Fiction Barn2FEATURE

Published on November 23rd, 2012 | by Mallory Nezam


When We Were Born Again

For a while there was nothing, and then there was everything. Quick as lightning the wheat had come up, the soy and the corn stalks broke through the soil, and the chickens had begun to make noise. The days in February had run together, but today the grass thawed and there were sounds, there were flutters, and there were buds. Yes, I had left behind my training wheels. I had begun to grow into a woman.

Spring came unannounced and unexpected, like she had been waiting all the while right underneath the surface.

Mama never brought the washboard out. It was handed down to her by her mama, but now that we had enough money to buy a machine, we had to change. Don’t want anyone drivin’ by thinkin’ the Hardys are poor, she said. Poor was not something to wear, but it was something you couldn’t help bein’. There were only a handful of kids that I knew who weren’t trying to conceal an embarrassing truth about the reality of their home life. This became harder as the city grew wide and its tentacles reached the outskirts of our town.

I walked out to her, sitting in the pool of white daylight. It was dawn, the grass still cold—the way I like it. She pressed hard into the board and it gurgled. She looked over at me, startled. In the harsh light of dawn Mama looked like an angel. The sun lit up behind her like a halo.

Now you know I ain’t out here just for fun, Virginia. This thing’s got spots. She pressed extra hard at the fabric.

We don’t use that thing no more, Mama had said that summer when I pulled it out of the shed to make way for my new bike. Mama must have saved it.

You gonna just watch me? I know you have some chores to do. I’ve been fighting this thing all morning, she said and turned up into the sun. I couldn’t see any spots. I backed away toward the barnyard and she called after me, Don’t be late getting ready for church this time. Jesus knows. Mama looked up into the sky not like a lady who was working, but with bliss.

It was a few years earlier that Mama found salvation in the lord. She found him in a bowl of soup. Later, she would change her story and claim that he had spoken to her in the field and that birds scattered. But I was there. Alone in the kitchen, she looked up from the soup bowl and her eyes welled with tears. This was two days after her Daddy died. I was looking in from the hallway. With her eyes wide she walked straight up to her room. She hadn’t touched her soup and I didn’t understand because that was what Mama ate when she was sad.

She announced to all at the funeral that she had been reborn and read a prayer for Grandpa and then had one of those shaking fits I seen them have in church and collapsed onto the ground.

In church that day the pastor talked a lot about hell and a lot about sinnin’. He’d gone to the city a few days earlier and watched a lady filing her nails while her son eyed a pack of cigarettes. Thinking no one’s eyes were on him he reached for a box but the pastor was there to set him straight. Brothers and sisters, keep your children close. Don’t let them fall into the fiery pits of hell with the others. There are demons everywhere and they are a makin’ their way closer. Mama pulled me close. I saw Daddy cleaning under his fingernails.

By late afternoon it had started to pour. I huddled in the living room corner with my brows furrowed, annoyed that I was stuck inside with my parents. Daddy was reading the paper like usual and my Mama was moving in and out through the kitchen. We had grown tired of this. For the past four months we had watched the crops freeze and the light wane from behind these same windows.

Outside I saw the barn door was wide open and knew I’d get lain into if I didn’t go close it. I peered across the room and no one was looking. I quietly slid out the back door.

A loud jolt of thunder pounded and crackled, rattled the ground underneath me as I ran. I stumbled into the entrance of barn, shaking from the cold. There they were with their mouths wide open – three boys from my 5th grade. Little Mack looked at Billy, the new boy who had just moved out from the city. Johnny still stood with his mouth open. Then Billy pulled out a lit cigarette from behind him and took a drag. I looked down at my bare feet and saw my chest heaving. I swallowed to catch my breath.

What, are you gonna tell me this is bad for me? Like I need some little church girl to tell me that.

I lifted my gaze to reach Billy’s. I ain’t a little girl. Billy coughed, then chuckled. The other boys followed in suit.

What’s that mean? Billy asked, not impressed by anything.

Means I’m not a little girl. I moved over to them. The younger two looked at each other, but Billy kept his eyes on me – I think he knew what was comin’ — city boy who’d done it all before, boy who’s parents drove a shiny sports car, boy who was tall and pretty boy who laughed at other people, who didn’t know what a woman was.

I looked Billy in the eyes and my nostrils flared like a bulls’. The horses in the stall made a loud noise and the boys looked over, frightened. I stepped in, found the moment and pressed myself and my lips up against Billy. He breathed hard; the younger ones backed away. It was slobbery and smoky. His nose was runnin’. I pressed into him harder and he fumbled his footing. I pressed again and my pokers, pointy and tender from the cold, rubbed against his chest so I bit his lip and he jumped. The horses neighed and it was my turn to let out a snicker, and it turned into a bellow. I shot out of the barn, mud flicking up at my backside as I ran.

I came up the stairs of the back porch and suddenly felt sick to my stomach. Papa was on the porch and I turned to see him puffing a large orb of smoke, breaking one of Mama’s rules. I rested my hands on my knees to catch my breath. He looked at me with that blank look he gives everything. You give it a good run?

Excuse me, sir?

Daddy turned back and chuckled. Ginyah, how old are you now?

Eleven, Daddy.

Hm. Reminded me that I used to love these things. I looked at the cigarette in his hand. Then he looked up at me. You don’t believe everything they say, do you?

I blinked and shivered.

Go on and wash up for supper tonight. Mama wants you to lead prayers. I gave him a look. Go on – do it for your Mama. You know I do.

Mama set the table with beans and potatoes and ham that night, and lit a candle. I tried to fit on the first sports bra she bought me that year and I never told anybody.

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About the Author

Mallory’s creativity takes on various forms. Currently, she instigates whimsical interactions in public spaces. She is driven by a passion for cultivating the creative capacities of people who think they aren’t creative. Mallory believes that sustainable and holistic change can come about when that change happens in people first, and that compulsion moves from there into their communities, and sometimes even further. Mallory has lived all over the world but prefers to return to the unassuming St. Louis where she spends her days teaching yoga, running STL Improv Anywhere, producing events and collaborating with incredible beings to elevate her city. She is inspired by public transportation, 7:15pm, rooftops, grit and her mom. Mallory is a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles and The Community Arts Training Institute, St. Louis.

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