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Monday, January 30, 2012

Second Verse, Same as the First...Cowboy Accent All The Way

So, here's what I turned in just a few minutes ago for my class. It went over by a half of a page, but he said this was fine. See if you can find the changes and see what - if any - of the changes you like or dislike. I'm interested to hear your opinion.

Thank you all!

Lightning Bug


     Pyrophorus noctiluca.

     I liked that one best - noctiluca. I found it in the encyclopedia Mama brought home from the Piggly Wiggly that some lady paid for with S & H green stamps but never picked up (she only got A - L because that’s all the lady had ordered, but she promised me she‘d get the rest someday.) It said in Latin that’s what they called them, but I’ve always preferred lightning bug. It sounded like castanets when I said it aloud. The colloquialism made me think of luminous glow in their bellies, flickering in the dark. (Colloquialism was the section I found on language, just before the encyclopedia ran out.)

     Our front yard in Pearl, Mississippi, was filled with lightning bugs. When I was little, I thought they were invisible during the day, hidden by the sunlight like fairies, only to be revealed when the sun would disappear behind the hill’s edge. I’m eleven now, so I know better. Now I know they sleep during the day and at night after they wake up, they go to look for dates, much like my Uncle Rudy.

     After the sun dims in our neighborhood and the yellowed living room lights seep out onto the roads, the steps in front of the clapboard houses crowd with mothers. They sit with their long-haired daughters between their legs, untangling their hair with their fingers and the gossip with their tongues.

     Mama sits with the ladies, sometimes messing with one of my sisters’ hair - the both still had long strands that cascaded down their backs. After I stumbled into the bathroom one night and didn’t see that my braid had ended up wet, Mama chopped my hair off rather than, “…let you end up with typhoid.“ I didn’t want to tell her that the encyclopedia said I’d have to ingest the toilet water for me to get sick, mainly because I was getting tired of all that came with long hair. I liked it better chasing the lightning bugs with my cat, Brown Kitty, than listing to stories and having my head pulled raw by combs.

     Once in awhile, a lightning bug will fly into my hand. I get so excited, cupping my hands around it, feeling it flutter lightly against my palms. When the ache of holding one prisoner for too long tugs at me, I open my fingers and let the lightning bug flutter clumsily away.
It’s been two months since I played in our front yard, since we left Pearl, skirting away in the 1959 Ford van Daddy bought from Mr. Humphreys. He told Daddy the shift was on the column, but that it could pull stumps out like no ox ever could.
     We set off for Hot Springs, Arkansas in the near dead of night, exhausted from packing and crying good-byes. It was be the first time we have ever lived more than 10 miles away from Grandpa and Grandma and I’m not quite sure we’ll find our way back in a timely manner. Still, the ride there was simpler than I expected. Summer was easing into its middle, causing my sisters and me to sweat while we slept in the back seats, even with all the windows rolled down.
     I was thrilled when after months of either playing alone or pretending I didn’t know enough to make whole words out of 7 Scrabble tiles when I played with Amy or Lou Ann, Mama announced we’d be starting school two weeks earlier than back home. She said it was because the kids down here got out earlier than we did because of the roofers. They couldn’t work the tar once the devil had gotten in the wind and caused the air to burn when it touched you.
     School was my most favorite thing in the entire world. I could barely sleep nights before a test, not from fear, but from excitement, the sheer pleasure of handling the freshly mimeographed pages, smelling their sweet ink in the air and the dampness of the pages, and then looking down the pages at all the questions lined up in rows.
     When Mrs. Robinson assigned us fifth graders a project of selecting a country and then presenting it, most of my classmates showed up with discarded shoeboxes filled with cutouts from their mothers’ Good Housekeeping magazines. I had selected Italy and spent the prior three weeks shaping a dome to mimic the cathedral foyer, painting the interior with cobalt blue I had bought at the Ben Franklin store. I used gold for the fleur-de-lis I had painted on the ceiling, fresh sprigs of rosemary to imitate the decorative bushes in the foyer, and then I rigged Daddy’s leftover tiny white Christmas lights to look like sconces near the alter. I turned the lights off in the room when I presented my diorama that Friday, and had borrowed my cousin Kyle’s Walkman so I could play Pavarotti singing like he would be in my chapel. The room was quiet and chilled, even after I turned the lights back on. Nobody in the room would talk to me, not even Mrs. Robinson. Kim Crittenden whispered behind her hand to Christy Whittington and I heard the word brownnoser behind her fingers. I wiped my face, just in case.
     It wasn’t the first time the room got quiet after I was done, but I don’t mind. I’m used to sitting by myself at lunch. Sometimes I sit with with June Connell, who nobody – not even the girl with purple fingers that everybody teases and says she has lice – will sit with June. Even that tapered off after awhile and I began to eat my bologna sandwiches alone while I reread the outside of my Partridge Family lunch box.
     Mama took me, Lou Ann, and Amy over to Little Rock to pick out new school dresses. She said, “Hot Springs don’t have nothing that nice girls can wear outside a they front yards. We just have to find the next big town over.” And Little Rock was the biggest - four Sears, two JC Penney’s, and a full 2-story mall just like they had in the movies with its own Swenson’s and Casa Bonita.
     Hours later, we emerged with white crisp bags full of dresses, tights, and slightly-high heeled shoes that tapped like dance shoes while I walked. My favorite dress is the creamy colored one with bright red cherries all over it that Mama found for me hidden in the size 8s. When I turned around to show Mama how I looked, the skirt lifted up and made me look like a ballerina in the mirror. I made sure I carried that bag all around the mall and kept it with me the whole two hour drive home, rather than let it sit in the trunk and get car fumes all over it.
     “This year will be different, girls,” Mama said to the three of us. “Won’t it, Grace?”

     “Yes, Mama,” I replied happily.
     “We’ll get you some friends for sure,” she said more quietly, but she looked in the rear view mirror at me and smiled.
     “Yes, Mama,” I replied hesitantly.

     The night before school started, I tossed and turned, excited to wear my new dress and use my new supplies. Fresh pencils have such a fine sharpness that make my signature look even more daring and creative. It irritates me to no end when one breaks, especially during a test when I’m concentrating hard. Every time, I’m forced to walk to the front of the class, being watched as I do, listening to the snickering behind the boys’ hands, a slight push as I go by.
     One time, right after pep club started, Mama spent the night before making my gorgeous regulation gold puffed sleeved shirt. I had worn it that morning in spite of having a test because there was a pep rally after school. I had gotten up to sharpen my pencil and on my way back, I saw Kim Crittenden whispering to Mark Bailey. Before I could figure out what she was saying, Mark’s foot went right out into my path. I came down hard on the floor. Kim rushed to help, she said later, but instead she jabbed my elbow hard. Normally, it wouldn’t have mattered, but Kim knew I was harboring a large scab under the silky golden fabric, a scab she put there just the week before, a scab that easily came loose, causing blood to ooze out and permanently stain the elbows of the shirt. I sat in my seat, in front of Kim and Mark, making sure to wipe my tears only when I could make it look like I was scratching an itch.
I didn’t want Mama to see the stain after all her hard work so I lied and said I didn’t like pep club afterall and I quit.
     My fresh pillow now burned against my cheek, fresh tears collecting on the pillowcase. I fell asleep without dreaming about my new crisp folder or my scented notebook paper.

     The next day, Mrs. Hart, my new sixth grade teacher, had our whole class introduce ourselves to each other by coming to the front of the class. As each on came up, the others would make jokes or say their names in funny ways, the way they had for all the years they had known each other. I was the only one in the room who had not been in kindergarten to now with the same children.
     When I stood at the front of the class, they were all silent, listening intently. I saw one girl, called Savannah, lean in to whisper to the boy named Elmer. When she pulled back, I saw her smile at me. As I passed by her desk to reach mine, my whole body tensed and prepared for the fall. Instead, she reached forward with a fresh pencil, offering me one of hers with butterflies on it.
     When lunch came, a small group crowded around me, asking me smiling question after another, so curious about this place so far away, farther than they had ever been. Some looked on with curious gazes; others nodded with seemingly knowing and understanding nods, as if they knew exactly where I was talking about.
     After school, we all clamored together, teasing and tickling as we walked. When we came to our house first, Mama seemed surprised but she recovered quickly and asked would “Miss Savannah” like to join us for dinner. She did indeed and went inside to call her mother, who was only too delighted to have one less person for her maid, Elsie, to cook for.
     After dinner, Savannah and I ran around our new front yard, begin to wear a new path in our new yard. We pulled out my sisters’ cheap Barbies and played fairyland in our bushes.
As the sun dipped below the hang of the trees, the lighting bugs appeared, twinkling under the weeping willow. I put out my cupped hands and captured one between my fingers and Savannah did the same. I peeked inside and watched the lightning bug lighting the inside of my hand, turning it pink. Savannah did the same.
     Suddenly, Savannah took a hold of her lightning bug between her fingers and drug its tail across her shirt, leaving an iridescent trail. She looked at me, smiling, the remnants of her bug in her hand.
     I smiled back weakly, feeling my lightning bug clamoring against the bars of my fingers. I picked him up by his thorax. Looking at Savannah, I dragged his body against my shirt, leaving a trail behind. I quickly dropped the remainder and looked down at my belly, all beautiful and lit now, already fading. I smiled at Savannah and she returned it, all big and loopy and giddy. She grabbed my hand and off when ran into the bushes, into fairyland.

copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I meant it. I have mean cats; don't make me use them.

1 comment:

  1. As many of you have read, I'm dyslexic. I think the majority of you can tell by reading this story, which is filled with wrong words used and misspellings. It's almost like a Where's Waldo, but inside it's Where's the Mistake?

    I hope you can tell what was meant. On the go-around after the class critique, I'll post a corrected version.