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Kevin Clay


She was born in Sweetwater during the war but they moved from that place very soon after.  They were near Cleburne soon after and that was when Velma was born.  They moved from that place soon after.  In the summer they lived near Gainesville and that too in time came to be another place and that was near Rendon not all so far from Fort Worth and then another after that near Alvarado and Edith liked that best of all because it meant Court Mondays in Fort Worth and market near the square in Forth Worth on Saturdays and too they were in easy reach of the Alvarado schools and Daddy worked in Mr. Peabody’s fields and Mr. Peabody, a Christian and a generous man, provided the seed and the equipment so with their own team of mules and their own wagon market was not such an ordeal as it might have been nor so profligate of shares and skimpy of cash and too Mama’s garden yielded up produce abundantly and this they sold and it looked as if the kids might even have shoes for the new school year.  And too Aunt Mamie whose husband Ralph was clerking in Mr. Avery’s store in Alvarado lived there in a big fine house and they might visit her and Edith like this also.

            She sat on the wide porch of the big house and watched the people passing in the street and sometimes she pretended this was her house and she and Velma and Tee and Curtis and Cecil and Joe David and Sister whose husband had died not long since all lived in it and not in the iron gray unpainted farmhouse where they did live and that it was Daddy that clerked in the store downtown and the buying of shoes was not so great a thing as it was on the farms they rented each one alike but not like in a series that went back so far as her memory and if Tee and Curtis and Cecil and Sister were to be believed even further.

            They stayed near Alvarado for a long time and in the course of time she was growing and too that was the year that first Sister and then Sister’s baby Jewel fell sick and then Cecil after and no one knew why nor even what at first but Sister and TB and Jewel had it too and they were quarantined.  The doctor bills mounted up and presently it was clear that there would be no shoes.  And Edith forgot all about the porch and the elaborate fictions she had spun sitting on it and she looked after Sister and Jewel the sickly and spindly little girl whose keeping fell to Edith as the next oldest girl and Jewel became predictably enough the object of her fancies and she dreamed for the baby a long life and a brilliant career and a husband handsome and wealthy and industrious beyond the dreaming of any other and it took off the edge of things.

            She rose in the night to tend to Jewel and rose also in the dark early morning and with Mama and Velma built the fire in the great iron stove, out of which she or Velma had raked the white clean ashes the night before and put them by.  In time she would help make soap with them.  With Mama in the mornings she helped with the biscuits and the bacon.  She went to the cool house for the eggs and the crocker of milk and the lard.  In the winter this was harder – as hard as the trip uphill in the night to outhouse if all three of the slopjars were full (as they were too often with so many) and you had to go.  It was Edith’s special curse that she had so frequently to do this.  Just like my sister, Mama said.  It was a summer now and not so bad but things didn’t keep so well either and in that time the fresh eggs she could gather from the malevolent hens were a special boon, though she did not like that either if she did well understand the fury  that greeted her (though seldom outright pecking) when she went to the hen house and gathered up whatever had been laid overnight.  The outhouse and the chickens and the slopjars and the newspaper they used for tissue and too the geese who could’ve taught the chickens much about malevolence were Edith’s special hatreds just as Jewel was her special love and that in a way far beyond what some girls might feel for the doll that Edith had never had.

            When Edith and Mama and Velma had been up for perhaps an hour or two and still the dark crouched outside the windows the men began to stir.  Always Daddy first, pulling up his suspenders over his nightshirt clopping over the floorboards with his black and peeling brogans and the laces and tongues flopping like a nest of worms.  He was a long thin man and his face like his body in this accentuated by his heavy jaw and his deepset blue eyes and the shock of hair going white that had once been black and he sat at the table and Mama brought his coffee from the stove boiling hot and Daddy rested his jaw in his huge hands and let the steam play over his face for awhile as his sons dragged themselves one by one to the table and soon they were all there, Daddy and Tee and Curtis and Cecil who had not yet fallen ill and soon Mama and Edith lay out the biscuits and the mounded scrambled eggs and the fried fatback and in summer the tomatoes from the vines in Mama’s garden.  Fatback always in the summer until the Fall came and then Daddy would slaughter a pig and for a time there would be sausage.  The saltpork kept better and if they ran out it was cheap enough to buy but sausage was another thing and the time when they had it they were glad enough.  Even before the men left for the fields on Mondays Mama had the number three up on the stove and Edith would be hauling water to boil and the laundry would take all day, dip and scrub, dip and scrub, and too the time and labor Jewel demanded though a year old already so sickly was the child and Sister too that that not to last much longer and Edith was glad of it when Velma started in helping as of course she did not too long after Edith so nearly the same age they were.  It was late in that Summer when Sister died and Cecil took sick and his hands and back and too himself always were missed mightily as the time came upon them to bring in the crop, out of which Mr. Peabody would have his rent and the family money enough perhaps for shoes even.

            But all of that was to be and the work thought on no more than need be as the men moved in trestles and planks for catafalque and Sister was laid out in the parlor and someone to keep a watch over her in the short time between death and burial.  Mama and Velma and Edith had washed and dressed the wasted body in such finery as could be had and in her stiffening fingers they folded a worn New Testament and Edith saw at Sister’s backside the darkening like a huge bruise she did not know to call lividity and the face the lips especially as white as, whiter even than the sheets she lay on.  In the back yard with such lumber as was handy Cecil and Tee built the coffin and in due course Sister was laid out in it and the coffin on the rude catafalque and the lid of it stood behind and Edith saw where it made a cross with the coffin before it and another table of like provenance was made to hold all the dishes of food brought by relatives and neighbors and though not the first time Edith had seen it done she wondered again that people bring food and supposed it must be to cut down the work the family must do.  Mr. Peabody sent flowers and came himself the day they loaded Sister’s coffin in the wagon and all in Sunday best went off to the pew at the front of the church and Mama clutched her Bible in both hands so fiercely her knuckles whitened.