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One Day in the Ouachitas

In Fiction on April 1, 2011 at 11:00 am

Nathalee sat on the edge of a stool, leaning far over her Ma, whose eyes were wide with the visions of the nearly dead.  Her Ma and Pa’s broken bodies lay side by side in their bed, suffering complications from internal bleeding that the Dr. had told the family would end their lives “within a day or two.”  He’d told Nathalee that her Mother’s head injuries amounted to a terrible stroke, and if she did speak, she was not likely to make sense.  “We’ll give them all the relief we can, dear,” he’d told her before leaving.  She was offended that he spoke to her like a child, as if she didn’t understand that he was here to help.

The Durand Family lived on the southern outskirts of the Oauchita Mountains, near Hot Springs; a tourist town that, in 1931, had not yet felt the deep ache of the Great Depression.  Ma and Pa had left that morning to scour the Mountains for the little fragments of quartz and fool’s gold that were the vacationing ladies’ favorite souvenirs.  The children began to suspect that something unusual had happened sometime in the mid-afternoon, but never considered the possibility of what had actually happened.  Garland Wallace, one of the Durands’ nearest neighbors, dropped his ash wood fishing pole where he stood when he stepped into the wind gap and saw the boulders, once perched high overhead, that now lay at rest in the narrow passage.  He would later tell Nathalee that he found her Ma and Pa because he spotted their joined hands sticking out from the top of the waste pile.  Garland never remembered racing to the Durand place, but they told him that he arrived badly cut and bruised.  Even his memories of excavating Ma and Pa existed only in small, weathered snapshots; the way Pa’s body looked like a wet noodle when they freed him from the rubble, the sound of Ma’s wheezing whispers so close to his face as the men lifted her onto a stretcher they had fashioned out of branches.  All he could decipher was “babies.”  For the rest of his life, he would wonder how the Durand Boys remembered that day.  He would never ask.

The Durand children, most of whom at the time of the accident were not children at all, were cut from the same cloth as their Parents.  Hardy, self-reliant, and champions of privacy in matters that were either intangible or not directly related to survival, the Family was a typical breed for the Ouachitas.  Typical, not because the area held some magnetic attraction for stoic greatness, but because their parents and grandparents, in one moment, had the courage to go there and stake a claim.  Once there, their descendants didn’t have much of a choice.

It was after nightfall on a Thursday; the accident had happened that morning.  Nathalee held her Mother’s drained hand, and couldn’t decide if tears were coming or not.  She stood and smoothed the patched quilt that her brother Jack had laid over Ma and Pa in service of modesty.  The garments her Parent’s set out wearing that morning were torn to rags by the time they arrived home.  Nathalee tried to keep them covered with only sheets, to keep them cool, but the sheets were so threadbare that the purple and puss-colored injuries under them showed like massive stains on the other side.  She wrung a cloth into the basin that sat on her Father’s bedside table, and gently sponged the saliva from her Mother’s mouth and chin while she remembered her Ma’s patient demonstrations, following the birth of little Rose, on how to bathe a baby.  “Gently, Nat, but you must be sure of yourself,” she would say.  Nathalee circled the end of the bed, sat next to her Pa, and felt sure that she would never grow into the sure-handed ways of her Mother.

She heard someone in heavy boots climb the three steps of their front stoop, and open the screen door.  By the time it slammed shut, Nathalee stood to the right of the entrance, her body still in her Parent’s bedroom, neck stretched so only her blond head stuck out into the front room.  Her older brother Hank staggered past her, reeking of moonshine and vomit.  She didn’t know if he was unaware of her presence, or if he was punishing her for his dissatisfaction with the day’s events.  He stumbled through the front room, displacing a chair as he passed it, and into the kitchen at the back of the house.  Chair legs scraped across the floor and a sudden and heavy thud caused Nathalee to flinch.  She dangled her right foot out of the bedroom, lightly set it on ground, and leaned as far forward as she could without actually leaving the room.  Hank was a dark heap of mass, passed out across the kitchen table.  Earlier that day, after the Doctor had come and gone, Nathalee had overheard Hank ask Jack if Ma and Pa were to be buried on the family’s land.  “Why in the hell should we pay for a hole in the ground?” he’d protested.

Jack answered, “Because Pa told me years ago that’s what they wanted.”

“Well if he told you that years ago, how old could you have been? Just because you say Pa said something to you, when you were only a boy, we’re all supposed to turn over and reach into our pockets and throw what we do have into a burn pile?” Hank said.

“I was younger, but I was not a boy.  And that’s what we’ll do because it’s what was asked of us,” Jack answered.

Hank looked at Jack as if he had brought the situation upon them, and stormed out.  He threw the screen door so hard, Nathalee thought it would fly off the hinges and into the yard.  She had not given him much thought since he left, but the sight before her now filled her eyes with tears for the brother that she knew would take this day the hardest.

Wicked Witch Blog

In Fiction on February 18, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Day 1

I have been spending most of my time in trance.  My little grandchildren are so abused.  I can hardly bear to watch from afar, because everything seems too close for comfort in the mind’s eye.  My poor, dead daughter!  If she could see the misery her children are held captive in, she would rise from the grave!  This is the land of the living, though, and she shall never see it again.  Only I will see it, and only I will act.

Day 3

I was in the throes of concocting a strategy when my mind’s eye saw a wonderful development!  I have absolute confidence in my ability to train them, but how to get them in my care?  This point has baffled me for some time.  Their stinking step-mother has been scheming, of her own volition, to abandon Hansel and Gretel in the forest.  I must decide upon some ruse to get them on my grounds.  How redeeming it will be to see the look on that evil woman’s face when my beneficiaries return, not only with my riches, but with a new found sense of survival as well!

Day 6

A happy mess my daughter’s successor has made of the whole affair!  After several attempts, she has finally managed to get them lost for good, and very near to my cottage.  I have abandoned all ideas to abduct them straight out.  If they understand that I want them here, my plan will be undermined from the start.  I must lure them somehow…

The poor babes will be hungry…

I will allow hunger to draw them to me.  Perhaps I could pose as a baker, and appear as lost as they.  Slaughter a pig, and roast it in the yard.  Such a rich odor will surely entice them closer!

Day 7

I did not sleep last night.  I have worked an enchantment on my house and all the grounds.  Every wall, every surface, every pocket, now looks, smells, and tastes delicious!  The walkways are lined with little gingerbread men.  The doorknobs are peppermint, and the window panes are pure sugar!  I even turned the water in my fish pond to warm bread pudding; the fish are the raisins!  I covered every inch of my roof with red licorice, then painted the walls with the fluffiest coconut icing they will ever see.  Hansel and Gretel will be so thrilled to see it, and I will be thrilled to see them! I can see that they are very close now.  Only a small gully, and a cluster of trees sits between them, with all of their problems, and me, with my solution.

Day 8

I have succeeded!  My precious grandchildren are in my charge.  Playing the “wicked witch,” however, has been much, much harder than I had anticipated.  When the sweet things found my candy house, they were the happiest children in the world.  Their bright eyes and unbelieving smiles made me want to sing!  All morning I allowed them to pick and scrape and scoop the treats.  After they had unmistakably lost interest in eating, I came out onto the yard.  I asked, “Would the little children like to see the inside of the house?” and told them I had many more tasty things for them to nibble.  They agreed, nodding heads and eyes growing even wider.  I shuffled them inside the door, and when the bolt made its “click,” I pounced on Hansel and threw him in the iron cage I fashioned yesterday.  The lad is growing so quickly, there could be no other way!  Gretel does not have the confidence to challenge me, so I will leave her to think that her back will break under the work I charge her with.

Day 33

How torturous these last weeks have been!  Gretel cries day and night, but still has the strength to sneak scraps of food to Hansel.  Even though imprisoned, he acts with such dignity!  My daughter would swell with pride if she saw them this way, each supporting the other in such clever little ways.  I have them fooled into thinking I intend to eat them, which was not difficult due to the rumors about me that circulate the village.  They are the innocents of innocence to believe I would do such a thing!  They do believe it, though, and I sense that I might soon bring this charade to a safe end.

Day 35

Today is the final day.  I have crafted the finest plan to allow them to escape.  First, I will announce that Hansel is to be roasted this day (I will have to try with all my might not to chuckle!)  I want them so worked up that they will abandon all timidity.  I think I will even have Gretel light the stove, just to be convincing.  After all the “preparations” have been made, I’ll pretend to have trouble opening the cage door, then swing it open with great force and fall backward.  I’ll make a great, loud mess, then fall to the floor in a tangled heap.  In all the confusion, they shall think I’ve been knocked unconscious.  I will not stir.  The children are nearly starving now, and will surely search for food as soon as they’ve determined that I no longer pose a threat.  The enchantment is withered now, which will leave them to search within the house.  They will only have to step beyond this room, and they will lay eyes on their glittering inheritance!  I hope it works, it has nearly killed me to put it all together.