Issue No. 6, Autumn 2013

Rawhead and Bloody Bones
Sandra Giles

Her mom named her Sundae, like the ice cream, not the day, and for her eighth birthday embroidered a denim shirt just for her—covered it with mushrooms, bees, owls, ladybugs, peace signs. Sundae wore it even when it got too hot for long sleeves. Her mother also painted bright red poppies on two leather wrist bands, a large one for herself and a small one for Sundae. She said it was the hip thing.

Her mother let her own hair grow out long and straight, like Sundae’s, but parted it in the middle instead of clipping back one side with a barrette. This was when Gus started hanging around. Gus with the long frizzy beard and the chains on his pocket and the big loud motorcycle. Her mom’s name was Sharon but Gus called her Daisy and laughed about it. They both laughed, Daisy and Gus, a lot. Sundae had never seen her mother so happy, dancing around the house singing Stairway to Heaven along with the scratchy old record. Sundae was afraid of Gus. He changed her mother. She felt like a side effect.

When school let out in June her mom packed two suitcases, a big brown one for herself and a small blue one for Sundae. Daisy and Gus were going on a road trip, wherever the wind blew. Sundae would get to stay up in middle Georgia at her Grandma and Granddaddy’s house—a wonder-filled place with hollowed-out trees to climb and stands of bamboo to get lost in and a pond that dried up to cracks. The only scary thing there was Rawhead and Bloody Bones, which Granddaddy said was in the attic, so she planned to stay out of there.

It took three hours to make it up to middle Georgia in the green Pinto hatchback, Gus following blaringly behind. The Pinto got parked next to one of Granddaddy’s sheds. Then Daisy got on the hog—didn’t even remember to take her luggage—and grabbed Gus around the waist. They took off, white chalk dust blowing out like it does in those parts. Kaolin country. Granddaddy used to work in the chalk mine.

Grandma held Sundae’s hand while they left. With her other hand, Sundae held on to her blue naugahyde box of a suitcase. She and her Mom had decoupaged brightly colored flowers all over the front. That was before Gus.

Granddaddy said, “That all they brought for you?” She couldn’t tell if he was kidding, like he did a lot of the time.

She said, “I’ll just be here a few days.” She still held Grandma’s warm, calloused hand.

Grandma said, “hmmph.”

Sundae could always count on Grandma to tell the truth.

 

#  #

 

Her cousin Charlie lived two doors down and came over all the time because his mom and dad both worked. His dad was a preacher at the little white Methodist church down the road. Charlie was exactly thirteen days older than Sundae, so he had to be in charge.

“You can’t go up there.” He tipped his head toward the stairs. They sat on the brown pleather couch watching The Pink Panther.

The stairs had been built by Granddaddy long ago, built into what used to be a closet along the back wall of the den. There was a large bottom landing, then three steps that spiraled to the right, then a bunch of steps going up the regular way, then three more at the top that spiraled to the right again. Some of the steps in the middle made a cracking sound so you had to hop-scotch a little if you were sneaking up there. And you had to be careful to step on the wide end of those spiral steps, because the other side got real narrow. Your foot could slip off and you’d skin your knee.

If you made it up those last steps, you found yourself in a bedroom where the ceiling peaked in the middle, and the side walls didn’t even come up to your head. This was where Granddaddy had been sleeping since Sundae came, in a twin-size bed.

The far wall had a big window where you could climb right out onto part of the roof, but you weren’t supposed to do that. Charlie would always brag he’d done it, and Grandma would say, “You better not.”

A door with a wooden twist latch led to the attic, which had only a patchy floor here and there. In places, pink fiberglass insulation showed between the beams on the floor. That was dangerous. You could step right through and fall through the ceiling of the room below, or get stuck between walls until you died of starvation like a mouse.

Charlie had dared her one time to stick her head in and look around, and she did. But she didn’t like what she saw. Shadows everywhere.

She had no desire to go up there now.

The Pink Panther was going on vacation to a cabin near a pond. Charlie elbowed her lightly and said, “You better not go up there. Want to know why?”

“Because Granddaddy said so.” She didn’t feel like getting into it today. Charlie knew she knew why.

“Yeah, but do you know why he said so?”

She didn’t want to say it out loud. The Pink Panther twitched his tail at a flea that was bothering him.

“You remember.” He leaned close and whispered in a stagey voice: “Rawhead and Bloody Bones.”

She watched the cartoon but a chill stabbed her lower back.

“I said, Rawhead and Bloody Bones is up there.”

“It is not!”

“Is too.” He sat back and folded his arms. “I saw it once.”

“You did not.”

“Oh, yes, I did. And you know what? It glowed.”

She didn’t believe that last part, she didn’t think. It was new. The Panther wrecked the whole cabin trying to get the flea. Sundae and Charlie kicked their heels against the couch. Grandma would fuss, but she was in the kitchen cooking scrambled eggs, and bacon thin and flaky like pie crust, and cat’s head biscuits they’d poke holes in with their thumbs and pour maple syrup into. It sure smelled good. Sundae was used to Froot Loops or Lucky Charms for breakfast. Or in the old days, her mom would make cinnamon toast, with a quarter-inch layer of melted butter and sugar, with lots of cinnamon sprinkled on top.

She said, “That’s nothing.”

Charlie didn’t fall for it. He wouldn’t even look at her.

“I said, that’s nothing. You should hear what my mom told me about the fireplace in my room.”

“That’s not your room. That was her room.”

“It’s mine for now.” It had been her mom’s room when she was a kid. But before Mama took off with Gus and left Sundae here, Granddaddy’d been sleeping in that room because he and Grandma didn’t sleep in the same room anymore. They could both, individually, shake the house down with their snoring and they’d wake each other up in the night. Grandma herself could rattle the window panes. Now, Granddaddy was sleeping in that attic bedroom.

Sundae’s room had the California king-sized bed, while Granddaddy was sleeping on a twin up there. She worried about him rolling off. She worried about him sleeping so close to Rawhead and Bloody Bones. She would lie awake in that huge bed, glad when there was snoring or a chalk truck roaring down the road because when it was quiet, she could hear whispering coming from somewhere. Grandma said it was drafts.

Sundae didn’t want to tell Charlie about this yet. She just wanted to get a game going.

“I never saw any fireplace in that room,” Charlie said. “Show me.”

They scooted off the couch and walked down the short hall.

She pointed to the wall opposite the bed, where a low dresser sat with a big square mirror on the wall above it. Her Mom had said there used to be a fireplace there but it had been covered over when they installed the baseboard heaters. She told Charlie this.

“Where exactly?”

“Nobody knows.” She tried to sound like Velma on Scooby Doo.

“Well, so what? Who cares?” He jumped back onto the bed like the Nestea plunge and disappeared in the hobnail bedspread. Grandma hadn’t made the bed yet. It was too big for Sundae to do by herself.

“Nobody knows where it was and you know what else? Nobody knows why they did it.”

He sat up straight. “What do you mean?”

“Mama asked them one time why they covered it up and they wouldn’t tell her. They told her to quit asking.”

He stared out the window like he was trying to decide what to do with this information. “Wait a minute. If there used to be a fireplace here there’d be a chimney out there.” He ran out of the room.

She hadn’t thought of that, and she’d never noticed. It was an interesting mystery. She opened the window and since that screen was missing, she leaned out. Charlie came around the corner of the house running and pointed at the roof, nodding.

Grandma called them from the kitchen: “Hey, y’all come eat breakfast.”

 

#  #

 

In the front yard was a ditch so steep you could stand up in it and they still couldn’t see you. You were not to play in it. If they caught you playing King of the Hill there, or anything else for that matter, they’d tan your hide. It was too close to the road. Dump trucks full of chalk thundered past day and night, leaving a coating of white dust on everything. On the grass, the leaves of trees, the curtains inside. Probably on you, if you stood still long enough. So the front yard was off limits.

In the back yard was a shed full of rusty old garden tools and an antique scythe and a real anvil. There was also a stand-alone garage with no door. The Pinto still stood beside it, now looking pasty under the chalk dust.

Charlie wrote “wash me” on the back window with his finger and dared her to walk down to the pond.

“Why?” Sometimes he made her tired. “What for?”

“I just bet you won’t do it. But that’s fine. Be a chicken.”

“Grandma said not to get too close to the water.”

“Oh my god. It’s not even deep.” He picked up a rock and threw it. It went plop and disappeared, ripples fanning out. “See?” But that didn’t prove anything.

He went down to the bank and started inching one foot forward. She cringed. He was going to slip and slide right in. Who knew what nasty stuff was in that water?

He hesitated, looking out across the pond to the woods. “Did you see that? Come here.”

“What?” This could be a trick. Gus had once thrown her mom into the lake at Holiday Beach, and he didn’t even spill any of his beer. Charlie could yank her arm just once and make her fall right into that water.

He put his hands on his knees and leaned over the water’s edge, squinting across at the tree line. “I mean it. I can see him.”

Sundae stayed put but scanned the expanse, trying to sort shadow from shadow, shape from shape. “There’s no such thing as a Bigfoot, Charlie.”

“I know that. I’ve been to Massachussetts.” He stood straight and waved vigorously. “It’s not Bigfoot. Can’t you see? It’s the Bubble Gum Man.”

She sighed and said nothing, but her heart was pounding. Charlie was generally full of crap, but just when you thought you knew for sure not to believe a word he said, it’d be just like him to slip in something real.

“Yeah. It’s the Bubble Gum Man, all right.” He looked back at her in all seriousness. “He wants us to go over there and talk to him.”

She looked across the pond at the woods again but still couldn’t see anything but trees, limbs, some big myrtle bushes. Shadows moved suspiciously but the wind was blowing over there. You could tell from a distance by looking at the pine tree tops.

“Come on,” Charlie said and started walking around the right edge of the pond, his hands jammed in his pockets and his head down. “He’ll give us bubble gum. Any flavor you want. And Hubba Bubba, too, not the cheap stuff.”

She didn’t want to be left behind, ten feet back from the edge of the water, watching her cousin face danger while she hung back like a chicken. Still, it didn’t seem like a good idea for her to go with him. If this man even existed, which she doubted. You weren’t supposed to take candy from strangers, and Charlie should know better. Somebody had to remind him.

You weren’t supposed to take candy from strangers, and you weren’t supposed to leave the yard and you weren’t supposed to go around to the other side of the pond, in either direction—by the dam on the right or through the bamboo on the left. And you were absolutely not supposed to go into the woods.

Charlie moved along now at a trot. She challenged herself to catch up to him. Be brave. Just where the grass became a thicket of wild blackberries tangled in myrtle bushes, just before the woods began, he stopped and peered in. She did, too.

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “The Bubble Gum Man will try to trick you into staying. And if you fall for it—if you stay—you’ll get smothered in grape bubble gum, so many bubbles you can’t even breathe.” He studied the trees for a while. Birds rustled, pine needles soughed.

“So okay,” he said, “I don’t see him anymore. I think he’s gone.” Charlie turned back toward the house and took off running. “Come on.”

 

#  #

 

This time he’d brought the stethoscope from his doctor’s kit. “This is from when I was a little kid, but it should still work.”

They moved the dresser out from the wall in Sundae’s room and tapped the wall up and down as high as they could reach, listening for changes in the sound. She listened by pressing her ear to the wall, and he of course used his stethoscope. They couldn’t hear anything. From time to time Charlie would stick his head out the window to gauge where the fireplace should be in relation to the chimney, but no dice.

“Let’s try a more direct approach,” he said. His parents let him watch detective shows until eleven at night.

Grandma was cooking down tomatoes from the garden. Elvis was on the record player. Not the rock and roll, which she did not approve of, but the church stuff. Charlie went right up and asked her why they closed up that fireplace.

“That old thing?” she asked. “We didn’t need it anymore. It was too drafty and took up too much wall.” Empty, sterilized Mason jars sat on the kitchen table. Later, when Grandma filled them and screwed the gold lids on, Sundae could help her listen for which lids popped.

“So that is your testimony?” Charlie asked.

Grandma was a fan of James Rockford, too, although she didn’t let Sundae stay up to see it. “Yes, siree. My testimony is, that old thing was a bother and took up too much room and if I remember rightly, it started leaking in the rain. Now get out of my hair, you two.”

They went back to her room and flopped down on the bed hard enough to bounce. He asked, “Do you believe her?”

Sundae had to keep this going or he might want to go back to the woods again. She didn’t like the woods any more than she liked the attic. “No.”

“So what do you think is in there?”

“A million dollars?”

“No way. They don’t have that much. And if they did they’d use it to fix stuff up around here. They wouldn’t hide it.” He kicked the wall.

“What if it’s a body?” She was just trying the idea out in her mind.

“Whose body?”

She shrugged.

“Like a vacuum cleaner salesman?” he said. “They drive Mama crazy. She said if they ring the doorbell one more time during supper she’ll—“

“Charlie! It’s the body of Uncle Ed!” This had just occurred to her. Uncle Ed was Grandma’s missing brother. He pissed away all his money with gambling and drink and nobody had heard from him in twenty years. It made sense. Drunk people cause fights. Other people have to defend themselves.

What a terrible secret to sleep in the same room with!

“Charlie? Is that where the Rawhead and Bloody Bones are?” Or where it is? Was Rawhead a he, in which case he could’ve once been a man, or was he an it?

“No,” he said, confident as ever. “They’re in the attic. Granddaddy says so. And anyway, Rawhead and Bloody Bones is just made up. Unless…”

He kicked at the wall again. She backed up and leaned against the unfinished back of the dresser, where her mother had drawn a heart with black marker and written “Sharon loves Peter. HA!”

Charlie kicked again and again. Bits of plaster and paint fell off, leaving white patches and more white dust. This was not a good idea.

“What in the world is going on in here?” Grandma stood in the doorway, hands on her hips and red splotchy stains all over her apron. “Y’all go outside. Now. Put that dresser back and go outside.”

 

#  #

 

When Granddaddy fixed the wall, he made them help. Which Charlie figured proved there was nothing hidden in the fireplace. “If there was anything in there, Granddaddy would’ve known we figured it out, and he would’ve snuck in here at night and got it out. Which he didn’t, or there’d be a big square cut out. Which there isn’t.”

So it was back to the Bubble Gum Man in the woods, only now Charlie decided it was actually a murderer. “You can hear him walking around. See?”

They stood ten feet into the woods. Noises all around. Rustling. Scooting. Squeaking. Sundae wanted to bolt every second, but she made herself stand very still, breathing in pine and sap and earth and mold. This was all natural. She started to get comfortable with it.

Charlie told her to stay there and walked farther in, behind a giant oak tree so she couldn’t see him anymore. The pine trees soughed.

Then he hollered all of a sudden, and came tearing around the tree, and ran past her so fast her hair blew in his wind. He ran out of the woods and kept going.

She listened to the sounds. The rustling. It was just birds and squirrels and such. It was not like the whispering coming from the attic at night. She felt very calm as she walked out of the woods, down the dam, into the yard. Charlie was on the tire hanging from the pecan tree, lying on his stomach through the tire hole, swinging.

“Took you long enough,” he said.

“I came back when I wanted to,” she said, still feeling calm.

“He tried to kill me. He tried to shoot me. Didn’t you hear the shot?”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Look,” he said, and pulled up his pants leg. “See that red mark? The bullet went right by.” He demonstrated with his finger, how the bullet just brushed his leg and went on.

“I don’t believe you. You’re making it up.” She went and sat on the big rock in Grandma’s flower bed, still in the tree’s shade. He kept swinging for a while.

Then he came over to where she was. “Fine. You’re right. It wasn’t a murderer.” He pulled up a piece of nut grass, like Grandma taught them both to do. He looked to see if he’d gotten the nut with it. He threw it out in the sun.

“It wasn’t a murderer. And he didn’t try to get me. But you know who it was? Living out in the woods? It was Ted Nugent.”

 

#  #

 

Just when she was tired of Charlie’s games, and tired of being at Grandma and Granddaddy’s house, and starting to forget what her own room looked like back home—starting to think her mom had forgotten about her—Charlie’s folks took him to Alabama to visit his other Grandma. So he left, too.

For a while, Sundae followed Grandma around doing chores inside and then she followed Granddaddy doing chores outside. She wished she had her Barbies.

But then she decided to stop being a baby. The summer would be over soon and she’d have to go back to school. They’d make her write one of those dumb papers about what you did. She wanted a good story to tell.

So one day when Grandma was hanging the laundry out on the line, Sundae crept up the stairs, being extra careful on the tricky ones at the bottom, stepping very carefully on the non-creaky part of the fourth and sixth steps. She didn’t want anybody outside or inside to know she was coming. The small of her back tingled but she kept going.

She went up into the bedroom, where Granddaddy had made up the twin bed neatly. She’d never seen Grandma go up here.

She twisted the wooden latch and opened the attic door. A hot rush of stale air hit her hard enough she took a step back. And there was a heavy smell, a mildewy, mousey odor.

She waited in the doorway, listening, breathing quietly. She could hear Bob Barker call contestants to “come on down!” on the television downstairs, where nobody was watching it anymore. Applause and trumpet music came up through the ceiling. There was a doorstop just inside, a brick covered in embroidered fabric. And a flashlight, too, an extra camper’s flashlight like the one Grandaddy kept under his bed, this one dusty and the blue plastic cracked.

She propped open the door, stealthily, wide enough to let in sunlight from the window behind her. She took hold of the flashlight but didn’t turn it on yet. The attic was dim but you could see. She took two steps in. Then three. There were old wooden chairs, a small broken side table, cardboard boxes. Christmas decorations. She sat down on one of the chairs, still tingling in her lower back, her heart beating hard. She listened.

Then she whispered, “Rawhead.”

Nothing. Maybe he hadn’t heard.

While she still had some gumption, she cleared her throat, licked her lips, and said, almost in her regular voice this time, “Rawhead and Bloody Bones.” His full name.

There, far off in the gloom, a suspicious shadow. Like an arm coming out of a shoulder. She clicked the button on the flashlight. But it was just an old bed frame and poles. It wasn’t him. She clicked the light off.

Another noise, off to the left. Something shifted. Sundae breathed into her fear. She forced herself to stand and walk farther into the attic. She went along the right, out of the sunlight from the door, crouching under the angled roof joists, creeping around the outer perimeter. Five steps. Then four more, concentrating hard to stay on the dusty ply board flooring, working not to make noise. She braced her hand against a roof joist and rested, willing her eyes to get used to the deeper gloom. There was a big black steamer trunk, and a dresser mirror without the dresser.

She said, “Rawhead and Bloody Bones.” That was twice.

Another sound, this time like something fell softly. Or stepped. Farther away, toward the front of the house. She shone the light again, leaning forward to make it shine farther.

And then she saw it. The chimney, the column of red bricks coming up from her room, dry and crumbly. Get it over with, she told herself. Breathe deep and just do it.

“Raw Head And Bloody Bones!”

Something was shifting back and forth now, slow, like it was rocking from side to side on hurt feet.

Her eyes hurt from staring so hard. Her ears hurt from listening.

No. It didn’t sound like shifting. It sounded like scratching. Muffled. Like it was coming from inside the chimney.

She leaned out as far as she could, holding onto the joist, pushing the light as far as it would go.

And there, about five feet up, something dark and narrow. Like a finger sticking out between bricks. A finger black with soot. Scratching to get out!

“I’m not afraid of you!” she yelled. “You can’t get me!”

The scratching stopped.

“I see you!”

Silence.

“You don’t scare me. You old…you old scratching thing!”

Then she couldn’t find that finger with her eyes anymore. She shined the light inch by inch from floor to roof.

Nothing. She made a broad sweep sideways with the light, as far left as it would go to as far right as it would go, leaning as far as she could without losing her balance. All of a sudden the attic felt empty.

She listened to see if he was whispering, but all she could hear was noise from downstairs.  Maybe next time she should turn off the television first.

She heard the spring on the screen door stretch and then the door slam as Grandma came into what they called the back porch, even though it wasn’t a porch anymore. She heard the dryer door open. Grandma must have changed her mind about hanging the clothes out.

The wind picked up outside. It whistled in the eaves. That was what a ghost was supposed to sound like. A bare hint of thunder rumbling in the distance. She could feel the vibration come up through the bones of the house into her knees.

It was coming up a bad cloud.

#   #

 

When Charlie got back he listened wide-eyed as she told him what she’d done. “A black finger?” he asked.

They sat on the screened-in front porch where Grandma had parked them, shelling zipper peas in round pans made of white porcelain over tin, with a red stripe around the rim. Sundae liked to shell enough to cover the bottom about two inches and then just run her fingers through the peas, like cool, smooth stones. They were supposed to throw onto the trash pile any pea that’d been stung, but Charlie wasn’t serious about shelling. He just liked to toss peas like little basketballs.

A chalk truck thundered by and he called out the number. He liked to count them. Granddaddy always said it was bad luck to count things out loud.

Charlie asked her if new things had been happening since she challenged Rawhead.

The whispering at night had picked up. It was louder now and it almost formed words, like he was saying behave or stay away, or just stay. She could hear him creeping around on the beams up there, scratching. She’d taken chalk and drawn a cross in each corner of her room as close to the ceiling as she could reach standing on the rickety step stool from the kitchen.

Things had started happening downstairs, too. Grandma kept losing things, like one of her knitting needles, or the good slotted spoon. Sundae couldn’t find her leather wrist band with the red poppies, although she hadn’t been wearing it anyway.

There had been wild storms with wind whipping and lightning popping, and she and Granddaddy ran around unplugging everything electric. And that was spooky—the special kind of quiet when the power got knocked out and the window air conditioners didn’t work, so you had to sit huddled up in the humid dark with a candle while all hell broke loose outside.

Charlie said, “We need to do something.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know yet. Let me think about it.”

When Grandma came to check on them and saw how little Charlie had gotten done, she sent them outside.

 

#   #

 

Sundae had taken to spending a lot of time in the woods, which really when you thought about it weren’t woods anyway. Just a thick strip of trees and bramble between properties. Granddaddy said it was fine as long as she didn’t go in anybody’s yard or cross a road. As long as she didn’t go too far. Grandma said, “I know you won’t get yourself in any trouble.”

Sundae showed Charlie her favorite tree, an old oak with a hollow at the bottom where she’d make acorns be Weeble people and use the hollow for their little house, with leaves and sticks and such for furniture. Predictably, he thought that was girly. He set the acorn people in rows like army soldiers fighting each other.

She showed him the antique graveyard where the little headstones were so old you couldn’t even read them, and they fell over at odd angles, covered in vines. “See,” she said, “this is so old it isn’t even scary.” He just nodded, thoughtful.

She showed him what was on the far side of the woods. The back yard of some brick house, the yard filled with junk cars, some guy always tinkering under one of the hoods. In front of his brick house, a road, and beyond that some farmer’s field, planted in something low-growing and dark green. The land rolled gently and the horizon stretched for miles.

“Wow.” That was all Charlie said. Not even a crack about the Bubble Gum Man.

She wanted more from him. It wasn’t like him to be quiet. “That field over there makes me want to run. Like a dog or something, just run.”

Charlie said, “You see what he’s smoking? That ain’t no cigarette.”

They watched the man take a drag.

“I’ll tell you sometime about my cousin in Alabama. He’s thirteen.”

They watched the mechanic until the afternoon started to cool off.

 

#   #

 

Sundae’s other favorite tree was that pecan right near the house. If you were careful you could get up on top of the tire and climb the rope and sit on a branch. Camouflaged in pecan leaves, you could just sit and watch the house. Watch the attic window for any shadow or movement.

“So okay,” Charlie said, sitting on a branch opposite Sundae. “I figured out what we’re going to do. This will fix our little problem for once and for all. Have you seen The Exorcist?”

She’d seen the cover of the book on her mom’s nightstand and that was enough. A catholic priest, with his back turned, dressed all in black with a black hat on his head, holding a black bag, standing under a street light in the fog and rain looking up at a house. “No, I haven’t seen it. Have you?”

“That’s not the point. Can you get a candle from the dining room?”

Sundae nodded.

“Wait,” he said. “Not one of those, she’ll notice.”

“There’s one in the pantry drawer we use when the lights go out.”

“Good. Get a plate to put under it because you have to save the drips. Get some salt, too. I’ll bring my Dad’s Bible. You have to say some Bible verses backwards in front of a mirror, so you bring a mirror.”

“There’s a big one already up there.”
“Where? I didn’t see it.”

“Behind the trunk.”

He looked confused for a minute. Then he said, “Oh, yeah. I forgot. So, you say the verses backwards to the mirror and ask him what he wants. You got a cross on a chain?”

But they never got to execute their plan.

A loud rumbling approached from the distance, getting closer. Then miracle of miracles, the hog roared down the driveway and parked in the back yard, right underneath them. Charlie looked at Sundae.

Daisy looked even skinnier and tanner, and Gus looked even fatter and more grizzled. They sniped at each other about where to leave the motorcycle, whether it was going to rain.

Grandma opened the screen door and stood on the top step. “Just in time to help with dinner,” she told them.

The three adults went inside, the screen door banging shut behind them.

“Dinner! Shit!” Charlie said. “Mama’s gonna kill me.” He climbed out of the tree and took off for home. Sundae stayed among the pecan leaves.

Just when it was getting a little too cool to be sitting up in a tree, mosquitoes getting more awake and aggressive, Grandma called out the door for Sundae to come in to supper.

She climbed down slowly, wondering when she’d be able to come back. Wondering if things would be the same when she did.

In the den, her mom said, “There’s my girl!” and hugged her with one arm.

Gus said, “There’s the brat!”

She saw the wrinkles around his nose, at the corners of his eyes. He didn’t scare her anymore.

Her mom still had that arm around her when they went to the dining room, and then they took their places around the table.

Her mom, as she sat down, said, “Girl, don’t you ever take off like that again without telling anybody.” She pointed her fork at Sundae. “Is that how your grandparents have been letting you behave?”

Granddaddy stabbed a pork chop and slapped it down on his plate.

Grandma said, “Let’s just say the blessing.”


Sandra Giles teaches at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, in the department of Literature and Language and in an innovative bachelor’s degree program in Rural Studies. She holds a Ph.D. from Florida State University. Her work has been published in such journals as The Southeast Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Writer Advice and in anthologies such as On Writing and Shout Them From the Mountaintops II: Georgia Poems and Stories. Her work has received awards from New Millennium Writings and the Southeastern Writers Association. She has also published articles on teaching writing, including co-authoring a chapter in Creative Writing: A Guide to Its Pedagogies, forthcoming from Southern Illinois University Press.

  • Stacy McCurdy

    A wonderful story that immediately took my back to my own childhood summers in rural Georgia and the great adventures with slightly older cousins.