I had plans for that summer and everything changed because of the marbles. But I’m way ahead of myself.
My brothers, Jeff and Mick, hung around Farmer Tom’s place, feeding chickens and riding on the tractor with him, watching while he milked his yellow cow, Bess. I’d been over there a time or two when Mama had shooed me out of the house to go fetch my
Farmer Tom died the last day of June and we were let out of school early, to mourn the loss of a great
Two days afterwards on Saturday, my whole family and
I don’t know how long we were in the church but I was about to roast and Mama was fanning herself with the church funeral bulletin. I suppose I should have felt more sadness for Mr. Farmer except I’d never seen him but from a distance and never done more than wave at him and it was so hot, I could barely think. Well, when the Reverend finally stopped droning and Mrs. Chesterfield
Well, just as the ushers were walking forward to get in line to carry the coffin out, Jeff and Mick followed close behind them and the two of them grabbed a handle on each side. Then the eight lifted the coffin
That night at supper, Mama’s mouth was little more than a taut string. She banged bowls of potatoes and beans on the table. Daddy sat at the head of the table. Mick and Jeff squirmed in their seats. I think we all waited for the thunderbolt to happen. Mama asked us for our plates, dished beef stew and potatoes on each of them, and passed them back to us. Daddy said grace. I felt like I could hardly breathe waiting for the cloudburst and being glad it wouldn’t land on me this time. Then she burst.
“How could you! I was so ashamed of you. And Mr. Taylor was your friend.”
So, that’s his name. I half listened and then I realized
“Mary Lou.” Mama’s blue eyes looked like they could flash lightning. “You will go over each morning and feed Mrs. Taylor’s chickens and each Saturday morning, you will
“But it’s summer vacation.”
Mama just glared at me. I looked at Daddy but
“Now everyone eat,” Mama said. “I don’t know what Mrs. Taylor
I slept in as long as I could until Mama pulled the quilt from off my eyelids and told me to get up. I could tell from her expression that this wasn't a morning to argue with her. After breakfast, I took my time getting over to Mrs. Taylor’s and I dribbled out the chicken feed figuring if I took too long, nobody would want me back. Instead, Mrs. Taylor thanked me and insisted I come in and share a cup of tea with her, which I had to do to be polite. If Mama found out I was less than polite, who knew what else she’d pile on me but this dawdling was eating into my time. On my way home, I realized if I got to Mrs. Taylor’s about the time the sun rose and hurried with the chickens, I’d be home in time for breakfast and have the rest of the day to myself.
My plan worked out well for a few days but Saturday morning I had to go help Mrs. Taylor in addition to feeding the chickens. I arrived after breakfast, fed the chickens, and then knocked on her front door. She didn’t look like she was expecting me so I had to explain why I was there. She let me in. The kitchen was tidy, the floor sparkling clean and there wasn’t a particle of dust anywhere so this was going to be easy.
“Come in, Mary Lou,” she said. “Let’s have a cup of tea before we begin.”
Though I felt grown up sipping tea out of a fine china cup with pink roses and a matching saucer,
“What I’d like more than anything with Mr. Taylor gone, God rest his soul, is to have you read
I scanned the room and then spotted four shelves loaded with thick leather-bound volumes. It would take an eternity to read all those out loud. “That’s probably more than I
“Let’s try it anyway, shall we?”
I was her prisoner, what else could I do but agree, and so I watched as she set the china cups and saucers next to the sink and then walked into the living room and stood in front of the bookcase. I wasn’t sure whether I should get up from the table or
Anyway, Mrs. Taylor came back into the kitchen with a thin book and I breathed a sigh of relief inside. Pilgrim’s Progress. I kept reminding myself of Mama’s thin mouth and the tight lines on her face when she’d told me I’d have to do whatever Mrs. Taylor wanted me to do the whole summer so I knew I had to stay.
“Maybe we could share reading,” I said, hoping she’d jump at the bait and then I’d just let her keep on reading while I feigned interest.
She handed me the book and sat there still and quiet, breathing in and out
I opened to the first page and
And that was how July and early August went: I was up each morning with the chickens, pardon the pun, and by now I’d named them all and learned their different personalities, and each Saturday morning I’d read another two or three chapters in Pilgrim’s Progress and we were almost through the book and I was
“Well,” I said fetching for some quick excuse. “I figured we’re almost through Pilgrim’s Progress so I thought a change might be nice.”
“Tell me what it is you’re reading.” Her eyes, I noticed for the first time, were brown but in them was a sternness I had not figured on.
“My writing,” I muttered almost under my breath. I took my pages and scrunched them into my jeans’ pocket. “I like to write.”
“No, no, go ahead. I quite enjoy it for a change.”
I pulled out the papers and smoothed them out. I’d never felt this before, my heart feeling like birds flying inside, all free and happy like when they chirped good mornings to each other on summer mornings. I read what I had and Mrs. Taylor laughed until she cried.
So for the next two Saturdays, I brought what I could of what I’d written. And something else happened because we
The Saturday before school was to start, I knocked at Mrs. Taylor’s door and a woman I’d never seen before opened the door.
“Come in, Mary Lou,” Mrs. Taylor called from somewhere in the
I thrust out my hand and she barely touched my fingers.
“So this is the girl who reads to you each Saturday, Mother?”
Mrs. Taylor walked into the room and she looked different like she was both glad and sad to see me, and I could see she’d been crying. “I’m leaving today. Lisa’s insisted I come live with her. Since Mr. Taylor died, I haven’t been able to keep up with the farm lease payments. It’s for the best but I’ll miss our times together.” Her words sort of hung in the air and then they fell with a crash to the floor and I wanted to pick them up and somehow cradle them and make everything back to what it was.
“It’s not for the best! Isn’t there another way? You could come live with us.” I tried very hard not to, but I burst into tears, big sobs that just tore through me, and I felt like a little girl again. I finally
I helped with packing the china cups and saucers in newspaper. When we
After lunch, Lisa left me and Mrs. Taylor to sit in the living room and I asked her if she wanted me to read to her for
Then Mrs. Taylor cleared her throat and reached over and patted my hand. “I don’t want to leave but I have no choice. It’s like losing Mr. Taylor all over again. It’s like losing your whole life.” She pursed her lips tight and took a deep breath
I didn’t know at the time what any of this meant except that I felt like if someone had tapped me, I would have sounded hollow because all the life had gone out of me. I’d spent all week copying everything I’d written
I helped with carrying the last of the boxes out of the house. Mrs. Taylor alternated between a few sobs and telling me she wasn’t moving but sixty miles away and maybe I could come visit her but for me, those sixty miles may as well have been
At three o’clock that afternoon, Lisa said, “I think we’re finished here, Mother. I’ll let you two say your good-byes.” She walked out of the house with the last box, set it behind the driver’s seat, and settled herself in behind the wheel.
I stood on the stoop next to Mrs. Taylor. She still clutched the manila envelope in one arm and then squeezed me so tight with her other arm I could barely breathe. “We’d never have become friends if it weren’t for the marbles,” she whispered. “Mr. Taylor would have enjoyed seeing all the commotion for his sendoff.”
She squeezed me again and then gripped my hand while we walked down the flagstone pathway to the car and she let go when she slid into the car. I pushed the door shut, Lisa started up the engine and Mrs. Taylor mouthed “I’ll miss you,” tears in her eyes. I stepped back while the car rolled away down the dirt road, watched until the last puff of dust was gone.
Bio: Brigitte Whiting lives in Maine and often uses settings and experiences from her backyard in her writing. She earned Fiction Writing Certificates from Gotham Writers Workshop and UCLA-Ext and is working on her WVU-MFA Certificate. In addition to facilitating WVU classes, she meets weekly with two local writers' groups.