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About to Rain
A Story by Jim Dolan
On the last day of school, Sister Louise’ blue-veined hand shot from the loose dark cavern of her sleeve and grabbed Jordy’s shoulder as he passed through the double doors to the waiting vastness of summer. Horrified, he stopped and looked up into the sweating nun’s face, her black eyes blazing.
Just a minute, Mister, she said.
Yes, ‘Ster! He went cold and numb thinking he might be told to go to summer school at this very last moment of the school year. His stomach twisted into a hard fist.
She pierced him with her gaze before speaking. Don’t you forget to go to the library every day this summer, Jordy! she rumbled in her Cajun garlic accent. An idle mind, she went on, bushy black brows furrowing together, is the devil’s workshop!
Fear poured through him like a swarm of rats. For another moment, she kept her machine-like grip on his arm before letting go as if to drop it in the garbage.
Two weeks later, he sat on the porch in the metal chair painted with a bucket of green paint and an old brush he found in the garage. Sister Louise’ clutch still burned, her words still rang in his head. What did she mean? He did not need to be told to go to the library. He knew he would go everyday, either riding the 42 Elmwood, or on his bike if he couldn’t sell enough bottles for fare.
What else would a person do in summertime, besides go to the library every day, other than occasionally go to the Vogue, the Texas, or the Rosewynn for a movie? Another moment’s thought and he added to the list going down to a bend in Coomb’s Creek at the golf course to hunt for million-year-old shark’s teeth, or the often rumored but never found Comanche flint arrowheads. And, naturally, there would also be frequent visits to the pool at Kidd Springs.
It was only ten o’clock and he was already bored. None of the options before him held much promise. He had watched a bunch of Popeye, and The Three Stooges. He had read his Jack London book until he was almost finished, but saved it for when he went to bed. He needed to make another run to the library to get more, but was not yet ready to go.
An idle mind…
He got up and wondered out to the alley and looked up and down. He was hit by a sick-sweet rotting smell, and went over to the Conway’s garbage, where he saw a pile of rotting shrimp shells in a wax paper wrapper that had been gnawed open by rats. At first, the aroma was like fingers down his throat, making him want to throw up, but when he went back in the yard, he got hungry.
… is the Devil’s workshop. He put Sister out of his mind. After all, it was Summer, and she was nothing more than a distant memory.
Jordy went into the kitchen and sliced off a thick slab of bologna from the roll his mother brought home from A & P the day before. Grabbing two slices of Mrs. Baird’s, he went back outside. He had an idea. He went around the yard and gathered up a pile of deadfall from the trees, and laid it in the bed of his old red wagon. Then, he slunk into the garage and grabbed his secret cache of kitchen matches, and lit the kindling in the wagon.
A fiery ghost crept along the wood until it found a clump of dry leaves and leapt into orange flame with a translucent blue core. All thought of Sister Louise, school, the library, Jack London, all of it went away as he slipped into the fire trance. He watched its swift leap from branch to branch, the smaller, drier branches quickly turning to gray ash, the larger ones becoming their own black negatives.
When you’re bored, there is always fire, he thought.
After a while, he had a nice bed of hot coals and was roasting the bologna slice on the end of a long forked stick of pecan wood. He liked the way the stick started to smoke and put its sweet flavor into the meat. His mother, Glenda, stood in the screen door with her hands on her hips and her glasses resting on her Buick-like bosom. Her eyebrows were frozen in the middle of her forehead, her jaw poised for speech. She shook her head like she was trying to get something out of her ears.
Careful you don't set nothin’on fire!! She yelled. He ignored her; she turned back into the dimness in the house. Next, he took his slices of bread and stuck them on the forked stick and toasted them over the embers. The sandwich, white bread and twenty-nine-cents-a-pound bologna squirted down with French’s mustard, was hot and succulent and tasted of fire and wood and the outdoors. Since he loved Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, he decided from that day on he would make all his sandwiches this way.
When he was done, he took the half empty Royal Crown Cola in the sixteen ounce bottle that had been sitting on the back porch since yesterday and chugged it down. Sitting next to it was his magnifying glass, which he eyed with satisfaction, as he now had something else to do. He went to a spot under the mimosa tree, and sitting right at the lacy edge of the shade, he began to scout for ants and bugs that he could atomize with the focused ray of light from his glass.
He enjoyed the pungent, sweet, slightly vinegar-y aroma of the ants when he turned them to smoke. He knew, from reading The Return of the Ant People this was formic acid, which they carried in the bulbous thing-y that hung between their rear legs for reasons he’d forgotten. After he zapped a pile of ants, he went into the bushes looking for bigger prey.
He didn’t have to look long before he found a huge, jewel green praying mantis in the old privet hedge (neglected so long it was nearly ten feet high) between their house and the duplex where Darla lived. While he was in the bushes, he looked into the duplex yard, where they had a redwood picnic table and an umbrella and lounge chairs, hoping that Darla would be taking a ‘sunbath’ in her swimsuit. No, she wasn’t there.
Oh, well, he had a praying mantis.
photographs by J R Compton
He brought the mantis back to his killing station under the mimosa. It moved in an odd, catatonic way, appearing resigned to its fate. He placed it in the hot sun, and aimed his glass, getting the tiny sun focused in on a point in the middle of the strange green torso. As soon as the first tiny puff of pungent smoke rose, the mantis’ hidden wings suddenly whirred into action and rose like a tiny helicopter at full speed straight into his face.
He recoiled like he’d had hot fat thrown on him, and fell over backward into his wagon, tipping over the still red-hot coals onto his back and neck, which caused him to shoot to his feet slapping and screaming. He ran to the hose and turned it on and splashed himself, all the while remembering to regain his composure or Glenda would come out and twist his ear and make him go to his room.
With the coals on his back doused, he brought the hose over to the wagon, and sprayed it down. When it was cold, he kicked it hard, but he was wearing his old Chuck Taylor’s, which were just about worn out and smelled horrendous. They had a hole in the toe, and it was this toe that made first contact with the metal underbelly of the wagon. Hopping around on one foot, holding the other in front of him, he gave out a sharp yelp.
Burned and lamed, he got to the porch and sat in the shade. It was time to reconsider his prospects. Inside, Glenda was playing her Perry Como record on the Silvertone Hi-Fi. It rested on an old oak table that his grandfather made for his grandmother when he was a young man. Glenda located the table and the hi-fi in the front window, and the living room was arranged around it as if it were a shrine.
Pops won the hi-fi as a prize for selling the most carpet in the Sears Carpet and Floor Covering department a few years ago. When he brought it home, he acted like he’d just been elected President, or had caught a Communist spy.
Let’s set ‘er on Grandpapa Jake’s table, he said with a big, toothy smile, like the hi-fi was Marilyn Monroe, or Jayne Mansfield or something.
NO! exclaimed Glenda, that is for my Hummels. Jordy hoped Pops would win, because he hated the goofy little porcelain statues of innocent children and adorable puppies. Every now and then, one of them would accidentally break, and Glenda would come nearly to tears while trying to reassemble it with Elmer’s glue before giving up in frustration. I try and I try to keep nice things around here, but NOBODY CARES….nobody cares, she would weep. Jordy would have to go to his room and look at the horseback cowboys in his wallpaper to keep her from hearing him laugh.
But Pops cleared the Hummels from the table over Glenda’s protests with a fiendish gleam in his eye. He nervously cued up the first record, and a mambo from Prez Prado poured forth in glorious, full dimensional hi-fidelity. Pops looked up after a moment, and eyed the two of them, reminding them both how lucky they each were to have someone like him around.
Howdya like THAT? he asked, self satisfied and puncturing a can of cold Schlitz from the ice box. He looked around for a moment before tipping the can up and unloading its foamy cargo into his greedy jaws.
Not too long after that, Pops brought home a Silvertone television set from a road trip. It was only black and white, but that didn’t bother him much, because every time Jordy went to a friend’s house and they were watching TV, even if they had a color RCA or Zenith, the show was almost always in black and white, so he didn’t feel like he was missing anything at all.
He had just about decided to go back inside and watch more TV when Glenda plowed through the screen door carrying a huge, crackling and popping wicker basket of laundry.
Look out, Valentino!! Which was what she said when he was in her way. He never knew where she got that from, Look out, Valentino! But she always said it. He leaned over to one side, fearful she would see his wet backside and make him go in. She went straight past him without so much as a glance in his direction, instead focusing on the mess in the wagon.
You’re gonna hafta clean this mess up, Bub! ‘Bub’, another of her favorites. She called him that when giving a direct, non-refutable order. Bub this, Bub that.
All right, all right, I will.
And unless you want me to step on this magnifying glass death ray of yours and break it, you’ll pick that up, too….and she began to sing a nameless song with no words, and, for that matter, no melody either. Just her voice rising and falling.
He sat watching as she bent, pulled a white shirt from the basket, took out two wooden clothes pins from the bulging pockets on her canvas apron, put one in her mouth and pinned the collar of the shirt to the line with the other. Then the other point of the collar went over the line, and was pinned. She worked mechanically, her face blank as an un-addressed envelope, the fat cheeks hanging slack, the smoking Viceroy dangling with a plume of blue smoke rising in the breeze.
When’s Pops getting back?
What? Oh, your father…he called the other night from Midland, he said he and Mr. O’Dowd had not really sold that many stamp machines yet, and they might have to stay out on the road a week longer. She stooped to pick up another white shirt, and went through the pinning ritual again. Now there were two white shirts flapping in the breeze. Glenda reached in her pocket and pulled out a pair of Hollywood starlet looking white rimmed sunglasses, which looked ridiculous, like a costume, on her pudgy, round face.
He could not understand how stamp machine salesmen needed to have a shotgun and a brick of shells in the trunk of a blue Ford coupe. But, that is what he saw, week before last when Pops, the erstwhile Sears carpet salesman and O’Dowd were loading up to hit the road.
Pops opened the trunk, O’Dowd lifted the door on the tilted old clapboard garage, ducked into the shade where Daisy Girl and her pups were kept, and came back out, looking both ways with the gigantic 12 gauge hanging under his arm and along his leg. Pops grabbed it from him and wrapped an old red and blue quilt around it before setting it in the trunk.
Not a stamp machine in sight.
I didn’t see any stamp machines in the car when they left, he said after she pinned yet another shirt up. Now there were three. She continued to work, silent.
He waited for her to answer, but nothing came. His heart began to pound and his breath grew shorter and shorter until he felt heat coming up his chest to his face. It cost her nothing to ignore him.
I said, I didn’t see no stamp machines in the car when they left! Glenda bent for another shirt, straightened up with it and then popped it out straight to look at it in the sun before hanging it on the line. His words had disappeared into thin air, unheard. Jordy’s knees began to bounce, and the flush hit his face. His ears buzzed a little.
I heard you the first time, Valentino. She continued on, placid in the rhythm of her work. Dark sweat formed in her armpits; she patted at her forehead with folded terrycloth.
Glenda wore green canvas tennis shoes, and nubby white cotton socks rolled down to make cuffs. Her fat calves were mottled with blue varicosities, which, she had told him many times, came from carrying him around while he grew so big inside her. You were a big baby, she said. A ten pounder!
At thirty-three, Glenda still wore wide loose skirts hemmed above the knee, and little sweaters with one button fastened in cooler weather. Her black, cat-eye glasses hung from a chain around her neck, and rested on her gigantic bosom when they were not on her nose. She tried to dress like a girl, which she was not. Jordy felt like he was an afterthought to her, like she was his baby-sitter,not his Mother. Mostly, she liked The Edge of Night, Hollywood movie magazines, Viceroys, and bourbon and 7Up at five o’clock.
There were five white shirts now flapping on the line. Glenda stopped what she was doing and went inside for a minute. While she was gone, the mimosa invited him to climb up. There was a perch high up where a large fork made a perfect seat, and he could lie back along one limb and see only sky if he chose. He made for that spot, and when he found it, he tried to stretch out, but the burned spot on his back made this difficult. Finally, he managed to wedge himself over to one side, so that a limb under either shoulder blade supported his back, but the center was free.
He looked down into the yard next door again to see if Darla was out yet, sunning herself in her white and blue striped two-piece swimsuit. He loved the way her hips swelled then pinched back in to the narrow hollow of her waist. No, Darla still wasn’t out, and his heart sank a little.
At that moment, Glenda reappeared, holding the screen door open with her foot and carrying a turquoise blue radio with a white speaker grille and gold colored knobs. She set this on a small table in the yard, and then went back for a ruby red spun aluminum glass of ice water and an extension cord. A song full of congas and birdcalls wafted from the radio, and she went Oh! Les Baxter! I love Les Baxter! And a moment later, Where’d you go, boy?
I’m up here, he said to the air. Glenda looked up and shook her head. They both heard a car park on the curb, and the motor go silent. A few moments later, the door bell chimed. Glenda said, Don’t you go fallin’ and breakin’ your neck, I don’t feel like going to the emergency room today! before she went in the house to answer the door. She was back in no time.
There’s someone here to see you, she said, a strange, triumphant smile ghosting her face.
Who? Where? There isn’t anybody….and at that moment, he saw something inside the screen of the back door, a movement, something massive and black, a swaying…the door opened, a hand, a black-cloaked forearm, a head draped in black. She stepped into the yard and stood next to Glenda, her hands folded in front of her, the rosary swaying by her hip. Her face, strange as the surface of an asteroid, tilted up at him.
Hello, Jordy! Said Sister Louise, what have you been doing this summer? Her eyes were hard and accusing, boring like drill points into his soul.
Jordy had heard about the panic at Pearl Harbor, the men locked in their metal chambers filling with water, and no way out. He and Donny Perkins had talked themselves senseless many a night on just this topic. Jordy knew the helpless, cold, enveloping fear in the waiting room at Doc Piranio’s when he had to get a shot. He had been fascinated with the tales of the guillotine and the heads being taken away like cabbages in wicker baskets, and had tried to imagine what it must have been like to lay his neck in the wooden U. The moment he saw Sister Louise, he was hit by a combination of all those sensations, a bomb igniting and spreading a firestorm of dread.
Why don’t you come down, Jordy, and speak to Sister? She came over to see how you were doing this summer…
Jordy wished a herd of buffalo would stampede their yard at that moment, solving two of his biggest problems with their ten thousand marauding hooves.
OK, yeah, sure, as he worked his numb arms and legs down the limbs of the mimosa, his ears roaring with fear. What could he tell her? That he'd spent the summer climbing a tree and going to the movies at the Rosewynn, Texas, and the Vogue? Sister Louise' words on the last day, came back to him. An idle mind, Jordy, IS THE DEVIL'S WORKSHOP! And, with a cold, secret pleasure, he knew that if that was the case, the Devil had practically left his tool belt in his mind/workshop.
He put his two feet on the ground, and left the safety of the old mimosa's trunk. He was on their ground now, and there was no turning back. He stepped over to the two women, and stood looking at the ground, knowing instinctively, like any eleven year old, the less you offered an inquisitive adult, the less they had to work with. Sister Louise tried jollity.
Well, Jordy, I see you've made your home among the birds!
And, have you remembered our conversation from the last day?
You don't remember Jordy? What did Sister say?
Go to the library? Jordy actually knew exactly what she said, but understood the trap he would be in if he made any concession.
She leaned over now, and looked directly into his eyes. He could see the salt rime around the wet edges of her habit where it touched her face. Her breath smelled faintly of rot, and reminded him of the dachshund they’d once had.
Jordy, I told you what I told all my boys and girls. Remember? An idle mind is the devil’s workshop…You don’t want to give Satan a place to be comfortable do you?
Again, the secret pleasure in the center of his mind, where no one could reach. Jordy thought about the pictures of a naked woman Donny Perkins had shown him. She was sitting on a pink satin bed with her legs underneath her, holding a black pillow in her lap, her head tilted to one side, a sly smile on her face.
He was sure Sister knew what he was thinking about, so he put it out of his mind.
Well, Jordy? She’d been waiting for an answer. There was something frantic in her face; he knew he better answer quick. Plus, Mama was shifting from one foot to the other, like one of the elephants rocking back and forth in their cement shelters at the zoo.
No, S’ter. The naked woman smiled at him, and again, he erased her image. Yes, this was the devil's tool belt.
Well, Jordy. If you will excuse me, your mother has invited me in for a cold drink. I am so happy to see you....She straightened and turned, her beads whirling and clacking at her waist, a slight breeze of body odor washing across him. Glenda stood just behind Sister, fixing him in her stare. He was not sure if he had passed her standards for a visit from a teacher/priest/adult authority figure. He knew he'd been just a little bit of a smarty pants....
* * *
As Jordy rolled his bike out of the garage, old Ladygirl roused herself and regarded him with her watery brown eyes. Once a fighter, now one of Pops’ breeders. Ssshhh, Lady, he said.
Jordy grabbed his slingshot hanging from a hook on the wall, then mounted the bike and rolled down the pea gravel driveway, the tires making pneumatic crunching sounds as he went.
He’d been told to not ride in the street, but the freedom was irresistible. Jordy rolled right on out onto the ancient, glass smooth asphalt of Woodmere, and glided past Sister Louise’ old black Buick sedan. It was ugly as a hippopotamus turd.
Why is it, he thought, that everything about a nun has to be ugly? He rolled on down the street, and over to the vacant lot. He found himself wondering if women like the one in the picture that Donny showed him ever became nuns. She's not ugly, so I guess she doesn't have to be a nun, he thought. All she has to do is hang around getting her picture taken naked.
He rode the short distance to the vacant lot. There was a circular hedge there in the middle of the triangular lot that had an opening in the middle. There, where the branches of an old hackberry overhung the shrubs, Jordy had his secret hiding place. He parked the bike against a tree trunk, and dropped to his hands and knees and crawled through into the open space.
He'd built a small stone platform of sandstone flags salvaged from a neighbor's collapsed garden wall. He lifted a stone to find the small metal box with its cache of firecrackers, matches, a Zippo lighter with a Marine insignia, and a switchblade he found just lying on the ground with a broken blade and non-functioning spring. There were also folded up pictures ripped from the same magazine that Donny Perkins had gotten his masterpiece from, a magnifying glass, and two shells from Pops’ twelve gauge.
Near this treasure trove was a small pile of stones, neatly stacked into a small pyramid, six on a side at the base, just like the grainy old photos he’d seen of Civil War armories with the cannonballs all stacked up near the cannon. The stones were for his slingshot. When he found a good one, he pocketed it to store his miniature armory.
He picked up one of the stones and held it to the light. He fell into the fantasy that he was God, holding in his mighty hand the Earth suspended in outer space. The racket from traffic on Edgemere and Jefferson quieted and fell away. He was alone, more alone than he’d ever been. Did God ever get lonely? He looked down on the planet, on the human race, on the naked women getting their pictures taken for money; the women covered from head to toe, in summer, in black cloth; the fat, homely women like Glenda.
His vision shifted. He saw Pops racing across the brown prairie in his blue Ford coupe, his shotgun in the back, out ‘selling stamp machines’. He saw himself in his mimosa tree, and remembered Digger, the dachshund with bad breath. He remembered that once, he had a little brother whom he never saw. Something moved around below his ribs, and he felt like he would cry. Nothing made any sense at all. No one seemed to know what to do, only what not to do. For a moment, he thought he would cry, and he decided that if it came, he would let it. But the feeling faded, and the vision passed and he was again in the secret fort, and he held in his hand a smooth, round pebble about three quarters of an inch across.
Without thinking, Jordy reached to his hip pocket and grabbed his slingshot made from a pattern he'd traced onto plywood and cut out with a jigsaw. The rubber was cut from an old inner tube and the pouch was the canvas tongue of a discarded pair of Chuck Taylors. He’d read how to make a slingshot in Boys’ Life. It said you were never supposed to fire your slingshot without your Dad around. Fat chance.
He placed the stone in the pouch, pointed the slingshot at an angle up and out of the circular hedge, pulling the rubber back as far as it would go. The stone rocketed past his ear with a Whap! slapping against the frame of the sling and recoiling with a sting on his wrist.
He listened for a long time to see if he would hear the stone land. With the same kind of weird, cold pleasure he took in knowing the secret of the naked woman in the photograph, he thought it would be funny if it went through a window and landed in Mrs. Conroe's kitchen across the street from their house. Or, something like that...there it was! A single, loud, dead sounding Thunk! and nothing after. Just Thunk! Hmmm...Jordy grabbed another stone, loaded it the same way, and fired again in the same direction, at the same angle.
This time, after a similar time lapse, he got a loud, hollow, metallic Clunk! Again, he fired another stone, and again came the metallic Clunk! What was it? He had to find out, and he put the slingshot in his pocket, put the treasure box back in its tomb, laid the stone back where it belonged, and exited the secret fort on hands and knees, the way he'd come in.
Jordy remounted his bike, and began a slow meander in the general direction he'd fired the stones. Peddling slow, and savoring the feel of the bike's machinery beneath him, his hands resting loose on the handlebars, he approached the house and saw Sister Louise and his mother standing near Sister Louise' car.
They were talking loudly, and waving their hands around. Jordy saw a white, glinting spider web in the hideous old Buick's windshield. Uh, oh....he heard it again: Thunk! Then they bent over the hood, and he saw the egg shaped indentation....Clunk! And they looked at the roof....Clunk! again. A stab of fear and remorse as sharp as cold, wet steel slid into his gut. What would he do? It never occurred to him that the stones would hit Sister's car. Confusion, panic, a wish to peddle away as fast as he could. But, he knew that would be suspicious. Cool down. Think. What to do?
Sister turned to look at him. Her face was clouded, the brows knit, a flush on her cheeks. The eyes were blank, blind in their rage. He thought she didn't recognize him. His mother looked cross, her cheeks reddened as well. There were big circles of sweat under her arms, and wet hair clung to her neck. She was embarrassed and angry, as though she were somehow responsible for Sister's car being damaged. They'd both seen him. He felt caught, a coyote driven into the jaws of a trap. To turn and ride off would be openly suspicious. The only thing to do would be to ride up to the car and ask what happened. He peddled; his legs in ice, almost paralyzed with fear.
What happened? he asked. The two women ignored him for several moments as they continued to examine the damage to the heinous old car. A perfect web of shattered glass emanated from a central impact crater in the driver's side windshield. The offending missile, the smooth brown stone, lay on the asphalt by the door. Bits and shards were sprayed across the hood, inside the car across the dashboard, and even onto the seat.
Above it, on the roof, a dent the size of a hen's egg; on the hood, another, entirely similar dent near one of the exhaust ports. He thought he would faint surveying the damage, but at the same time, he had to fight hard the urge to smile, to laugh. This was too much. As scary as it was, he was exhilarated to see Sister and Mother so out of control.
Mother spoke first. Somebody...(a pause, a change of expression, her face going from angry and bewildered to looking like she just remembered something)...Somebody...threw some...rocks....do you know anything about this, Bub? Where's that Donny Perkins? Has he been around?
She called him 'Bub'...a bad sign, she seriously meant business when she said this. But, a rope had been dropped down the dark hole he'd just found himself in. Donny Perkins! He grabbed the rope, pulled himself toward the ray of light. Of course, he could claim that Donny might have been around a few moments ago. Yeah, that was it! Relief swept through him like rain on a drought stricken city.
Yeah, I think I saw him come by here on his bike a few minutes ago! Why, do you think he....
Well, somebody did, Jordy! Sister cut in. Some filthy, scurvy little lying rat came along and did this thing to Sister's car! She raised her hand with the index finger extended, as if raising a sword. The loose, black sleeve slid down, and showed a muscular forearm, almost like a man's, with thick black hair. A question flashed across his brain like a flashbulb in a dim room. Was she a man? No time to for that now.
And, they'll not get away with it! Sister finished, black threat implied.
With every atom in his body straining at the effort to remain calm and correctly interested while nevertheless surprised and baffled, Jordy said, Well, I'm going inside. If Donny comes by again, don't do anything, OK? Just let me handle it. He dismounted the bike, and, with the two women still looking at him in suspicion, he rolled the machine up the driveway ever so casual, staying calm like an escaped American prisoner in a Nazi movie leaving the identification checkpoint. Just keep moving, relaxed and slow, he told himself. Don't give yourself away...Easy does it, roll the bike....
Jordy! His mother's voice cut through him like a slug fired by a sentry in the guard tower. He stiffened, almost reflexively put his hands up, but didn't. He turned slowly to her. I'm goin' in, Ma, I'm kinda tired.
Jordy, what is that in your back pocket?
My back pock...nothing! There's nothing in my back pocket!
> what is jordy doing while being interrogated?<
Now, Sister Louise joined in, Jordy, there is something hanging from your back pocket. Could you bring it over and show it to us please? It almost sounded like German, one last question to blow his cover just before he made his getaway.
Get over here, now mister, and bring us that thing dangling from the right rear pocket of your jeans, and for that matter, what have you been lying in? The back of your shirt is a mess!!
Still feigning innocence, he walked slowly back over to the women, his hands held away from his sides in an open handed gesture. While Sister drilled him with her harsh, eagle's glare, his mother turned him around and seized the slingshot from its place in his hip pocket. She held it up for him to see as she turned him around again, dangling it in his face with implied accusation. Jordy quickly glanced at them both, and saw, beyond all doubt, that they'd put two and two together, and knew that it was not Donny Perkins who'd vandalized Sister's car. His cover was blown.
Why do you lie to your mother, Jordy? Sister Louise growled. If you lie to your own mother, Jordy, then you might as well to the Lord Jesus Christ! And we both know what happens to those who do…
Go to your room, Jordy, Glenda cut in. GO TO YOUR ROOM NOW, MISTER. Little gobs of white spit were spraying from her mouth and her cheeks were clouded with red mottles.
He knew the jig was up, and turned to roll the bike into the garage, leaning it in the back under the shelf that held all of Pops’ motor oils, tubes of grease, waxes, cock and dog fight kit, and other supplies. Where is Pops’ when you need him? Nowhere to be found, nowhere to be found; out ‘selling stamp machines’ at shotgun point with Mr. O’Dowd. A lot of good that does.
He stooped to pet Ladygirl’s head. It was slick smooth and warm, and she tried to lick his hand. He thumbed the S-shaped scar that snaked across her head where the scalp was ripped open in a fight down in Louisiana. Sssssh, Lady. Sssshhh….I’ll be back in a minute.
He emerged from the dimness of the garage, and opened the gate to the yard, glancing down the driveway at the two women still stood heatedly discussing something. He saw Mama reach over and run her finger across the dent on the hood. As he crossed the yard into the house, they both looked up at him, like guards watching a prisoner in the exercise yard.
He went in the house, past the hi-fi on its stand near the TV, into his room and switched on the ceiling fan, throwing himself on the bed while simultaneously grabbing the newest Green Hornet. He was already reading by the time he hit the bed.
He drifted off to a dream of Pops firing a shotgun over and over. He could not see what the target was. Pops broke the enormous gun open, inserted two shells, holding it at his side to fire. A blast of fire and black smoke against a dim red background. Repeat. On the fourth, he woke, the comic book resting on his chest, the ceiling fan spinning the dank June air around the room. He was being watched, he could feel it, and he raised himself on his elbow to see Mama and Sister Louise standing in the door.
Sister was holding at her side a length of heavy fence lathe from the pile behind the garage for the new fence that Pops never built. Mother was holding a huge bar of fresh Ivory Soap and a washcloth. Fear spread ice cold from the middle of his gut downward; his mouth went dry. For a couple seconds, he was not quite able to understand what they were doing, except for the sense of menace in their stance. They moved toward him, each bearing their instruments of retribution.
Jordy knew he was in for it now; done for, like the guys at Pearl Harbor. He leapt to his feet and attempted a charge right between them, as that was the only way out, but Sister caught him in the hook of her muscular arm, and said in a voice low and man-like, What did Sister tell you, little man? And you ignored Sister, and now you've got to pay for your idle mind and your lying ways!
She pulled him back against her torso, her arm around his neck and he could feel her sweat and smell her breath. Mother came around the front of him, and as she did so, Jordy raised his feet from the ground in order to kick out, his weight supported by Sister's strong arm. She began whipping at his legs with the strip of wood, and the slaps stung like a flight of hornets. His mother was grabbing at his legs, but he fought her as he turned and writhed and he wished for help, wished that Pops would walk in right now and bust this thing, but he knew that would never happen and he fought on.
> does jordy say anything aloud during the spanking?<
Mother had his legs now, and he lay stretched between Sister's grasp and his Mother’s grip on his ankles. He continued to fold and buck and hope to escape, because he knew what was coming, he knew the taste of Ivory Soap, the foul stench of Ivory Soap and his own vomit, the near suffocation, the burning soap leaking down his gullet...the blackness coming over him, and he fought on. He would not allow that again; no, they wouldn't have that again.
Now he was down on the bed, the two women puffing, straining and sweating in the heat. Mother undid the snap on his pants while Sister twisted his shoulders to turn him over. He folded his knees to his chest, but Sister put out a hand to stop them, and Mother got her elbow in and pried him open again. He felt a tug and another tug and his pants were down, his butt and genitals now in the free air and he tried to pull his T-shirt down to cover himself. He was starting to cry, and he couldn't do anything about it, a black and red tide coming over him, and he cried; he could not help himself.
Next, somehow, he was on his stomach on the bed, his knees on the floor, Sister keeping him so pinned. She said, Jordy, when we lie we make a mockery of the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we must pay with our pain for our sins.... The piece of fence lathe thwapped into his ass like a gunshot. Then another, and another, like she was flaying his buttocks with a blowtorch.
Take that, young man, you think you can destroy Sister’s property and lie about it? This will teach you to lie….and another slap, then, no more. One of them came over and straddled him, his burnt ass still hanging out, keeping him pinned to the bed, and the other left the room. He heard water running in the kitchen, filling something…oh, god no!
Footsteps coming back down the hall, slopping water sounds, and a hand on his forehead, pulling his head back, a splash and a foaming wet bar of Ivory is presented to his mouth, which he clamped shut firm, the lips pressed together, his breath coming in rags and snorts through his nose.
No! he shouted Noooo! Noooo! Through clenched teeth. The bar is pressing with ferocity against his lips, that vile taste leaking past them. She pressed harder and he felt his lips bruising but still he wouldn’t open. Open your mouth, Jordy! His mother grunted and he growled No! again. Sister’s hand came down over his face and she pinched his nose shut. Jordy held his breath as long as he could, and longer, and the urge to breathe had him seeing black and he bucked but she would not let go and finally he had to open his mouth to gasp and when he did, the bar of Ivory was thrust in to his mouth and he gurgled and gagged on the burning soap scum.
Now a hand rested on his wet head, Mother’s or Sister’s, he didn’t know, soothing him as he writhed in his efforts to eject the soap. Quiet now, boy, said Sister. She continued stroking and he tossed his head and screamed around the soap, but he was tiring and found he could breathe through his nose. The panic lessened and he let himself go; he relaxed. The hand still soothed him, stroking and stroking. There, there now. There’s a boy. Let the soap clean the sin and the lies from out your mouth. And when you’re ready to tell us what happened, Jordy, and make an act of contrition, Mother and I can let you up and you can go back outside to play….
> what did the soap look like?<
When he heard the offer, Jordy wasted no time making up his mind to regain his freedom, even if it meant telling the truth. He nodded his head to show he was ready and his mother went to the bathroom and returned with a moistened wash cloth. The bar of soap was taken from him and put in the bucket, and Mother held her hand with the wash cloth under his mouth and said, Go on, spit it all out now! He ejected a sizable load of foam into the cloth, which she then folded over and used to clean the soap from around his lips.
Now they let him sit up, which he did, though his backside burned like they’d taken a belt sander to him. And this on top of the self inflicted burns from falling in the fire…and somehow, he felt at peace. The struggle and its release calmed him; his room seemed clean and empty. He was light headed and sleepy as he reached down to the floor and retrieved his underpants and his jeans and slid them on. The two women watched, motionless, expressionless. Without thinking, he knelt by the side of the bed.
Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended Thee, and I detest all of my sins, because of Thy just punishment…he prayed out loud until reaching the end of the prayer. When done, he turned and sat on the bed, and looked at them both, and began.
I went over to the vacant lot on my bike with my slingshot, he said. Then he fibbed. I found some really neat stones, and I just picked ‘em up and started shooting at some squirrels, I wasn’t tryin’a hit ‘em, though, just scare ‘em. And uh, I guess they just got away from me, the stones did, and I didn’t know if they were hitting Sister’s car or what. He paused, glancing at them, trying to decide whether to keep going, or to let it rest.
He chose to let it rest.
Sister and Mother sat looking at him, their faces blank, unfinished doors. While he waited for them to react, the dream came to him; there was Pops loading and firing the gigantic shot gun. When she spoke, Sister Louise startled him back to the present. Now the naked woman in the photograph flickered across his inner screen, and to keep from laughing, Jordy said, What Sister, I didn’t hear you….
I said, Jordy, you may go.
He slipped out of the room, out the back door, to a world looking new and fresh, cleansed. He felt like he’d just awakened from a twelve hour sleep, from a dream. Everything was both familiar and new. Out in the yard, he looked up at the blue, blue sky through the mimosa leaves, as if for the first time. His mind wondered on.
He thought about Little Michael, the brother he never met, never even knew he would have until Mama with her swollen belly had gone to the hospital with a ‘stomachache’ and came home three days later only to lie on the bed in a darkened room for a month.
She lay there in her misery, and his, with her bottle of Southern Comfort and her Silvertone TV, occasionally placing orders for dry toast, which Pops expected him to fill.
You almost had you a little brother, said Pops not looking up while he cracked the top of a Schlitz. He lifted the beer and took a big, long guzzle. Jordy remembered him setting it down, on the green linoleum topped table, and looking at him as a prospector would a rock. Someone for you to teach how to play ball...Pops lifted the can and chugged for a minute before setting it down empty. He stood and went to the short fat refrigerator for another.
Jordy always thought that beer made you drunk, but it seemed like no matter how much Pops drank, he never got drunk. Mama lay just in the next room, the door part open, darkness within, the ceaseless chatter of the game shows coloring the days.
A long silence, during which Pops stared at the gap in the bedroom door. Finally, he took another swig of Schlitz, swallowed and wiped foam from his mouth before speaking one word.
Bitch, he said. Out of Pops’ eyesight, Jordy smiled.
Back in the moment. He looked around. There was the wagon, with its load of ash, still smoldering. The magnifying glass where he’d dropped it. He felt like he’d been gone for a long time, and was just now returning, finding everything where he’d left it, so long ago. He was standing in shade and he looked up through the lacy foliage of the mimosa. He saw his perch up in the fork, and he went to the tree and climbed up. Inside the house, the two women were talking.
I’ll speak to my husband when he comes home, said Glenda. He won’t be happy, but what can we do? I am so sorry this happened, Sister. We will get it fixed. Don’t you worry.
Oh, that’s not what I’m worried about, said Sister Louise. I’m worried about that boy of yours and the lying and destructiveness. We have to do something about that now, or we’ll be putting another one in the penitentiary in a few years….
You don’t worry, said Mama in that pathetic, suck up voice she used around Father McClanahan and the nuns. We’ll take care of it. And Sister, thank you so much for coming to check on us and helping with him. You know this is hard, Jordan Senior out on the road as much as he is….
You are in my prayers, always….
Then she was out in the yard again, hanging the rest of the shirts out to dry. She turned the radio on and started singing. You up there, boy?
Yes’m, he said. And to himself, But not for long.
He lay back in the tree, listening to the music and his mother singing her wordless, melody-less, tuneless song, and again, his thoughts turned to Pops out ‘on the road’, selling stamp machines.
He pictured Pops talking to a man in a white grocer’s apron while pointing to the stamp machine. Since he’d never actually seen one of the machines O’Dowd and Pops were out selling, he manufactured one in his head, which looked vaguely like a cigarette machine, with knobs and levers and lettering, but instead of it saying CIGARETTES on the front, it said STAMPS.
After a while, both men would begin to smile and nod, and eventually shake hands, and the man would pull out a wad of cash and give it to Pops. Jordy couldn’t remember exactly when it was that he stopped believing that Pops was actually selling STAMP machines. Probably about the same time he figured Santa Claus out. But, he could never really figure out what it was Pops did out there ‘on the road’. He just showed up every couple of weeks, smiling and happy and flashing a very large roll of ‘dough’.
He looked down. Seven white shirts were flapping. Glenda paused for a sip from her tumbler of ice water. Suddenly, the air seemed to change, a moist breeze came up. Glenda looked up at him. You’re gonna fall and break your neck! Come down from up there!
Sister’s words came floating back: An idle mind…
He ignored her. The blue sky was running with cloud, egg white in a blue bowl, scrambling fast. The weather was shifting. He could feel the tree starting to rock and bow in stiffening wind. Glenda was hanging the last shirt. Now there were eight. She stood back from the line, and looked at the sky. She thought for a minute, and looked back at the laundry.
Guess it’s gonna rain some here pretty quick, goddammit! she said to herself. She picked up her basket and went over to the radio to turn it off, picking it up and placing it in the basket before going up on the porch. She stood looking at the sky again, which now was getting gray and cool gusts were mixing in with the warmer, humid air. The sun hung like a drowning man being pulled down by waves of cloud. Tree tops nodded and waved.
Guess I’ll give ‘em a little longer, she said, referring to Pops’ eight shirts, waving hysterical hosannas on the quick wind. Looking up into the mimosa, she yelled out, You better come down from there, it’s gonna be thunder and lightning!! Then she was in the house, the screen door slapping thwack! behind her, a cloud of spent cigarette smoke wafting up. After a moment, he heard a slick game show announcer’s voice and mechanical sounding applause, and he knew she was probably watching Queen for a Day!
The sky was filling rapidly with gray clouds running swift from the northwest. Cool blasts jetted, and the mimosa limbs rocked and swayed. He closed his eyes and imagined he was on horseback on the Great Plains; that he was on the deck of a sailing ship at sea; that he rode the air on a plank of wood in the tornado; that the tree itself was whirling through the air like a windblown sky ship, and he its only passenger. Weightless now, he flew far away, out into the cosmos, above that blue layer he’d seen in his science book labeled ‘Our Atmosphere’.
A drop of water struck, then another, and another. The screen door slammed; he didn’t know how long he’d drifted. Glenda came out again, not looking up, in a hurry, carrying her basket. She put it down and took one last long drag off her Viceroy before flicking it away. The shirts were flapping and gesticulating wildly, choreographed by the wind. She got to work, removed each one, dropping it into the basket.
They were his Pop’s shirts, eventually to be pressed and starched and worn with a snappy tie under fresh shaved jowls glistening with tiny red jewels of blood, stanched by the application of a ‘styptic pencil’ and doused with Aquavelva.
Pops, the traveling stamp machine salesman. His Pops, with no stamp machine, but a shotgun in the trunk.
A heavy gust hit the tree, followed by a blast of white light, not too far away. He counted- one, two, thr…ka-BLAM! The thunder hit, and he knew the storm was on top of them. He told his trusty sidekick he was ‘gonna ride this one out’, and he settled back on his branch, grabbing a good hold on the thick part with both hands over head. It was going to be a rough ride.
Glenda shouted. You better get down from there, now, Mister. Thunder and lightning! It’s about to rain! Git down! And she slapped herself into the house through the screen door one last time.
He ignored her again, and laughed into the sky as cold wet coins of rain slapped down hard on his face, his chest, stinging and sharp. The mimosa rocked and shook. He closed his eyes, and laughed out loud, letting the rain soak him to the bone.
… is the Devil’s workshop!
This, he thought, is gonna be fun.
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