AN Accidental Education PART 3

I liked Larry. He was kind of quiet, shy I guess. At 17 he was a few years older than me. I was envious he’d had proper schooling. He used to tell me about all sorts of things, countries I’d never heard of, animals I’d never seen.

I was ok with numbers and I loved Marnie’s old books, but there were a million things I didn’t know, despite home lessons.

        He came over regular when we were kids.  Used to come with his pa, when he worked a couple of summers helping Seth out, and we were buddies. Every summer, as soon as school ended, Larry would head on up here. We always found something to do together; one year he even tried to teach me how to get a tune out of his guitar. We spent whole days down at the lake, lazing in the sun or swimming off Marnie’s cookies and lemonade, but when I asked him when he wanted to go this year he went kind of quiet. Something had changed. He said that he would maybe go out on the horses one day, but not swimming. Gone off swimming and besides, he had so much work to do if he were to go to the college of his choice. I didn’t even know he wanted to go on to study. I just thought he’d work his pa’s farm like all the men in his family before him. I asked him once or twice about the riding, but he always had a reason why he couldn’t. Perhaps he didn’t like me anymore.

 

        I sat for a while wondering when I’d ever been so unhappy. Reckoned it was when I first came to the farm.

 

 I’d only met Marnie once or twice and Seth was a stranger to me. It took a while to settle. I don’t think they didn’t like kids, not like Miz Clara Jones, but they weren’t used to them, probably never even considered having any.

  I followed Seth around wanting to help.  When I offered, he just hiked his pants higher, grunted and walked away from me. Sometimes he had to let me, like when his big old hands were too clumsy for undoing knots and things. Now and then he would say a few words, but it seemed like he was uneasy with me around him, ’specially if Marnie was there. 

Marnie didn’t want me in the house either.  Said I just got in the way. I thought the real reason was she didn’t like me.  But I couldn’t understand why my pa didn’t come for me. Seth said to ask Marnie when I tried talking to him and Marnie’s face just got all weird when I tried her. After a while she told me that Pa had gone to heaven to be with Ma, but that didn’t make sense. Pa told me that Ma died because she was proper ill. She was a star now, up in the sky. He used to point her out to me when he put me to bed.

“See that one there Sissy,” he said, “the one that’s way brighter than all the others put together? That’s your Ma watching over you.”

So Pa couldn’t have gone to be a star ’cause he wasn’t ill and besides, I’d seen him drive off in our old roadster. Leastways, that’s how I used to think.

Now I know he and his car were flattened by a truck. Trucker died as well, but nobody ever really found out how it happened. They thought he maybe had a passenger because, along with a six pack of Coors and a bottle of bourbon, they found a pair of red lace panties. Who ever it was wasn’t around when the cops got there, never came forward either.

After a spell Seth and Marnie thawed and now I love them with all my heart. But the person I like most in the world is Red even though I’ve only known her since summer began.

 She used to stand near the old tree smoking a cigarette.  Scarlet nails slashed the air as she lifted it to her mouth. I was spellbound.  As she exhaled, she threw back her head, then turned and walked around the corner of the house, her long, auburn curls jiggling behind her.

I wasn’t the only one fascinated by her. I remember Seth, half hidden in the barn’s shaded doorway, suddenly draw deeper back into the shadows, as though aware of Marnie watching him, as he stared after Red.

 

“I’ll help fetch the cake, Marnie,” I offered.

“Ain’t you done enough already,” was all she said.

 

 Red

 The kid was right; I was the most beautiful thing Seth had ever seen – never took his eyes off me since the day me and Cody drove up. Marnie met us with a shot gun, some welcome. Wouldn’t let Sissy talk to us right off, doesn’t like it much when she does now. The kid sort of bores me, but I feel kind of sorry for her. Never known anything but this farm, or ever likely to, but more than anything I plain loved riling Marnie. 

 

I felt them all closing against me, all those small town people talking about small town things: church meetings, sewing circles, book clubs and the price of the latest fabrics Miss Ellie had gotten in. All I could think about was leaving them behind, I was only sorry that I wouldn’t see their dumb faces when we’d gone.

 

Country women; didn’t they ever want more from their lives than toil and men who were too tired to treat ’em right? They made me want to puke. Treating me like this purely because they couldn’t keep their husbands in line around me. Some of them, that Beulah, and Willie Lang’s wife, Norma, could be pretty too if they ever stopped scowling. I know plenty of girls prettier than me, but guys wouldn’t look twice at them if I was in the room. Can’t tell you why, but it’s sure as hell true.

Howie, the only man I ever married, reckoned it was a sort of ‘intuition’ I had. I truly have no idea, but I know I was a quick learner.

I started with my daddy. Ma had died when Jeanie my youngest sister was born, I was the eldest of four and we ran around after him while he sat on his lardy ass popping beer cans. I learned that if I could please him, my chores were dished out to the others.

“C’mon sit on daddy’s knee,” he said. “Daddy’s powerful hot.”

I sat there hours watching the others do their chores. I pleased him so much by sitting on his fat, oily lap that I never did anything around the house again.

I was ’bout twelve the first time my daddy came to my bed. I wasn’t scared. I knew that he’d end up there. I lay back and watched him like it wasn’t happening to me. Girls told me it would hurt first time, but what did they know? Some of them were even dumb enough to get knocked up. Truth told? It was no hardship; I needed to learn if ever I was to escape that dump.

Howie Klugman was my ticket out. Course, at first, things were different with Howie; he wasn’t oily, fat or old. Howie was a virgin when I met him and I saw straight off I frightened him to death. He looked at me as though I was a big, old devil-food cake and he was a hog on a diet. One piece of me and he was desperate for more. He even went against his parents to marry me. How they stood in church and smiled without their faces cracking in two, I’ll never know.

The loving didn’t last long. What he couldn’t get enough of in the beginning, he denied himself in the end. His hell-fire and brimstone parents coming out in him or maybe he finally figured where babies come from.

 He took to doing a ‘decency’ test on me before we went out.

 “You going out in that?” he said. It wasn’t a question.

 I got smarter. I went and chose something with a lower neckline, or something shorter or tighter. He soon learnt.

I think I loved Howie at first. Leastways I had two kids to him, ended up with me so hog-tied I could barely leave a room without wanting to know where I was going. Seemed I couldn’t go pee without permission.

 I remember when he signed me up for some dumb beauty pageant. I did it. It got me away from him. Naturally I won, but you should have seen him near bursting with pride. You’d think he was the one who jiggled his half-dressed ass to take the crown, all the congratulations he accepted.

He was real pleased with me though; let me to go to the store alone. No whining kids, no Howie’s watchful eye. I didn’t take the autobus; I walked. In fact after someone who’d known me as Betty-Jo all my life called, Hey, Mrs. Howie, at me I kept on walking. I walked past the store, past the library, past the funeral parlor, past the dime store and was almost past the truck-stop when someone whistled. Course, I kept right on walking. If I stopped every time someone whistled at me, I’d surely get nowhere at all.

“Hey! Pretty lady, what’s your name?” Someone wanting to know my name. It felt good. I’d been Mrs. Howie Klugman, the mother of the Klugman girls, Emily Klugman’s daughter-in-law for so long I’d forgotten I was me.

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