sounds just like the echo that comes from the bottom of a wishing well. “Like the fish,” he adds, helpfully.
I keep staring. The sunlight streaming through his face is warm but not hot, and it glints off the lenses of my glasses. His face is open, waiting. I’ve never seen anything like it. Never.
“I’m Maybe. Maybe Best,” I whisper. I don’t take my eyes off of him. For some reason, I just can’t.
“I know,” he says. He raises his hand and waves a funny little half wave at me, even though we’re standing less than two feet apart.
“I’ve been waiting for you for a while now,” he says. It’s not creepy, not at all, but it makes me feel like I’ve just found something I’ve been missing for a long, long time. I open my mouth to say something but I can’t think of anything, so I just stand there, probably looking totally stupid with my mouth hanging open. Bass keeps smiling at me, a full smile that you hardly ever see on most people, the kind that goes all the way up to his gray eyes and even further. He scintillates*. I feel so full, even though lunch was just a cold baloney sandwich (I wouldn’t touch the nasty German stew that Gramma Ike had made, and so the baloney sandwich was my punishment, because I don’t like baloney either, but even that was better than what I saw bubbling in the pot) and even that was a few hours ago. A hot wind blows through the valley, stirring the water and the wildflowers on the other side of the Hole. My hair is completely dry now; it tickles at my neck.
I close my eyes.
(I don’t remember my mother, not like you probably do, but I do remember a smell, a smell of grass and dirt and flowers, and that’s what I smell now, down here by the Hole with this strange boy smiling his wide open smile that makes me feel so cool).
Someone’s calling my name. I open my eyes and blink. Once, twice.
It’s Jimbo, standing on the road, parked just in front of the railroad tracks on top of the big culvert that drops all of its water into the Hole.
“Maybe?” My name is a question in his mouth. His white truck is crumpled in spots, just like a piece of paper that’s been wadded up and then smoothed out. It rumbles where it’s parked.
I look around. Bass has gone, dissipated* like smoke, just like that. The water in the Hole is still, the wildflower too, and the sun that was shining through just a minute ago can’t see its way out from behind the cottonwoods that keep watch over the whole place.
* * * * *
“Jimbo, tell me about the boy who drowned in the Hole.”
We’re driving around in his crumpled truck checking his fields like we always do, once a week for every summer since I can remember. He hardly ever takes Sylvy, probably because she never shuts up, but he never says that. Jimbo wouldn’t say shit even if he had a mouthful of it, says Dad. Taciturn* doesn’t even begin to describe him.
“Well, Maybe,” he says, drawing out the well so it comes out sounding like wheel. “Whaddya know about it?”
Tune in next Friday for Part Four!