My father was a fox farmer. That
is, he raised silver foxes, in pens; and in the fall and early winter,
when their fur was prime, he killed them and skinned them and sold their
pelts to the Hudson's Bay Company or the Montreal Fur Traders. These companies
supplied us with heroic calendars to hang, one on each side of the kitchen
door. Against a background of cold blue sky and black pine forests and
treacherous northern rivers, plumed adventures planted the flags of England
and or of France; magnificent savages bent their backs to the portage.
For several weeks before Christmas,
my father worked after supper in the cellar of our house. the cellar was
whitewashed , and lit by a hundred-watt bulb over the worktable. My brother
Laird and I sat on the top step and watched. My father removed the pelt
inside-out from the body of the fox, which looked surprisingly small, mean,
and rat-like, deprived of its arrogant weight of fur. The naked, slippery
bodies were collected in a sack and buried in the dump. One time the hired
man, Henry Bailey, had taken a swipe at me with this sack, saying, "Christmas
present!" My mother thought that was not funny. In fact she disliked the
whole pelting operation--that was what the killing, skinning, and preparation
of the furs was called – and wished it did not have to take place in the
house. There was the smell. After the pelt had been stretched inside-out
on a long board my father scraped away delicately, removing the little
clotted webs of blood vessels, the bubbles of fat; the smell of blood and
animal fat, which the strong primitive odor of the fox itself, penetrated
all parts of the house. I found it reassuringly seasonal, like the smell
of oranges and pine needles.
Henry Bailey suffered from
bronchial troubles. He would cough and cough until his narrow face turned
scarlet, and his light blue, derisive eyes filled up with tears; then he
took the lid off the stove, and, standing well back, shot out a great clot
of phlegm – hss – straight into the heart of the flames. We admired his
for this performance and for his ability to make his stomach growl at will,
and for his laughter, which was full of high whistlings and gurglings and
involved the whole faulty machinery of his chest. It was sometimes hard
to tell what he was laughing at, and always possible that it might be us.
After we had sent to be we
could still smell fox and still hear Henry's laugh, but these things reminders
of the warm, safe, brightly lit downstairs world, seemed lost and diminished,
floating on the stale cold air upstairs. We were afraid at nigh in the
winter. We were not afraid of outside though this was the time of year
when snowdrifts curled around our house like sleeping whales and the wind
harassed us all night, coming up from the buried fields, the frozen swamp,
with its old bugbear chorus of threats and misery. We were afraid of inside,
the room where we slept. At this time upstairs of our house was not finished.
A brick chimney went up on wall. In the middle of the floor was a square
hole, with a wooden railing around it; that was where the stairs came up.
On the other side of the stairwell wee the things that nobody had any use
for anymore – a soldiery roll of linoleum, standing on end, a wicker bay
carriage, a fern basket, china jugs and basins with cracks in them, a picture
of the Battle of Balaclava, very sad to look at. I had told Laird, as soon
as he was old enough to understand such things, that bats and skeletons
lived over there; whenever a man escaped from the county jail, twenty miles
away, I imagined that he had somehow let himself in the window and was
hiding behind the linoleum. But we had rules to keep us safe. When the
light was on, we were safe as long as we did not step off the square of
worn carpet which defined our bedroom-space; when the light was off no
place was safe but the beds themselves. I had to turn out the light kneeling
on the end of my bed, and stretching as far as I could to reach the cord.
In the dark we lay on
our beds, our narrow life rafts, and fixed our eyes on the faint light
coming up the stairwell, and sang songs. Laird sang "Jingle Bells", which
he would sing any time, whether it was Christmas or not, and I sang "Danny
Boy". I loved the sound of my own voice, frail and supplicating, rising
in the dark. We could make out the tall frosted shapes of the windows now,
gloomy and white. When I came to the part, y the cold sheets but by pleasurable
emotions almost silenced me. You'll kneel and say an Ave there above me
—What was an Ave? Every day I forgot to find out.
Laird went straight from singing to sleep, I
could hear his long, satisfied, bubbly breaths. Now for the time that remained
to me, the most perfectly private and perhaps the best time of the whole
day, I arranged myself tightly under the covers and went on with one of
the stories I was telling myself from night to night. These stories were
about myself, when I had grown a little older; they took place in a world
that was recognizably mine, yet one that presented opportunities for courage,
boldness, and self-sacrifice, as mine never did. I rescued people from
a bombed building (it discouraged me that the real war had gone on so far
away from Jubilee). I shot two rabid wolves who were menacing the schoolyard
(the teachers cowered terrified at my back). Rode a fine horse spiritedly
down the main street of Jubilee, acknowledging the townspeople’s gratitude
for some yet-to-be-worked-out piece of heroism (nobody ever rode a horse
there, except King Billy in the Orangemen’s Day parade). There was
always riding and shooting in these stories, though I had only been on
a horse twice — the first because we did not own a saddle — and the second
time I had slid right around and dropped under the horse's feet; it had
stepped placidly over me. I really was learning to shoot, but could not
hit anything yet, not even tin cans on fence posts.
Alive, the foxes inhabited
a world my father made for them. It was surrounded by a high guard fence,
like a medieval town, with a gate that was padlocked at night. Along the
streets of this town were ranged large, sturdy pens. Each of them had a
real door that a man could go through, a wooden ramp along the wire, for
the foxes to run up and down on, and a kennel — sometimes like a clothes
chest with airholes — where they slept where they slept and stayed in winter
and had their young. There were feeding and watering dishes attached to
the wire in such a way that they could be emptied and cleaned from the
outside. The dishes were made of old tin cans, and the ramps and kennels
of odds and ends of old lumber. Everything was tidy and ingenious; my father
was tirelessly inventive and his favorite book in the world was Robinson
Crusoe. He had fitted a tin drum on a wheelbarrow, for bringing water down
to the pens. This was my job in the summer, when the foxes had to have
water twice a day. Between nine and ten o'clock in the morning, and again
after supper. I filled the drum at the pump and trundled it down through
the barnyard to the pens, where I parked it, and filled my watering can
and went along the streets. Laird came too, with his little cream and green
gardening can, filled too full and knocking against his legs and slopping
water on his canvas shoes. I had the real watering can, my father's, though
I could only carry it three-quarters full.
The foxes all had names, which
were printed on a tin plate and hung beside their doors. They were not
named when they were born, but when they survived the first year’s pelting
and were added to the breeding stock. Those my father had named were called
names like Prince, Bob, Wally, and Betty. Those I had named were called
Star or Turk, or Maureen or Diana. Laird named one Maude after a hired
girl we had when he was little, one Harold after a boy at school, and one
Mexico, he did not say why.
Naming them did not make pets
out of them, or anything like it. Nobody but my father ever went into the
pens, and he had twice had blood-poisoning from bites. When I was bringing
them their water they prowled up and down on the paths they had made inside
their pens, barking seldom — they saved that for nighttime, when they might
get up a chorus of community frenzy--but always watching me, their eyes
burning, clear gold, in their pointed, malevolent faces. They were beautiful
for their delicate legs and heavy, aristocratic tails and the bright fur
sprinkled on dark down their back — which gave them their name — but especially
for their faces, drawn exquisitely sharp in pure hostility, and their golden
Besides carrying water I helped
my father when he cut the long grass, and the lamb's quarter and flowering
money-musk, that grew between the pens. He cut with they scythe and I raked
into piles. Then he took a pitchfork and threw fresh-cut grass all over
the top of the pens to keep the foxes cooler and shade their coats, which
were browned by too much sun. My father did not talk to me unless it was
about the job we were doing. In this he was quite different from my mother,
who, if she was feeling cheerful, would tell me all sorts of things – the
name of a dog she had had when she was a little girl, the names of boys
she had gone out with later on when she was grown up, and what certain
dresses of hers had looked like – she could not imagine now what had become
of them. Whatever thoughts and stories my father had were private, and
I was shy of him and would never ask him questions. Nevertheless I worked
willingly under his eyes, and with a feeling of pride. One time a feed
salesman came down into the pens to talk to him and my father said, "Like
to have you meet my new hired hand." I turned away and raked furiously,
red in the face with pleasure.
"Could of fooled me." said
the salesman. "I thought it was only a girl."
After the grass was cut, it
seemed suddenly much later in the year. I walked on stubble in the earlier
evening aware of the reddening skies, on entering silence of fall. When
I wheeled the tank out of the gates and put padlocks on. It was almost
dark. One night at this time I saw my mother and father standing talking
on the little rise of ground we called the gangway, in front of the barn.
My father had just come from the meathouse; he had his stiff bloody apron
on, and a pail of cut-up meat in his hand.
It was an odd thing to see
my mother down at the barn. She did not often come out of the house unless
it was to do something – hang out the wash or dig potatoes in the garden.
She looked out of place, with her bare lumpy legs, not touched by the sun,
her apron still on and damp across the stomach from the supper dishes.
Her hair was tied up in a kerchief, wisps of it falling out. She would
tie her hair up like this in the morning, saying she did not have time
to do it properly, and it would stay tied up all day. It was true, too;
she really did not have time. These days our back porch was piled
with baskets of peaches and grapes and pears, bought in town, and onions
an tomatoes and cucumbers grown at home, all waiting to be made into jelly
and jam and preserves, pickles and chili sauce. In the kitchen there was
a fire in the stove all day, jars clinked in boiling water, sometimes a
cheesecloth bag was strung on a pole between two chairs straining blue-back
grape pulp for jelly. I was given jobs to do and I would sit at the table
peeling peaches that had been soaked in hot water, or cutting up onions,
my eyes smarting and streaming. As soon as I was done I ran out of the
house, trying to get out of earshot before my mother thought of what she
wanted me to do next. I hated the hot dark kitchen in summer, the green
blinds and the flypapers, the same old oilcloth table and wavy mirror and
bumpy linoleum. My mother was too tired and preoccupied to talk to me,
she had no heart to tell about the Normal School Graduation Dance; sweat
trickled over her face and she was always counting under breath, pointing
at jars, dumping cups of sugar. It seemed to me that work in the house
was endless, dreary, and peculiarly depressing; work done out of doors,
and in my father's service, was ritualistically important.
I wheeled the tank up tot
he barn, where it was kept, and I heard my mother saying, "Wait till Laird
gets a little bigger, then you'll have a real help."
What my father said I did
not hear. I was pleased by the way he stood listening, politely as he would
to a salesman or a stranger, but with an air of wanting to get on
with his real work. I felt my mother had no business down here and I wanted
him to feel the same way. What did she mean about Laird? He was no help
to anybody. Where was he now? Swinging himself sick on the swing, going
around in circles, or trying to catch caterpillars. He never once stayed
with me till I was finished.
"And then I can use her more
in the house," I heard my mother say. She had a dead-quiet regretful way
of talking about me that always made me uneasy. "I just get my back turned
and she runs off. It's not like I had a girl in the family at all."
I went and sat on a feed bag
in the corner of the barn, not wanting to appear when this conversation
was going on. My mother, I felt, was not to be trusted. She was kinder
than my father and more easily fooled, but you could not depend on her,
and the real reasons for the things she said and did were not to be known.
She loved me, and she sat up late at night making a dress of the difficult
style I wanted, for me to wear when school started, but she was also my
enemy. She was always plotting. She was plotting now to get me to stay
in the house more, although she knew I hated it (because she knew I hated
it) and keep me from working for my father. It seemed to me she would do
this simply out of perversity, and to try her power. It did not occur to
me that she could be lonely, or jealous. No grown-up could be; they were
too fortunate. I sat and kicked my heels monotonously against a feed bag,
raising dust, and did not come out till she was gone.
At any rate, I did not expect
my father to pay any attention to what she said. Who could imagine Laird
doing my work – Laird remembering the padlock and cleaning out the watering
dishes with a leaf on the end of a stick, or even wheeling the tank without
it tumbling over? It showed how little my mother knew about the way things
I had forgotten to say what
the foxes were fed. My father's bloody apron reminded me. They were fed
horsemeat. At this time most farmers still kept horses, and when a horse
got too old to work, or broke a leg or got down and would not get up, as
they sometimes did , the owner would call my father, and he and Henry went
out to the farm in the truck. Usually they shot and butchered the horse
there, paying the farmer from five to twelve dollars. If they had already
too much meat on hand, they would bring the horse back alive, and keep
it for a few days or weeks in our stable, until the meat was needed. After
the war the farmers were buying tractors and gradually getting rid of horses,
that there was just no use for any more. If this happened in the winter
we might keep the horse in our stable till spring, for we had plenty of
hay and if there was a lot of snow – and the plow did not always get our
roads cleared – it was convenient to be able to go to town with a horse
The winter I was eleven years
old we had two horses in the stable. We did not know what names they had
had before, so we called them Mack and Flora. Mack was an old black workhorse,
sooty and indifferent. Flora was a sorrel mare, a driver. We took them
both out in the cutter. Mack was slow and easy to handle. Flora was given
to fits of violent alarm, veering at cars and even at other horses, but
we loved her speed and high-stepping, her general air of gallantry and
abandon. On Saturdays we wen down to the stable and as soon as we opened
the door on its cozy, animal-smelling darkness Flora threw up her head,
rolled here eyes, whinnied despairingly, and pulled herself through a crisis
of nerves on the spot. It was not safe to go into her stall, she would
This winter also I began to
hear a great deal more on the theme my mother had sounded when she had
been talking in front of the barn. I no longer felt safe. It seemed that
in the minds of the people around me there was a steady undercurrent of
thought, not to be deflected, on this one subject. The word girl had formerly
seemed to me innocent and unburdened like the word child; now it appeared
that it was no such thing. A girl was not, as I had supposed, simply what
I was; it was what I had to become. It was a definition, always touched
with emphasis, with reproach and disappointment. Also it was a joke on
me. Once Laird and I were fighting, and for the first time ever I had to
use all my strength against him; even so, he caught and pinned my arm for
a moment, really hurting me. Henry saw this, and laughed, saying, "Oh,
that there Laird’s gonna show you, one of these days!" Laird was getting
a lot bigger. But I was getting bigger too.
My grandmother came to stay
with us for a few weeks and I heard other things. "Girls don't slam doors
like that." "Girls keep their knees together when they sit down." And worse
still, when I asked some questions, "That's none of girls’ business." I
continued to slam the doors and sit as awkwardly as possible, thinking
that by such measures I kept myself free.
When spring came, the horses
were let out in the barnyard. Mack stood against the barn wall trying to
scratch his neck and haunches, but Flora trotted up and down and reared
at the fences, clattering her hooves against the rails. Snow drifts dwindled
quickly, revealing the hard gray and brown earth, the familiar rise and
fall of the ground, plain and bare after the fantastic landscape of winter.
There was a great feeling of opening-out, of release. We just wore rubbers
now, over our shoes; our feet felt ridiculously light. One Saturday we
went out to the stable and found all the doors open, letting in the unaccustomed
sunlight and fresh air. Henry was there, just idling around looking at
his collection of calendars which were tacked up behind the stalls in a
part of the stable my mother probably had never seen.
"Come say goodbye to your
old friend Mack?" Henry said. "Here, you give him a taste of oats." He
poured some oats into Laird’s cupped hands and Laird went to feed Mack.
Mack's teeth were in bad shape. He ate very slowly, patiently shifting
the oats around in his mouth, trying to find a stump of a molar to grind
it on. "Poor old Mack, said Henry mournfully. "When a horse's teethes gone,
he's gone. That's about the way.
"Are you going to shoot him
today?" I said. Mack and Flora had been in the stables so long I had almost
forgotten they were going to be shot.
Henry didn't answer me. Instead
he started to sing in a high, trembly, mocking-sorrowful voice. Oh, there's
no more work, for poor Uncle Ned, he's gone where the good darkies go.
Mack's thick, blackish tongue worked diligently at Laird’s hand. I went
out before the song was ended and sat down on the gangway.
I had never seen
them shot a horse, but I knew where it was done. Last summer Laird and
I had come upon a horse's entrails before they were buried. We had thought
it was a big black snake, coiled up in the sun. That was around in the
field that ran up beside the barn. I thought that if we went inside the
barn, and found a wide crack or a knothole to look through, we would be
able to see them do it. It was not something I wanted to see; just the
same, if a thing really happened it was better to see, and know.
My father came down from the
house, carrying a gun.
"What are you doing here?"
"Go on up and play around
He sent Laird out of the stable.
I said to Laird, "Do you want to see them shoot Mack?" and without waiting
for an answer led him around to the front door of the barn, opened it carefully,
and went in. "Be quiet or they'll hear us," I said. We could hear Henry
and my father talking in the stable; then the heavy shuffling steps of
Mack being backed out of his stall.
In the loft it was cold and
dark. Thin crisscrossed beams of sunlight fell through the cracks. The
hay was low. It was rolling country, hills and hollows, slipping under
our feet. About four feet up was a beam going around the walls, We piled
hay up in one corned and I boosted Laird up and hoisted myself. The beam
was not very wide; we crept along it with our hands flat on the barn walls.
There were plenty of knotholes, and I found one that gave me the view I
wanted – a corner of the barnyard, the gate, part of the field. Laird did
not have a knothole and began to complain.
I showed him a widened crack
between two boards. "Be quiet and wait. If they hear you you'll get us
My father came in sight carrying
the gun. Henry was leading Mack by the halter. He dropped it and took out
his cigarette papers and tobacco; he rolled cigarettes for my father and
himself. While this was going on Mack nosed around in the old, dead grass
along the fence. Then my father opened the gate and they took Mack through.
Henry led Mack away from the path to a patch of ground and they talked
together, not loud enough for us to hear. Mack again began to searching
for a mouthful of fresh grass, which was not found. My father walked away
in a straight line, and stopped short at a distance which seemed to suit
him. Henry was walking away from Mack too, but sideways, still negligently
holding on to the halter. My father raised the gun and Mack looked up as
if he had noticed something and my father shot him.
Mack did not collapse at once
but swayed, lurched sideways, and fell, first on his side; then he rolled
over on his back and, amazingly, kicked his legs for a few seconds in the
air. At this Henry laughed, as if Mack had done a trick for him. Laird,
who had drawn a long, groaning breath of surprise when the shot was fired,
said out loud, "He's not dead." And it seemed to me it might be true. But
his legs stopped, he rolled on his side again, his muscles quivered and
sank. The two men walked over and looked at him in a businesslike way;
they bent down and examined his forehead where the bullet had gone in,
and now I saw his blood on the brown grass.
"Now they just skin him and
cut him up," I said. "Let's go." My legs were a little shaky and I jumped
gratefully down into the hay. "Now you've seen how they shoot a horse,"
I said in a congratulatory way, as if I had seen it many times before.
"Let's see if any barn cats had kittens in the hay." Laird jumped.
He seemed young and obedient again. Suddenly I remembered how, when he
was little, I had brought him into the barn and told him to climb the ladder
to the top beam. That was in the spring, too, when the hay was low. I had
done it out of a need for excitement, a desire for something to happen
so that I could tell about it. He was wearing a little bulky brown and
white checked coat, made down from one of mine. He went all the way up
just as I told him, and sat down from one of the beam with the hay far
below him on one side, and the barn floor and some old machinery on the
other. Then I ran screaming to my father. "Laird’s up on the top beam!"
My father came, my mother came, my father went up the ladder talking very
quietly and brought Laird down under his arm, at which my mother leaned
against the ladder and began to cry. They said to me, "Why weren't you
watching him?" but nobody ever knew the truth. Laird did not know enough
to tell. But whenever I saw the brown and white checked coat hanging in
the closet , or at the bottom of the rag bag, which was where it ended
up, I felt a weight in my stomach, the sadness of unexorcised guilt.
I looked at Laird, who did
not even remember this, and I did not like the look on this thing, winter-paled
face. His expression was not frightened or upset, but remote, concentrating.
"Listen," I said in an unusually bright and friendly voice, "you aren't
going to tell, are you?"
"No," he said absently.
"Promise," he said. I grabbed
the hand behind his back to make sure he was not crossing his fingers.
Even so, he might have a nightmare; it might come out that way. I decided
I had better work hard to get all thoughts of what he had seen out of his
mind – which, it seemed to m, could not hold very many things at a time.
I got some money I had saved and that afternoon we went into Jubilee and
saw a show, with Judy Canova, at which we both laughed a great deal. After
that I thought it would be all right.
Two weeks later I knew they
were going to shoot Flora. I knew from the night before, when I heard my
mother ask if the hay was holding out all right, and my father said, "Well,
after tomorrow there'll just be the cow, and we should be able to put her
out to grass in another week." So I knew it was Flora's turn in the morning.
This time I didn't think of
watching it. That was something to see just one time. I had not thought
about it very often since, but sometimes when I was busy, working at school,
or standing in front of the mirror combing my hair and wondering if I would
be pretty when I grew up, the whole seen would flash into my mind: I would
see the easy, practiced way my father raised the gun, and hear Henry laughing
when Mack kicked his legs in the air. I did not have any great feelings
of horror and opposition, such as a city child might have had; I was too
used to seeing the death of animals as a necessity by which we lived. Yet
I felt a little ashamed, and there was a new wariness, a sense of holding-off,
in my attitude to my father and his work.
It was a fine day, and we
were going around the yard picking up tree branches that had been torn
off in winter storms. This was something we had been told to do, and also
we wanted to use them to make a teepee. We hard Flora whinny, and then
my father's voice and Henry's shouting, and we ran down to the barnyard
to see what was going on.
The stable door was open.
Henry had just brought Flora out, and she had broken away from him. She
was running free in the barnyard, from one end to the other. We climbed
on the fence. It was exciting to see her running, whinnying, going up on
her hind legs, prancing and threatening like a horse in a Western movie,
an unbroken ranch horse, though she was just an old driver, an old sorrel
mare. My father and Henry ran after her and tried to grab the dangling
halter. They tried to work her into a corner, and they had almost succeeded
when she made a run between them, wild-eyed, and disappeared round the
corner of the barn. We heard the rails clatter down as she got over the
fence, and Henry yelled. "She's into the field now!"
That meant she was in the
long L-shaped field that ran up by the house. If she got around the center,
heading towards the lane, the gate was open; the truck had been driven
into the filed this morning. My father shouted to me, because I was on
the other side of the fence, nearest the lane, "Go shut the gate!"
I could run very fast. I ran
across the garden, past the tree where our swing was hung, and jumped across
a ditch into the lane. There was the open gate. She had not got out, I
could not see her up on the road; she must have run to the other end of
the field,. There gate was heavy. I lifted it out of the gravel and carried
it across the roadway. I had it half way across when she came in sight,
galloping straight toward me. There was just time to get the chain on.
Laird came scrambling though the ditch to help me.
Instead of shutting the gate,
I opened it as wide as I could. I did not make any decision to do this,
it was just what I did. Flora never slowed down; she galloped straight
past me, and Laird jumped up and down, yelling, "Shut it, shut it!" even
after it was too late. My father and Henry appeared in the field a moment
too late to see what I had done. They only saw Flora heading for the township
road. They would think I had not got there in time.
They did not waste any time
asking about it. They went back to the barn and got the gun and the knives
they used, and put these in the truck; then they turned the truck around
and came bounding up the field toward us. Laird called to them, "Let me
got too, let me go too!" and Henry stopped the truck and they took him
in. I shut the gate after they were all gone.
I supposed Laird would tell.
I wondered what would happen to me. I had never disobeyed my father before,
and I could not understand why I had done it. I had done it. Flora would
not really get away. They would catch up with her in the truck. Or if they
did not catch her this morning somebody would see her and telephone us
this afternoon or tomorrow. There was no wild country here for her, we
needed the meat to feed the foxes, we needed the foxes to make our living.
All I had done was make more work for my father who worked hard enough
already. And when my father found out about it he was not going to trust
me any more; he would know that I was not entirely on his side. I was on
Flora's side, and that made me no use to anybody, not even to her. Just
the same, I did not regret it; when she came running at me I held the gate
open, that was the only thing I could do.
I went back to the house,
and my mother said, "What's all the commotion?" I told her that Flora had
kicked down the fence and got away. "Your poor father," she said, "now
he'll have to go chasing over the countryside. Well, there isn't any use
planning dinner before one." She put up the ironing board. I wanted to
tell her, but thought better of it and went upstairs and sat on my bed.
Lately I had been trying to
make my part of the room fancy, spreading the bed with old lace curtains,
and fixing myself a dressing table with some leftovers of cretonne for
a skirt. I planned to put up some kind of barricade between my bed and
Laird’s, to keep my section separate from his. In the sunlight, the lace
curtains were just dusty rags. We did not sing at night any more. One night
when I was singing Laird said, "You sound silly," and I went right on but
the next night I did not start. There was not so much need to anyway, we
were no longer afraid. We knew it was just old furniture over there, old
jumble and confusion. We did not keep to the rules. I still stayed away
after Laird was asleep and told myself stories, but even in these stories
something different was happening, mysterious alterations took place. A
story might start off in the old way, with a spectacular danger, a fire
or wild animals, and for a while I might rescue people; then things would
change around, and instead, somebody would be rescuing me. It might be
a boy from our class at school, or even Mr. Campbell, our teacher, who
tickled girls under the arms. And at this point the story concerned itself
at great length with what I looked like – how long my hair was, and what
kind of dress I had on; by the time I had these details worked out the
real excitement of the story was lost.
It was later than one o'clock
when the truck came back. The tarpaulin was over the back, which meant
there was meat in it. My mother had to heat dinner up all over again. Henry
and my father had changed from their bloody overalls into ordinary working
overalls in the barn, and they washed arms and necks and faces at the sink,
and splashed water on their hair and combed it. Laird lifted his arm to
show off a streak of blood. "We shot old Flora," he said, "and cut her
up in fifty pieces."
"Well I don't want to hear
about it," my mother said. "And don't come to my table like that."
My father made him go was
the blood off.
We sat down and my father
said grace and Henry pasted his chewing gum on the end of his fork, the
way he always did; when he took it off he would have us admire the pattern.
We began to pass the bowls of steaming, overcooked vegetables. Laird looked
across the table at me and said proudly distinctly, "Anyway it was her
fault Flora got away."
"What?" my father aid.
"She could of shut the gate
and she didn't. She just open’ it up and Flora ran out."
"Is that right?" m father
Everybody at the table was
looking at me. I nodded, swallowing food with great difficulty. To my shame,
tears flooded my eyes.
My father made a curt sound
of disgust. "What did you do that for?"
I didn't answer. I put down my fork and waited
to be sent from the table, still not looking up.
But this did not happen. For
some time nobody said anything, then Laird said matter-of-factly, "She's
"Never mind," my father said.
He spoke with resignation, even good humor the words which absolved and
dismissed me for good. "She's only a girl," he said
I didn't protest that, even
in my heart. Maybe it was true.