November 5, 2009

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

The lane to Miss Lou's stretched out long and straight alongside my granddaddy's cotton field. Just past the barbedwire fence marking the end of our land, the road curved to the left behind a hip of trees.

I squinted at the curve in the lane. This first two-thirds of the way were an eternity of dust and gravel potholes. The trees far ahead seemed to slip farther away the closer I thought I was, but it was just the weight of the sack in the wheelbarrow that made my steps slower and slower.

The lane wasn't unpleasant. I liked seeing the other side of the fence, behind the blackberry bushes. It never snowed in Louisiana, but if it ever would, I thought I knew exactly what the fields would look like. When Granddaddy's cotton was grown and ready to pick, the full tufts blanketed the ground in a soft, clean sheet of white that reminded me of Heaven. I imagined rolling through the rows would be like rolling through clouds. I knew better, though. Far fewer things were more painful than blackberry thorns, but cotton burrs were one of them.

Now, Granddaddy's fields were not much to look at. Since Daddy left, Mama didn't bother with the cotton anymore. She couldn't do it herself, even with my help, and she didn't want to hire anyone on to take care of it.

On Sundays after church, sometimes visitors came by the house for chicken and pies, but mostly to ask Mama if she'd lease the land to them. I thought it was a good idea. I didn't know what "lease" meant, but the men promised to take care of the cotton "as well as your husband ever did," and I thought that sounded good.

But Mama didn't think it sounded good. I could tell by the wrinkle at the corner of her smile, she was angry, but I suspected the visitors had no clue. "No, thank you," she'd say. "We'll manage as we manage."

Finally, I reached the curve in the lane. I had trouble keeping the wheelbarrow steady and almost lost my load on a brand new rut one of the Miller boys probably dug out in their new hot rod. My arms felt like noodles, and I wasn't sure I'd make it all the way to Miss Lou's porch. I still had a third of the way to go past my Aunt Nell's trailer, her brother-in-law's creepy old, half-burned house, and the field where the Miller's kept their horses. Just beyond was Rachelle's sad little shack.

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