Second bit…if there’s anyone out there?

“Seth…Seth, Clancy’s coming!”

He never moved. With one hand I picked up a platter of pan-fried chicken and with the other, a tub of warm potato salad. I crossed the yard, but he never noticed until I banged them down in front of them. Red heard me coming though, something in the way she quickly sat up and said,

“Want some help, Marnie?”

“I’ll manage,” I said as I turned away. I sensed, rather than saw, Seth following me.

“How many coming?” he asked.

“Can’t say,” I replied.

“Reckon it’ll be a least…” he started.

“I’m busy.” I saved him the trouble of finishing. Some habits take a while to die.

He went outside and stood in the yard waiting for Clancy and the folks he was bringing. I looked through the window and saw Red make to move toward Seth.

Carrying two more platters, I pushed past them in the yard. He looked at me and then quickly away, but not before I’d seen him roll his sneaky eyes heavenwards, and make darn sure Red saw it, too.

The flat-bed pulled in by the barn and parked up next to Cody’s VW. Men helped their wives down from the back, laughing as full skirts flew in the air. From the cab, Clancy, his wife and son appeared.

“Right pleased to be here, Marnie. been looking forward to it. Nice of you all to have us over,” Clancy said.

I smiled in their direction and, yelling for Sissy, went back in for more of the food. In truth, I’d been looking forward to it as well, but Red ruined it. We celebrated every year at harvest end, took turns as hosts, this year was our turn; wouldn’t have been neighbourly to cancel just because Seth and I had problems. Sissy came and stood in front of me.

“Marnie, how do I look?” She asked, excited as I’d ever seen her.

“Just fine, Sissy, just fine.” And she did. Sissy had grown into a woman without me noticing. Her dress, made from a length of cotton I’d gotten from Miss Ellie’s store in town, suited her. The cloth had been bought for bed sheets, but Seth would have been forever pulling threads with his callused hands. Lord only knows what damage his feet would have done. It was sprigged with tiny violet flowers which brought out the deep blue of her eyes; the wide belt she wore showed off her small waist and young, high breasts. Sissy was no child anymore. “Pretty as a picture.”

“Reckon I’ll ever be as pretty as Red?”

“Here,” I said, “take these corn fritters. Now, while they’re hot. Don’t idle, come straight back for more.” But I knew sooner or later I’d have to go and join the others.

“You look real good too, Marnie! Different.” she called over her shoulder as she went.       

 

Big space here, but continues below…problem with formatting… oops .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sissy

 

I put the fritters down in front of our folks. Mostly they were talking, the men about market prices, and the women catching up on gossip. Larry, Clancy’s son, sat a little apart, at the foot of the tree, strumming his guitar and singing softly. I felt his eyes on me as I listened to his music.

“Hey, Red!” I twirled in front of her to show off my dress loving the gentle swishing sound the net petticoat made against my bare legs as I moved. I’d never had a petticoat before, never had a dress just for me either. Mine were usually cut down from old ones that Marnie never had cause to wear any more.

      “Go, Sissy!” Red stood and clapped as I came to a stop.

 

      She was the most interesting person I’d ever met. Red dazzled me. She had done since the day I first saw the old VW camper pull on our land. I was so excited, couldn’t wait to hear all there was to tell about her

 I discovered she’d married at 16, the year before she won her local beauty pageant and had her first kid.  Another one followed very quickly, but by then Red decided being a small town matron wasn’t for her.  One day, out the blue, she hitched a lift at the truck-stop on a rig making for Texas.  Walked away from her babies, just like that.

       ‘So take a lesson, kid,’ she told me. ‘Build some memories before you settle for what’s waiting for you.  That pretty gold band on your finger just keeps on getting tighter and tighter the longer you wear it, till you plain can’t breathe!’

       ‘Is Cody the trucker you got a ride with?’  I asked.

       ‘Hell no!’ she laughed.  ‘I was sick as hell of that one after 72 hours.  Cody, I met just when I needed him.  He’s the one who christened me Red; kind of suits me wouldn’t you say?  Better than Betty-Jo ever did!’

 

She came towards me and took me by the hands.

“Hey, kid!” she called to Larry. “Play something me and this girl can really move to!”

Larry upped the tempo. She grabbed hold of me and started dancing. I was pushed and pulled from one end of the yard to the other until I was breathless. Folks were laughing and encouraging us, but one by they fell silent. Red stopped dancing so suddenly that I fell over. I don’t know how long Marnie had been watching us.

“Marnie,” I said, “I was just…”

She cut me off, “You’ve done torn your new dress, Sissy.”

We watched in silence as she made her way back to the kitchen. Talk picked up again, but this time it was Red who sat a little apart. I couldn’t see Marnie, but felt her keen eyes on us as we chatted.

“You sure are all grown up now, Sissy,” Larry’s ma, Beulah, said.

I suppose I was. It was a long time since I’d landed up here with Seth and Marnie.

“Got you a real heart-breaker there, Seth,” Red said. I could feel my face heating up.

“Never be as pretty as you!” I blurted. Everybody became very still. They stared. First at me and then at Red, as though they were seeing her for the first time. “Well, it’s true! Ain’t she just beautiful, Seth?”

“Sissy,” he warned, but I paid no heed. Folks turned from Red, to Seth and back to me.

“You said so, Seth, I heard you. In the camper,” I continued. “Red asked if she was pretty and you said she was the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen!”

Still no one spoke. I looked from face to face in confusion. No one except Red met my eye. I think she was smiling though it was hard to tell.

“Sit down Sissy and let Marnie put the pitcher on the table,” Larry’s ma said.

I wished Marnie wore a bell round her neck. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do right for wrong.

“Marnie, I’ll make space,” said Clancy, pushing the heaped platters around the table, “Seth, take this pitcher and pour your good lady a drink.”

Seth did as he was told.

“Thank you Clancy,” Marnie said, her face tight as her voice.

“Where’s Cody?” I asked.

“Expect you’ll be sorry to lose that boy, Seth?” Kenny Jones said.

“Been a good hand around the place,” Seth answered.

“Still, be nice to get back to normal,” said Clara Hart, the school teacher, darting a quick look at Red. Red told me one time that Miz Hart hated everybody under thirty years old, for the life of her she couldn’t think why some dried-up old spinster wanted to spend her life around a bunch of kids. Then Marnie said people who didn’t like children didn’t give their life to teaching them, but Red still reckons Clara Hart is the exception that proves the rule.

“I’ll be sorry to see them both go,” I chipped in. Sometimes I think I just like the sound of my own voice.

“Sissy, go knock on the trailer. See if Cody has fallen asleep,” Marnie said.

When Red told me not to bother, that she’d go, Seth lifted his eyes from the chicken on his plate. Marnie watched him watching Red walk away from the table. I watched them both. I wished I knew what in the world was going on.

“It’s the longest time since we all ate together, ain’t it, Marnie?” I said.

“Well, child, once a year is about as much of us these good folk can stand.”

There was laughter around the table, but I still couldn’t hold my stupid mouth.

“No, I mean since you ate with us. Seth, Red, Cody and…”

“Don’t embarrass your aunt, Sissy. She’s just been…on a diet…” Seth’s voice trailed away. People exchanged puzzled looks. Marnie? On a diet?

“If everyone’s finished with these, I’ll make some space for the angel-food cake,” said Marnie smiling, but only with her mouth. “Be time for you folks to go soon and you’re not leaving before you’ve had a taste of my cake.”

“I’m so darn tired these days I run out of energy before I run out of evening, but I’ll stay awake for your cake,” Clancy helped Marnie out, “I only get Betty Crocker’s at home.” Beulah swatted Clancy with her napkin. Larry laughed so hard he spat lemonade all down his Sunday shirt.

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