Country living, living in nature’s bountiful bosoms, being a country girl, pastoral delights and splendid nights with stars shining bright.
Don’t, just don’t shovel that hot, rancid, fly infested, maggot breeding horseshit in my direction. I been there and done that. I sat on that milk stool. I swam in that polluted pool. I slept on the straw mattress with the rats and fleas. I churned butter, collected eggs, slopped the hogs, fed the chickens, shoveled the shit, planted the garden, weeded the rows, gathered the crops, canned, and sewed.
And, I cooked, cleaned, snapped beans, made beds and did the laundry in my spare time.
My country, the country that I lived in, was more than a place in space and time it was an evil disposition of heart and mind.
“You almost twelve now child. Soon boys be taking an interest in you. You got to watch them close.”
“Ma, what boys? There ain’t no boys around here. Where you see some boys at?”
“You got eyes in your head, Bea. You got Grit; that boy will stick his plunger in anything with a hole in it.”
Ma, that’s— “
“Hush. There’s Mohab, he like to hurt things he’d do it too.”
“Ma! — “
“Hold your tongue! Gamble, the one you got to watch out for most. He sly as a snake, vicious as a weasel. He don’t give a damn about anything but himself and his pleasures.”
“Ma, you talkin about my brothers. Why they want to mess with me?”
“Why? Cause, they boys and you got that hole between your legs and they yearn to fiddle in it or fill it up or bust it open. That’s what boys and men do out here in the deep woods.”
“Ma, I ain’t no dog or hog or mule to be rutted on. I ain’t their toy.”
“And, watch out for your Pa when he’s been drinking. Hell, try not to be alone with any of these sorry excuses for manhood.”
I sit there shelling peas. Studying my Ma’s hands and face. I love and fear her hands. They’re rough and hard. She can punch like a mule’s kick. Her hands and arms can be a fence around you protectin and keepin you safe.
Ma’s face’s all sharp angles and deep grooves. She got, “Tell me no lies eyes.” She has them, “I hear what you ain’t saying ears.”
Ma touch my cheek with fingers that feel like a wood rasp. “Back up in them hills my father was the Lord of The Manor. Which’s what he called himself. He claimed the first right to every girl born on his property. He didn’t exempt his own.”
“Ma, did— “
“Protect yourself at all times. Sleep with one eye open. Finish up these peas and put on a pot to boil.”
A few weeks later the courtin starts.
“Hey, I come to help you with that shit shovelin.”
“Grit, you welcome to shovel as much as you want. Here take my shovel. I’ll go pitch some hay. See you around, Grit.”
I duck pass my fourteen-year-old brother. As he turns to follow me, I snatch up the pitchfork and hold it between him and me. He gets the idea real quick.
“Bea, why you acting like that? I just come to give you a hand.”
“I ain’t stopping you. Hell, Grit, you can use both hands on that shovel.”
Grit the brother closest to my age, but he really don’t know me at all. Grit try to get slick and pick up the shovel quick and use it to knock the pitchfork from my hands. By the time he done turned around with the shovel I’m driving a tine of the pitchfork through his foot and into the barn floor.
Grit can’t believe his eyes when he see that hay handle standing tall in his foot. He turn all pale and faint dead away. I laugh so hard I pee myself.
Next week Mohab want’s to help me carry milk from the barn to the house. At least, that’s what he tells me when he sneaks up behind me in the barn and grabs me around the chest.
“Bea, I’ll carry up all your milk if you let me play with your little buds.”
I look back over my brother’s shoulder. I say, “Hey, Pa.”
Mohab let go of me lightin fast. He jump back like he’d been snake bit. When he sees that there’s no one there, he commences to slap at me. Mohab’s sixteen, but he’s nearly as big as Pa and is a considerable size bigger than either of his brothers.
“Mohab, you need to go play with Grit’s sheep before you get hurt messing with me.”
“I ain’t fuckin no sheep when I got you here.”
Mohab swings hard but slow at my face. I step just beyond his reach. I step right back in and bring my brogan up into his gonads like a wreckin ball. It must have felt like that to him because it sure wrecked his balls.
That kick costed him a ball. After he got cut and sewed up, I told em, “You can tell em that you was the first boy to ever have a ball with me.” Mohab punched a hole through the wall when I told him that. Pa beat that big dumb ass half to death for “bustin up stuff.” Mohab lost a ball and never found his sense of humor again.
I carry a razor sharp paring knife with me awake and sleep.
I put a latch on the inside of my bedroom door up in the attic.
Mohab hates me.
Grit’s scared of me.
I see old schemin Gamble trying to use both of them against me.
I wear overalls all the time now.
The other day I was bending, with my ass up in the air, plucking up eggs from the chickens that won’t lay in the coop. When I looked back, I saw Pa starin at me in an odd way.
I think right then was the first time I was really scared.
Mrs. Beckworth’s “stroke” saved me. April Beckworth’s only three years older than me with a four and an eighteen-month-old. Ezra, her husband, is older than dirt and tight with a penny and even thrifter with a kind word.
Something happen to April, and she can’t do for herself or the kids. Ezra say April had a stroke. I think he might have stroked April upside her head.
For the next two years, I live with the Beckworth’s and take care of April and her boys.
Lydia Beckworth, Ezra’s sister, cooks and keeps house. I help her, and she helps me.
I feel like I escaped from prison. I wake up every morning with a song on my lips.
I get four hours off on Sunday to take my pay home to Ma and have supper. Shoot, I could do that in half the time.
When I turn fourteen, Ezra asks me straight up if I would be his “mistress” for an extra three dollars a week. “Three dollars. Well, no Sir. I might leave you without essentials, and put your family in the poorhouse and in rags and such, spendin that much on me. I won’t have it.”
“Your Pa say you got a smart mouth. He be right. I be right on your ass you smart mouth me again. Hear?”
A week later he back with a five dollar a week offer.
“Bea, on Saturday, every other Saturday, you lay wit me ten, fifteen minutes. Five dollars a week for that – you can’t find better wages for a woman in this county.”
“Well, I don’t know if I could manage a windfall like that. I may be too well off for my own good. Let me think on it.”
I’m tempted. I grind that idea around in my mind. I want to say yes, but I look at April. I see a warning in her eyes as clear as a stop sign.
I talk to Lydia.
“Bea, you at the crossroads here. Ezra got his mind set on you. If you don’t go with him, you got to leave here. No doubt about that.”
I talk to Ma.
“Well, you old enough to marry. You think about that. Ezra about eighty-seven or so. That might be the best deal.”
“Ma, you right. You right. But, but April, I don’t want to be the next April. That’s not a good deal at any price.”
We shuck corn for a while.
“Well, you can’t come back here. Nothin here for you except the misery you ducked out on.”
I linger a little too long. I’m tryin to understand that I don’t got a home. I got no place to call home or lay my head. I feel lost. I feel scared, again.
They catch me down by the creek. I’m deep in thought when Mohab steps out the trees and blocks the path in front of me.
“Well, well you look all surprised. You been avoidin me. Time for payback.”
I turn at the sounds of footsteps behind me. It’s Grit and Gamble.
Gamble got a big smile, his hands in his pockets and a happy voice. “Sister, you have grown up. You know what that means?”
Grit has an ax handle at his side. He looks eager and scared at the same time.
Mohab puts his big hand on my shoulder. “I go first. After what she did to me. I go first.”
I turn and look up at my giant brother. I can still see the scars on his chin and over his right eye from the beatin Pa gave him about the wall.
I give Mohab my best smile. “Sure, you go first. I think you right. Can you still, you know, with one ball?”
His hand tighten’s on my shoulder as he slaps me to the ground.
I sit there for a minute, dizzy, bleedin from a cut in my mouth and tryin to catch my breath.
Gamble squats to be eye level with me. “If you had just gave it up to me in the first place none of this would’ve happin. Now, you get comfortable. You cooperate, and I make sure you don’t get hit no more. Just scoot over there off the path.”
“OK, OK… I’m movin. I’ll give you what you want, but…”
“No buts.” Yells Grit as he points the ax handle at me. “You got an ass whipping comin from me. I don’t care what anybody say.”
I ignore Grit as I crawl off the path.
“But what? What you talking about?” Gamble leers at me as he motions to Grit to get back.
I start undoing my overalls. “I know Grit and Mohab lucky to get any pussy ever. This be a real treat for them. I’m gona give em what they want, but you get pussy all the time. Girls like you.”
“So, what you getting at?”
I start untying my brogans.
“Ezra wants me to be his whore. He’ll pay me one-hundred-dollars for the first time if, if I’m pure, chaste, a virgin.”
“Bullshit!” Mohab lifts me by my hair. He holds me by my hair with my feet struggling to touch the ground. “Bitch!”
I try not to scream, but I can’t keep all the pain in.
“So, you got a magic pussy full of hundred dollar bills. We’ll fuck those out of you right quick.” Gamble’s pulling down my overalls as he speaks.
“OK, OK put me down and we can do it now or after and, and we each be twenty-five dollars richer. I ain’t going nowhere. I could use the money myself.”
Gamble looks thoughtful for a minute. “Could you get the money tonight? Right now?”
I squirm in pain and Gamble motions for Mohab to let me go. Mohab yanks my hair hard before he releases me.
I rub my neck as I explain. “He goes to bed at nine. I’ll make him pay before he does it. As soon as we through and he nods off, I’ll bring the money to you in his barn. Tonight. Twenty-five a piece.”
They argue for a bit. They decide they get all the money. If I don’t deliver they promise to mess me up so bad Ma would not even recognize me.
“Now, you understand we serious?” Gamble has one hand on my breast and the other around my neck.
I nod yes.
“Good, now you take the hundred-dollar pussy to Ezra, but you can use that penny smart mouth of yours for our business first. Get on your knees.”
A tragedy. A tragedy wrapped in mystery. Ezra’s mad as hell. He doesn’t understand how the hell his barn could go up in flames so quickly and completely.
Another mystery, what the hell were my three brothers doin in Ezra’s barn? Did they set the fire that killed em and destroyed the barn? That’s still a mystery.
I’m ready to marry Ezra, but Ma surprises me with half the money I done earned in my years working for Ezra. I move to Williamstown, find waitress work and a room.
Six months later Pa tumbles down our well to his fare thee well.
Ma sells the farm. Ma and I do quite nicely as city girls. We do very well in fact.
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