After Memphis Author(s): Patricia Lear Source: The Antioch Review, Vol. 59, No.

2, Anniversary Issue: Sowing Words for Sixty Years (Spring, 2001), pp. 137-161 Published by: Antioch Review, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4614137 . Accessed: 31/10/2013 00:19
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After

Memphis
BY PATRICIA LEAR

Volume 49, Number 4 Fall '91 PatriciaLear's work has been included in the 0. HenryAwards. She has published a collection of short stories.

y big brotherwas the one who had lashed the Confederateflag to the antenna,and so therewe were, the four of us underthe blaze of our banner,my brotherandI two small heads stickingup proudin the back seat suckingon popsicles-assuming we wereevernoticedatall, which probablywe weren't but maybe we were, by a gas stationattendant or something-and with our dad's big company-president Cadillac tires rubbering us relentlessly North, and with us inside with the car windows up, andwith the cardoors locked so thatwhen we fought and roughhousedwe would not accidentallyhit the door handle and fling ourselves out, there was always aroundus a protectivehaze from our parents' cigarette smoke Spanish-mossinginto drapey shapes in the corners. In the night, afternight fell, our parentswere mostly just little red dots dartingthroughthe stillness of thathurtlingtunnelof time thatwas all of us grinding on along on the old highways, our parentswriting circles andS's andslashes with theircigaretteends thatmy brotherand I could, you know, eye-blinkingly, see from the back in the darkwhen we opened oureyes-but also, andmostly in theirmurmurings to each other, our parentswere the only things standingbetween us and the storiesthey told each otheraboutus, saying, "What,what,what?"when we couldn't hear a part,and which stories were to us, of course, what life was about with a capitalL.
M

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Ourmom had stayedon with us to finish the school year, as is often done, andshe did the usualthingsthatgo with the waitingfor the school year to be out-she took us to the pediatricianfor our shots and kept being assistant leader for my Camp Fire Girls and took us to the swimmingpool andputthe house up for sale andwentto exciting places like to the beautyparlorwhile we werein school, ourdadalreadyhaving gone on aheadof us across the Mason-Dixon Line and taken out bank loans and all, spendinga year getting things going such as startinghis companyandfinding us a house, andthen coming back to chip us with a chisel out of the South, haul us with a crane out of the countryclub swimming pool which is how he said it was for him from the way we were acting. And withus packedby his own handsinto thebackseatwith the line taped down the middle in red tape, also by him, so that we would not fight or startthe next Civil Warby touching each other,our dad made a beeline straightthroughdowntown Memphis to get it over with, to speed us as fast as possible across that bridge over the Mississippi andI were suddenlyswampedemotionallywith River,since my brother a greatSouthernpride-floweringthathad startedus singing andyelling "Dixie," and me hanging out the windows, screaming. I had just gotten old enough to care about the South, which was reallyjust as everybody was packingup aroundme for the move. My brothercared first, of course, and then me. In the car my brotherwas occasionallyshriekingout, "Why,why, why?"between"Dixie"verses, so our mom had to say to us thatif we were happypeople, we could be happy people anywhere, and our dad, who was landing us in West Memphis, Arkansas, down in the industrialsection of town (after a from our mom, and afterthe jillion stop lights and direction-readings usualgas-stationphonecalls to the place we were tryingto get to) down atthe visitor-parking lot of the Razorback Ice CreamCompany,ourdad said it was up to us in this life as far as he knew and not the otherway around. And this was the exact day in West Memphis,Arkansas,rightafter we left the RazorbackIce CreamCompany,that was the last time we ever were as kids to have ourborn-and-bred Memphianaccents, andit was the first time we ever knew we even had Memphianaccents in the first place. It was from that day on in West Memphis, Arkansas,from where our dad had threadedour way out of the industrialsection of town, it was from lunch of that exact first day in West Memphis, Arkansas,that I think our accents startederoding. I believe it began

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while we were ordering our Rebel Dogs from the Yankee-looking waitress and while, waiting to eat, we were taking in the speech of everybody sitting aroundus. It was just business thatwe all ate ice cream-Peanut BusterDairy Queens, little Dixie cups, regularice-cream sandwiches,Cremesicles, Bomb Pops, Drumsticks.You name it, we probablysampledsome of it, as our fatherwent zigzagging us from ice-cream store to ice-cream factory (the Razorbackonly the first) throughTennessee, Arkansas, andMissourito teachhimself everythinghe could aboutthe processing end of it andthe businessend of the ice creambusinessandto sit around swappingideas with the othernovelty-ice-cream-company presidents andtake us all on long, lengthy toursof manufacturing andproduction areas,storageandfreezer space, shippingdock and on-site lunchroom andconveniencevendingmachines,even snakingus single-file through the frontoffice to meet managementandto chatwith the secretarial and clerk-typistpool. We would drinkbottles of pop, and listen to the men talking aboutsugarprices and overruns,milk solids andpackaging,as our mom chatted with one of the employee ladies and drankfrom a papercone of coffee thatwas fitted into a little plastic-handledholder. At night, though,we mixed business with pleasureby stayingonly in motels with swimming pools, where waterbugs froglegged around in the waterwith us. Back on the road,we discussed the Civil Warand how they had it all wrong in the history books, especially with regard to whatwe were up to andwhatthey really were upto. They didnot care aboutourslaves andourslaves' freedomandtheirwelfareandall. They werejustjealous of how good we were doing. Theyjust wantedourraw materials,is what it was. Us plantationowners were left with nothing, no help to keep our crops and cotton going without our slaves, which we loved and cared for. And the slaves, hell, they even had it worse free than with us! I was feeling a deep personalunfairnessdone to me andwas getting madderand madderaboutwanting our slaves back, as well as the life that went along with us having them, and it was then that my brother broughtup with great suspicion, "Hey, how soon is it anyway, or how late is it exactly, that the state of Missouri, where we are moving to, joined in with the Confederacy,and how is it thatKansasneverjoined in, thoughit waveredfor abouta minute,butin the end, what's the deal with Kansas going blue, not gray?" "Don'tknow, don't care,"ourfathersaid,drivingus up throughthe Ozarkmountainsat this point and impressingthe hillbillies with our

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Cadillacflying the Confederateflag. "Anyway,all company-president that is over," he said, pointing out a big truck passing us going the opposite way on the highway with his own nameemblazonedacrossits big side. "Anyway, all that is over," our dad said. "Especiallythe old moldy Civil War."Thenhe askedourmomto handus over into the back seat some rolled-up floorplans and a sketch of what our new house could look like once it was finished-although they had yet to decide exactly on which front to put on it from the choices available:Ranch, FrenchProvincial,or Antebellum. It was the floor plans and house-front choices my brotherand I spreadout across us in the back seat that got me to rememberingmy giant drawingbook I carriedwith me everywhereto drawin, and after fixing the elasticized shoulderson my peasantblouse thathad snapped up, I was soon busying myself with my art work-I was drawing plantationhouses with pillars standingacross the front, and drawing also cotton fields with slaves. On other pages, tucked away, I have to admit,therewere pages andpages of penises, like on my brotherandon our dog we used to have, andthen on otherpages therewere also a few very, very stylized vaginasas seen fromthe front-as in the mirror,and though I did these items in a very, very stylized way, thatis what they were. So I was humming"Dixie"and drawingand was thinkingabout all the old times that I would not forget that we were leaving back in Tennessee-such as the lap, lap, lap of the countryclub swimmingpool electrically underlitafter darkby a splinterylight and top-lit by that magicalMemphismoon andfloatedwith a drizzleof fallen cottonwood blossoms (not ten thousandwaterbugs). Such as Elvis, barbecuepork sandwichesfrom the Pig 'N Whistle, polo ponies we could ride out in Germantown,the ChristmasCotillion where some day I would be a debutantesortof like ScarlettO'Harabecause of not one thingI myself would ever have to have done.

But it was on the road that wends throughSpringfield,Missouri-the home of the OzarkBig Wheel Ice CreamDelight sandwich-and on up throughthe Ozarkmountainsand aroundthe many finger lakes of the Lake of the Ozarks, which I rememberclearly, because it was about thereas we were suddenlycoming up over a big surprisehill in the road thatlifted us up into the air andmy brothersaid, "Isthis us? The South rising again?" that the truth of this move-we-did-not-want-to-make began seeping out sideways. I was sitting next to my brother,at first

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peacefully drawingmore of what I said I was drawingin the back seat as the family talkedon withoutme, more aboutthe Civil WarthatI did not understand or careto learnaboutjust then-since unlikemy brother I didhave a limit to my caringaboutthe teensiestdetails,andmy brother was droning away with his head stuck up between our parentsin the front seat droning names and battles and summits and dates-my brotherknew everything,every little detail, his caringknew no limits, so it was aboutthen our dad cut it shortfinally andbegan telling us the usual stories abouthis Uncle Winn (so what) we had all heardall our lives anyway, and about "thefarm"(so what) where this Uncle Winn lived. Ourmom said, "Oh-Winn-" trailingoff, but ourdadtalkedon aboutthis Uncle Winn andthis farmwhere we were in fact going to be living until ourhouse was finished being built, our dadtelling us story afterstory,as he hurtledus evermoredeeperandfartherinto the North, the upchuckof all which was thatit was becauseof this Uncle Winnwas the reasonwe were all ridingalong so comfy in this Cadillacin the first place (so what), because it was from this Uncle Winn thatour dad had learnedthe meaning of the word work. Ourdadspoke aboutUncle Winnin the sametones, I noticed,as my brother did whenhe was talkingaboutRobertE. Lee orJeffersonDavis. He spoke about how Uncle Winn was the only one of anyone in our whole family to last throughthe depression-no one else did, thatis for sure, no one else did. "Buthow he had a temper!"our dad said, "and when he lost it, watch out! You all rememberI told you aboutthe time when the stubbornmule refused to plow and Winn did the darndest thing." "Mulerocked the wrong boat there,"our mom said, smiling back at me. "Itwas the darndestthing,"our dad said. Oh hell and so what.We had heardthatmule storya million times, and I still never liked it. I was the kind of kid that could be made hystericalby such a story. I thoughtit was mean to the mule. Butjust awestruckwas ourdadin the presenceof this story,I could tell from his eyes glitteringup in some approaching headlights,intent as he was with keepingthatCadidlachood ornament plowing a straight furrow North back to where he was going to dip back in to the same "good character" pond for some more of whateverit was that he had gotten back then for us all. And therewas to be no way out, what with our mom who I could see in plane-lit profile nodding along with him, her eyes turningvelvety and soft, her fingers workingup his shoulder

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to his neck, and whose stories were mostly aimed at me, and were mostly about how not wanting anything was the only way to get anything,while our dad's were mostly aimed at my brother,and were abouthow youjust hadto go outthereandget anything,if you wereever going to have anything. Our dad said, "It was the darndestthing." I was sad all over againaboutthe mule becauseI very muchwanted a horse and a mule was closer to being a horse than what I then had. I would have wantedto ride thatmule. I would have takengood care of that mule, and he would have been prettydecrepitby now and old.

The first thing I rememberfrom when we turnedinto the driveway of the farm and parkedourselves over by the barn was the rising of the sausage-commercialsun to the crowing of the sausage-commercial cocks, ourdadhavingdecidedto pushon andjust get there,even though ourmom said she could not sit any more andhad to go to the bathroom so bad she could "pop." The second thing I rememberis my brotherin front of the barn, looming through the dawn from a place high up on a ladder, nails bristlingfromhis teeth.I could see a big Confederate flag capedup over his shouldersandhis hairrufflingalong with the wheatcropin an early morningbreeze. The third thing I rememberis that there was an old barn turned dance studio right across the highway from the farmthathad a spot-lit dancerin a top hat and cane stuck up on the roof. Uncle Winn was watchingus all swarmingin on him, watchingus advancingup the yard from his rentedhospital bed set up in the front parlor,us to him probablylike the "Nightof the Living Dead"with our suitcasesandleft-overpopsicle wrappersandcomic books andfistfulls of tripgarbagewe were madeto clean out fromthe floor of the car, and me also with my blanketand pillow from the back seat. Ourdad was soon sitting in the pulled-upBarcalounger,andthose two !-our dadtelling Winn-what was it?-something-it was something aboutbutterbrickle ice creamback then our dad was all fired up about,just havingcut a deal with HeathBarto supplythe butterbrickle part. "Waituntilyou tryit,"ourdadwas saying to Winn. "Itwas the best thing you will ever eat,"as Winn was saying, "Whatin the Sam Hill is that?"since he was staringout the picturewindow at my brotherup on

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the ladderabove the hayloft nailing in the last nail of our Confederate flag. Winn surewould not be doing to any moremules whathe haddone to his own mule, I could see thatfrom when I was made to go over and give him a kiss. The local Missouri mule populationwas safe. Next morningit was, "Up and at 'em, you all!" from our dad who was dressedin his flight suitfromthe warwhen he bombedall the Germans, ourdadwho sang"Offwe go into the wild blue yonder,"like my brother and I sang "Dixie," who never slept much, though he would of if he could of, and who never found it in himself to do the thing, to do the sleep methodthatourmom always said workedfor her whereyou bore yourself to sleep is basically what you do. You lie in bed, and you get yourself and your arms and legs all settled how they feel best-you mightwantto tryout a couple of positionsfirstbeforechoosingbecause here is the hardpart-you stay in that same position. No matterwhat. Especially when the urge comes, and it will, to move or roll over, you by force of WILLstay in thatsameposition. If you do this long enough, you are guaranteedby our mom of going to sleep. Ourmom does this sleep method and says it works for her even on the night before Christmas.And the proof is in the puddingbecause wheneverI would go in to check on our mom in bed, such as if I was up going to the bathroom,thereshe would be, so calm andso asleep. Barelybreathing. Saying, "Worktime!"ourdadwas coming up the stairsto ourroom andthenpicking my brother'sbed up on its rightside legs so it crashed down on the wood floor with my brothertryingto stay asleep, no matter what, my brotherwas going to cling to sleep next to me no matterwhat was done to him, me, of course watching all this through flittery eyelashes and listening to my brother'sbreathbreathingout "whys" and"Idon'tbelieve this's"as ourdadwas by thistime finishedwiththis partof his morningandwas trompingon backdownstairsto help Winn get going for the day, our dad doing what I know he did all that summer-lifting Winn gently up in his hospitalbed, thenleadingWinn by the elbow over to the portapottyhe had rolled in from the dining room, and then waiting in the kitchen for him, maybe makingtoast or readingsome of the newspaperbusiness section while he was waiting, or maybe staying in the parlorwith Winn but politely messing around with his back turned,spreadingthe covers over Winn's bed for him, all this while he was waiting, all while my brotherwould be stomping aroundmy bed pulling all the chains on the antiqueylampsthatwe had

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in there and then going into the bathroom,door left wide open, where he would sound like the mule must have sounded to Winn when the mule was going on some solid groundandWinn was stuckbehindhim, waiting, hanging onto the plow. My brother would suit up in his work coveralls-his T-shirt underneathpeeping the Confederate flag through some unsnapped snaps-and he would sing "Dixie"like he thoughtif he could wake me up that would mean something, which it in no way meant anythingas our mom was in charge of me, so him flinging his arms aroundand throwinghis Eagle Scout slingshot to an end-on-endclatteracross the wood floorbeforeslammingoutthe doorwasjust whatI hadto live with to get rid of him in those summermornings. The men would be packing themselves into the Cadillac;I could hear their voices and see them from the upstairswindow as I dragged my bones out of bed to get up andgo flush the toilet. I could see outthere in the driveway my brothersinking back down into the back seat and settlinghis boots upflat againstone of therearwindows,heartheengine starting,hear,I think,"Mackthe Knife"playingon the radio,andit was like this that the men left the farm in the mornings all that summer before our house was built, while our house was just a hole in the ground.They left spewing loose gravel from underneath the Cadillac tires, probablyscaringfrogs out of the drainpipesections along where the drivewaymet the highway where they would take a hardleft to get out on the highway, passing along the row of BurmaShave signs in the Cadillac,passing them by, flying the Confederatebanner,like starting flags. After crossing the bridge over into K.C., they would thump a bumper dragging left down on the old road down by the river flats where, whirling dust, our dad would be driving along and lifting his handup off the steeringwheel or tappinghis horn at the driversgoing the otherway, driversdrivingtrucksof all sizes with his name stenciled on the sides, our dad all the while runningorganizationalplans and ways to secure debt and flavor combinationideas by Winn, andWinn, his whole body pitched about by the car ride, Winn, not my brother, would be listening as our dad drove the three of them deep into the industrial section of town to where his ice-cream plant was tucked behind the EmpireCold StorageCompany.

Once, hay mower in the distance, sun a brightbuttercurl on the silver

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butter plate of the midday Midwestern sky, two men from the plant arrivedout at the farm with Winn-he was old and he got tired-and also bringing along with them an institutional-sizedand industrialquality,top-openingfreezer-casewith threedoublelift-upblackrubber lids to plug in on the kitchenporch. They were carryingit up the yard towardsthe porch,the very porchwhereI would usuallybe lying on the old tasseled sofa thatwas moved therefromwhereWinn's hospitalbed now was, our dad having changed the furniturearoundfor Winn's special needs-rented the hospitalbed, hiredon some help, boughtthe Barcalounger,moved the tasseled sofa out to where I would lie in a loose HawaiianshirtI foundin the cedarcloset left over fromthe story aboutwhen ourdadmadeWinngo on thatHawaiiancruise,forcedhim to leave the stateof Missouriandfly all the way to Honoluluandget on a cruiseboat. I wore thatshirtall thatsummerfor its comfort,switching off from my Memphis peasantblouse. I even sometimes slept in it at night, and in the hot afternoons after the freezer arrived,me in the Hawaiian shirtlying on the tasseled sofa, I could reach over my hand to the institutionalfreezerfor, say, anotherice-creamsandwichas I was readingmy comic books or drawing,and being lulled even more into ournew life here in the Northby the sleepy ironingboardcreakof "our help," Roberta,the fine churchwomanwho was coming to Winn for a few hours each day, who hummedwhiny church songs as she ironed Winn's shirts, her ironing board set up in the afternoonsbetween the Barcaloungerand the picture window while Winn would lie in his hospital bed moving his lips along to whateverRobertawas singing. Fromtime to time, droppinga foot on the floor andelevatingmy old bones uprightto a standingposition to see betterwhatkinds of novelty items therewere in our new freezer,I would go on into the kitchenand drop down at the kitchen table next to our mom who would be sitting there having a cigarette and some iced ConstantCommenttea everybody had started drinking in Memphis, her pockets wadded with Kleenexes and soothing herself with doing her bad habit she never could break;she would be fidgeting andpeeling at herfingernailsuntil they peeled off in layers. So we sat, while the dishwasher chugged and threw the dishes aroundinside, herwith herfingernailsandsippinghertea andsmoking her cigarette,andme eating a Cho Cho cup with a little wooden spoon, andtogetherwe would stareinto the parlorat Robertaironing,watchto find out when it was thatRobertamadethose iron-shapedscorchmarks on Winn's shirts. It was when the carpools came and caused a big

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honking ruckusin the dancing-schoolparkinglot across the highway.

Even my hostile brotherand, most especially, our grinningenergetic dad would smell good and manly whenever they came home to call it a day, to seek out some plain old R & R, theirclothes andhairand skin dusted over with powdered milk and cane sugar and chocolate mix powder, plus dirt and sweat, and bringing along cartons of new ice creamitems thatthey hadthrownin thebackof the Cadillacandbrought home packedon dryice. They were readyto eat chickenfried steak,pot roast,or chicken,chicken,chicken-that is, if they were home any time close to a dinner hour since our dad worked everything;he worked productionalongside his crews, all the shifts our dad worked in the course of a week since they kept the plantrunningaroundthe clock in the summers for the obvious reasons. And also he did figures and answeredphones in the frontoffice rightalong with the clerical ladies, his fingersvirtuosoon the keys of the addingmachineprocessingorders and tallying inventoryand doing the payroll.He might slip into one of the quilted freezer-roomjackets that were kept hanging on pegs and two-handedpull openthebankvaultof a freezerdooranddisappear into the thick spill of arctic air before the door slammed shut behind him. And then he mightbe coming aroundthe back to the loading dock, to load up the trucks,then he was not beyondjumping into the cab of a truck,to making the deliveries himself, even drivingthose greatbig trailerjobbies, the ones with sixteen gears and a co-pilot, drivingthem down to Chillicothe. He was always going to places like Chillicothe back then.

It was the things that did not sell that he broughthome to stock our freezer with as much as the good stuff. He would bringhome eggnog ice creamin half-galloncartonsandCoconutXmas Snowballswith the real little wax candles sticking up out of the middle of a holly-berry bunchtoothpickedin the top. He'd bringpumpkin-flavored turkeysand #11 green dye Christmastrees. At the plant, there were bags of green dye #1 1. Robertawould servemorebowls of eggnog ice creamthanany other flavor to Winn and my mom and me at noontime with our coldcut sandwiches. We never saw from her hand an Eskimo pie or a Drumstick.The vanilla andpumpkin-flavored turkeysshe would serve occasionally. The strawberry Valentineheartsonce in a while-but it

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was somethingaboutthe eggnog ice creamthathad Robertain a thrall. There were times in the evenings that summerwhen I would have to go the long way aroundto get from my room to the kitchento where my mom would be startingour dinner,maybe gratingcarrotsfor our little saladsor peeling potatoes,it being too early for her to starton me aboutmy job-pouring the milk for dinner.I would have to go through the darkdining room, slip past the set of sliding oak doors of the parlor where I could hear our dad and my brotherin there,with Winn asleep or watchingthe action in his hospitalbed, our dad always sitting in the Barcalounger and my brother always sitting in the needlepointed armchair with the armdoilies. Basically whatit was was ourdadloving my brotherso muchhe could not let him alone, so afraidwas he for my brotherconcerninglife, andwantingeverythingfor him to be so proud andgood andstrong,for him to be strongandgood, andmy brotherjust wantingto be left alone to have some one or two of his own experiences just forhimself all by himself, to be proudandgood andstrongandgood just all by himself withoutourdadactingas brilliant,genius interpreter to every little thing, every little time he brushedhis teeth, and Winn sometimes even sleeping, who knows how, throughthose two saying, "Whydo you thinkwhy?"to each other,or "Justwhat do you meanby that?" Or, "Is that what you think life is?" It could be either one of them saying that. "Whatdo you thinklife is? Tell me rightnow, please, yourtheories on what life is."

My brotherwould finally somehow get himself excused, and then he would head outside past the flouredchicken partsfrying up in the iron skillet andthe otherswaitingtheirturnon a waxed-papersheet,pastthe finished pieces drainingon paper towels on the counter top, past the Jell-O mold quiveringin our mom's hands as she was maybe walking it over to the refrigerator, past me andthe institutionalfreezerwith the blackrubber lift-uptops. He would maybeyell somethingatme, seeing me reading a comic book on the tasseled sofa, "Taylor, you lazy imbecile, go get the dandeliondigger,"andthenhe would go on out into the downy evening light to pull out the old rustypush mower from the shed. I would watchhim from whereI would climb up on the freezerto watch, and I saw him more than once that summerdrop down on his knees in some grass beside the push mower to examine somethingon

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the mower blades or wheels, some little thing, a mudclot or something driedup andstuckup therein the mower, andmy brotherwouldjust get down there close next to it and poke it with a stick. in the Sam Hill?" Ourdadwould standbeside me andwatch."What he would breathewhile he watchedmy brotherdoodle aroundwith the stick, then our dad would follow out, not really being able to stay away from my brother,andhe would go off acrossthe yardthe opposite way from my brother,like he could not watch any more, but still, so my brothercould see him, like maybe he was going on back to work, he would back his Cadillac out of the barn,back it right underneathmy brother'sConfederateflag, then at this point, our mom would runout in the yardand our dad would hit the brakesand prettysoon he would cut the engine andcome on backin the house, going backpastme again, me with my bare foot rummagingaroundin one of the pull-up top openings of the freezer, and he would go on in to sit with Winn where they would togetherlook at the TV evening news or do figures orjust wait for the chicken to finally get itself fried.

Then one night, early on, all of us lying out in the sweet-smelling,justmown grass my brotherwas made-to-mow-by-our-dad, we all were lying out after supperhaving our dessert ice-creambars in some ratty lawn chairsI foundstuckup in theraftersof thebarnI hadbeen crawling aroundin that day, trying to hang out of the hayloft and fix the corner of our Confederateflag where it had come loose. We all were much interested in Cremesicles at that time-vanilla ice cream on a stick covered over with an orangesherbet-something ourdad was giving a try thathit BIG, and still is BIG, as you probablyknow if you frequent the freezer case at the 7-Eleven, but what you would not know was it was my dadthatmadeit thatway. We were eatingthe firstCremesicles on the planetEarthandlooking aroundus like you do, andwe could see Winn watching TV and eating a Cremesicle, too, lit up in the picture window in his hospital bed. We could see him perfectly, like it looks when you arein the darkoutside andsomebodyis on the inside with all the lights flippedon andfunnyjust becausethey are so totallyunaware. The TV noise was blaringfarlouderout therein the crystallinecountry air thanit would have seemed to be if we were, say, back in the city of Memphisandstandingin frontof the PeabodyHotel waitingfor ourcar to be broughtaroundfrontandthis same TV noise was blaringout from one of the upstairshotel windows.

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And with us each shifting our bones aroundin our wooden lawn chairs, we could see the back of a billboardthe Motel-6 motel chain, around there somewhere, had up there, with electric headquartered lights haloing out from aroundthe darkoblong of its backside, since it was set forwardfor the oncomingtrafficto see, not ourway. The Burma Shave signs we could not see, but therewas the perkyspotlitdanceron top of the dance studioacrossthe highwayoutfittedwith hertop hatand cane, and actually it was she and Winn that outshone by far even the Motel-6 or the Confederateflag that was nailed up on the barnand lit up ghost-likefromall the nightneon, andfromourpride-my brother's and mine-though that was a shame;the Confederateflag was by far the morebeautifulandreally meantsomethingimportant, too. It meant the human spirit and causes. Our family conversations were mostly round-and-rounds where one personwould get on some topic dearto his heart,andthenone other person,or persons,would have to get him off thattopic ASAP because it was becoming a threatto one or more of the other family members' equilibrium.And then anotherpartywould launchoff with a topic that soon could not be toleratedby one or more of the others.And around and aroundit went like that with conversationsin our family. Ourmom would say (I know this since this is what she said all that summer),"Housesare never done on time,"and our dad would let her run on for a while to get that off her chest, then he would change the subject because what could he do about the house anyway, build it himself? He would change the topic to something like "work"-his work in particularor just "work"in general-and my brotherwould pretty soon launch into Civil War and starttalking about a battle or a summiteven moreobscurethanthe one he talkedaboutthe nightbefore since thatis whathe was talkingaboutall thatsummer.He mightas well havebeen in the Civil Warfor all he knew aboutit. Orhe was also saying every other sentence, such as when our mom was going on about the house never being ready, "Let's go back, let's don't do this," and our dadwould get us off thattopic lickety-splitby launchinginto something like what he said the night I am remembering. He said, "Oh,family, this place has a history. Oh, this place right here and that old man up there in that picture window really have a history. It scares me to thinkif it weren't for this place and thatman." And how could we not, even my brother,how could we not look up at thatpicturewindow and see Winn who, at this point, was holdinghis popsicle stick in his mouthand droopingit down like I saw the French

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Apache dancers do with their cigarettes on TV, and my brotherthen said, "Whatis thathe is wearing?Is he wearingmy T-shirt?Is thatmy T-shirt?"and I rememberI jumped to my feet to get a better look at Winn. Ourdad then could have said, for example, to get us off thattopic, I don't rememberexactly but this is close, "Taylor-tater-tot? Do you know how to snapthe head off a snake?Winn in theredoes," which is probablythe thingthatstartedmy mom down the roadI am going to tell about now, because our mom did say one of those drive-in movie perfecto nights, one of those early nights while we were probablyall still triprattledwhich is maybe why this thing she told had such a BIG impacton me, why I suckedit up like a dampspongebeing wiped across an old kitchencounter,our mom said, "You all? Oh, I heardthis story. Oh, Ijust heardthe mosthorriblestoryfromhome in a letter.Something so sad. Something so terrible." "Don't tell us," I yelled out at her, attunedas I was to her different tones of story-tellingvoices, as I was getting myself back in my lawn chair from trying, but not succeeding, in seeing Winn's shirt front. "Don't tell us," I yelled out, wanting but not wanting, I didn't really think, to know her story-all this I had decidedjust from her tone. "Snakesremindedme," our mom said. "Ohboy. Hold yourhorses righttherejust a minute,"ourdad said, workingat gettinghimself up out of his low ricketylawn chair,getting up andthengoing in the backkitchendoorwherewe could see him stick his head in the electrifiedparlorwhereWinn was, then disappear,then come back andtoss somethingin Winn's lap. Then our dad came back out andthrewus underhanded, one afterthe other,a roundof spoonsand each our own Coconut Xmas Snowball. "Here'syours, here's yours, here's yours,"he said. "Comeon. We got to eat these up before they get freezer bum." "Well, okay," our mom said, as flakes of coconut were drifting down into herlap fromthe split she hadmadein the cellophanewrapper with herteeth. I got ourdad's Zippo and went aroundlighting the little candles on everybody's Snowball, staving off the story since I did not need a new story.I hadplenty of otherstoriesstoredup to get hysterical about. I did not need any more right then. There was the move-story which we were living, so it was not yet really a story;it was our life. There were the kitten drownings. There were penises. I had not yet reconciled myself to penises. There was the mule.

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"Well,okay. HereI go," ourmom said,gazing into hertiny dancing candle flame. "You know Pete and Jenny Rogers and their little girl from the Cotillion, don't you, honey?"she said to ourdad. "Andit was the Cylinders,the RichardCylinders,not his brotherBenjamin,not the one thatyou know. JohnCylindermarriedto Linelle, andPatience,her niece, was on the swim team with you Taylorat the countryclub. Peter was a yearbehindyou in Scouts. They were the ones thatlent themtheir cabin over by Pittick Place, down on the Hamlin's road by South Tar Creek. Not Arkansasand not Mississippi." "Whatin the Sam Hill are you talking about?"our dad said, just barelyever was he able to toleratethe way ourmom went abouttelling a story,but not daringto shift us off the topic altogetherby bringingup of Winnor something,as she hadherrights,such the furtheradventures as to tell an occasional story. I was workinghardon my granite-hard Snowball, also letting the candle drip wax on my fingers as I chipped off little bites. My brotherwas staring over at our mom, interested in spite of however she was going to get the story out. "Okay,"our mom said, inhalinga deep breathof honeysuckledair andclearingthe decks by settingherSnowballdown to melt in the grass by her lawn chair. "I'll try again. There were young newlyweds, the young Pearson couple you all remember from Memphis that were getting married even before we left? Mary Rogers. Mary Rogers Pearson.You saw herpictureTaylorin the society section a few weeks back.Remember? I showedyou? Well they were lent a brandnew cabin for theirhoneymoonup in the Smokies-and it was the firstnightright aftertheir wedding partyand you know, they were very tired, so they got in bed " Here my ears prickedup like the mule's must have done when he saw Uncle Winn walk over to the wood pile and reach his bare arm down. "Onthe bed I heartherewas one of those chenille bedspreadswith the peacock," our mom said, lighting up a cigarettejust then, finally relaxing a little into her story, finally having gotten a couple of sentences out unimpededby the rest of us. The smoke hazed over my way where I smoked it in throughmy nose. Now this story our mom was about to tell, I have repeatedmany times. Over the course of my girlhood, I have told this story, I think wheneverI have spent the night with any one of my many girlfriends,

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also boyfriends,men, andhusbandslater,now thatI am grown.But this version I am writing here is the most permanentrecordtherehas ever been of this story. Well, the honeymoon couple, Mary Rogers Pearson and her husband,got in bed (sex, penis), andthey soon heardthingsmoving around on the floor-slithering noises (snake)-and the husband (penis)said to his beloved, MaryRogers Pearson,he said thathe "musttake a small break, my darling, so stay just like that in the bed for just a moment,"so he could go andsee whatwas causingthose noises (snakes slithering,plus rattlesbeing draggedacrossthe floor) beforehe continued on with whattender,gentle bliss (penis)he was bringingto his bride for the first time in all her life, and as he hit the floor with his feet and beganto feel along the wall for a lightswitch,he was rightthenstepping on top of rattlesnakeon top of rattlesnakeon top of rattlesnake.It was a whole nest of themhe was steppingon! Some damnidiot fool hadhad the stupidityto build thatcabin rightover the site of the biggest nest of Diamondbacksin the whole state of Tennessee!! And those snakes were tangled up everywhere! And the noise level! But the young husbandwas a Southern boy andthoughtonly of his bride,MaryRogers Pearson-which it would behoove me to be like; her;however she was, so I could find someone to thinkof me like that,so ourmom's look said to me, ourmomwithhercigarettesmokeribboningintothenatural, plus neon-lit sky-and though the young husband never made it to the lightswitch in that dolt's cabin (there was a lawsuit), what with those rattlesnakesstriking and striking at him as they would of course do, them being wild animals, and him stompingall over them barefooted like a grapestomper,he screamedoutto MaryRogersPearson."Oh!my darling!For God's sakes! My love! Stay-in-the-bed!Oh my darling!" as he was, by that time, simply sacrificing himself for her because he could have instead,if you thinkaboutit, screamedfor herto go andget him some help. But he didn't. He said to her, "My love. Don't move a muscle! Don't move! Don't even breathe! Just-stay-in-bed! Justplease-for-Christ-sake-stay-still in the bed!" Andthenhe wasquiet.Andtherattlesnakes evenbegancalmingdown. And MaryRogers Pearson,beautiful,luminous,huddledup on the bed, her bare shouldersmarbledin the wedding-nightmoonlight that was streamingdown acrossthose Smoky Mountainsandon in through the cabinwindow, MaryRogersPearson,who was armedonly with her honeymoon nightgown of Italian lace which was bought for her in Memphis at the Helen Shop, Mary held on.

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Now our mom's cigarettetip brightenedconsiderablyas she took a deep drag,and we all sat quietly for awhile, each alone with our own thoughts. "She bowed at the ChristmasCotillion,"our mom said. "And they had their wedding reception at the country club," she said. "The minute we left Memphis, this all happened.The minute we left, or the day after,"our mom said. Oh! Oh! Hearingthe soundsshe hadto have heard!Knowingwhat she must have known, maybe even seen, because probablyshe could see shapes and shadows and even more. I mean really SEE. Oh! I could not imagine that much-being big enough for that much TERROR. And in the morning, as our mom was telling it to us, us glommedonto herevery wordby now, us athercompletemercy-there was the poor dead husband with too many rattlesnakebites to even count, his WHOLEbody a mass of bites, the rattlesnakesby now all gone back down to theirnests underneath the floorboardsof thatcabin like they hadnevereven been thereat all. No one really saw themcome and no one saw them leave except for what MaryRogers Pearsonsaid she could see. "Did that really happen?"I said, wanting my drawingbook, my fingers itching to get arounda pencil. "Didthathappen?Who told you that?Whendid thathappen?" I said strugglingunderneath the crushing weight of this story. Now the mule and mule-type stories that were so rampantback then-plus there were others I haven't even mentioned (such as the kitten drowningsand the "wild"dog shootings-dogs people did not want any more, dogs people broughtout from KansasCity and let go out on the roadby the farm)-maybe, maybe,maybeI couldjust barely toleratelife knowingthose storieshappenedin the sameworldI did,and that living things had felt what I had the unique genius to imagine in minutedetail thatthey felt from whatI was being told hadhappenedto them, and maybe the violence of us being Rebels forced to live here in the Northwith the Yankees,thattoo, I could makea semblanceof peace with if given a little time, but this story with the honeymoon and the snakes coming up in the darkfrom underneath and no way out but by getting in with the snakes, and Mary Rogers Pearson in her lace

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nightgown from the Helen Shop-that storypushedme over the edge, because I was never one who could make peace with things by saying what seemed to take care of everythingfor everybodyelse, which was, oh well, that's just the way it goes. That's life for you. C'est la vie. "It happened,"our mom said, glancing down at her fingernails. "You see, listen to me, Taylor!"she said as I was busy balling up my Coconut Xmas Snowball wrapperand strugglingout of my chair. "Taylor-tot!" ourdadsaid,meaninghe knew I was sealingover and they were not done with me yet. "Thebride,"ourmom said, "Mary RogersPearson,she stayedright there in the bed and she kept still. She did not allow herself to lose control. She kept still. And thatwas smart.Thatwas her only way out of this mess. And well, how she did it, Taylor,if you arewonderingjust how she did it-well, how she did it was how anybodydoes anything. She had to do it. She had to, that's how she did it,"ourmom said,facing me with eyes as glitterywith purposeandas adamantas ourdad's were when he was driving us up here from our happy home down in the South. "I saw Winn do a rattlesnake," our dad said. "Winnjust grabbed him up by its rattlerand crackedit like a whip. Head poppedoff. Then Winnkept crackinguntilhe hadcrackedhim off into nice little wienersized sections for the buzzards." We all gazed up at Winn's picture window and there was Winn sitting straightup in his hospitalbed peeringbackout the window at us. And he was wearing my brother'sConfederateflag T-shirt. "She's okay,"ourmom said. "MaryRogersPearsonis doing pretty good now. Went to a 4th of July brunchat the countryclub." Now. I could see no pathfrom thatnight andthose snakesto being anythinglike "prettygood." None whatsoever.The only path I could make out was the pathwhere I would startscreamingmy head off and all the snakeswould chargeup andjump all over me-or maybe,maybe I could make it throughthe night by accident,by being frozen by fear or something,or by some survivalmechanismjust builtinto the species thatI did not even know I had, but that would be only to be cartedoff to the insane asylum the next morningwhere I would spend all the rest of my life reliving the snake-nighthoneymoonfrom the picturescreen burieddeep in my head.

In the late afternoonsat a certaintime, I would go and lie down on the

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wood floor undermy brother'sbed to wait for him to come back from his day of work at the ice-cream factory. If I had the time right, my brotherwould stumble in and flop down in his big rubberwork boots on top of where I was stowed, and I could hear him up there talking conversationsto himself aboutthings he would be thinkingaboutand remembering andtryinghardto figureout. He would lie still on the bed and sigh loud enough so I could hearhis breathswoosh out. He hadnot yet really begun to unpackhis heartfrom his over-and-done-with life he used to have back in Memphis where he would do things like take the bus crosstown with his friends and go to the movies. I was younger and my heartmaybe unpackedquicker. My brotherwould get up off the bed andkick his boots off and go into the bathroomandget himself a glass of water,thenhe would come back and lie down and breathe and sigh some more. Sometimes he would get off the bed and rambledown to the kitchen to get a loaf of WonderBread,his aftemoon food of choice, and sometimes he would trapme by coming back in our room at the wrong time, such as when I was half in and half out from underhis bed. Lots of times when I was lying underhis bed, I would find down therebeside me a loaf or two of older,forgottenWonderBread.I would lie down there,and like he did, pull the crustoff slices, thenball up the soft middle partto make breaddough, andI found I liked eating it that way as much as he was liking it up above me. For the most part,I was sympatheticand togetherwith my brotherin most ways, but he never knew it. Back then, I would even have been him if I could have.

Like ourdad,I hadquitsleeping. Like ourdad,I foundourmom's sleep methodwas too hardfor me. I could not bearthe idea of boringmyself any more than I alreadywas bored by not being able to sleep. During the day, I found boardsnailed to an oak tree I could climb up in and take my drawingbook. I began drawing,along with all the usuals you alreadyknow about, I drew that cabin in the Smokies and Mary Rogers Pearson in bed with her young husband, I drew the rattlesnakessnarledand snaked aroundunderthe floorboards.I drew one of the snakespeepingup througha little knotholein the floor. Then I would look throughthe tree leaves and draw the silhouette of the dancerin a top hat and cane on the top of the dance studio across the highway. I drew our good old Confederateflag nailed up on the barn, thebillboardsandBurmaShave signs, the waving fields of grainandthe

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puffy clouds, the carsthatshotby out on the highway. I drewwherethe mule used to be, where the kittens were drownedas fast as they could get themselves born-and I would drawthese things as my brotherwas pushingthe moweraroundin the grassbelow me-learning moreabout the meaning of the word work. When I climbed higher in the oak tree, I could see furtherout to where the subdivision was with our new house going in, to where the municipalairport was, to wheretherewere turnpikesandinterstatesall crimpedtogetherwith tollbooths-the "I-this" andthe "I-that," the "I," I suppose, that had broughtus here from the South. I started takingwalks.Forsomethingto do, I'd lumberdown the old cracking highway that went by in front of the farm, and I would go towards the future, towards our subdivision with the special fancy entrancegate, andbrand-newsod, andthe new flag pole thatwas flying a regularflag. I would walk along the flat curved streetsto where our buildingsite was located,whereI would watchthe men pourcementfor the foundation, where I got to know the carpentersframing out the rooms, whereI would mess aroundin the wood scrapswith some glue, a hammer,andsome nails. I would walk aroundon the springyplywood floors and in and out of the framed-outrooms-walk aroundin the space where my parentssaid my room would be. Then aftera while, I would leave there and go and explore the other subdivisions farther down the highway that had names such as Dundee Hills, Edgewood, Glen Briar, Green Brier, Briarcliff, and Briarcliff Manor. Briarcliff Manorsat on a bluff overlookingthe waterworksand the turnpikeand the municipalairport. At night I would go in by our sleeping mom's bed and dropdown on my knees beside herpillow andwhisper,"Mom,Mom, Mom. I can't sleep. I can't get any sleep."ThenI would sit andwait, maybeget a glass of waterfromthe bathroom,andI would wait andstudyher.Watchher for how she did it. Thenone night was the last; afterthatone nightI nevercame in her room that same way again. She could sleep. I could not.

Thingshappened.A smallplanefell outof the sky andcrashednose first into the open roof of a half-built split level. I ran and saw the perfect undamagedtail of the plane stickingup higherthanthe walls, andthere was a wing I walkedup anddown on lying off with some rolled-upsod.

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A farmhouseburneddown to the ground-ancient electricalwiringand our mom, Roberta,and I heardthe sirens and all came runningout of the kitchen,ranacrossthe highway andon backbehindthe dancestudio where we watchedas firetrucks jammedup a pastureandboys dragged soggy, sooty mattressesand grimy sofas out into the yard,as a boiling fire took that driedwood house all the way down to the ground.Then below the ground. Therewere otherwonders.Rains thatwould snaredrumon the tin roof of the kitchenporchwith the sun out, shiningandhot. Also heavy, weighty rainsthatwould flood the low spots in the yard,soppingrains where I could run out and dance myself aroundright across from the dance studio,then flop down by a ditch andlet clear waterrunover my stretched-outlegs, let rainwaterpaste my peasantblouse to my chest and back and shoulders,to turnit see-throughto fine, thin lace, and I would, feeling myself "her,"lift my chin up and stick my chest out andjust sit there being beautiful.

Ourdadandme, we werebothof us up at night.If Winnwere not so old, he would have lasted all night with us, but as it was, Winn was pretty much a transistorradio pulling a weak signal a long way off and real, reallate atnight.It was simple old age thatsavedWinnfromthattorture you need to be young like our dad and me, young and strong,to take. Anybody else wouldjust collapse. And in the day, if you don't sleep at night, I found you cannot let down either. The whole problemis you cannotlet down ever, so you mustbe able to workup a greatjitteryness to get you going up and over your exhaustionin the mornings,and to keep up with a kind of shark-eating, the frenzy-typeenergythroughout day. Though I was still occasionally glancing in throughour mom's door to see her sleep, and our dad did in fact stick real close by Winn in theBarcalounger even thoughWinnwas often asleephimself andnot greatcompany,ourdadandI keptprettymuchquietwith each otherand everybodyelse aboutournights.We wouldjust includewithinus more and more of this problemwhich became like any otherthing we could not do a darnthing about.We were on our own, each of us alone, like I was beginning to think we all are anyway. I would be coming out of my bedroomand pad on down the hall undera wedding veil of driftedcigarettesmoke thathung in a swirled wasp nest aroundthe overheadlight fixture, and when I had made my way down the steep stairsto the parlor,therewouldbe ourdad,beanbag

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ashtrayon knee, sitting in the Barcaloungernext to Winn's bed in the quietof thatold farmhousewhereall you couldhearwas the refrigerator and ourinstitutionalfreezerandthe whole house thatturnedover from time to time in its deep sleep. He wouldbe dressedin his flight suitfrom the war and be spooning ice cream out of a mixing bowl, scowling at numbersand figures that were listed out on a big tablet of paper. At dawn I would finally just get dressed and go out of the house swinging my arms, turningcartwheels, going up and down the tree severaltimes to get theblood going. I would slide undera forsythiabush for a heartfelt prayer(so what) that never changed one thing, never madethe slightestdifference,otherthanunlikeourmom, I was let down every time I triedit. Prayerwas only makingme thinkagain and again each time I tried it that I was the one that nothing worked for. So carryingalong on the side of the highway heading up towards ourbuildingsitein themorning-milk-splashing-in-a-bowl-of-comflakes sun, in the day-camp-bus-picking-up-the-little-kids-with-their-lunchsacks sunshine,I would find BIC pens andnumber2 pencils andplastic barrettes lying along the side of the road.Thatis not true.Thatwas only sometimes. Mostly I would find sticks and brokenpop bottles and all kinds of wild flowering weeds which I would pick, the weeds, sometimes having to get down on my handsandknees andbite off the stalks with my teeth if twisting and turning and picking at them with my fingernailsor sawing at them with a brokenCoke bottle did not work. I would see up ahead in the roadsidedebris a glint or flash, and I would walk faster; then I would see it was maybe only the inside wrapperfrom somebody's cigarettes causing the sun to flash, or the even thinnerfoil liner of a Nestle' s Crunchbar.Once in a while it was the foil cover of an Eskimo Pie barwith ourdad's name in small letters underthe logo. Once it was a fifty-cent piece that bought me a small packet of something for my hair at the highway Rexall I had been in seeing what all they had. It smelled like vinegar when I mixed it with water, and when I rinsed it throughmy hair after washing, my hair shined so it was me who was the one causing the sun to flash.

In his big floaty Cadillac, our dad, with Winn and my brotherpacked inside, would sometimes come surgingdown the highway passing me by on those mornings.Sometimes,I wouldjumpup anddown andwave my bunch of flowery weeds at them, or throw a stick out in the road. Once I triedto kill them all by aiminga Coke bottle at theirwindshield.

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Once though, our dad slowed and crunchedover onto the shoulderof the highway close to where I was standing,and as I went up to his side of the car, he made the most charmingtalk to me. He said, "Andhow are you, Mademoiselle Taylor?"andhe said this in the Frenchmanner he learnedfromwhen he was in FrancehavingR & R frombombingthe Germans, and I rememberclear as day that "Mack the Knife" was playing on the Cadillac car radio and that our dad and Winn were togetherand smiling and happy. No. Really happy.Really, really happy.

I had myself slung out along a tree branchlooking down on top of my brother-I could see his head and the tops of his T-shirtedshoulders shoving the push mower up and down the slopes of the yard, his arm reaching down from time to time to throw a stick or a rock out of the way, thenhitchinghimself up againandshoving off to mow moregrass, and I was thinking about how I would never want to be mowing the grass-and that obviously neitherwould my brother. Ourmom, who is in chargeof me, I just wait out. I stay in the tree. Like the milk. Pouringthe milk at dinner.Pouringmilk for dinneris my job. So slung on the branchoverlookingmy brother pushingthe mower in rusty-blade-rotating shoves, I was busying myself with picking aroundand collecting acornsand small branches,things to dropdown on his headas he would shove undermy tree,thingsto ping off his flagshirtedshoulders,as I listened to him say, "Why?Why? Tell me why? Why is this such a big deal? I wouldjust like to know what you think." He was out across the yard in the dandelions and I could see the wheel nutfell off againor the mowerwasjammedup with a stick again. He triedgettingit going by assumingdifferentpositions-like one foot bracedup on the mower for extrapush force, andthen the otherfoot up on the mower and his shoulderbracedon the handle and then picking up the entire mower and turningit over upside down, saying, "Why, why, why?" I watched him througha kaleidoscope of oak leaves as I was changingaroundmy position in the tree,going fromone side of the tree to the other, the arms flapping on my Hawaiian shirt, my hair, I suppose,flashing in the sun, andthen I noticed him coming stolidly up the little slope, passingrightundermy tree,whereI froze on my branch and took aim and bombed down on him a couple of the acorns. He headed into the garage where there are the tools.

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Asking for more, my brotherwalked back under my tree (more acorns, twigs, some spit) and on back down a way to the push mower where he kneeled and droppedhis ass low in the dandelions."Getme a Bomb Pop, Taylor,"he said over his shoulder."Getout of the stupid tree and go get me a Bomb Pop, or a popsicle is okay." I held still in the tree, flattened on my branch,my hair with the drugstorestuff hanging down to where even I could see the different growing out lengths, to where the ends thinnedto a transluscencefrom the sunlightthat was laced in throughthe leaves. My brother pulledoff his Confederate flag T-shirt.He pulledit over his head and used it to wipe across his face, then glancing up at the bigger Confederateflag nailed on the barn,he workedat tying his shirt up aroundhis head so it would flop down his back, flag out. Turning, he looked up at me. I flattenedflatter. "Popsicle,Taylor,"he said. "OrI will come up thereandkill you." Grassesrustledfromthe little suppertime breeze.I was aboutready to just go and get it for him, to get him his Bomb Pop or popsicle. The sun, I noticed, was an egg yolk drooped over the fields as I shifted aroundon my branch,then monkeyedover to anotherbranch,the back of my Hawaiian shirt floating out behind me, as my brother was watching and saying, "Go get me a Bomb Pop, now Taylor." Then it was what I think must be sleep, that I was dreaming.The automaticreaction of, say, Mary Rogers Pearsonhappeningin me; I froze. I was so quiet beside that delicate slipping through,a delicate slipping throughis what it was, that I must have been sound asleep (finally) and dreamingthis thing, this moving stillness up therebeside me, which after a brief pause set off my shouldersto press back, my ribcage to partwide for air, my lungs to grabfor reachesof soundthat I grabbedhold of, dug my heels in and wrenchedfrom my heart.Arm on its own volition reached out and grabbed hold of the moving stillness, and we fell, the two of us together, moving stillness now a gardenhose with the waterturnedon full (butno water),we fell tangled around in the Hawaiian shirt that flew up aroundmy neck, we fell throughthe airtogetherto landon my backout of the treeto therewhere my brotherwas standingwith us rolling around,me screamingout, the gardenhose all muscle now with tryingto get away, undulating, coiling and wrappingon me, my shoulders pressing forward,legs trying to standup. I got hold of, not the tail, but the whole rearthirdand unwoundit off my body. Up in the air my arm went and straightup it went, but

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Our Sixth Decade 161

nothing.Nothing. So I did this, prettycalm too, I held it in one handand found a better grip with the other, and then I did it, I crackedit again, but all thathappenedwas it looped. It sketcheda U-shape in the air, so I did it again and let her fly, or he got away, or he got himself, herself, up in the air where she gave a bronco lunge andcharcoaledseveral Ws in the airandlandeda way off deep in the dandelionsover by wheremy brotherwas standingby the push mower. He, she, swished throughthe grasses, or she-she went-back to her babies. Or she was a baby and hermotherwas a mule-eating,Missouri-wheat-crop pythonwaitingout there in the field for me when I went looking. The picturewindow was a crowd of faces looking out, Winn in the middle sitting straightup in his hospital bed. I fixed my shirtdown from aroundmy neck and went up the yard to get my brotherhis Bomb Pop. I got a couple of Bomb Pops out of the institutionalfreezer, our mom and dad calling out my name from the parlor,andthenI ranbackoutsideto my brother before the sundropped its yolk completely into the field andthe day was all over. We sat down togetherby the push mower andtore the wrappersoff our Bomb Pops.

No one is in charge of me.

This content downloaded from 128.173.127.127 on Thu, 31 Oct 2013 00:19:04 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

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