Tomboyâ€™s Christmas Present
Mama liked to say that her yungins were
born with the Lordâ€™s birthmark.Â Tomboyâ€™s was just
harder to see.Â â€œMore like the mark oâ€™ Cain,â€ we laughed.
But not to Mama.Â Sheâ€™d a tanned our hides,
like when she caught us practicinâ€™ our cuss words,
or sneakinâ€™ a chew. Daddy knew the stars and weather,
and Mama–well, she ruled the earth.
She had a fly-paper mind; and a will like stone.
Daddy said, â€œif yore Mama ever run head-long into
a freight train, I swear that train ud just derail.â€
Last Christmas, Tomboy skinned Pintoâ€™s cat, Moses.
Served it up to â€™im in Mamaâ€™s wash tub, like a present.
I squalled all day and Pinto threw up and took to his bed.
When Pinto finally got up, Mama said Pinto would now be
called by his Christian name of Paul. Yâ€™all best not forget it.
Christmas, like Moses, just laid there dead and froze.
Tomboyâ€™s New Game
Tomboy kept his hat low over his eyes,
and never looked at you, â€™cept when you
looked off. Then you shivered like
somebodyâ€™s a walkinâ€™ on yore grave.
Daddyâ€™s green eyes studied the clouds
and the first drip of a slow, icy rain.
He said, â€œNo, Shurâ€™ff, we ainâ€™t seen Tomboy
since Fridey.Â Heâ€™s likely drunk in town.
â€œI â€™spect that revenuerâ€™ll turn up directly.
Them G Men got noses like bloodhounds.
If Canebreak Bottom let â€™im down, he likely
follered his scent clear to Hatchie River.â€
Molasses kicked and neighed from the stable and
my on-easy feeling churned again. Tomboy had
three games: drinkin, huntin, and fightin.
We uz all thinkinâ€™, what we dare not be sayin.
Since the law was trollinâ€™ for Tomboy, the grief was on
Mama like a flock oâ€™ buzzards. She just rocked and stared
at some big black nothinâ€™. When Mama went dark, Paul went
darker. Always was like that. We heard Daddy tell
Grand Jobe that â€œManna canâ€™t weather no trial.Â Everbody knows
Tomboy done kilt that revenuer. . that shame â€™ud break her mind.â€
Tomboy kept skulkinâ€™ from the smoke house, to the loft, rounâ€™ the bottom,
just slinkin with the snakes, we said. But just like our regâ€™lar dose
oâ€™ castor oil, when me anâ€™ Paul come up from the holler with
toad-stools, or blackberries, or arrow-heads, thereâ€™s his ugly face,
lobbinâ€™ rocks at us, till weâ€™d fling our loot, and skedaddle.
But that day, Paul said kind oâ€™ quiet like, â€œleave the toads with me,
Bea. Go pull us some sweet gum.â€ He lit out like a Easter egg hunt
anâ€™ come back with a passel. I plucked one and fingered the stem.
â€œPaul, you know what Mama says â€™bout feelinâ€™:Â If sheâ€™s got a
flower ring round the stalk, that cupâ€™s a poison. You got to go
by the feelinâ€™; the seeinâ€™ can lie to ya. You throw Â¢em on back, now.â€
But Paul just grinned and bolted. â€œWe best be gittinâ€™ on home.
Mamaâ€™ll have supper.â€Â My gut plucked a on-easy chord.
Roundinâ€™ the bend, we cussed at the sting of our brotherâ€™s stones.
Daddyâ€™s eyes changed colors with his feelings.
Twinkle blue when he laughed–
gray, like steel when he was mad.
But if he was sad, or sick, or scared,
they ebbed a lonely sea-green,
like he was looking inside at the pain.
The old Moon held her nose as the stink
oâ€™ trouble smoked through Alcorn county.
Sure â€™nough, when the doctors cut open Tomboyâ€™s
belly, it was eat up with what they called death mold.
We just called â€™em toad-stools. Them flowerinâ€™ sponges
ambled all over Canebreak Bottom, â€™long-side their tasty,
harmless cousins. As the tide dried from his aqua gaze,
Daddy quivered, â€œif you lose a tooth, it leaves
a gapinâ€™ hole in yore mouthâ€“-just black, sore space.
Anâ€™ it donâ€™t count a damn how bad the tooth was.â€