Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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You can do your studies on us migratory types all you want. My sister Rose came home from school last year saying that’s what you stay-puts call us. I told her you’re probably the same guys yelling White trash bastards go home when we drive through Salem. She says, no, you wouldn’t yell at us. She doesn’t think you even talk to us. She says you just check up on how many months we don’t go to school and how many kids we have and how many weeks we’re hungry in the off-season. I ask her why you don’t mind your own business, but she tells me you’re not hurting anybody, just writing up these studies called “The Fifties: Our Current Migrant Population” or “Movements Of Migrants,” that kind of thing, where you put us all in categories.
I tell her you’re not the only ones who can sniff out what makes types tick. I’m figuring out stuff, too.
She says, Lily, you’re thirteen. Nobody’ll listen to you.
But what does she know? I’m already doing my own study on one of your kind. This girl came straying into our fields a month ago, the first of June, when strawberries the size of Grandpa’s cut-out tumor were crouching in their little bushes, all juicy and red. Just ripe for plucking, my fourteen-year-old brother Louis said, then laughed to himself.
For the last five years around strawberry time at Oregon Sunrise Farms the big bosses have hired Marie, this woman with arms the size of barrels and hair chopped off to her ear lobes, to drive a painted-over school bus into town to pick up a bunch of jack-off kids whose parents want to ditch them for the summer.
A month ago, when Marie dumps off her first load for the season, this girl I’m doing my study on catches my eye right off. Me and Rose always watch them close, staggering off the bus at seven, an hour after we get here, and dragging themselves over the rows like they don’t quite know where they are. Maybe their mamas and daddies stuffed them into Marie’s bus while they were asleep.
Me and Rose have the types named, and the first day we usually pick out which stay-puts go with which type. Name The Stay-Put is something I came up with one real bad summer when the sun was beating down hotter than usual and you couldn’t roll your pants up because your legs would burn and blister, and dirt and berry juice would creep under the blister and smart like hell. So you kept your pants rolled down but you felt sweat trickle down your legs all day. When you picked the berries, they were plumped up just the way stay-puts like to see them in the store, but it seemed like when you carried in the flats they thawed out and shrunk and pushed the juice out the bottom so it rolled down your pants and stiffened them out. Then your pants rubbed up against your leg sweat and made you gummy all day. Naming stay-puts took your mind off juice and blisters.
This year I have to name them by myself because Rose, who’s sixteen, has started hanging around with Butchie, clinging to him too tight to pick much of anything, let alone help me lay out the types. By the end of that first day I have them pretty much lined up, though, except for this one girl I’m doing my study on.
I can tell right off she’s not one of the Kick-Asses who Marie will yell at all summer and threaten to can if she catches them throwing berries one more time or smashing bushes when they chase each other over the rows. Last year this Kick-Ass everyone called Red landed in our section with his foot in Louis’s flat. Louis told him if he ever saw him close enough to see red, he would beat the shit out of him.
Three days later Marie canned the kid for stuffing the bottom of his flats with dirt, then covering it over with berries. I said that’ll show him. Won’t show him a thing, Louis said. I reminded Louis about Ray Halvery in quonset five, whose daddy got the whole family canned two years ago for stealing three flats of raspberries. Ray was crying and the whole family seemed awful scared.
That’s different, Louis said. Kids like Red don’t have to worry about coming here year after year, so getting their ass kicked out is nothing to them. I didn’t say anything more, but something didn’t sit right about the whole thing.
This girl I’m doing my study on doesn’t hang with the Gossip-and-Giggle-Bitches either. Louis calls them GAGS. They come out here in their little groups and yak all day and cackle over the Kick-Asses stumbling around making fools of themselves. Once I had a row next to a GAG. She yapped with her friends about the extra school outfits she was going to buy with her berry money and how all the clothes in the stores that year were orange and red and bright colors. She said her boyfriend thought she looked best in pale pink, though, so she probably wouldn’t buy anything red or orange unless she wore it at home, because she wanted to look good for him. For a minute she sounded like Rose, who moons after some boy or other every summer. I guess if Butchie said he liked a certain color, Rose might want to wear it for him, but the only pink thing she has is a white blouse that rubbed up against my red sweatshirt in the wash. Wearing colors for somebody else seems silly to me. I don’t see what good pink would do a boyfriend.
Three days after the strange stay-put comes into the field, I finally catch Rose by herself. I tell her I’ve spotted a girl I can’t name. I tell her, She picks steady, eats alone, and doesn’t talk to anybody.
She’s strange all right, Rose says, which doesn’t tell me a thing. But then Rose says she sounds like one of the Bust-Your-Guts, these nineteen- and twenty-year-old stay-puts who keep their noses stuck in the bushes from the first berry in the morning to the last flat they haul to the checkout stand at night. Nobody can figure why they act like that, except Marie said once they’re probably college kids, stacking up money for school.
I think Rose might be on to something, except the Bust-Your-Guts are usually older than this stay-put, who’s about as old as me, and they’re always yelling at each other, How many flats you have? This girl’s a by-herself person. I’m just ready to ask Rose if she’s ever seen a young Bust-Your-Gut, when Butchie struts up and says, There’s my woman, to Rose, who’s ready to be anybody’s woman this summer, I hate to tell him.
Butchie lets his hand drop to her ass, which makes her forget my study in a second, and she tosses her head at him like she’s some kind of princess. I want to tell her she’s not so great, with her dishwater straw for hair and the gaps between her front teeth and her thick arms and an ass that juts out just below the hips. She does have nice eyes, I’ll give her that, but her big tits that poke out of her blouse are what Butchie’s after. In a few years, when they’re sagging lower than Butchie’s mama’s and Butchie’s dropped her for tighter tits, she’ll wish she’d stuck with me on this stay-put project instead of chasing off after some pimply guy who’s always touching at his crotch to see if it’s still there, I guess, and who follows her around and calls her gooshy names like my woman or rabbit rump or little toots. Rose says I don’t know a thing about love. I tell her I don’t want to if it makes you stupid.
I spend the next week keeping my eye on this stay-put and trying to find something to call her with almost no help from Rose, who’s usually the friendly one and could have had a talk going with that girl the first day if she’d wanted to.
Once in a while Butchie has to take care of his retard brother, who, Rose says, I’m not supposed to call that because he’s really something called hyperactive. When he’s gone, Rose hangs around and talks to me about how I can’t do a study without writing facts down or how I’m too young and nobody’ll pay any attention. I shrug her off. I don’t think even those stay-puts who do studies could pick and write at the same time.
It’s going slow without her, but she and Butchie have been all over each other for two weeks now. With the way Rose’s love life always ends up, I know one of them’s got to get sick of the other any minute, so I’m waiting it out.
But all of a sudden one afternoon Rose up and tells me they’re going to get married. Butchie acts like he’s believing it, too. Then Rose tells me this crazy idea that she wants a church wedding.
I can’t talk for a minute. It feels like she socked me in the gut, but finally I say, You can’t do that. I need you for my project real bad, Rose. She’s not even listening. She tells me, Lily, you have to help me figure out how I can walk down a real aisle. It’s expensive, you know, with the right kind of church dress and all, but nobody in the family’s ever had a church wedding, and I love Butchie so much I want to be the first. I look over at Mama when she says that, but Mama just shakes her head and says Rose must have got too much sun to be spouting off like she is.
The next few days, I can’t think much about the strange girl because I’m worried about losing Rose, who spends all her time on privy breaks now, rubbing Butchie’s shoulders and him rubbing hers, and sometimes they’re out of sight, probably rubbing other things. I watch Mama staring off across the fields, sad-like, thinking about Rose’s church wedding, I bet, wishing she could give her that, and I’m wondering how Rose could make Mama worry when we’re just now pulling out of what we owed the camp store for the days it rained and we couldn’t pick.
Grandma used to say, If there’s lightning, wait for the thunder, and sure enough she was right. As if Rose’s mess isn’t enough, Louis gets himself hooked up with these Hang-Around-Guys, HAGS, I call them, which keeps me from getting back to my study for at least ten days. And strawberry season’s half over.
These HAGS are stay-puts who think we have extra time and free smokes and strong booze and free pussy, and they hang around long enough every year to see who does and who doesn’t, then quit picking after about a week. We’ve always kept away from HAGS before, but this year Louis starts talking to a couple of them, and before you know it they’re following him around like he’s king of the quonsets. This one kid, Mike, I know is trouble right off because he’s looking me up and down, mostly at my tits that are starting to shove out. Our family runs to big ones. My Aunt Sadie, who joined the stay-puts a few years ago when Uncle Dan landed a janitor job up in Seattle, has the biggest set I’ve seen on anybody — they cover from her armpits down, and they don’t just hang to her waist but push out all over the place. I always wanted to see her naked, but they have six kids, so we stayed in different quonsets. And I couldn’t think of the right question to ask Mary Beth, the cousin my age, so it wouldn’t sound disrespectful to Aunt Sadie. I might have another chance, though, because Mary Beth is lying around the trailer in Seattle, bored and thinking about coming back out on the road. If she does, she’ll meet up with us in August, and maybe I can tell her how my study comes out, just in case Rose isn’t talking to anybody but Butchie by then.
When Mike starts hanging around, I tell Louis not to trust him, but Louis is restless this summer. He starts spending time with these HAGS down by the sewer ponds a quarter-mile from camp, trading cigarettes and Millers. Too bad Louis doesn’t send these jerks straight over to the prison guys picking cherries in the next field. Those guys would bite Mike off more than he could chew. Mike acts like he’s waiting, and Louis is feeling the pressure to come up with something. But Mike has treed the wrong coon. We’re broke for any extra stuff. Our money lands in Daddy’s hands at the end of the day, and us kids wouldn’t think of holding out. At least we never have, although I worry about Rose this summer with all her blab about a church wedding.
A few days after the HAGS show up, Louis starts talking to me on the side about going on a road trip with these stay-puts. Road trip, I tell him. Don’t these guys remember who they’re talking to?
Louis shrugs it off like it’s not a big thing, but I see him flipping through the sleeping bag parts of outdoor magazines in the camp store, and I watch him stare into the berry bushes and sometimes roll up his sleeves, like he doesn’t care the sun’s scorching his arms. He bumps in and out of those staring phases, and when he isn’t staring he works faster than he’s picked since I can remember.
Each night he drops his ticket in Daddy’s hand, and Daddy and Mama go to the store and buy hamburger and apples and Oreos. Once, Louis says he doesn’t think we need cookies and why don’t we save a little more money for fall. Daddy says we should treat ourselves along to keep us going, doesn’t Mama think so, and she says yes. I shrug, but Rose gives Louis a dirty look and says she wants cookies no matter what.
He says, OK, OK, we don’t have to yell about it, it’s just a thought, but I can see he’s nervous. I’ve seen him looking at those sleeping bags more and more.
The HAGS are sticking with Louis like glue now, and one afternoon Louis asks Mike and his buddies if they can stay for volleyball after the bus leaves. Mike says, Volleyball? And Louis says, Yeah, well, it’s what some people around here do for a little fun even though I don’t like it much. I know then he’s a goner because he’s the king volleyballer in camp.
I’m in the privy when I hear this, and Louis and Mike are leaning against the water truck twenty feet away. Mike says, You got what you need for the road trip, Louis? Louis says he’s working on it, which makes me nearly fall through the hole. Daddy isn’t going to shell out for a sleeping bag when we have all the blankets we need for setting up house. Then Louis asks them to stay for supper and Mike says, Sure, why not, and I feel like Louis has gone crazy.
Mike’s the only one who ends up staying, but Daddy still has to buy an extra half-pound of burger to make Louis’s friend feel welcome. I go to the camp store with him that night and watch him lay the extra meat and cookies on the counter, kind of like his mind isn’t there. I bet he’s thinking that with the extra food, we can’t put away more than twenty dollars that day for the off-season. He grins at me in a minute, though, and he doesn’t look worried anymore. Grandpa always told us, don’t let the unexpecteds bother you for more than a minute. Those damned expecteds will get you soon enough. Grandpa knew those things. His heart wasn’t a bit good, and he died of an attack picking cherries up in Washington.
Well, silly Lily, Daddy says. What you thinking?
I say, Nothing, Daddy, deciding he doesn’t want to know, so I say the Oreos look real fresh and that I’m glad he got an extra package of vanilla wafers because my sweet tooth’s hungrier than my meat tooth tonight and if he wants to, he can give Mike one of my hamburger patties and not buy more than a quarter-pound extra. He says, Lily, you need that meat to put on your bones, and he pinches my butt and comes up with only my pants between his fingers. See what I mean? he says. He’s used to pinching Mama, who has a butt that juts out like Rose’s, so he’s always nervous about how I don’t have one. I want to say not to worry and that I’m growing hips and a bigger waist, but I don’t talk to him about things like that. Louis is always parading around, talking about girls’ tits and how they point up or down, or about the size of their asses, but Daddy’s quiet about those things. Except once he did say Mama’s sister Sadie had the biggest set he’d seen on woman or beast. Mama looked surprised at first, but then she smiled and said when they were growing up, she and Sadie had to sleep in a single bed for a summer, and it was like having three people in there. You couldn’t get the tits to move over or scrunch up because they just took up so much space. She said if Sadie hadn’t been her favorite, she would have joked with her about sleeping on the edge and letting her tits hang over the side, but Sadie had a hard enough time already with the men gawking at her all the time and some of the boys mooing like cows when she walked by.
When Mike walks into quonset ten — our house this summer — I’m sitting on the floor hemming a pair of Daddy’s overalls that have been dragging the ground for a couple days. If it wasn’t for Rose being with Butchie all the time, she would be lollygagging on Mama and Daddy’s bed right now with her blouse unbuttoned, batting her eyeballs like she was looney. But with her gone, Mike’s eyes just roll over the empty bed and take in us kids’ bedrolls pushed up neat against the wall. He gives a quick glance over the icebox and the table and chair where I always sit unless Mama or Daddy needs to prop up for back support.
Warm in here, Mike says.
Louis says it usually isn’t hot inside but today’s muggy, and I say, Feels just right to me, and glare at Mike.
Louis and Mike finally duck out the door to help Daddy with supper, they say, while Mama’s at the showers washing off the berry juice and letting the tired feeling drain off in the water that’s hardly warm this time of day.
After I finish the hem, I crawl up on Mama and Daddy’s bed, the darkest spot in the quonset. I’m almost drifting off, when I hear voices outside, and Louis and Daddy walk in. I don’t think they see me because they’re talking private, and Daddy’s shifting his weight back and forth like he’s making a big decision. Louis is staring at him.
It’s just for a weekend trip, Daddy, Louis says, and they said they’d pay for gas and all — even food maybe, since I invited Mike for supper — but they all have sleeping bags, and if I could just get one on sale in the camp store, I could go.
Daddy shakes his head and sighs bigger than I’ve ever heard him. Wouldn’t a bedroll do? he says.
Louis says they all have sleeping bags, and if he could buy one, he promises he’d work harder than ever for the rest of the summer. I’ll go out at five instead of six, he says. I can do it, Daddy, I know I can.
Sale things can’t be taken back once they’re bought, Daddy says.
I know, Louis tells him.
My heart’s pounding so hard I think they might hear it, and I close my eyes so I won’t have to see Louis disappointed. It’s quiet for a minute. Then I hear Daddy say, OK, Louis. We’ll get the bag tomorrow. I’ll draw the money out of the fund.
My stomach drops out the bottom, and I want to leap out of bed and say, Forty dollars is two days’ food in the off-season, but I can’t move. So I lay there quiet and wait till they go out. Then I curse Mike for coming into our fields and Louis for being so damned stupid and Daddy for — well, I can’t think of anything to curse him for really, except trying to fix things up, and how can you be mad at anybody for that?
The next day Louis is out picking at five, even before Marie leaves to get the stay-puts, and he has two flats ready to punch in by the time we get there. He picks like crazy all day and only stops once to run to the store for the sleeping bag and put it in our quonset. A few times he looks at his watch because Mike told him they’d pick him up after dinner. None of the HAGS got off the bus this morning but Louis says they’re in town getting ready for the trip. He doesn’t act a bit worried, just picks so hard he gives the checkout boys (the boss’s kids) fits because they can’t figure where he’s stealing berries from. They start snooping along our row until Marie tells them, Why don’t you do something useful and check on the Kick-Asses, which makes them shoot across the field like they’re detectives.
When we hear the quitting whistle, Louis runs off to camp to eat fast and Rose rushes off to find Butchie. Me and Mama and Daddy stretch, then sit on our jackets for a few minutes in between the rows, looking at the berries, knowing we don’t have to pick another thing before tomorrow.
I don’t see how Rose can leave so fast, because there’s something about that six o’clock whistle and the few minutes after, sitting with Mama and Daddy, that makes me feel so good after twisting off berries or pulling down beans all day that I don’t know if there’ll ever be anything else quite so nice. You’re stiff and dirty and don’t care because you’ll be washed up soon, and the rest of the day’s the best part yet with burgers and Oreos coming and money to pay for them and maybe a game of volleyball after supper. When Rose was free, we could play poker or, after we went to bed, a game of Guess My Most Exciting Thing. Now she’s too busy with Butchie for poker and if I want to play Most Exciting Thing, all I have to say is a church wedding and I’ve guessed hers every time. If she can’t guess mine after one try, she says she wants to quit and daydream about Butchie.
If you ask me, Rose has gotten herself way overboard with this Butchie thing. She hardly even notices Louis when Mike doesn’t show up that night. Even being crazy lovesick would never let me miss a look like what was on Louis’s face. But then I knew it was going to happen from the night before.
I guess Louis’s eyes were too full of that sleeping bag to see these guys are full of shit. That’s what I want to tell him at ten o’clock when he finally quits saying they’re just late, probably car trouble or something, and after he runs over to the store to see if there’s been a call for him. I go with him like I believe there will be, but I know we’re wasting our time.
At ten-thirty he tells us it’s better he didn’t go because he has a lot of things to do on the weekend, and nobody, not even Rose, asks him what things. Then he heads out of the quonset to get a little air, he says, and an hour later I find him sitting by the sewer ponds staring out into nowhere.
I sit beside him, but he doesn’t move. Well, you got a new thing to sleep in, I say, but he keeps staring. I start to say I hate all stay-puts, especially Mike and the other creeps, but he says, I just want to sit here without hearing anything for a while. So I walk on back to the quonset, real slow, thinking about what to do. When I get there, I slip his new bag quiet under Mama and Daddy’s bed so he won’t have to lay eyes on it. Then I stretch out his bedroll. I don’t need to, though, since he doesn’t come in all night. I know, because I’m awake all night myself except for a little dozing off.
Louis is real quiet these days, and Rose is hanging around more and more with Butchie’s family. I don’t see how she can think of hooking up with Butchie’s mom and dad and six kids plus the retard. Whenever I mention the retard, Rose gets crabby and wonders why I can’t get it through my head he’s a hyperactive. Well, whatever you call him, I say, he hasn’t got a bit of sense and flits around worse than a dragonfly.
I haven’t given up on my study, but it isn’t turning out just like I planned. I make one last try to get Rose to help me by telling her I heard Marie call the strange girl Elizabeth. That name, I say to Rose, sounds like she’s a queen or something, thinking Rose will come up with a title like Royal Ass. But Rose just sighs and says there’s a dress in one of those bride magazines at the store that would make her look like a queen, except it’s a hundred dollars. She says she guesses the dress doesn’t matter anyway because Mama says she can’t have a church wedding, and even though Butchie says he’ll love her even if they have to get married on the banks of the sewer ponds, which is nice of him, it isn’t the same. I want to ask her how much of her tits the dress would show off, but I don’t.
Something does happen I can use for my study, even though Rose says it won’t count because it’s out of the blue, and you have to decide what you’re looking for ahead of time. What’s the good of studying something if you already know it? I say. The surprises should count more than anything, if you ask me. She says that shows how much I know, and it won’t count anyway since I’m not writing things down. I tell her I’m storing things up in my head for writing down later, which gives them longer to settle in and makes them better than her old stay-put studies. She says, Dry up, and won’t talk to me for a while. Lately she gets mad easy.
The thing with my study happens on a day Rose stays in the quonset with cramps. I tell Mama I want to pick with Butchie’s family to get to know my in-laws better, but it’s really because they have rows by Elizabeth. They let me pick at the end of the retard’s row, which puts me right up next to Elizabeth, and we’re picking along about neck-and-neck until Marie comes by. For as quiet as that girl acts, she sure starts talking to Marie, about how she’s going to come back next year to save money for college, which I figure is another five years off. I don’t see the good in looking so far ahead and acting like you’ve already passed the tests my cousin in Seattle says you have to go through to get into some college. And Mary Beth should know. She’s been going to school steady ever since she moved there.
At about eleven-thirty this Elizabeth girl opens her little pink flowered lunch box — the same color as her pigtail ribbons and her tennis shoes — and I see this whopper piece of cake sitting there with a candle on it. First I’m thinking, if only Rose was here to talk to her. But seeing as it might be my last chance to store up facts, and knowing it’s up to me, I take a deep breath like Rose said she did before a speech she gave once, and I clear my throat and say right out before I can think about it too much, Whose birthday cake is that? My heart’s pounding.
She looks surprised at first, but then starts talking so much you would think I’m Marie. Mine, she says. I’m thirteen today, and I’m having a birthday party with ten people coming at seven-thirty tonight, and she grins out of this tiny little mouth I don’t know how any boy will ever be able to fit his lips on. Then she says, And after the party, we’re going out for pizza and a movie and after that everyone’s staying overnight. She takes a breath and then a bite of cake.
Oh, I tell her.
Did you have a party for your last birthday? she says, then gulps down another bite.
I shake my head, then start picking as fast as I can before she can ask me anything else. But while I’m scooting along the row and yanking the berries out, I can’t help thinking about her pizza and cake and party, and my birthday a couple months ago where we had cheeseburgers, and Mama and Daddy gave me three dollars to buy anything I wanted, and Louis said he would teach me how to blow smoke rings if I ever started smoking, and Rose said I could use her white low-cut blouse anytime she wasn’t using it. I decide I wouldn’t want a stay-put party with everybody wearing little pink ribbons and talking about colors and boyfriends. Besides, it seems silly to make a big fuss over a birthday just because one day you’re twelve and the next thirteen and the six o’clock whistle feels the same either way.
The most important thing I find out about this stay-put comes that afternoon. The way I have it figured is she’s been working so hard to get into a college, she hasn’t learned the everyday stuff. That comes out when this lopsided bus with the good-behavior guys from the prison drives by on its way to the cherry orchards. One of the guys yells out the window, Picking strawberries is sissy shitwork. Louis, who’s come over to help me finish my row, yells back, Dry up, asshole.
Butchie’s dad, whose mouth makes all of ours sound holy, flips off the good-behavior guy, then says, There’s a lot of cherries to pick out here if you know where to look. Butchie laughs real loud, and his mama says, Maybe, if the woodpeckers think they’re big enough to get the job done, and then she hee ha’s, and the retard grins big and crazy. Elizabeth doesn’t laugh a bit but just keeps picking and frowning like Butchie’s family’s talking Chinese.
Then Butchie’s dad, who’s watching Elizabeth, grins at Butchie’s mama like he’s up to something, but nothing happens for a few minutes because the retard darts over to my row and kicks dirt in my flat. I know Rose’ll be mad if I stir up in-law trouble, so all I do is hold his ankle for a minute behind the bushes until he screams like a banshee, and his mama tells him to get his ass over where it belongs.
Butchie’s dad, who might have been on one of those good-behavior crews sometime himself for all I know, swats the retard and then says to Butchie’s mama, Better keep a close eye on these kids and be ready to circle them up as quick as a flea screws because the convicts are back, and you know what that means.
Everybody’s quiet a minute and then Butchie’s mama, who’s as big a liar as the old man, says, Makes my blood clot just to think of it.
Yup, the old man says, that massacre up in Washington is the worst I’ve heard of since the Alamo. And so close to here, too. Convicts just went berserk and got loose in a field just like this one and the cops said they couldn’t tell what was berry juice and what was blood when they got done. People lying around with their throats slit and guts hanging out and some pickers they haven’t found yet.
I look at the stay-put out of the corner of my eye and she’s still picking, but real slow now, and she keeps glancing from the cherry orchards to her flowered lunch bucket. Butchie’s dad is still spewing off this stuff about eyeballs rolling around the patch where the really bad ones were popping them out with church keys.
I’m having a hard time keeping a straight face when Butchie says, I’m glad Mama and Daddy and the family are all here together. It would be awful to die alone. He glances at the stay-put who’s standing up now, staring across at the good-behavior men. Her eyes are getting bigger and bigger, and she’s twisting on one of her little pink ribbons.
Butchie looks at Louis. Keep a lookout in case we have to run. Louis nods, and I see he’s about ready to bust. The stay-put acts like a spotlighted deer, froze to her feet. Then Butchie’s dad stands up, like he sees something in the cherry orchard, and looks first at Butchie’s mama, then at the stay-put. He puts on this frightful face and says, God almighty, I think they’re coming.
Well, with that, Elizabeth’s mouth falls open and her eyes go as big as new potatoes, and she unfreezes and takes off in the fastest walk you ever saw that turns into a run halfway across the field. Her arms are waving everywhere.
Come back, Butchie’s daddy yells. You forgot your flat. But she doesn’t stop until she’s out of sight. I guess she gets on the bus because we don’t see her out here the rest of the day. Butchie’s daddy is slapping his leg and his mama’s yelling, Did you see that little filly run? I’m laying down in the row, trying to get my breath back, and Louis is snorting, he’s laughing so hard. It’s good to see him like that.
When six comes around I can’t wait to tell Rose what happened. I have to tell it away from Mama and Daddy because they wouldn’t think it was so funny. After the six o’clock sit-down, I run to the quonset and find her lying on Mama and Daddy’s bed sighing and moaning. Rose, I say, I have something to cheer you up. It’s about the stay-put I’ve been doing my study on.
She rolls her eyes, but I go ahead and tell her the convict story and about Elizabeth’s pink ribbons and how she mowed down the whole field on her way out. But before she flew out of there, I tell Rose, you should have seen how she looked. All the tan dropped out the bottom of her face, her mouth was hanging open, and her eyes as wild as the re — the hyperactive’s.
Rose is watching me close, and I think maybe I’m finally getting through to her. When I finish, I give her a big grin and say, And guess what, Rose. She hasn’t got any tits.
Rose sighs a little and looks away. She’s quiet a minute. Then she looks back at me. Maybe, she says, her eyes clouding up. But at least that girl’ll get a church wedding.
My stomach goes all funny, and all of a sudden the quonset air is all sticky. I jump up from where I’m leaning on the bed and stumble for the door. Damn you, Rose, I mumble under my breath. And then I run toward the sewer ponds to be by myself, so I can get the look on that stay-put’s face set firm in my head before Rose can wreck it.
Marian Mathews Clark