Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sadie Makes Her Stand

There was a bit of a breeze that day, but not much. The sunlight filtered through the giant giant chestnut trees, their broad leaves creating patterns in the shade of the morning. It was the sort of day that if you lay on your back in the forest and looked up, you could see the dust motes swirling like angels in the light. But there would be a storm coming soon. You could feel that on the air too, and smell the coming lightning.

Sadie was digging new potatoes when she heard the hoof beats and the muffled sound of male voices coming up the holler. She stood and cocked her head like a doe seeing a flash of white in the wood. She ran to the garden gate, brushing the soil from her hands on her skirts and grabbed her rifle from where it rested there by the fence.

The riders had come again to Raven’s Branch. She was certain of it.

“June Bug!” She called out to her sister who was sweeping the dirt of the yard. “Git your gun!”

In the darkening days following the Civil War, ragtag bands of marauders had cut a swath through the mountain hollers robbing and killing. They came in broad daylight and sometimes in darkness. They came for the children, murdering them before their mothers. Though the war had ended, they hadn’t had their fill of blood quite yet.

Her own man had yet to return from the war and she often times wondered if he would ever come back. It weren’t no matter to her. She’d kept the farm going through the long years, scraping together enough food and game to feed the family. She’d likely continue to do the same, even if he came home.

Sadie’s five-year old nephew was playing on the porch of the cabin. His feet were grimy with coal dust. He looked up at his mother in alarm as she emerged with a shotgun from the cabin.

“Ransom! Git over here now.” Sadie said, with an edge of desperation in her voice.

The child scurried to obey. She hissed to him, “You don’t make a sound or I’ll whup you…You hear? Do you?”

The little boy trembled and nodded, his lip quivering.

Sadie gathered the child up and stuffed him under her skirts and stood rock solid at the steps to the cabin, stony-faced as the ragged band rode up. June Bug took her place at her side. She pushed a strand of hair from her face and glared fiercely.

The two women watched as the men skittered their horses to a halt in the dirt, causing dust to fog the air.

The leader of the band sat his gaunt horse easily. His clothing was ragged and you could barely discern the blue gray of his tattered uniform.

“Woman. Where be your menfolk!”

“Ain’t no menfolk here.” She said. “You’uns can just move along. I ain’t got no bidness with you’uns.”

He looked at her with cold dead eyes. She tightened her grasp on the rifle and pointed it menacingly at him. Her sister followed suit.

Her eyes were cold and narrow. She stood solidly but did not try to move. Ransom had his pudgy arms wrapped tightly around her legs and his small body was plastered against her. She could feel the contours of his face, crumpling against her thigh as he stifled a whimper.

“Well, ma’am, it don’t seem right, us coming all the way up here to see you and not leavin’ with nothin’.”

He spat into the dry dust.

June Bug’s hands were shaking as she held her shotgun.

“Easy there, Junie, “ Sadie said. “You know that there thing has a hair trigger.”

Sadie, herself, spat into the dust and managed a grin like a feral she-wolf.

“Lookit!” She said. “There be a ham in the smokehouse. Why don’t you’uns take that and go on.”

The lean man looked at her narrowly. Then he nodded at one of his men, who dismounted and headed toward the smokehouse.

They all waited tensely. June Bug cut her eyes at her sister. Neither woman was sure how much longer little Ransom could stay still under Sadie’s skirts, like a fawn in the forest.

The man came back lugging a big joint of cured meat. He slung it over the pommel of his saddle and mounted up.

The leader touched his fingers to his cap and nodded at Sadie, in a mockery of courtliness. Then the group turned their horses and galloped down the path into the woods.

Sadie and June Bug stood stock still until they disappeared and they could no longer hear the horses and the laughter of the men.

Then June Bug lay her shotgun down and burst into tears. She pulled Ransom from his aunt’s voluminous skirts and drew him into her arms. She rocked him to comfort herself as much as she did so to comfort him.

Tears made muddy streaks down her face as she looked at her sister and said, “You didn’t tell me you had no ham? Where’d you git that from?”

Sadie lifted her rifle and sighted high into a chestnut tree. She shot, bringing down a fox squirrel with a clean head shot. It fell, lifeless in the dust.

“Oh. That were from the last time they’uns showed up here.” She said.

Then Sadie turned to her little nephew and said.

“Ransom! What don’t you go git that there squirrel for auntie and I’ll make us some biscuits!”

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The companion essay to this ficlet is up on Feministe. It's called, "An American Brigadoon".

2 Comments:

  1. threecollie said...
    Oh, my word! You write very, very well...I could see them and feel them and smell the dust as they rode up.
    Tara said...
    That's some good writing, Rosie.

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