by Jane Doe
My life was more secure now than it had been those years "we were in the business,” as Mother and dad carefully phrased those hectic times. The house in the country gave me what I asked from a home. A separateness and individuality that the adolescent seeks and fears for herself but finds comforting in a house. This house, with it's jutting rooms and four tiny porches, was a center point that gathered all the fragments of myself that the unfamiliarity with the surprises of nature and man exploded. The house was a shell collection of examples for arming my being from the preying realm beyond the door. Fixed here was place in space that knew no moods, or time or season. Motionless as the molecule in the middle of a pivot, the house was the centering device that stabilized my years.
But the edges they were snapping and crackling with the static energy generated between the friction of the spinning world and the immovable spot. From the bushes at the front of the house to the barbed wire fence of the pasture were staggered rows of front lawn fruit trees planted in denial of the orchard bordering the whole south side of the property, complete with three kinds of grapes, raspberries, blackberries, horrid gooseberries mining the ground between the apple, pear and quince trees with traps for feet and nests for pheasants.
Like a girdle of fecundity as high as the house, those trees produced and over produced. Beyond were the fields still farmed by the original owners. They raised broiler chickens for the local market in the long brooder house and in the barn were the pigs they butchered for their own use in winter. Separating us from these animals was an acre of lawn that intimidated everyone who tried to mow it. It was only nice in winter when it slept. In summer I couldn't allow myself the pleasure of enjoying its expanse of green, thinking of it as a cool refreshing color, a giving greenness that asked spirits to romp and run, roll and revert to the animal.
Any pleasant thought would have to be exchanged and repaid for with five hours of sweat, anger and exhaustion on Friday if the sun shone and the mower cut. Mother went a bit berserk that first year with all the unused land between us and the fields that were so easily brought into production with tractors, plows and yard wide harrows powered by gasoline. A comparison of the price of a packet of seeds to the rows of canned goods duped mother into the false economics of planting two gardens for a family of twelve, as if she had ten kids to help with the work.
My summer between the sixth and seventh grades was so full of canning cherries, apricots and peaches, weeding one or the other of the mile long gardens, or preserving the tons of produce that spewed forth when the weeds were gone or mowing that long haired beast the lawn, that I felt I would never be a kid again. While kneeling in the way of insect wings to pick snap beans I'd define bliss as sitting alone, unmoving in the exact center of my room, isolated from every voice capable of a command to scatter my thoughts like frightened sparrows. The only way to get away from the green growing madness of the farm was to accept the invitations of friends in town who were equally bored with summer.
Staying at Sandra's house was like walking down a familiar street in a strange city. She lived in one of the first dilapidated houses on the edge of the business district of Centerville population 600, if everyone was home. Being at Sandra's reminded me of our store days, and in some ways Sandra was like Jane Friend, only Sandra's friendship sprang from another need.
Sandra's father was the town drunk. That was his professional title sure as the city fathers or village cop and just as espected. In a town with six churches, three grocery stores and no saloon, Pat Patrick was a much so-sought after man. As each congregation, in turn and careful to never to overlap, held their fall, spring or winter revival campaigns, unchurched Poor Patrick, nobody called him Mr. Patrick, he was too much a part of each family for formalities, was the target of the zealots of soul savers.
Once the Baptists capped all successes by getting Poor Pat to pour a bottle of something into the Auglaize River while a professional photographer recorded their triumph for the church paper. I guess the photographer wasn't there two nights later when they found Poor Pat, drunk, sick and sobbing under that same bridge that had held him up as he crossed over into victory, illuminated by blue spot flash bulbs.
No wonder that Sandra tried harder than the other girls to allow me a good time when I visited. Her house was always rumpled and hollow, as her mother worked "to keep clothes on her kids' backs" she would say, and smile with one half of her thin sallow face.
Mrs. Patrick was the familiar, family ghost that appeared at regularly scheduled times, mostly after dark, not frightening anybody, just a fixture that made the atmosphere more genuine. If she failed to show up, one barely noticed.
Sandra and I were left alone the whole day, living intuitively, listening only to our inner demands. We ate what we wanted, when we wanted, disrespectful of the noon whistle that brought out the rest of the dinners in the village. We sat down when there was a spectacle to watch like the day the Coca Cola truck overturned at the corner. We hid to spy on her brothers as they smoked corn silk rolled in newspaper. If we made a batch of candy that never hardened there was no one to bitch about the waste of sugar and syrup, or some person's inability to follow instructions or to threaten us with dire predictions of
One hot day, when the streets were lines of waiting wagons loaded with wheat, the heat dictated that we go swimming. The best place was the abandoned stone quarry where the boys went, but for that reason we didn't go there. Also, it was too hot to walk so far when right across the road, where the Auglaize elbowed past Sandra's house, was
the shallow part of the river. Here we couldn't swim, but we didn't mind. We just wanted to cool off so we waded until we came to a hole deep enough to cover us if we laid down in it. We had dropped our dresses on the weedy bank to lie down in the warm, sluggish water. The water felt gritty and dirty so we propped our heads on one of the large flat sandstone slabs, letting the rest of our bodies pretend to be water weeds. We listened to the wheat wagons grumble about crossing the railroad tracks. We listened to summer flowing all around us in the form of grasshoppers and crawdads. The sun moved from over the Catholic church spire to behind the big old sycamore tree that hung out over the river as if it was counting fishes or taking the river's temperature in case of illness. Lying so still, we could feel the pump-relax pulse of the river's heart, but we thought it to be
Later, we came back as elephants, rising out of the stream, shaking a spray of drops from our bodies, as we lumbered over the pools of rocks, looking for the clothes that would turn us back into girls. Before we found our clothes, we found we were covered with clumps of black stuff.
"We'd better shower before we dress."
In the haste of modesty, we grabbed up our outfits and underwear and ran up the incline to the street. Everyone was hiding from the heat. Hugging our clothes to us, we dashed into Sandra's house, still dripping creek puddles behind us, into the shower. Ah, blessed clean water that washeth away all...
Looking down at ourselves, we saw the black globs were not washing off. Nor would they ever! Those black lumps were leeches. All sizes of leeches! Some as small and transparent as a little fingernail. The big black ones, bloated with blood, were bigger than our thumbs.
Sick with disgust we just wanted to lie down or run away from ourselves. Instead, we leaned against the shower wall, letting the water hit us where it would, to begin to pull the slimy sticking creatures off our bodies. We threw them with a hateful splash into the toilet.
They were all over us. We'd pick and pull awhile, then flush the toilet to get rid of the sight of them, only to find whole new areas of skin that had been a picnic for the loathsome things. We had the shower curtains open. Water was drenching everything. We didn't care. We just wanted every one of the leeches off of us to send them down into the anonymity of the sewer where they belonged. Sandra picked them off my backside; I did the same for her. We were covered with red marks where the leeches had fastened on us. Over and over, we washed, as if the washcloth alone could make us white once more. The hot water had long been used up, but we continued scrubbing and shivering.
In the quiet of the turned-off shower we breathed deeply for courage as we dried ourselves with threadbare towels. "What if there are more of those things on us?" Sandra ventured.
"What do you mean?"
"More where we can't see them."
"I got all the ones on your back, I think." I said, turning Sandra
"No, I mean down there." She was pointing between her legs.
Our peace was changed into pained fear. Sandra raced into her parent's clothes strewn bedroom, rolled up the blind closed to the late afternoon sun, threw herself on her back on the unmade bed, poked her legs in the air like a dog mad with the heat and spread herself with her fingers for me to look. I couldn't see any leeches. Using both hands, I searched among the crevices, afraid one of the tiny colorless ones might be lurking there. Hesitantly, I pushed the crumpled lips aside, running my fingers over every surface, thinking that in the dim light, one animal might be overlooked. Every place I could, I touched Sandra.
"I don't think you have any here. Now look for me?"
Sandra leaped up, joyful with her clean bill of health. I laid down in her place, with my feet on the window sill and my legs thrown apart and opened.
"Nothing here." announced Sandra.
"Oh, please look very carefully. What if one of those horrid things stayed in there and grew big in me?" I whined.
This time with more concern, Sandra cautiously pulled open all the folded parts. With trembling fingers she tested every lump to see if it was me or a leech. In unison we concluded there were no leeches on either of us. Horror gave way to hilarity. Sandra fell onto the bed beside me with her hand still between my legs. Laughing and crying in relief, we rubbed against each other, rolling and tumbling on the bed. Now, without feeling for leeches, we touched each other, massaging the little lump we both knew that gave the greatest pleasure. Faster and faster we moved, until our legs were squeezed together in ecstasy and our bodies arched in attainment.
Panting and throbbing until the reign of ripples spread out from out navels, jerked down our thighs, swaying us with seeking, foundling us with finding, covering us with quiet.
Later, when the whole house was still again, we got up to dress before Sandra's mother came home from work.
"Do you think we should put some medicine on these red spots?" I asked Sandra, all serious and separate, denying the closeness we had been sharing.
"I don't know what."
"Well, not Mercurochrome or iodine. They leave colors. Some kind of alcohol."
"The only kind of alcohol we have is the stuff my dad drinks."
"Is there any here?"
"Not usually. Wait, I saw some hid in his winter overcoat pocket."
Sandra brought out the tall square, half-filled bottle and opened it. It smelled evil enough to kill germs, I thought. Using wads of toilet paper, we dabbed ourselves liberally with it. Satisfied that we had done all we could for our health, we dressed, went into the kitchen to pare potatoes as a goodwill gesture for Sandra's mother. Before she got home, however, Sandra's father, Poor Pat, came in the back door.
As he appeared in the kitchen, I wished I wasn't there. I only knew him from the lopsided stories that circulated the town. He didn't look mean or drunk to me now, but I was wary of him. With invisible tentacles that reached out in all directions, I tried to anticipate his reactions. Mostly he looked tired as he set his black humped lunch box on the cabinet. Seeing the cold empty stove made his face twitch.
"Peeling potatoes, Papa, so when ma comes home, we'll get supper
"Ah, that's my good Sandy." he said, as he came over, inspected our potato operation and started to kiss Sandra on the forehead. In that instant he began to roar.
"What is this I smell on you?" he thundered.
I thought he was smelling our sex play on us. I tried to step away, but he caught me roughly by the arm as he leaned his greasy dark head over me, sniffing. "You, too!" he bellowed. "Where did you get the stuff? My bottle in the closet? You kids have been drinking my good whiskey? Don't you know I've told you I'll kill you if you ever touch that stuff? That's mine!" He howled in a righteousness he'd never have. He shook Sandra and I like rag dolls. He let go of me and with a practiced hand reached up to grab the yardstick protruding over the top of the cupboard.
He swung Sandra around, bent her over his knee, spanking her and yelling words that I, in my fright, never heard. I tried edging around him, but his eye caught my movement. He grabbed my wrist with the hand holding the yardstick. With the other hand he twisted Sandra to the floor. He began whacking me on my bare legs as he had Sandra's. My cries were louder than hers. Not only was I being hurt, I was scared and indignant that someone I didn't know took it upon himself to punish me.
"Papa, Papa, don't. We didn't do anything wrong." pleaded Sandra from the floor.
"You call drinking my whiskey, nothing wrong?" he roared in red.
Letting go of me, he hauled Sandra back across his knees to continue her punishment. Released, I ran down the steps into the living room and out the front door. I ran with stinging legs and bare feet to the end of the block.
I didn't want the people in the shops to see me crying, so I cut across yards, headed for the summer deserted school playground. Only there,when I sat down on the wooden seat of the sandbox for the kindergarten class, did I realize I had wet my pants.
Here I let all the tears fall. Phrases passed through my head that made me cry all the harder. I milked them to get every tear out of me. The sunset took on purple tones in sympathy with me. I knew I could not go back to stay the night with Sandra as I had planned. My money for a call from a phone booth was lying in her bedroom. There was nothing to do but walk to the preacher's to call dad. I wondered if the preacher would smell the odor an me that had made Sandra's dad so mad. I threw my wet underpants in the bushes, got a drink of water at the fountain and sprinkled more water over me in secular baptism.
I lied to dad, telling him Sandra and I had had a fight so I didn't want to spend the night with her. The whole six miles home, dad berated me for being so headstone and quarrelsome. Why couldn't I get along with other girls? Didn't I know the value of friendship? Why was one child so much trouble? I huddled against the door of the car, my head leaning on the open window, my braids whipping in the streams of night air, never having enjoyed dad's bitching monologue so much.
The house, however, said, "Welcome home!"
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010