Part 1 here
Mama collapsed onto one of the straight-backed chairs that circled the kitchen table. She sighed, shook her head. “Sit down, gals.” We did, and she told us what we were gonna do. “Keep them bellies covered with baggy clothes, and don’t tell nobody you’re carrying. School’s practically out for the summer, and before it starts up again, the babies’ll most likely be here.”
We nodded our heads. “Yes, Mama.”
“Now…” Her dark eyes leveled on me. “Who put his pecker in you and your sister? Was it that Franklin boy?” She was talking about Tommy Franklin. He’d kissed me a couple of times in back of the church, but he’d never put his pecker in me. I didn’t even know people did that until…
“No, Mama,” I said.
“Then who in the name of Jesus was it?” She slapped the table. Sissy squealed. Mama’s eyes turned to her. “Or was there more than one?”
Sissy shook her head and burbled like an idiot. I felt sorry for her; Mama scared her half to death. And the funny thing was, Mama liked scaring my little sister, liked hearing her cry and scream and beg her to stop.
Mama sprang to her feet, grabbed a wad of Sissy’s hair, and yanked her up. “Who was it?”
I stood. “It was Dewey, Mama. It was Dewey who put his pecker in me and Sissy.”
Mama’s head swung in my direction. “Why, Dewey Small ain’t got sense enough to come in outta the rain, let alone go sticking his pecker in you gals.” Her grip on my sister’s hair loosened, and leaving long, pale wisps of herself threaded between Mama’s fingers, Sissy slipped to the floor. Mama focused her attention to me. “Are you lying to me, Clara May Primrose?”
Her thin lips pursed. She glanced at Sissy, who was inching on hands and knees up under the table. Then back to me. “Go fetch him. Tell him I need to have a word with him–but not what about.”
I nodded my head.
She yanked open the back door. “Go, Clara. And remember–not one word.”
I bolted through the doorway and down the steps, scattering the dozen or so white hens pecking in the dirt. Their irritated squawks followed me as I passed through the back gate and headed toward the barn.
I circled around the sway-sided walls and there was Dewey out in the middle of the garden with a hoe. Instead of hacking weeds though, he was digging in his nose. When he saw me coming down the row toward him, he wiped his finger on his dirty overalls and grinned.
I knew that look; it was the “I wanna put my pecker in you” look. I was glad I wouldn’t have to go into the woods with him.
“Mama wants to see you.”
The smile dropped from Dewey’s face. “What for?”
“There’s something she wants you to do.”
“Ain’t got nothing to do with the hogs, does it?” Since Daddy had died, Dewey wouldn’t go around the pigs. They scared him–especially Beulah.
“I don’t think so.” I turned away, and stepping long and quick, was back to the house before he was halfway there.
I rushed up the steps and opened the kitchen door. The bitter-green odor of the boiled poke we’d had for supper hit me in the face. My stomach flip-flopped.
“Get on in here, Clara,” Mama said.
I stepped over the doorjamb, then started pulling the door closed behind me.
“Leave it open and go sit with your sister.”
Mama stood to the side of the doorway, her broad shoulders squared and her hands clasped behind her back. Braced apart, her size-fourteen, black, lace-up boots poked out from beneath the hem of her gray dress. She looked as thick and solid as the cinderblock walls of the church house.
Sissy no longer crouched under the table; she now sat in a chair with her clasped hands resting on the top. I slid onto a chair beside her. She didn’t even glance my way. Her round, blue eyes stared straight ahead.
Dewey clomped up the steps. “You wanted to see me, Miz Lizzy?” His eyes darted over to me and Sissy and widened a bit.
His eyes moved back to Mama, and got even bigger. He threw up his hands. “Wha–”
The fireplace poker in Mama’s raised hand whooshed down and connected with the side of Dewey’s head, laying open a gash above his ear. Blood sprouted. She swung again, hitting him on the temple. Dewey collapsed.
I came up out of my chair and stumbled around the table. The poker came down on Dewey’s head. Blood speckled my legs. Down again, and I heard a wet crunch. “Mama, stop!”
She turned to me. Rage had turned her face strawberry red; Dewey’s blood added the dots. She raised the poker high. “Stand back, Clara.”
I shrank back against the kitchen table. My belly rolled and a sour taste filled my mouth, but I swallowed hard and clamped my jaws tight. Mama’d hit me for sure if I puked on the floor.
Dewey whimpered. Mama’s eyes snapped back to his twitching body. Down came the poker. Another crunch. And again. Dewey stopped moaning. He stopped moving. But Mama kept on hitting, slamming the poker into his face over and over until there wasn’t no face left, just a big blob of bloody meat and hair and splintered bones.
Finally, Mama ran out of steam. Her swings slowed and lost their power, then stopped altogether. Her breath whooshing in and out like a fast-moving train, she braced the fireplace poker against the red-spattered floor and leaned heavily upon it. “Bring me…” Gasp. “A wet washrag…” Gasp. “Clara.”
I tore around the table and grabbed a dingy cloth from the stack laying on top of the cabinet that rested against the back wall underneath the painting of Jesus. I rushed to the sink and held it under the faucet, my other hand working the pump handle. Cold water gushed over the rag and my trembling hand. Holding the dripping cloth at arm’s length, I lurched back across the room.
The poker clattered to the floor. Mama took the wet rag and covered her face.
My eyes crawled down to Dewey’s body. His dead body. No doubt about it. A person couldn’t live with a head as squashed up as Dewey’s was.
And Mama had done it.
Blood smeared fingers wrapped around my wrist. I squealed and tried to pull away, but they gripped even tighter. Another hand came at me in a blur and clapped the side of my head. My ear exploded in pain.
“For heaven’s sake, Clara, stop this foolishness.” A high-pitched ringing almost drowned out her words.
I sucked in a ragged breath, and held it inside along with the screams that were crowding up my throat. Mama had that mean look on her face, and if I didn’t shut up she might pick the poker back up and make my face a pulpy mess.
“Now then…we’ve got work to do, gals.”
For the first time since Mama had started swinging the poker, I thought about Sissy. Dear Lord above, my little sister had seen…this…what Mama’d done. Before I even turned around, I had no doubt my sister would still be sitting where Mama’d told her to. And she was, her eyes staring straight ahead out of a face as empty as a hazy, summer sky.
“Go fetch the handsaw, Clara.”
And though I didn’t want to leave Sissy alone with Mama, I ran as fast as my wobbly legs would take me out to the barn. I jerked the shiny metal saw off the wall where it hung from a big nail, and hurried back to the house.
Mama took the saw from my hand. “Reckon we’ll need the washtub.”
“Yes, Mama.” In seconds, I’d pulled the round, metal tub we bathed in from underneath the sink and placed it on the floor beside her.
Mama’s eyes moved over my head, fastened on Sissy, and narrowed. I knew that look. And it didn’t spell nothing good for my sister.
“Anything else, Mama?” I asked. “Whatever you need, just tell me. I’ll do anything.”
Her gaze settled on my face. Her lips stretched. At first, her strange expression confused me, but then I realized she was smiling. “You’ve always been the steady one, Clara, not like your sister who goes into a tizzy at the drop of a hat. You’re strong, like me. I reckon the two of us can take care of this mess.”
I didn’t think I was nothing like Mama, but I didn’t tell her that. I just kind of nodded my head, thankful she was leaving Sissy out of it.
The rest of the day was a blur of sounds and smells and images. The grinding of metal teeth against bone; the sharp odor of blood and the goaty stink of flesh; images of a tub mounded with cut-up body parts; a wood floor slick with gore. And when darkness fell, Mama and me toting the heavy tub to the pigsty and dumping its contents over the fence. And Beulah’s excited squeals. And a night on my hands and knees scrubbing and scrubbing the tacky, dark-stained wood where Dewey Small had died.
And Sissy, sitting in a puddle of her own pee while Mama and I cleaned.
To be continued…