I’m here with Chapter Three of Leona, my novel!
It was November, and I was twelve years old. It was windy and cold, and the day seemed forlorn. I watched Bud walking away with William and Frank. He was going over to help them mend fence. “Why anyone would want to go to someone else’s house to do that I don’t know,” I thought to myself. But I wished I could go.
Rachel was sick, so I walked home alone. My shoes scuffed the dirt road as I walked. The sky was bleak. The weeds in the fields were bleak. My whole day felt as bleak as everything looked. I kicked a rock. I wasn’t used to feeling lonely.
When I got home, Mama took one look at my long face and said, “Want some cookies?” Mama rarely made cookies. I nodded. “Bud’s with the Whitlock boys,” I told her. She nodded, “Nice boys.” I munched my cookie silently. “Rachel’s sick,” I told her. “That’s too bad,” she said sympathetically. I finished and thanked her. “Bud needs to come home in half an hour or so. He has chores to do,” she said. “I’ll walk to get him,” I offered.
“Well, if you walk, you’ll need to start soon enough.” She peered out the window. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to rain any time soon,” she commented.
I stood up and pulled a jacket on. I embarked on my journey. It was probably three or four miles to the Whitlock’s house. I picked up my pace as my legs recognized the way to school. When the roads crossed, I turned left instead of right, toward the Whitlock’s ranch. When I finally got to the little whitewashed house, I was breathing heavy. I knocked on the door. A nice looking lady who must have been Mrs. Whitlock answered. “You must be lookin’ for Bud. The boys are out back,” she said kindly. I thanked her and sprinted behind the house.
I glanced around the yard. I finally spotted them a ways away. They were crouched down, tools scattered around them, mending the fence where the wire had torn away from the post. I ran to them. Will hammered a nail into the wooden post to keep the wire in place. Bud held the wire for him while he hammered. Frank was trying to do the same a few posts down. I stood there a minute, observing their cut and bleeding hands.
Once the nail was securely in, they turned around. “Hi, Sis,” Bud said. “We’ve been fixin’ the fence today.” I laughed. “I see,” I said, grinning. Will’s eyes followed my stare. “Never seen hands before?” he teased. He wiped them on his soiled overalls. When he lifted his hands, his overalls were spotted with blood. I cringed. “Mama sent me to get you. It’s time for supper,” I said to Bud. “Okay,” he said, getting up. “ Will turned to Bud, “I’ll come over to help with your fence tomorrow.” Bud nodded good-naturedly. “Sure. See you then,” he said, motioning me to come on. “Bye, Will. Bye, Frank,” I called, running to catch up with Bud.
Once we were alone, I demanded to have a look at his hands. He reluctantly held them up. I observed the torn skin. “Really, Sis, I’m fine,” he said, as I reprimanded him for not being more careful. “Dad mends fences, but his hands never look like that,” I said. “I’m not Dad,” he said flatly. “I’m Leotis Burns.” I was silent. “You win,” I said finally, grinning. I didn’t want a fight.
We walked in silence the rest of the way home, observing the blowing grasses, picking our way along the dirt road with our bare feet. Every once in awhile, one of us would stop to pull a burr out of our foot. The house came into view. It was a nice house, wooden, with a front porch.
When we stepped inside, Dad was sitting at the table, and Mama was stirring something on the stove. They were in a heated argument. I took a deep breath and gave a slight cough. “We’re home,” I mentioned, and they abruptly stopped their conversation.
I set the table quickly, and we sat down to eat.
We ate a lot. Bud and I had walked eight miles that day, at least. Mama looked at Bud. “What did you do at the Whitlock’s place?” she asked. Bud put his hands on his lap so they were hidden by the table. Evidently he didn’t want anyone to make an ordeal.
“Oh, we fixed the fence at his place,” he said casually. Turning to Dad he said, “Will’s comin’ over tomorrow to help with ours.” Dad agreed. “Just as long as you do a good job,” he said. Bud nodded. “We will.” As if it was an afterthought, Dad added, “And watch out for those barbs.” He winked. Bud grinned. “Okay,” he said.
We finished the meal in silence.
Will kept his word and came over the next day. He knocked on the door. I answered. “Hi, Will. Bud’s already out there,” I told him. He nodded. “You know which way he went?” he asked. “I’ll show ya,” I replied. I stepped outside and he followed me down the road to where Bud was crouched. He had listened to Dad and now wore leather gloves. I was relieved. I glanced at Will’s hands. They were covered in scabs. “We got some extra gloves if you want ‘em,” Bud said carelessly. I was glad to see Will stoop down and pick them up. “Thanks,” he said. He pulled them on and dropped on his knees next to Bud. I left them to it.
I headed down the road to find Rachel. She answered my knock. “I’m better,” she said. I smiled. “Wanna come play? I missed you at school yesterday.” She nodded and pulled on a sweater. We ran down the road to the creek. It was chilly in the shade, and we shivered. “I don’t much wanna take a swim today,” I stated. “Me either,” Rachel agreed, shaking her head. We sat down in the dirt, and contented ourselves with making a tiny pebble village.
“Is Sarah still sick?” I asked. “Yes. She’s not as bad as yesterday, though.” Rachel added another pebble. “Hope she gets better soon,” I said. Rachel nodded. “Me, too.” We finished our town. “That’s good,” Rachel stated. “It looks real,” I agreed. We picked ourselves up, and went to see the boys’ progress. It wasn’t much, but we told them it was good work.
They kept working, eager to show their skill. “I guess I should get home now. Mom might need help,” she looked off down the road. “Okay,” I said. “Thanks for playing.” She said goodbye and headed home. I stood there by the boys, their heads bent earnestly to their work, and watched her walk away, hair streaming behind her. I smiled fondly, and turned toward home.
“Is Will staying for supper?” I asked as I walked inside. “If he wants to,” Mama answered absently. I went upstairs to my little bedroom. The faded floral curtain fluttered as wind blew through the open window. I sat down on my bed. The mattress moaned. I got up again and walked over to peer in the little mirror hanging on the wall.
A country girl stared back at me. Her nose was freckled, and her hair was tangled. I picked up a comb, and viciously attacked my hair. There. That was better. I patted it, and turned this way and that. I didn’t look like a ragamuffin at least. Satisfied, I went back downstairs.
The kitchen smelled like coffee. Mama was at the table, writing a grocery list on the edge of a newspaper. She looked up thoughtfully. “You look nice,” she said. She went back to writing. Restlessly, I went outside. I scurried to the barn and crawled up the ladder to the loft. The sweet smell of hay comforted me. I sat down, leaning against a bale of it. Stray pieces scratched my neck and arms. I looked around silently, enjoying the solitude. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. The feel of the hay under me and the dark coolness of the barn made me feel sleepy.
Without even meaning to, I dozed off.
When I woke up, it took me a second to remember where I was. Straw was in my hair, and hair was in my face. I sat up and brushed it away. “How long was I asleep?” I wondered, as I climbed out of the loft. I went into the kitchen. Mama was bustling around getting dinner ready. Bud and Will were still out.
“Hi there,” Mama told me. “I fell asleep in the loft,” I said. She laughed. “You must be growing,” she said. I hoped so. The door opened, and Bud and Will tramped in, muddy. “Would you like to stay for dinner, Will?” Mama asked. Will shook his head.
“Thank you, Mrs. Burns, but I’d better go on home. Ma will be lookin’ for me.” He said goodbye and went out the front door. Bud watched him from the window.
“Sure was nice of him to help with the fence,” Mama said. Bud nodded, and went to get washed up. I set the table, and splashed water on my face, too.
“Go find your father,” Mama told me.
I answered with a, “Yes ma’am,” and darted outside. It didn’t take long to spot him. He was crouched in the same place Bud had been a while ago. I ran to him.
“Time to eat,” I informed him. I stood by while he finished surveying the fence. “Those boys did a good job,” he said, standing up. I nodded proudly. He smiled and we walked to the house.
Inside, Mama had made beans, using dried ones from our garden. There was macaroni and cheese to go with it. We sat down to eat. It smelled amazing. The macaroni had a curling steam rising from it, and Mama had heavily salted the beans.
We finished it off silently. Lately, conversation had been dwindling to a minimum.
“Good meal, Rose,” Dad said. I hated the mechanical way he said it, like it was a script he was reading off of.
Mama only nodded, and we cleared off the table.
I hurried to fill the basins I had neglected. I dumped out the used water on our garden, which now only hosted a few scraggly vines.
“You can grow again next year,” I told them. “Just take a rest for the winter.”
I looked up, tempted. “I wonder if our town’s still there,” I mused out loud. I set the basin on the steps and after a moment’s thought, sprinted toward the creek.
Butter the cow looked up from where she was grazing as I passed.
“Moo,” she lamented.
I glanced at her and kept running. When I arrived at the creek, our little village was the same as we had left it. I added few houses, envious of the happy, peaceful way they sat.
After I tired of building onto the town, I looked around.
Dusk was beginning to set in. Had it been summer, the grasshoppers would sing by the thousands. Being November, an almost eerie silence had descended. I ran back through the field. I wasn’t used to being out at dusk. The house seemed so far away. I picked up speed and jumped the fence. Breathing heavily, I neared the house. I slowed down and picked up the basin. Quickly, I went inside.
“Where’ve you been?” Bud asked me upstairs. “The creek. Just wanted to check somethin’,” I answered.
I set the basin down on his wooden dresser. The old blue blanket on his bed was wrinkled, as always.
“Okay,” he shrugged. I said goodnight, and went to get ready for bed.
June crept up. School let out for the summer.
As we were walking home, I turned to Bud.
“Let’s go down by the creek to swim.”
“Splash,” Bud corrected me. I grinned.
“You wanna?” I asked again. Bud nodded.
We ran inside, threw our books aside, and pulled on old clothes. Bud was faster, and met me by the door. “Where are you going?” Mama asked us. “Just down by the creek. We made a dam in the spring, and it comes up above our knees.” Mama consented. “Just be careful,” she said.
We raced to the creek. It was a warm day, and the water cooled us down considerably. “Let’s get Rachel,” I suggested. “She’s a girl,” Bud objected. “So’m I,” I said. He shook his head, “You don’t count,” he teased. I splashed him in the face. Sputtering and grinning, he splashed me back.
If we could have seen ourselves, clad in rags, and running wet and barefoot through the field, we would have realized how wild we looked. I managed to keep up with Bud just fine, and even passed him for a moment. When we got upstairs, I flung my wet clothes off. It landed on the floor with a thwap. I pulled on a dress and grabbed my the sopping wet clothing to hang it up outside.
Bud wasn’t in his room. He beat me even when I was going my fastest. “Boys sure are quick,” I thought to myself. I ran outside to hang up the wet articles of clothing. Then I plopped down to my chore of weeding. I wished Rachel would walk up like she did that day we met. I wanted the help.
I finished weeding and went to find Bud. I wasn’t successful. “Where’s Bud?” I asked Mama. “He went to town with your father,” she said. I sighed.
“Wish I could’ve gone,” I said out loud.
“They’ll be back soon,” Mama said. “Don’t even think they had a reason for going.”
I disliked the sarcasm in her voice. “Yes ma’am,” I said, and I scurried out.
I went outside and paused to sniff the warm air. A beetle scurried past the step. I picked him up and set him in the dirt. “There you go,” I told him.
I walked listlessly down the road.
“I’ll go get Rachel,” I thought, turning around.
She couldn’t play. I turned back homeward. I decided to walk down the road in the direction of town. Dad might pass me on the way home, and I could at least ride home with them. I trudged on. After I passed the schoolhouse, I realized that my plan might not work out after all. I turned around slowly. Halfway home, I was scared to death by an automobile horn.
I turned around. Dad and Bud were driving toward me. They stopped and Dad got out. “Get a little lonely?” he teased. “Yes,” I answered. I hopped in. “What’d you get in town?” I asked.
“Nothin’,” Bud said.
“There was a cattle auction,” Dad answered, “None of ‘em were what I need, though.”
I nodded, but Dad couldn’t see me. His eyes were fixed on the road.
We got home, and shut the automobile doors. Mama stood at the door. “Honestly, Jay, did you really need to take the automobile?” she asked Dad.
“Rose, quit badgering. If I want to take the automobile, I’m gonna take it,” Dad answered. Mama’s face hardened. “You’re just a lousy show-off. Where’re we gonna find the money for gasoline? We’ve got good horses that need exercise, and here you are toodling around Beaver in your stupid machine.” Dad didn’t answer. He turned toward the barn and walked away, his fists clenched. I looked from Dad’s retreating form to Mama’s angry eyes. I excused myself, saying that I was hungry.
After supper, Mama sent us up to bed.
“‘Night, Sis and Bud,” she called from the top of the stairs. “‘Night,” we called back. I could hear a whispered argument taking place downstairs, but I tried to ignore it. Pretending that Mama and Dad were simply conversing normally like they used to do, I rolled over and went to sleep.
Around the middle of the night, I woke up. There wasn’t a reason, but I couldn’t get back to sleep. I sat up. The house was dark. I eased myself off of the bed. It groaned. My feet padded softly on the old wood floors. I stole into the hall and peered into Mama and Dad’s room. There was a blanketed mound in the bed. I listened to the soft breathing from the doorway.
To the left, I heard Bud roll over. I looked into his room. He was sleeping hard, his arm flung over the bed. I tip-toed across the floor. A floorboard creaked. I felt my way to the stairs, and softly went down them, groping the handrail. The kitchen was dark, except for a soft light filtering in through the windows. I peeked into the living room, and was dismayed to find Dad asleep on the sofa. So Mama hadn’t forgiven him yet.
I went and took my jacket off the hook by the door and pulled it over my shoulders. I eased the door open. It didn’t creak. I slowly opened the screen door. It made a little squeak, and then cooperated. I shut it carefully, and sat down on the steps. The crickets were chirping amongst themselves.
The entire countryside was black, and I could see the even darker outlines of trees, down by the creek. If I looked hard, I could make out the tiny black dots that were the cattle. I breathed the cool air deeply. The moon was large and bright, and millions of stars shone lustily. The air smelled like nighttime air always does in the country.
I sighed, and pulled the jacket closer around me. Why did Mama and Dad have to be so malicious to each other? Why couldn’t they just let it pass?
“God? Won’t you please make Mama and Dad forgive each other and not get so angry all the time?” I asked quietly.
The worn step I was sitting on creaked as I scooted over. I leaned my head against the post of the porch. A moth flitted past me. I watched it lazily. The moon went behind an indigo cloud. The moonlight filtered into beams of white. I yawned. I loved this place.
With a sigh, I stood up and threw one last longing glance out at the fields. The crickets seemed to chirp goodbye. I went inside stealthily, and climbed the stairs. I dropped the jacket to the ground and crawled in bed. The covers were warm compared to the night air. I burrowed down in them, and drifted off to sleep.
That night, I dreamed I was running through the dark fields, and suddenly, I was flying. I soared right over the creek and the cattle, over Mama and Dad arguing, higher and higher. I reached out my hand, and I touched a star.
What do you think?