November 7, 2009

Queens of the Cattails - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

A question in the form of a knot tightened up right under my heart. I couldn't get away from Rachelle fast enough, and I couldn't begin to understand my dislike for her. Had she been a snotty, selfish brat -- like that pageant princess Goldie Beaumont, whose family owned the alteration shop where Mama worked -- there would be no question at all. I disliked Goldie with just about all the self-righteous indignation I possessed, and rightly so, because Goldie was a stuck-up, two-faced liar who said things about my Mama and Daddy that just were not true.

But Rachelle never said one ugly word about Mama or Daddy or me. On the contrary, she talked as if she wished she were their daughter instead of Miss Lou's. I should've been flattered to be thought of so highly by someone, but instead, Rachelle's admiration just made me ill.

I pouted, taking long strides away from Miss Lou's and watching the powdery dust kick up around my stomping feet. When I watched the ground, the pebbles and ruts slid by, making it seem like I was moving much faster than I actually was. The walk back home from Miss Lou's always seemed to take much longer.

I hopped over a bare corn cob and stepped around a rusty Tab soda can. I curled my toes back to kick a paper bag out of the way when I noticed a person crouching right in front of me. If I hadn't thrown my momentum aside and tripped on my own feet, I would've run right into him.

"Careful there!" A long, narrow hand grabbed onto my arm and pulled me upright, ripping a bigger hole in my torn shirt sleeve.

I yanked away, wide-eyed and gasping.

Uncle Buck stood and squinted at me through his long, black, greasy bangs. An amused grin pulled his lips back on one side of his mouth revealing two gaps on top and one on bottom between cakey yellow teeth that didn't quite meet. I smelled beer on him from four feet away. "You all right?" he said.

I nodded and rubbed my hands down my sides as if I'd really fallen and were wiping dirt off of my palms. I jerked my head toward Aunt Nell's hoping she was still at her gate, and back toward Rachelle's hoping she'd stayed at the roadside to watch me turn the curb, but neither was there.

"Marjoram Eppinette…well aren't you a sight for sore eyes." His sore eyes didn't blink or flutter a bit as he spoke to me. He raised his arm straight out toward me, pointing all five of his fingers toward my stomach. "Last time I saw you, you was this tall. How old 're you now, Margie?"

"Nobody calls me Margie," I said.

Uncle Buck snorted. "Oh, that's right. Madge, id-nit?"

"Mm-hmm. And I'm ten."

"Yes, you're ten," he said, as if I were the one asking my age, and he were the one answering. "And I'm ten-plus-ten-plus-ten. You know how much that is?"

I did know, but suddenly, I had to pee really bad. I didn't want to tell him that, and I didn't want to run off and be rude. Mama tolerated my attitude most of the time around the house, but she never, ever tolerated me being rude to anyone, particularly adults. I crossed one foot over the other and tried not to be obvious.

Uncle Buck blinked and lowered his gaze from my face to my collar. He lingered there until I began to wonder if maybe a spider were crawling on my neck, or if my buttons weren't buttoned right. I brought my fingers up and tugged the fabric together, just in case.

"So how's your ma?" he asked. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets so his shoulders scrunched up and his elbows locked.

I noticed his blue jeans were way too big for him, and the frayed, mud-coated hems folded over his shoes. His yellow-used-to-be-white t-shirt was too small, and the front of it pulled up just over the snap of his pants so the skin of his belly showed. Under his armpits were large, half-moon-shaped stains made darker by the sweat there now.

"She's fine," I said, twisting my fingers together behind my back. I really had to go. "I really gotta go."

Uncle Buck showed the gaps in his mouth again. He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. "I gotta toilet in the house if you needa go that bad."

I shook my head. "No, thanks. Mama wants me home before dark or--"

"--Or she'll send you out back to get a switch and whoop that little tail o' yers?" At that, Uncle Buck threw his head back, and a loud, scratchy laugh shook him all over. He wagged his head back and forth and stomped the ground.

If I didn't hate Uncle Buck before, I hated him now. "No! I wasn't gonna say that! I--"

"I know, I know," he said, lowering his voice but still chuckling. "Your mama wouldn't harm a hair on your head, would she."

I glared at Uncle Buck. I imagined poking my finger in his eye. The truth was, Mama would take a switch to me, and she had before, but I knew she loved me, and I didn't like it at all that Uncle Buck made it sound like she didn't. "No, she wouldn't," I said.

Uncle Buck's grin widened until I thought his face might split. "But your daddy would, wouldn't he."

Now it was my turn to blink. I blinked and blinked, willing the tears to stay in my eyes where they belonged, and willing the sting in my bladder to go away long enough for me to get home.

"I gotta go!" I yelled, and I turned and ran, leaving Uncle Buck shaking and laughing in the middle of the lane.

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