Baker Trittin Press
He lay suspended in the middle of memory. Day yawned in shadow, in rueful separation from the night. He held to the vanishing kite-tail of dream half thinking he should wake. He held fast to the thin blue someplace where vanishing phantom voices ebbed. He grasped into the night, retrieved the vanishing mist, and smiled.
It had been a foolish thing to touch her hair, but desire had mastered his sensibility. A weak protest of priority passed as briefly as it had come, and he had reached out his hand. Her hair had fallen over the bus seat, midnight silk, which had tempted him every day since the beginning of school. He hoped no one had seen him, and she gave no indication she had felt him. “Helena.” It rasped out a boyish squeak, less romantic than he intended. He lay in the morning and practiced: “Hell-in-ah, Helena, Hell-in-ahhhhh, Helena.”
He measured the slant of sun through the window, the creeping slip-shod darkness, the sounds that filtered from the kitchen, and sprawled against the daylight yellow of his dream. Frankie in the kitchen before daylight meant school, but this was the first day of summer vacation. A watery yellow dawn and no Frankie in the kitchen meant a Saturday, and she had left him to wake on his own and find his list of chores. Sunday mornings she would ease into the room without a kitchen racket and hold his foot until he woke to get ready for Sunday service. This day was different.
Three more stompings through the house, a slam of screen door, and finally the agitated scuff of boots on the linoleum floor headed his way. She stood in the doorway, her silhouette lit from the kitchen light, one hand on the doorjamb, the other on a hip. Tall and thin, her body conquered only a fraction of space, but her presence wrestled the rest and won. According to Mr. Poe, a raven might “gently rap on your chamber door”, but Frankie was no yard bird. Daddy had broken her from belching in public, wiping her nose on her shirt, and had finally gotten her into dresses for Sunday service, church socials, and school dances. He had stopped her from engaging boys in wrestling or spitting contests, but it was all just show. Daddy said she had just gone wild since Mama died, but to tell the truth she had been like that from the beginning. Uncle Marion said the first thing she did when she came into the world was pass gas. Some people have temperaments like smooth lakes, or sparkling rivers, or the depth of the ocean. Frankie was mostly Niagara Falls.
There was a shadow side, but few saw it. She kept it cornered. When she wasn’t doing something wild or taking somebody to task or fighting life with both fists, she was reading about it. When Mama died, Daddy had collected her books and brought them home from her parents. Frankie had made him build her a bookcase, and all those books filled up most of her bedroom wall. There were big thick books with words and facts and glimpses of gray, colorless, light that tied Jimmy’s tongue in knots, thin books of poetry which gave a glimpse of heaven, and books of distant places that made her long for adventure. She read them, some more than once, and lent them out to souls who sought her same release of words from the tedium of Lee County. She knew some of the books by heart and wasn’t shy of pulling out a phrase or two to poke at him and Daddy or anyone else she thought needed it. But the books and the gentle love she showered on Jimmy, Daddy, Titus, and Gabriella was a secret shared, much too naked for the world’s eyes. Most everyone else either got lashed by her tongue or whipped by her fist. To the world she appeared kin to a wildcat, twice as mean, not caring much what she said or who she said it to.
You could always tell from the silence when she had entered a room, a head of unruly, golden curls, wide-set, dove-gray eyes, fire and ice. She walked tall and kind of jangly, long-legged and brash. Women wilted in her power; men withered in her heat.
“Get up. You could have saved me comin’ after you. I know you haven’t been asleep.” He sat up, but it wasn’t quite fast enough, and his jeans and boots hit him in the chest. “Come on, you heard me stompin’ around. Get at it.”
He sat on the edge of bed and glanced at the pale smudge of yellow licking the fence outside his bedroom window. Finally he stuffed himself into pants and a shirt, laced his boots, stuffed hair under a cap, scraped a handful of change off the dresser, muttered, out of her hearing, “This is some first day of vacation,” and dragged into the day.
She stood at the sink and caught the toast in mid air, smacked it with a wad of butter, placed both pieces on a plate, and slid it across the table next to his coffee. “No time for real breakfast; eat up.”