Green Hills Literary Lantern






Eight years old now, 1937, summer on the farm. Mother wants us all to go to church. Waggles still alive.

“Sid?” she calls. “Orville?” They are hiding out in the sheds or barn or the corral, pretending they are doing chores.

She wants to go to a special church service at the schoolhouse, only a half mile away. We can see the white, one-room schoolhouse from the front porch—over to the northeast on the other side of the cornfield, the corn tall and making crackling noises in the heat, the heat beginning the August day. I don’t want to go to that strange church.

Orville, 23, won’t go, is hiding. Sid, 13, won’t go. Grandma, 55, can’t hide, but is stubborn, mean-faced afraid of Mother today, because Mother is very serious about this.

“We haven’t much time,” she says to me.

“Do we have to go?” I ask, miserable.

She doesn’t answer. She fills a wash basin with soapy water, brings it out to the back porch.

She makes me undress. I don’t want to be naked. I’m eight years old. Too old for this.

She begins to wash me. She is bending down to scrub my ankles.

“Wait,” she says. She goes into the kitchen, brings back a chair.

“Stand on that,” she says. “My back hurts.”

“Hurry,” she says, when I don’t want to do it.

I am just getting up there, feeling horrible, when I hear Uncle Sid making a cat sound. He is right outside the porch, sneaking looks!

“Hold still!” Mother commands. She is angry. Now she’s working on my face. Soap’s getting in my eyes. She's rubbing my neck too hard. Having to go to church and now this! I feel miserable.

Grandma comes out onto the porch. I squirm away from Mother, trying to get down so Grandma can’t see me naked!

“You be still!” Mother says angrily. She shakes my neck.

I pull away and hit at her. “Damn you,” I yell, “I don’t want to go to church!”

Mother’s face pales. She looks at me like I killed her. Then she covers her face and runs blindly into the house.

I am frightened, but still angry. I put my overalls on with trembling fingers. Then I sit outside on the porch steps.

Several minutes later when Grandma comes outside, I am no longer angry. I am very sad.

Grandma looks at me in a strange way.

“You better go say you’re sorry to your mother. She feels awful bad.”
I go into the house. I have never been so sad.

I hear Mother before I get to our room. I open the door. She is lying across the bed, crying with her head in her arms. I am afraid. I have never seen mother crying like a child. It is terrible to see her that way.

I lie down on the bed beside her and put my arm over her shoulder. I feel her long hair. Her body is quivering, and the part of her face that I can see is wet. I start crying and telling her how sorry I am. How I love her and want to go to church with her and for her please not to cry. If Daddy is watching, he must help me now.

Mama keeps crying. Her body makes big sobs. There are birds chattering outside. The window is open. The summer day is getting hot. I smell the heat. First it is friendly heat, smells sweet, friendly. But soon—

Mama turns to face me. Tries to dry her eyes and face with her hands. Finally tries to smile.

Reaches down to rub my legs. She knows they are aching.

“Growing pains,” Mama says.

Her hand feels good on the ache. I think about all the years since Daddy went away. Mama and me together. And my dog, Waggles. Daddy watching. Silent, but always there.

I think about the eastern hill. About the day they put Daddy in the ground. And on the little hillside that day I could look east across the cornfields, far, far beyond, all the way the eye could see, to the high sand hill, where the sun comes up in the morning.

“Don’t you worry, Mama,” I say to my mother. “We’ll leave here someday. We’ll go over the eastern hill and just keep going. Far, far away. And everything will be wonderful.”

She stops rubbing my leg for a moment. Looks at me.

“Later,” I say, “later.”

Grant Flint has appeared in Story Quarterly, The Nation, Poetry, Hobart, SN Review, Northwind, Word Riot, Ascent Aspirations, Foliate Oak, Weber, Slow Trains, and 57 other literary publications, receiving a Pushcart nomination. Recently, at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, his short story won first place.