How are you?
I’m here with the seventh installment of Leona. 🙂
If you’d like to catch up on the preceding chapters or find out what Leona is, click here.
I turned fifteen on the thirteenth of December. “Here, Sis,” Mama had said, thrusting out to me a beautiful pink dress.
I knew it had been expensive. I thanked Mama over again. “It’s beautiful!” I said. I flounced upstairs to try it on. When I came back down, clad in pink, Bud was nowhere to be seen. “He’s gettin’ a cow,” Mama told me, after exclaiming over me. “That’s his present?” I asked. Mama nodded. Bud came in silently, but his eyes shone proudly. I had noticed that he barely spoke lately. “Guess he’s just a quiet boy,” I thought, noting his smile.
Mama set to work making supper. I went upstairs to change again. I pulled on an old dress and slipped out the back door. No one was in sight. I breathed in the cold air and observed the giant sky hovering over me. It seemed so big. Purple clouds stretched across it; in the distance the sky was a soft orange. I shuffled along, thinking.
Things had changed so much since last year. It was as if I had a new identity. I still didn’t feel like I belonged in Beaver, but I knew I belonged here. A grasshopper chirped and hopped away as I came too close to his hiding spot. Walking through the tall grass always disturbed a lot of little creatures. A moth fluttered away from me, as I looked up at the sky.
It was fading to dusk, deep and rich. I remembered suddenly the dream I had had so long ago. Flying over fields and farms. My pulse throbbed through my veins, and my body quivered, as if begging for something. I turned to make sure no one was watching. When I was sure, I slowly stood up. I walked a few paces, my heart steadily drumming faster. I flung my arms out and ran. I ran so hard my legs made the rhythm of a drum, steadily beating the dirt and weeds. I let my hair blow free. I ran until I collapsed, heart palpitating.
My entire body writhed with the beating of my heart. I felt young, with boundless energy. I stretched onto my back in the dirt. For a fleeting second, I was worried to get my coat dirty. I dismissed that thought immediately. I was determined not to lose my careless fun, just because I was older now.
I lay there for a long time, watching the sky deepen and listening to the crickets chirp. They weren’t so loud now, I thought. I figured winter had made them tired. It seemed to make everyone tired. The light had disappeared altogether. I pulled myself up with great effort.
The air was so cold it bit into my skin. Laying still hadn’t helped, I knew. With the sky so deep an indigo, weeds and fences, even our house, had become little more than silhouettes. I shoved my hands in my coat pockets, and walked home slowly. I hadn’t neared the fence yet when I heard a rustle near by. The papery grasses were brittle as I brushed by.
The rustle came again. I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye. That was all I needed. I bolted for the house. My legs pumping, I heard the rustling still. It seemed to be following me. My imagination soared. There were many things it could be. One thing was for sure. Something was chasing me.
I cleared the fence faster than I ever had. My body was shaking with adrenaline. My head pulsed and my legs barely touched the ground. I practically knocked down the door as I scrambled inside. The peaceful scene inside was in striking contrast to my terror. As the screen banged, Mama turned around from the stove, surprised.
“What’s wrong, Sis?” she asked me.
“I went for a walk and on the way back, somethin’ big was chasin’ me down,” I gasped, trying to stop shaking.
Mama’s eyebrows raised in concern, and she stepped to get the broom. “I’ll go look,” she said. I listened to the door close, and slumped into a chair.
Mama re-appeared in a few minutes. “I saw a shadow, too. Think it was a coyote,” she said.
I nodded and excused myself. Once in my room, I sat down on the bed and decided not to go out after dark any more.
After supper, which was delicious, I trekked up to bed.
I woke up in the middle of the night, in need of relief. I sighed, and pulled on a coat and shoes. Groping down the stairs, I stumbled out the back door, and down the worn path to the outhouse. It was only a few yards from the door.
“I’ve sure gotten used to indoor plumbing,” I mumbled to myself.
Crickets still chirped, and I looked around nervously. Coyotes were scarier in the dead of night. I hurried into the wooden outhouse and shut the door. After I was done, I opened it again cautiously. Nothing. I crept out and darted for the door. As I shut the door, I thought I heard a rustle. It was probably just my imagination, I told myself, even so, I hurried up to bed.
I counted out the money again. “So that’s a gallon of milk, three pounds of macaroni, a pound of cheddar cheese, a pound of butter, and a dozen eggs,” Mr. Griggs, the general store owner, rattled off. “And a pound of coffee,” I added. He nodded, and rang it all up. “Two dollars and seventy-one cents,” he said. I counted out my change and handed him the exact amount. “Have a nice day,” he said. I thanked him and gathered up the groceries.
Mama had started sending me out for the groceries lately. I was alright doing it, after I got used to the hassle. I walked down the street, my arms full of bags. Someone yelled my name. I peered through the bags.
“Hi, Sis!” It was Lillian from school.
“Hi, Lil,” I called. “I got grocery duty,” I yelled.
She laughed and walked over. “Want help?”
I nodded and shifted one over to her. “Thanks.”
Lillian walked with me. “Wish Mom let me do our shopping,” she commented.
I shifted the bags again. One of the crinkly bags ripped at the top, and I almost lost the package of eggs. “Don’t worry. You can do ours,” I told her.
She laughed. “On second thought, I’m OK,” she mused.
Lillian walked to the door with me. “You can come in,” I offered.
“OK,” she decided, almost to herself. “Then I really have to go,” she answered.
We stepped inside, and she helped me heap the counter with my treasures.
“You won’t have to shop for a month!” she exclaimed. I knew otherwise.
“I have to get home,” Lillian said. Where had I heard that before? Then I remembered – Rachel. “Well, have a good day,” Lil called. I nodded and stood at the door, watching her walk away.
“Thanks,” I replied.
She turned to flash a smile and waved bye. I shut the door softly and went to unload my load.
Mama walked in later that afternoon. “Have you done the shopping?” she asked, taking off her hat. “Yes ma’am. Lillian helped me carry ‘em on the way back,” I said. I observed her dress. It was her business one. “Been job shopping?” I asked. “Yes. I applied to work for Avon,” Mama said. That sounded right up Mama’s ally. “Oh,” I answered. “That’s good.” Mama bustled away to change. I finished putting the food away and went to find something to do.
I stepped outside, coat in hand. “I’m going out for a while,” I called to Mama. I heard her muffled consent and set out. First, I pulled on my coat and patted my hair. I didn’t know where I was going, but I didn’t care. I walked past people’s houses, watching the busyness of it all. At one house, a little boy was running after his ball. Another one had a fresh coat of paint. Distracted, I watched a young man walking home. I passed the gas station, where I assumed he had come from. It displayed a large sign saying “Ten Cents A Gallon!” I almost walked into a pole, but saw it just in time. I watched a boy go by on a bicycle, and a little girl playing with a pile of sticks. The general store was opposite of the way I was walking. Once I passed the clothing store, I turned around. Beaver was a large place. It took ‘till supper to get home again.
My teacher sent me home with my report card. “You’re doing well,” she had said, as she handed me the paper. Once home, I handed it over to Mama. She opened it slowly. My average in Algebra was eighty-nine. My average in English was ninety-four. I studied Mama’s face as she scanned the paper. It appeared that she thought I had gotten good grades. She looked up.
“We moved to Beaver for you to get educated, and you’re getting educated just fine,” she said. I beamed and scanned the card. I had done alright. I smiled again. Bud’s report ended up fine, too. Mama said she was proud of us.
Mama got the job at Avon. I knew it as soon as she walked in the door. Her eyes sparkled like they always did when she did something new and exciting. “Look, Sis,” she said. “I got the job. They gave me cosmetics as a present.” We looked through the mascara, eye shadow, rouge, and lip color. I sniffed the various perfumes. Bud came into the dining room and scrunched up his nose. “What’s that?” he asked suspiciously. “Perfume,” Mama said absently. Bud took his leave.
Mama’s busy schedule began. Every afternoon from one o’clock to three o’clock, Mama went door to door with catalogs. Sometimes she sold a lot. Sometimes she didn’t. Bud and I got used to listening about her adventures with nice, and rude, people. We learned to look forward to supper, when she would relate her day’s work to us. School continued to go well, but it was monotonous. The same thing every day. Well sure, that was what school was, wasn’t it? I was thankful to get time off for Christmas.
Our lives were one giant routine. Looking back, those were peaceful, restful times. We took for granted our life, and thought it’d always be like that. We were wrong.
It started after the new year. Bud and I were walking to school. I glanced up at the dismal sky. “Hope we get some rain soon,” I commented. Spending the weekends at the ranch had leant to my knowledge of the drought going on. “Mm,” Bud grunted, agreeing. “Wheat ain’t doin’ so good, is it?” I asked him. “No.” We picked up pace. The school building was in sight. “Do you think the crops ’ll be harvestable if we get rain soon?” I asked quickly. He shrugged and opened the door for me. “Dunno,” he answered. I waved goodbye and hurried to my class.
All day the sky taunted us. It called out, “You can’t control when I rain. You can’t do anything.” I stared up at it again walking home. “Oh stop it,” I said out loud. We needed the rain. Every farmer or rancher did. Here in town, people weren’t as worried. Their ignorance was troubling. Sure, they didn’t care so much, they got their food at a store. The only thing they cared about was the fact that their gardens weren’t growing.
I hurried home. I had to go to the store for Mama today. I knew Mama had left a few bills and coins on the counter as always, and I wanted to get the thing over with. I opened the door to our house and tripped inside. I picked up the bills on the counter, smoothed my hair in the small mirror, and headed for the general store.
Prices had gone up, I noted. Probably because of this drought. I counted my money. We still had enough for the things we needed. I sighed with relief and quickly found the items in need of purchase.
“Prices have gone up,” I commented to Mr. Griggs when I handed him the money. “Yup. Just some things, though,” he said. He handed me my change, and I walked home briskly.
Mama was home when I arrived. “Do the shopping?” she asked. “Yes m’m.” She nodded. “Thank you. I’ll put them away for you,” she took the bags from me. I thanked her, and ran to finish my school work. The house had gotten dark. I squinted to see, refusing to light a lamp yet. When I looked up, I saw something out of the window. “It can’t be snow,” I said, standing up to get a closer look. My heart sank. It wasn’t rain. I looked closer before flinging open the door. I stepped out into the backyard, and a pebble hit me in the face. I yelped in surprise. I held out my hand, but didn’t need to. Whatever it was got into my mouth first.
I tried to spit it out, and recognized the taste. Dirt. But why was dirt blowing like wind and falling like rain? I didn’t think about it too long – another stinging blow from a rock sent me inside. I stood at the window, watching the storm get thicker. The room got darker. I lit a kerosene lamp, and sat down. Mama came out of the bathroom. “What in the world?” she muttered as she looked outside. “It’s dirt,” I told her. She raised her eyebrows in a way that made me scared. Mama wasn’t normally worried. I wished Dad was here.
“Well, it’s time to fix supper,” Mama said briskly. I nodded and rose to help. “No, you need to do your school work,” Mama reminded me. I sat down and tried to concentrate. How strange. I still had the taste of dirt in my mouth. I got a glass of water. I turned, and something on the floor caught my eye. “Mama, look!” I said. She turned and saw it too. A ribbon of dirt was piled under the door. Mama stepped to get a broom. As soon as she had swept it up, more was piled. I ran to get the broom.
“Just leave it,” Mama told me.
After a few minutes, the dust storm had passed. It really had been strange. I had a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach that night in bed.
Was Dad and the ranch OK? And Rachel! Was she alright?
I fell into a fitful sleep.