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Monday, October 26, 2009

Maggie Mae Sallie McQuirter

Pin It I was reading a book of tall tales and decided to try my hand at story telling. I am looking for critiques here. If you picked up a children's book that began like this would you want to continue reading or is it just too predictable or too juvenile or too poorly written to hold your attention? I'll title it for now :

Maggie Mae Sallie McQuirter

The locals told us it was foggy around here. I believed them because I had just watched my Daddy come eye to eye with that old raven crow flying lost and low. I don't know if it's a crow because my Daddy calls it that or if it is a raven because my Mama calls it that. They argue over little things for fun. Daddy calls any black bird an “old crow”. He doesn't much care what they are called, he just wants them out of his strawberry patch and cherry trees. Mama is the better read of the two and she loves birds' names that smack of Edgar Allen Poe or Annie Dillard. I call the bird both names and then it's covered. I guess I could shorten it to “craven”. Anyway, that raven crow sits on the lower limbs of the Carolina poplar out in our front yard. Whenever I step out of the house he squawks fun at me. It was so foggy that day that old bird should have never tried to fly. He got confused for sure. He was flying low when my Daddy walked right into him coming home from work. Have you ever seen a disgusted bird? He was so mad he forgot to squawk. He just went crazy rattling his beak, hunching his bird shoulders and puffing his feathers up as big as he could make himself. He flew off in a huff. All because of the fog. It was so foggy even the birds got lost.

Then it rained. It rained so hard our house floated off it’s foundation. I was in the house when it lifted. It started with the floor. It felt like the floor shivered and then part of the floor seemed to shift. Another part shifted and then another. Like a wave. It’s an unsettling feeling to be standing on a wave. The water invited itself right into our living room. I saw three mice surf out from under the sofa clear to the piano as the house tilted. They were smiling with the straightest little yellow teeth you ever saw. For a second I couldn’t figure out why, why they had the most beautiful little smiles. Then I looked closer at their teeth. One of them was wearing my old retainer I had lost in the crack in the wall where it meets the floor behind my bed. Those three mice must have taken turns wearing it ever since I lost it. The house did finally settle by the way but in a new place. We used to face south. Now we face north. It rained so hard one night our house turned it’s backside to the moon.

And cold! It was so cold my Daddy and I found two frogs frozen kissing. Every winter my sisters and I go ice blocking with a chunk of ice Daddy cuts for us out of our pond. We lug it to the top of our sledding knob and let ‘er go with one of us sitting on it. Our knobby hill is the ‘close enough’ boundary between our place and California. Daddy calls the land next to ours that because some woman from California owns it and she doesn't know. We share a hill and a field. What she doesn’t know is about our “10-minute” dirt around here. You have 10 minutes between ground that is too sloppy to plow and ground that is too hard to plow. Some people call it hard pan. We call it “10-minute” dirt and Daddy usually spits on it after he says it. It has something to do with clay. Daddy tried to tell our mostly absent California neighbor about clay and water before she bought the place but she still just doesn't know. That's always her reply to my Daddy. “I just don't know about that . . .” Daddy also calls her place “2 Foot Under” because if she ever puts in a driveway, come spring that’s where it will be. We never see any activity on the place except the first year she bought it when she dug a well and once a year when she takes her annual cakewalk across her land about October. She struts across her property like she owns it. That’s another thing she doesn’t know. The “sure enough” boundary. Daddy says did she use a surveyor the “sure enough” boundary between our places would chop out our sledding run. In her favor. We figure what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Sure doesn’t hurt us. By 20 feet. Daddy just shakes his head about her.

We ride our block of ice down her hill, top to bottom. That’s a mighty slicky, slidey slice of seat you’re trying to grip with your cheeks clenched all the way down. You end up with a frozen popo until you warm it up again.. Then it feels like fire and you end up itchy down there all day. Anyway, we jerked up that block of ice and there they were. Two frogs frozen so close in that giant ice cube they looked like they were kissing. There were ice bubbles frozen from their frog gills to the top of the block as if they’d been telling each other a secret. I tried to thaw them out slowly to see if they were still speaking to each other but it didn’t work. They were frozen. Frozen quick and dead.

Quick and dead. I like that phrase. I heard it first from my Mama. She likes mighty phrases out of the Bible and that’s one of them. “ . . . shall judge the quick and the dead.” My Mama is a lover of every shape and form of words. I think she is getting them under my skin too. I like to say words that make my tongue feel different. Like “blarney” or “gibbon”. Remember that bird I mentioned earlier? Listen to these names I found in our raggedy dictionary. Corncrake. Nightjar. Goatsucker. Wow! who thought of those bird’s names? My Mama told me I was born bold. What she means by that is I’m a born storyteller. She also told me I have a propensity to tall tales. Course she told me that more than once. Once when she was laughing at me and once when she was mad at me. When she was laughing and then quit she said this old world needed fewer moneymakers and more storytellers. When she was mad at me she said to ever get me to give her the truth was like asking a monkey to give back the banana.

I delight in where I live. Mama taught me that too. It’s another Bible phrase. “My soul delights in the song of the heart” or even better, “let your soul delight itself in fatness”. I don’t know what that means but fatness is a word that feels good. The only thing fat on our place is our cat, Ebony Abigail. She’s a fat, black cat. Our cow is so hollow flanked and gaunt we named her “Coyote”. Our fences are thin and twisted because the posts are fashioned from the windblown lodgepole pines growing on our 40 acres. There never was a more contrary wood that deforms itself as it dries. Mama’s not fat. Her hands are long, thin and slap-spatula flat. Daddy is so stretched out a good belly laugh rarely makes it all the way out of his mouth. It just rumbles around in his chest until it gets lost in there. I started out fat but by five or six my limbs had lengthened, my belly lay flat and my buttom tucked under. My feet are as thin and flat and long as my Mama’s hands. Daddy says the only thing left fat on me is my hair. There’s too much for my face and my natural curl feels stiff no matter how much I brush it. My hands I don’t like. They stay rough and chapped no matter what I do and I have a sprinkling of warts on my knuckles. I keep this part of my body to myself. I’ll touch people with almost anything but my hands – with my elbow, my knees or my forehead. I guess that’s why everyone stays clear of me. I’m painful to the touch with all those bony parts presented first.

As I was saying I live in the most beautiful spot on earth where God comes down and says to me, “Well, hello there, honey. How’d you get up here?” It’s in the northwest part of the United States of America. It’s in a spring-soggy valley at the base of a mountain the town is named after on the other side of an orchard bluff. It’s 40 acres of lodgepole pine, tamarack and grand fir with a smattering of alders thrown in just to make us think we’re listening to the quaking of aspen leaves. Fifteen acres of the 40 was cleared years ago for farming but 10-minute dirt is mighty limiting to farming. If the dirt doesn’t stop you, the rocks will. They are strewn carelessly all over our fields and the only competition with their numbers is the “cussed” gopher holes. That’s my Daddy’s name for the ones he’s stepped in. At least that’s what they are when I’m with him. Momma says he’s exclaiming. She says he has a lot longer name for them when no one is with him but it’s a secret. All I know is it feels like you’ve broken a kneecap when you step in one. We also have a creek running across our land, swelling in the spring to trout size and trickling to minnow room only in the fall. As far back as we have written records our place adds up to be 150 years old. It wasn’t that long ago that ownership did not exist on paper. Back before the paper trail this land with it’s fishing creek was a trail for walkabout men of an American Native tribe.
The weather here is as interesting as my Mama's moods. Most everybody that doesn’t live here figures the Northwest is Paul Bunyan cold. They are right. We have plenty of terrible, clear as the moon, cold, cold nights in the winter. What they might not know is we have fall weather to spare, M&M weather, meek and mild like a lamb. We get plenty of moon phases in the fall and that always spells madness. Our place is ringed with second generation hills, the mountains above them being first generation and those hills are rampant with coyotes. Every moon-shot evening the coyotes begin their clamor. No mournful, drawn-out howl of the timber wolves but crazy, ecstatic yipping and ululations that get louder and louder as more and more of the pack join in. It sounds like an insane asylum. It’s so wild in it’s surround sound echoing the first time you hear it that it’s frightening. In time it becomes a comforting sound as you burrow in worn cotton quilts at night. We have even joined them of an evening, Daddy and Momma and my sisters and I howling at the moon.

There’s nothing as cold as the first full moon of our new year around here. The moon’s so cold it shrinks and thins, almost transparent. They told me that old moon could see it was going to be cold this year. I believed them. I watched a cloud freeze and fall right down at my feet. I was standing in our field near our old tin roofed pumphouse. I had my head tipped back puffing out my own breath-smoke when I saw the cloud. It sunk lower in the sky and then tipped a little like it was getting heavy. I’d never seen a cloud tilt before. The angle of tilt increased and suddenly it’s coming down like a dive bomber. I was fear froze right where I stood as it came straight for me. It landed like a pile of glass thrown and shattered in a million pieces at my feet. I had to throw my arms up over my head thinking some of the pieces would pierce me. I squinched my eyes shut. When all I could hear was a little tinkle and clink I opened my eyes slowly and peeked through my fingers to a glory sight. That cloud was now a million little rainbows that made our pumphouse sparkle like the Taj Mahal. As for myself and all the scrubby brush around the pumphouse we looked like the light-spotted, jeweled Arabian saddles of a Maharajah’s carousel. The little rainbows flew everywhere. Yup, it was so cold the clouds froze and fell right out of the sky.


Rachel said...

I like it. I think you have several very clever phrases in there that I really like! Ya, I'd keep reading!

Anaise said...

The best line: "The water invited itself right into our living room."

The funniest image: The retainer wearing mouse.

I get the idea that your narrator is about 12 years old and I am intrigued by her. This feels like an introduction to a story, and as such, it is quite long, but I am definitely interested, and I think you have some good stuff to work with.

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