Not far enough into the background, the rooster crows but that’s not the jarring sound that helps me cross over into wakefulness.
Get up, you lazy piece….
I pull the pillow over my head to drown out the rest. I know what’s coming. First, she will curse me and then she’ll launch into a tirade that starts with prodding me but always ends with invoking my father, whoever he is.
Dear, sweet, Ma.
It is time to get up though. The sun hasn’t yet made it to the slant of the barely-open burgundy-painted louver window but if I’m going to tie out the goats and move the cow and clean out the chicken coop and make it to school on time, I need to start now – twenty minutes ago, if I have to go get water too.
Last night, before Ma and I settled in to watch Dynasty, I took a shower, the water cold but refreshing because it wasn’t being scooped up out of a bucket. That was last night. This morning, there is no guarantee that when I go to pee, that I’ll be able to flush the toilet without first pouring a half a bucketful of water into the bowl. Mostly, I don’t bother to check the tap first and just make my way to the bushes in the backyard instead.
The standpipe isn’t that far away. We’re one of the closest houses to it so I can’t complain but I still have to plan to go there to fill a couple of buckets for Ma to cook, for the toilet and to water the animals, well the goats and the chickens anyway. I could never carry enough water for the cow, but there is a little stream we pass by that gives her plenty to drink.
Life won’t always be like this, I remind myself, pushing the covers off me. It’s hard now, because this is the life I’m born into, my life because of Ma’s choices. I won’t blame her but it won’t always be like this. I tell myself this every day. It makes things easier. One day, I’ll write my story down and people will marvel that this was my life.
My toes curl when I step on the floor and just like that, the pain that sleep dulled, shoots back to my brain. There is the sensation of the world not being flat under my feet, followed the realization that it’s my feet that aren’t flat on the floor. The piece of flour cloth that Ma tied on my big toe, the white scandal bag that I stretched apart and wrapped over the bandage so it wouldn’t get wet in last night’s shower, all of that means that my toe is one big, painful lump.
I pull on the pants I had on yesterday and drag the covers over the mattress. The end falls lopsidedly but it’s enough for her not to complain so I leave it like that.
Almost as if I conjure her up, the curtain pulls apart and Ma’s shape fills the doorway, Great is thy faithfulness being hummed just under her breath. The substitute Good morning. I squeeze past her and into the kitchen.
The big white pail – the one we got from Mass Mackie’s shop that used to hold salt mackerels so when we bought it, we washed it out with bleach and kept it turned up in the sun for a week until the salty, fishy smell was gone – is empty and sitting by the back door so I don’t have to turn the tap on to check. Outside, I slip my feet into one of the broken-backed shoes that are really just pieces of faux leather that I move around with me. My sore toe doesn’t get to the front of the shoe; the crude bandage ensures I am only able to stick half my foot inside. But it’ll work.
The hibiscus flowers aren’t fully open but I inspect them with a botanist’s interest while I empty myself in the shrub hedge, jumping a little when a lizard darts away from the splash.
Behind me, Ma is back in the kitchen, taking pots out of the cupboard and singing. It’s the same song she sings every morning, or at least the chorus that she chants over and over while she cooks… morning by morning, new mercies I see…
I change the words almost as often.
…morning by morning, the standpipe I see…
I repeat the new refrain in my head, even singing it out loud as I push the wooden gate behind me and take my remixed song onto the streets, far enough that Ma won’t hear me and box my ears for what she would call sacrilege.
I’m still chuckling when I get to the corner. And see her.
White squall lines my mouth corners, there’s sleep in my eyes and a goofy grin on my face that’s probably unnatural for it barely being six in the morning. And I don’t know who she is or where she came from but I quickly change the lines of the song back to the original because she looks like divine mercy to me.
Copyright (C) 2017 by Karen Wright
The above is an excerpt from an ongoing creative writing project which will probably be heavily edited in the future. Please do not copy or otherwise share this content.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.